The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has ordained the first woman bishop on the African continent, officials said Monday, in a historic move that comes as the Church of England in London prepares to vote on whether to allow female bishops.
The consecration of Ellinah Wamukoya, originally from the diocese of Swaziland, took place in the country's economic capital Manzini on Saturday in front of more than 3,000 worshippers. She had previously served as mayor of the city.
"We were gathered to consecrate and ordain a bishop in the Church of God: not a black woman, not an African, not a Swazi woman, but a priest of the Church," the Anglican church said in a statement.
"She was to be pastor to all, to men and women, to black and white, to Swazis and all others in her diocese."
Wamukoya's colleague the Right Reverend Rubin Phillip of South Africa told AFP that she brought excellent leadership skills and a "strong, natural gift of caring, of compassion."
"She is also a good, very articulate speaker and a very persuasive preacher," he said.
Phillip added that the Anglican Church of Southern African had also chosen to ordain another woman, Margaret Vertue, a white South African, though the ceremony is not set to take place until the New Year.
The Church of England's legislative body kicked off a three-day general assembly Monday which will vote on whether to allow women bishops, in its biggest and most contentious decision in 20 years.
The 470-member General Synod will vote Tuesday on an issue that has split traditionalists and liberals, two decades after England's established state Church backed the introduction of women priests.
The Church of England, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534, is the mother church of the 80-million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion.
The communion's first woman bishop was appointed in the United States in 1989 and there are women bishops in Australia, Canada, Cuba and New Zealand.