Women not created to be irrelevant — First female Methodist bishop

Reverend Nkechi Nwosu recently made history when she was elected by the Conference of Methodist Churches of Nigeria as the first female bishop of the church. In this interview, she shares with VICTOR AYENI, her background and journey to priesthood

Can you share with us your background and how this journey started?

It has been a long journey that I have put into a book, the second edition of which I launched on August 6. My journey actually started before I was born because I am the fifth child of my parents.

Before that, they already had four children, but there was a prophecy one day when my mother went for a prayer meeting that she was going to have another daughter and that God was going to use that child as a prophet to speak to the world.

So, my mother believed it and told my father when she got home, and they held on to it. Then a few months later, she became pregnant and almost all the things they told her she would experience manifested.

On February 18, 1955, she gave birth to me in Yaba. From that day, they discovered that there were things they saw in me even as a suckling child. When I was nine years old, she sat me down and told me what God said concerning me, and from there, God helped me to continue growing in his grace, and this made me a reserved person and affected me such that I was not out there doing what other young ladies were doing because I always had it at the back of my mind that I was a chosen vessel to be used by God. I attended Ovim Girls’ Secondary School in Abia State, during which I was the senior prefect, and then proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to study Microbiology.

After my graduation in 1980, I worked as a lecturer at Plateau State School of Nursing and obtained my MSc in Medical Entomology and Parasitology from the University of Jos in 1985. I obtained my Ph.D in Zoology (Parasitology) from the same institution in 1996. When it was time for me to get married, five men approached me, so I prayed to God, “You said you have called me to serve you. Please tell me which of them will help me fulfill that calling.” Then he showed me the man who is now my husband, and honestly, if I had not married him, I am not sure I would have fulfilled this call of God because he has been instrumental. On my journey, it was difficult to be the only woman in the midst of thousands of men.

Did it ever occur to you that you would become a bishop one day?

Yes, because, before I went in, God had shown me a revelation and showed me exactly what my journey would be like, that it would be very difficult and would look impossible.

In fact, it was that revelation that kept me going on, even in the face of all the troubles. I knew that God does not lie; if he says a thing, he meant it.

At that time, I wasn’t looking for work, I already had my Ph.D and had a medical laboratory, and had other businesses; I employed people. I wasn’t looking for money. I remember that the Methodist Church was not taking women as priests, so when the Lord told me to start as a deaconess, I questioned him. He told me that he had called me to be a priest in the Methodist Church Nigeria and that was why I remained there because some other denominations were already coming to me. I had a ministry before then where I was holding crusades, revivals, and seminars and they kept telling me, “What are you doing in this church? You need to go to another place. But I said, “No,” because God called me to stay in the Methodist Church. So when I brought in my papers, the church accepted me under the leadership of His Eminence, Prelate Emeritus Sunday Mbang. That was how I started.

My coming into the deaconess order was what ignited the desire for women to become priests. His Eminence took it and followed it up and made sure I was ordained before his retirement. That was in 2005.

You have recorded several feats in your ministry. You have been the first ordained female priest, the first female presbyter, the first female cathedral administrator, and the first female synod secretary. Did you encounter opposition and strong objections from men to your election as a bishop now?

Of course, they didn’t come easily. There was opposition, but because God had already shown me a picture of what it would look like, He gave me a husband that stood by me, and gave me children that were praying for me, I was not put to shame. They were my strength.

I met ministers who, up till today, were not happy with female ordination, but there is nothing they can do about it. All I continued telling myself was that I could do all things through Christ who gives me strength and he never failed me.

Oppositions arise; even if I were a bishop, some people would not do it if they had the power, but they have no choice and can’t speak up and say they don’t have any choice.

The ordination of women has been quite a controversial doctrine in several Christian denominations due to two or three passages in the New Testament of the Bible that tend to restrict female leadership. How can one reconcile these texts with female clerical ordination?

I would advise you to get my book because I devoted its first three chapters to examining women’s ordination, their various roles, and services both in the old and new testaments. I also highlighted how women were accepted in various denominations like Catholic, Anglican, and others. I also explained those three scripture verses they are always quoting, and I based my explanation on how Bible scholars have interpreted them, not by just taking a verse out of context, because that is what happened.

Some people took scripture out of context and misinterpreted what the apostle Paul and others were saying, but God, in his infinite mercy, raised other people who started interpreting it properly.

How did you feel when you were announced as the next bishop amidst the other male candidates?

Honestly, I was excited. I felt overwhelmed with joy and tears of joy filled my eyes. Why? This is because I expected this to have happened long ago. I started my ministry in 1994 and this is 2022. This is my 28th year in Methodist ministry. I expected it to have happened.

The reason I did not lose hope was based on the revelations that God gave me that I must get to that peak, such that even if there remained one day for me to retire, it would come.

So, I told myself, even if it does not happen in this conference, that it would surely happen one day, that whoever replaces the current Prelate, Dr Samuel Kanu-Uche, would do it before he goes. Do you know why? It’s because I am already 67 years old and I have just two years to go as a bishop. It was on God’s agenda, so I didn’t have any worry or anxiety.

The retired Methodist Archbishop of Ilesa, Most Rev. Ayo Ladigbolu, said in 2020 that his desire was to see an enthroned female Methodist bishop in his lifetime. Do you think your election as bishop indicates a progressive shift in gender dynamics and female leadership in the church?

Yes, I say that because God said to me that he was going to use me to liberate women in the Methodist women’s and other denominations where they are still holding to the doctrine of not giving them leadership positions.

From your experience helping women and children, what are the major challenges you have identified to confront them inside and outside the church?

Well, it’s still the same male domination in all areas of life, no matter where you go. You know, the church is supposed to be the light for the secular world to follow.

But when the church is also oppressing women, it will also rub off on society. And the moment the church starts putting women where God has put them—not to subjugate them or dehumanise them—that is when this world will fulfill its destiny. God didn’t make a mistake when he created a man and a woman as helpers in order to fulfill his destiny. If women were irrelevant, women wouldn’t have existed. Any man without a woman is not complete, and any ministry or organisation that has no women in its administrative setting where women will make their own input can never fulfill its destiny.

What are your words of advice to Nigerian women, especially as regards taking up leadership positions?

Just as I said in my book, I believe that God, who created women and men, created them equal. But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t know what he was doing. So when you come to the Army, there are so many generals, but there will be one general that will be in command, so there is no mistake in God’s agenda. God has made men and women equal because there is no male and female Holy Spirit.

But the thing is, wherever women find themselves and they are under somebody, they should submit to that authority, and when it is their own turn, they should know that they have to work as a team. You don’t use your position to show that ‘I have arrived.’ No, there is no competition. God made men and women to complement one another. I tell women to just trust God and come out to represent him as his daughters because the duty he has given to women is not being fully executed. It would take women to reach women. There are aspects of female life that men, no matter how hard they try, will never master.

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