Methodist Church of Southern Africa Enters New Era as Women Take Up Top Positions

Purity Malinga, the new Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

Reverend Purity Malinga has just become the 100th Presiding Bishop to be elected by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. She is the first woman in the church’s 200-year history to be elected to this position. As Rev Jennifer Samdaan, a prominent female minister in the church, points out, “There had been 99 men before her. For her to be chosen to lead us is wonderful.”

The Rev Madika Sibeko noted in isiXhosa: “zajiki’izinto” (things are changing). Indeed, things are changing in the Methodist church.

The Methodist church is South Africa’s largest “mainline” Christian denomination, with its roots in the 18th century Wesleyan revival. Methodism quickly spread throughout Europe, the Americas, Asia and to Africa. In part this was because of the zeal of missionary societies, but also because of the spread of the British empire.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa became an independent church in 1889. It is the largest Protestant Christian denomination in South Africa and has a predominantly black African membership.

Having a woman elected as the presiding bishop is of great significance to the denomination and the region. In this role Bishop Malinga will be the church’s most senior leader, with responsibility to guide the regional bishops and the ministry and mission of the church in the six southern African countries. These are South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini and Botswana. Her personality and inclusive style of leadership are likely to bring some important changes to the culture and identity of southern African Methodism.

She previously served as the first (and only) woman bishop of a regional synod, the Natal Coastal District (until 2008). She is a widely respected minister who first qualified as a teacher before entering the ministry and completing her theological studies at Harvard University in the US.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has a history of challenging tradition, and being at the forefront of working for justice and the rights of oppressed people. Among the other notable southern Africans who were Methodists are Chief Albert Luthuli, Africa’s first Nobel laureate; Nelson Mandela, another Nobel laureate and the first democratically elected president of South Africa, as well as Robert Sobukwe, the respected Africanist. Another prominent Methodist is Graça Machel, the Mozambican and South African women’s rights campaigner.

Bishop Malinga’s induction heralds a new era in southern African Methodism, and indeed church leadership in the region. Her election as the first woman to the post coincided with three other women being elected as regional bishops in the six countries that the church serves. These women are Bishop Yvette Moses (Cape of Good Hope District), Bishop Faith Whitby (Central District, the largest district, covering parts of the Gauteng and North West provinces), and Bishop Charmaine Morgan (Namibia).

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Source: The Conversation