Who will be the next Archbishop of Rwanda’s Anglican Church?

Rwandan Anglicans will soon have a new Archbishop, and because of historic ties to North American Anglicans, this individual should be of concern to us. On November 18 an article by Godfrey Ntagungira appeared on KT Press about the election of the next Anglican Archbishop in Rwanda. The article said:

The Rwanda Anglican Council of Bishops is scheduled to vote for a new leader in January 2018 as the incumbent Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje retires.

Corridors of speculation are buzzing over who will replace the 64 years old Archbishop Rwaje.

According to church leaders, in the Anglican Church, no bishop is allowed to serve beyond 65 years of age. Thus, many archbishops hold that title for less than ten years.

Born on June 6, 1953, Bishop Rwaje took over from Archbishop Emmanuel Korini on December 2010.

But who is the potential successor?

Four bishops have been subject to suggestions. The current favourite is Louis Muvunyi, Anglican Bishop of Kigali Diocese, followed by Dr. Jered Kalimba, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese, Nathan Gasatura, Bishop of Butare and Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini.

Muvunyi 56, apparently the youngest of all was ordained as a pastor in 1997 and later that year was appointed youth pastor in the Diocese of Kigali.

He holds a bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Uganda Christian University – Uganda and a Master’s Degree from the International Christian College in Scotland.

Bishop Muvunyi served as the principal of Kigali Anglican Theological College. He was consecrated as a Bishop of Kigali in December 2010 succeeding Archbishop Emmanuel Korini who retired at age 65.

Unfortunately Muvunyi might not be on the list to choose from. An informed source told KT Press that when church elders approached him he said he had personal issues which can’t allow him to take up the position.

KT Press established that when Muvunyi declined, eyes turned to Dr. Jered Kalimba, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese who is a respected theologian in the Anglican church of Rwanda.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Jered Kalimba 60, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese holds a PhD in theology. He is a respected theologian with a voice of authority.

An inside source says Bishop Kalimba is trusted and many believe he can provide the inspirational leadership or the intellectual agility and self-confidence that the Anglican Church needs.

The public opinion says the bishop is highly educated and has an outstanding character of humility and likes to have peace with everyone. Other sources say he takes wise decisions.

For Gasatura 61, Bishop of Butare Anglican Diocese, he is known for his record as an African activist for human rights.

He is a strong advocate of unity and reconciliation.  He has served in different capacities –first as a missionary and later as an Anglican vicar in Burundi.

In Rwanda he first served as board chairman of the National Aids Control Commission (CNLS).

He also worked as a resident representative of the World Health Organisation in Rwanda, and marketing and international relations director of World Vision international.

Bilindabagabo 63 is the current bishop of Gahini, Eastern Rwanda.

He directs much of his energy into ministries focused on orphans, education, reconciliation, and economic development.

He is the founder of a foster care organisation called Barakabaho (‘Let them live’) Foundation.

He is also known as the founder of a Christian Movement for Evangelisation, Counselling and Reconciliation (MOUCECOR) that he started in 1992. Sources say Bilindabagabo has shown interest to run as archbishop.

According to Archbishop Rwaje the time frame for the election is not yet out.

“I can feel a lot of speculation and rumours going around leading up to the day when the next Archbishop of Rwanda will be revealed but the truth of the matter I can’t comment on that issue,” Bishop Rwaje told KT Press.

The Archbishop confirmed that the decision is expected early January 2018.

This article seems to have provoked something of a firestorm within the House of Bishops, because on December 6th a follow up article appeared, with a new candidate:

On November 18th, KT Press published a story listing four candidates the Rwanda Anglican church had lined up from which the next Archbishop may be selected.

However, senior leaders of the church were immediately summoned to a crisis meeting because the story had seemingly pre-empted the list of candidates yet it was meant to remain a top secret until a formal announcement.

A source privy with internal dynamics of the Anglican Church told KT Press that during the crisis meeting the Bishops did not hold views about the story.

“Some were very angry with the story and wanted an investigation conducted on the leakage while others were flexible saying the church cannot keep reacting to every story because there are many media outlets that report repeatedly about the church,” the source said on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter.

The source further revealed that during this crisis meeting, it was unanimously agreed that all four candidates mentioned in the earlier story would not be part of the selection list. Instead they decided to front a new candidate Rev. Dr. Laurent Mbanda, Bishop of Shyira Diocese.

In the past months, incumbent Archbishop of Rwanda Onesphore Rwaje has been hinting on the fact that an announcement on who would replace him was imminent and could come January 2018.

“The final decision is yet to be announced but the process normally involves extensive consultation, analysis of the role and challenges the new archbishop is likely to face, every candidate has to be vetted first” the source said.

Whether our story will change the earlier arrangement and selection of the new Archbishop or not, remains to be seen when the final announcement is made.

But who is Bishop Rev. Dr. Laurent Mbanda?

His name popped up after those earlier proposed were critically assessed but were found to have shortcomings yet the KT Press story had also pre-empted the secret list.

Our source conversant with the church said that although the formal appointments process has not yet been launched, Bishop Mbanda’s name increasingly has been coming up in Church corridors of power as someone with experience and charisma to lead the Church.

Bishop Mbanda is one of the most experienced and educated bishops in the Anglican Church of Rwanda. Although he has impressed a number of bishops who participate in the selection process, Some Anglican believers say he is not popular.

Mbanda was born in Rwanda and spent most of his childhood in Burundi. He joined Compassion International in 1993, where he held a number of positions in the ministry, including Vice President of the Africa Region and Vice President of Program Development.

He also serves as Vice Chairman of the Global Board of Directors for Compassion International and he is a Board Chair for Food for the Hungry. Previously, he also served on the Board of International Justice Mission and Chaired the Board of Kigali Institute of Education in Rwanda.

He is a graduate of Kenya Highlands Bible College. Mbanda also holds two masters degrees in Arts in Missiology from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions and a Master of Arts in Christian Education.

How Previous Candidates Were Screened 

In November Louis Muvunyi, the Bishop of Kigali Diocese was told that he was being lined up as candidate for the top job followed by Dr. Jered Kalimba, Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese, Nathan Gasatura, Bishop of Butare and Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini.

According to the constitution of the Anglican Church of Rwanda no bishop is allowed to serve beyond 65 years of age. It has been a tradition that candidates for the Archbishop position are mostly appointed when they are at least 60 years so that they could serve for 5years.

A thorough screening had been conducted before the list of the previous four bishops was made. But the KTPress story has apparently placed the Church in a tight spot as the House of Bishops had to review the earlier suggested list.

A source told KT Press that Bishop Muvunyi excused himself from standing citing personal reasons. Another reason he gave is that there are more senior bishops that he thought deserved this chance.

An inquiry on candidate Dr. Jered Kalimba the current Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese indicates he fits within the required age bracket since he is aged 60 years.

However, the source also said that Bishop Dr. Kalimba’s popularity ratings were very minimal despite being well educated with a PhD in theology. He also enjoys respect among other bishops but may not qualify due to private undertakings that require his regular attention which could affect his commitment to the strenuous responsibilities of the postion.

Among the candidates, the source says that it is only Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini who has shown interest to run for the position. He has the experience but within the church corridors of influence, his views and approach is not convergent with those of his peers and has attracted a number of criticisms.

The source also told KTPress that Bishop Bilindabagabo does not fit well within the age bracket required of candidates. He is aged 63.

Lastly, candidate Bishop Nathan Gasatura of Butare diocese is also remaining with only three years to retire which could impede his candidature.

George Conger must have queried the Church at this point, because he put out a brief post on the subject that same day:

The Rwandan press reports the bishops of the Anglican Church of Rwanda have begun deliberations on electing a new primate for the East African Church. The Most Rev. Onesphore Rwaje, Primate of Rwanda, will turn 65 in 2018 and must step down from office. The Kigali Times has floated the names of five serving bishops as potential candidates to replace Archbishop Rwaje. However, the church will not comment on the deliberations other than to point to the requirements set forth in the canons. Past practice suggests the new archbishop will be a senior member of the House of Bishops at least sixty years of age. Before the election is held the bishops will undergo a consultative process examining the current conditions and needs of the church and wider Rwandan society and put forward a consensus candidate. The election could take place as early as January 2018.

I will write a follow-up post soon that describes what we can know of these men in the West and why we should be concerned about the seeming front-runner, Bishop Mbanda.

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