Florence Spetume Njangali strived to make women’s ministry in the church of the Province of Uganda a reality. Not only did Njangali seek ordination for herself but through her work and ministry she also influenced the church of the Province of Uganda to pass a resolution allowing women’s ordination in all the dioceses in Uganda.
Njangali was born in Parajwoki, in present day Hoima District, on April 10, 1908 to Nyakwebara and Eva Kacungira Amooti. She was baptized on October 31, 1920 in Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Hoima. Even though Njangali’s parents strongly adhered to the faith and practices of the Anglican Church, her uncle Bisereko Duhaga II, King of Bunyoro, was mainly responsible for her spiritual nurture.
Njangali began school in 1920 as one of the pioneer students of Duhaga Girls’ Boarding School, a church founded institution. In 1928 Njangali was appointed a teacher and was later promoted to deputy headmistress of the school. In 1938, Njangali became headmistress. Although by this time Duhaga Girls’ Boarding School was more than fifteen years old, no headmistress had stayed for more than a few years and the school was suffering from a lack of constructive long-term leadership.
By the time Njangali became headmistress, Hoima was a small town, and Duhaga Girls’ Boarding School had grown into a small institution. But Njangali foresaw that Hoima would become a great town and she envisioned the school, at its center, responding to the needs of the growing town. Her vision was to see Duhaga Girls’ Boarding School give its best to the people of Uganda. Hoima church leaders supported Njangali and proudly followed her lead in the role she played in the larger life of the school
On October 18, 1938 Njangali was converted and became an active member of the East African revival movement. The revival movement invigorated and renewed her life and offered her the challenge of a deeper experience of salvation in Christ and a more radical commitment to Christian discipleship. As a result of her transformation, Njangali enrolled in Bishop Tucker Theological Seminary, Mukono, in 1942 for a two-year lay reader’s course. She was the only female student in a class of thirty.
Njangali completed her lay reader’s course in 1944 and returned to Hoima to continue her duties as headmistress. Soon the Native Anglican Church in Uganda recognized Njangali’s work and influence and, in 1953, she was appointed a member of the Native Anglican Church Synod in Uganda. As a representative body, the Synod counted among its members many of the most powerful traditional leaders in the country. Consequently, the Synod had a remarkable influence in the church, and commanded, as no other body did at the time, the confidence of the country. Njangali was proud to belong to such a powerful entity.
Njangali was also a member of the Diocesan Council that acted for the Synod in the interval between its sessions. Njangali’s experience in the Native Synod and the Diocesan Council, gave her a unique opportunity to learn about the principles of democracy, self-government, and self-support.
During Njangali’s time the Native Anglican Church of Uganda objected to the ordination of women. But Njangali took it upon herself to defend the rights of women as equal partners in church ministry. At the Synod, although a lay woman, whenever she was allowed to address the members she always made a passionate appeal to awaken the Native Anglican Church of Uganda to its need to abandon its patriarchal attitudes.
Undoubtedly Njangali did more than any other woman in the Native Anglican Church in Uganda to help women gain access to theological education. In 1957, she retired from her position as headmistress of Duhaga Girls’ Boarding School and returned to Bishop Tucker Theological College for an ordination course the following year. When she signed up for theological training alongside men at the college, she was not easily accepted in classes by her male counterparts.
When Njangali graduated from Bishop Tucker Theological College in 1960 she was posted to Ankole-Kigezi diocese as a “church commissioned worker” to head the Mothers’ Union Department. Njangali worked to further the ideals of the organization and to promote the dignity of women by presenting monogamy as the best solution for marital relations, for example. She taught that openness, integrity, and honesty-characteristics of healthy relations between committed Christians-should apply even more to the marital relationship to foster real sharing, mutual love, and respect. Thanks to her efforts within the Mothers Union in Ankole-Kigezi Diocese, women gained the right to confess, testify, preach, and pray on an equal basis with men.
In 1965 she transferred her services to Rwenzori Diocese and eventually to Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese in 1972. In all three dioceses, Njangali assumed a position of great significance, and came to be recognized as a foremost figure in the Church of the Province of Uganda.
Njangali regarded baptism as the sacrament whereby an individual is introduced into the spiritual life of the church. However, she always insisted that the grace received at baptism had to be worked out in a visible way. In regards to the Eucharist, Njangali believed in the real presence, the doctrine whereby the body and blood of Christ are in some way really present in the bread and wine. She was however, adamant that the sacraments themselves do not have power to mediate salvation. In particular she warned people not to trust in their baptism as a guarantee of salvation. For Njangali, salvation only comes through being washed in the blood of Christ, the blood shed on Calvary.
Even with such a good track record, Njangali was denied ordination on the grounds that she was a woman. This act of discrimination was rooted in the cultural bias of the Banyoro. During Njangali’s time the Banyoro argued that God had appointed women to be subordinate to men and, therefore, there was no basis for Njangali to rule over men in any capacity.
While Njangali’s male counterparts were ordained into the priesthood she worked as a commissioned worker until September 10, 1973 when her former classmate, the Rt. Rev. Yustus Ruhindi, ordained her as the first deaconess in East Africa.
In 1980, after taking a close look at Njangali’s ministry as a deacon, Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese decided to make the ordination of women into the priesthood an official practice of the church. This filled Njangali with hope for the good ministry of women during her last years of work in Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese.
In 1981, at age seventy-three, feeling that her ministry was complete, Njangali decided to retire because of her age and due to an incurable disease from which she was suffering. However, the Dean of Saint Peter’s Cathedral asked her to plant a daughter church in Katasiha during her retirement and she did so willingly.
Njangali’s last days were spent with her family and dearest friends. On January 20, 1984 Njangali passed away in Mengo Hospital after what seemed to be only a short illness. Her funeral took place on January 23, 1984 at Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Hoima, where she had served her diaconate.
Few women priests in their ministry have been able to respond to the challenges of the time in as many ways as Canon Florence Njangali did in the Church of the Province of Uganda.
- As women were not allowed to be ordained as deacons even at the outcome of the ordination course, they were called “church commissioned workers.”
Warren, Ann. Today’s Christian Woman. Eastourne: Kingsway, 1984.
“Records of the students of 1942,” in Uganda Christian University Archives.
Minutes of the Duhaga Girls Boarding School Management Committee, File Number 1958/DGB/02, Uganda Christian University Archives.
Nasaka, Olivia. “From the Verandah to the Foreline” in Uganda Christian University Opportunity Issues 1 (May1998): 22.
The Lambeth Conference 1968: Resolutions and Reports, 39-40.
“Duhaga Girls School, Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese,” in Jubilee 1908-1958 Celebration Report.
Amooti Katebalirwe, one of Njangali’s relatives, interviewed by the author, January 2005.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Rev. Dr. Christopher Byaruhanga, 2005-2006 Project Luke fellow and Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Uganda Christian University, a DACB Participating Institution. He is also the liaison coordinator at UCU.