"Everybody who sees you, Bishop Patricia, takes notice."
These were the words that Bishop-elect Blaston Gaville used to introduce Bishop Lull to the staff gathered for devotions at the Iringa Diocese Head Office on Tuesday morning.
He continued, saying, "Your coming is a way of encouraging women that if they are given positions in leadership they can succeed.... Through your coming, the divine calling in Christ will be lifted up in women here and they will find their rightful place in leadership. Your coming is a testimony to the whole world and to us that your church, the Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, is with us. Thank you, mama, for coming..."
His were words that were reinforced later that morning during a live broadcast on Radio Furaha
as listeners dialed in and sent text messages while they were on the air. They asked her questions about how bishops are chosen in the ELCA and if she faced any challenges in her ministry as a bishop in America because of her gender. Mostly, however, they sent greetings. "We welcome you... Thank you for coming... May God bless you and keep you safe."
Last Sunday, the people of Igangidungu'u took notice when she joined travelers from Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church for worship with their companions. Leaders there remarked, "This is your first time in Africa - in Tanzania - and for your first time to worship in Iringa you have not chosen the cathedral or a big town church, but our humble village of Igangidungu'u. Your coming, Bishop Patricia, is a blessing to us."
From the plains of Ilula to the top of the mountains of Idete and the bottom of the Great Rift Valley, we have been welcomed in countless places and in countless ways. In public gatherings and over quiet dinners in people's homes, our days have been filled with inspiring stories and a lot of shared laughter. Time and time again we have heard the Bishop-elect's refrain: "Thank you, mama, for coming."
It has been a true joy to observe our friends and companions step up and welcome Bishop Patricia, as she is called here, with unbridled enthusiasm and hospitality that knows no bounds. She has been surrounded in prayer and wrapped in cloth from the Hehe, from the Maasai, and in a kitenge
that reads "Mwanamke ni nguzo
" or "Woman is a pillar (of strength)."
Bishop Lull's visit to Iringa will come to a conclusion this weekend as she preaches at the consecration and installation of Bishop Gaville. In the crowd of six thousand that are expected to attend will be many familiar faces that she has met along the way - people who joyously call out 'mama yetu' (our mother) and eagerly await her return. Mungu akipenda - if God pleases - of course.
These certainly have been marvelous days...
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop