Agnes Kanoni Mukandoli’s career path is one not many have taken; currently retired, Mukandoli was one of the few female reverends in the country. She spoke to Donah Mbabazi about her journey and the challenges she encountered. Excerpts;
Tell us about yourself
I was born in 1948 and started serving as a reverend in 1976. Since then, my focus was on works related to the house of the Lord; I don’t have any biological children as I never got married.
Your choice to remain celibate, was it a result of serving the Lord?
I didn’t get married because reverends aren’t supposed to; they are actually allowed, but I didn’t get that calling from God. I focused on raising other children from other families, caring and educating them.
How did you end up as a reverend?
At first, I studied and became a teacher, and by that time I was in Uganda. That was in 1968. I got a calling to go and serve God, so I went for pastoral studies in Mukono, which is currently called Uganda Christian University.
In 1976 after my studies, I went to Bunyoro Kitara Diocese, that’s when I became a reverend and it was then that I was made a leader in Mothers Union, a women’s organisation that works in Anglican churches.
At that time wasn’t it peculiar seeing a female reverend?
It was; that’s why it wasn’t easy, and that’s why I served as a deacon for a very long time before I was made reverend as they thought women couldn’t manage the responsibilities. People hadn’t yet fully understood that a woman could be a full reverend, but later, realised that they also had the capacity to do God’s work. I was among the first women to become a reverend.
Your move to Rwanda, how did it come about?
In 1996 my father wanted us to come back home so we moved back here, I then joined an Anglican church in Nyamirambo and was called to coordinate the English service. I was also assigned to lead Mothers Union on the national level.
In 2005, I was transferred to Remera parish where I also pioneered the English service and it was last year that I retired.
You haven’t actually had a well-paying job, so how have you managed to handle financial problems?
My focus has always been on God’s work, the rest comes in later. When a person is committed to serving the Lord, they can’t do any other job because they need to focus and let God do the rest.
The church and friends however have always been there for me, they have supported me, for instance, they helped me get a plot and now I have my own house. Working for the Lord is kind of like sacrificing yourself.
Tell us about challenges you’ve encountered?
The journey itself isn’t that easy, gender issues and all, but you know when you’re that person who has accepted Christ, He gives you the ability to persevere and soldier on. If you truly believe in Christ and are strong in faith, but mostly, determined to do God’s work, challenges do come but you can overcome them.
How did your ‘flock’ perceive a female reverend?
They respected me. People perceive you the way they see you; if they realise that you’re good at what you do, you earn their respect. And as long as your work is a calling from God, everything works out well.
I was still young at the time but you can imagine I was trusted with leading a Mothers Union, an organisation for grown married women, and there I was, young and single, coordinating it. Some people wondered if I would make it, but my actions convinced them and I won their trust.
Why the path of the clergy?
It was a calling, you don’t decide to work for the Lord, and you feel it because it comes with in. If you’re a believer you can know it’s a calling from God and then you feel it in your heart. Doubts of whether you will manage have no chance because you know what you’re going into.
What do you think about the number of women clergy in Rwanda?
Women are indeed increasing in number, which is good because it is an indication that women are involving themselves in various fields. For example, with in the Anglican Church, we have many female pastors.
Any plans for the future?
I will continue doing the Lord’s work even though I am retired because I don’t think there is anything I can do but serve the Lord. It’s who I am and I enjoy every bit of it, the preaching, teachings and all, that’s my life.
In regards to women empowerment, are we on the right path?
Yes we are and I think it’s necessary that women stand up for themselves, get involved and aim at knowing their rights. Women, however, shouldn’t misinterpret the whole notion; they should respect their male counterparts. Women must be empowered, because empowering a woman is empowering a nation.