In May 2021 Naledzani Josephine Sikhwari was consecrated as the first female bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern African (ELCSA) and the ninth bishop of the ELCSA Northern Diocese.
Born in the community of Khalavha, Bishop Sikhwari began her ministry as an ordained pastor serving in Carlsruhe and Kgapane parishes and was later elected as the first female Dean in the Diocese. She served two full terms as Dean in Mphome Circuit and during the third term was elected as Bishop. I sat down with Bishop Sikhwari to find out about her past, what it’s like to be the first female Lutheran bishop in Africa and about her vision for the future of the Northern Diocese.
Could you discuss how your years of ministry have helped prepare you for your new role?
Working in a very rural area in a small parish and studying at university gave me a better perspective of ministry. My second parish was an urban township. That gave me an even broader picture. People are very important to me. Mission and evangelism play a central role for me. My personal prayer life and training other Christians to pray strengthened my ministry.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as a Bishop?
I hope to have an impact on the ministry of the church. It may not be easy being the first woman in this position, however I trust that with the support of the church members and the current leadership we can transform the image of the church and make it a relevant institution in the community.
What can the Northern Diocese expect from you?
They should expect team work. Working hand in glove with the bishop and taking our diocese to greater heights, for together we stand, divided we fall.
What changes can we expect from the Northern Diocese?
It is hard now to tell because of the scourge of Covid-19. However, everything works better when there is money. It is my wish to achieve financial stability to enable all the activities that grow the church to happen without any hindrance.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about being a Bishop?
To know that it is God who calls us, according to God’s purpose and that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.
How does it feel to serve in ELCSA as the first female Bishop in the Northern Diocese?
It is challenging to be the only woman bishop. It seems sometimes we have to work twice as hard as our male peers. This can put a strain on your life.
What is your favourite scripture verse and how has it shaped you thus far?
Psalm 1 was important to me when I was young and as a pastor, Zechariah 4:6, ” Not by power nor by might but by my spirit,” says the Lord.
Is there a message you would like to share with the Northern Diocese?
These are hard times with the scourge of Covid-19. Let us take care to follow all the health protocols to protect ourselves and others. Let us remember to care for those infected and those affected. Let us continue to pray for healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually in our church, nation and the world.
Any last words?
Let us not despair. Stand strong and keep up the faith during this pandemic. Women should support women in leadership; in that way we build strong churches and communities.
As LUCSA, we thank God for faithful servants who carry out their calling with great responsibility and look forward to doing God’s work without any hesitation. ELCSA has set a good example of promoting gender equality.
The LUCSA secretariat would like to wish all LUCSA member churches, and especially the women, a blessed and safe Women’s Month, filled with laughter, peace, health and joy.