- Determination. Rev Can Dr Rebecca Ajiambo Nyegenye was the first female priest student to be enrolled at Bishop Usher Wilson Theological College, Buwalasi, Mbale in 1996. On February 8, 2019 she was appointed the first female provost in Kampala Diocese. Phionah Nassanga shares her story.
“We were always on the move. My father was a priest serving in four different parishes in the rural areas of Busia District.” Rev Can Dr Nyegenye recounts.
Born to the late Rev James Efumbi and Janet Efumbi, Nyegenye 50, is the second born of seven children, whose vocation evolved at the age of nine while at Makina parish, Busia District. Walking into her late father’s footsteps of priesthood and character, Nyegenye promised herself to become a priest one day.
“I told my father I wanted to be a priest in Primary three. He thought I was joking. Women serving as priests was also unheard of then,” she reveals. From that moment, her desire to become a priest kept growing stronger and nothing could stand in her way. Though hesitant, her father advised her to first pursue a course in education or any other discipline.
Joining the theological college
A mother of two then, Nyegenye decided to leave her children with their grandmother in Makina, to join Bishop Usher Wilson Theological College Buwalasi, Mbale, in 1993. She confesses it was heart breaking to part from her children who had not become of age. But she had a calling to fulfill.
At the college, she was the only female student among 12 male students. She explains that accessing the college was cumbersome as one had to walk four kilometers with luggage to access the entrance. Having to brave the cold in the mountainous area, collecting water from a distance, struggling with what to eat and late payment of tuition by the diocese did not weigh her down.
Amidst challenges of juggling family responsibilities and school, Nyegenye emerged the best student at the end of her three -year course. “Armed with what people think of women in theology, I had to work harder using every opportunity that came my way to avoid disqualification”, she admits.
Her clerical journey
After completing her theological course in 1995, Nyegenye was posted at St John’s Church of Uganda Busia. Here, she worked as the assistant vicar, among other duties, where she was being monitored for one year.
Just like it was at college, Nyegenye was the first woman to serve at this church. “It was here that I held my first public service. Having witnessed my father undertake clerical roles, nothing seemed tough,” she says.
On February 16, 1997 in the company of her parents, children and husband, Nyegenye was ordained a deacon at St Peter’s Cathedral, Tororo District. “That was the most thrilling day of my life. On that day my dream came true. My life was at peace and I was walking right in my father’s footsteps,’’ she describes the excitement.
Deacons are seminary students in the process of becoming ordained priests. Mentored by many to further her studies, in 1998 with the support of husband, she joined Uganda Christian University to pursue a diploma in theology. On February 23, 2000 at St Peter’s Cathedral, Tororo together with 12 other deacons she had been with through college, Nyegenye was confirmed a priest.
On joining university, Nyegenye says she had to do one thing consistently. That was cleaning the chapel. Humbling herself, together with a friend, she swept the chapel, organised it relentlessly for prayers, every single day. From cleaning, she was appointed the chapel custodian. A position she welcomed with open hands.
Beyond cleaning, Nyegenye took it upon herself to counsel and share with fellow students. She says between 7pm and 9pm, she would attend to two students. Because of her humility and willingness to serve, Nyegenye was promoted to different positions in the chapel. Towards the end of her last semester in 2012, the university chaplain then, Mr John Musisi Senyonyi requested her to stay and work with him.
“Later, I applied for was the position of a university chaplain and was put on probation for six months,” she discloses.
She says being a university chaplain is very demanding job which requires patience. “There are students who do not conform to any religion but have deep questions on Christianity. They want to know the meaning of life and many will run to you for all kinds of help; social, physical, financial name it”, she explains.
Balancing marriage and clerical work
Married at the age of 21 in 1990, Nyegenye was clear about her intentions and dreams. “Right from the start, I told my husband about my intentions of becoming a woman priest. Something he seemed okay with. Even with this goal of priesthood, I did not forget my obligations as a wife. Marriage is biblical and if you do not keep it, you lose everything”, she explains.
Nyegenye admits that she loved being a wife, being a mother and church ministry. Having witnessed the domestic violence that took place in her neighborhood, she believed that the only way she would have a peaceful family like that of her late father, was to become a priest.
“The moment I lose this marriage, I will have lost respect and ministry. That is why I have to make it work. Even when I am out there, my ears and my heart are in my house,” she explains. She says Mondays are her family days.
Nyegenye says unless she has long days and too many assignments, she is always home by 6pm to prepare dinner for her family every day. Despite the fact that all her children are grown-ups, as a parent, she still cares about their whereabouts and talks to them every single day.
She says knowing each other’s goals and discussing them as a family has helped keep her marriage and work as a church leader.
Serving as a provost
A provost is the chief administrator of a cathederal who reports directly to the Archbishop. Nyegenye has been acting in this position since Febraury this year. Beyond the duties of a provost, she wants to focus on women and family. She is a member of the Mothers’ Union and yearns to use her position and office to talk to women, inspire them, and mentor them to raise stronger families.
“Calling ourselves mothers of the nation is not enough. We must walk the talk. Beyond producing children, what else can we offer? It is funny how two women sit in office and work hard for each other’s down fall. Some women bosses are hard to deal with and on many occasions, people prefer to work with men. Is that how we are going to mother this nation? ,” she wonders.
Education back ground
She attended Namugodi Primary School and Busia Senior Secondary school. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a Master of Arts in Theology from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry USA, a Bachelor of Divinity of Uganda Christian University, and a Certificate in Theology from Bishop Usher Wilson Theological College Buwalasi. She has undergone several short courses and trainings on Bible Exposition, Alpha Global Leaders’ Training, Basic Counseling Skills, and Muslim Background Believer’s Discipleship Training.
Nyegenye knew what she wanted in Primary three. She pursued this goal amidst all challenges.