Reconciliation: Women on the frontline

Reconciliation and peace-making is at the heart of the mission of the Anglican church around the world. Church leaders and members are working in sacrificial ways to bring communities together and help people find ways to live in peace, as well as supporting the victims of conflict. This ‘love in action’ is one way of showing God’s love for the world in a practical way.

An international project to help utilise the peace-making skills of women living in conflict or post conflict areas has been having a huge impact in fostering reconciliation among war-torn communities around the world.

The global project, launched in 2016 by Caroline Welby, the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been working with women who find themselves thrust into public roles, often linked to their husband’s jobs.

One of those women is Jane Namurye, who is married to the former Bishop of the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan, Anthony Poggo. Jane and her children have been based at Lambeth Palace in London since 2016, when Anthony was appointed as the Archbishop’s adviser for Anglican Communion Affairs.

Bringing first-hand experience of living in a war zone from her own country of South Sudan, Jane helped spearhead the ‘Women on the frontline’ project alongside Caroline Welby. They have been running programmes in South Sudan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Solomon Islands

Jane said, “I have had my own experience of conflict in South Sudan in 2013, when crisis erupted in Juba the church leaders, including bishops were traumatised.” She said a year later, the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Commission, where she served in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, had the bishops travel to Rwanda for a retreat, where they received support from clergy who knew what it was like to live through violence and war.

“In many parts of the Anglican Communion, the wives of bishops and clergy are working for peace,” Jane said. “They are able to trickle down how peace-making works to others at grass roots in the community. I think women sense rising tension and they are often the ones who are able to defuse conflict.”

According to Jane, leading clergy wives can find themselves thrust into public positions without any training and don’t always have the skills to enable them to live out their new vocations with confidence. ‘Women on the Frontline’ helps draw women together for days of retreat, followed by a few days of training in reconciliation, peace building and dealing with trauma.

In each country the needs are different, but the outcomes are to help women receive support and training for their special role as peacemakers. In some countries women who have been on the retreat training have gone on to bring women together using craft workshops which have helped heal strained relationships, while others have used their skills to reunite families where relationships have broken down.

On their first visit to South Sudan in 2017, Caroline and Jane met with wives of bishops, clergy and Mothers’ Union leaders, who had all been caught up in the conflict.

Jane said, “The retreat part was very important as it gives the women space to know that God calls them as they are and that they are loved by God. Some of the women are seen to be in privileged positions as wives of leaders, but they are often isolated from others and battling with a lot of things.”

She said many of the women who they met had been through multiple traumas, were exhausted and suffering with extreme poverty. There were also a lot of displaced people who had been traumatised.

Following a second visit to South Sudan in 2018, Jane said one of the leading Mothers’ Union members had become a focal person for the reconciliation work and had gone on to gain further training in Rwanda. She is now helping other women who have experienced trauma, helping them gain confidence and leading workshops for others.

“This enables women to reach out to those who have not had a voice, enabling them to become peacemakers themselves,” Jane said.

The vision of ‘Women on the Frontline’ is to recognise and nurture women in the Church living in conflict or post-conflict areas and to equip them to become ambassadors of reconciliation, going on to facilitate and lead community-level reconciliation.

Partnering with the local churches is a key part of the process, which also ensures the programme is sustainable and appropriate for the local culture.

‘Women on the Frontline’ operates at the invitation of the Primate of the Anglican Province, often running sessions when women are already gathering for events, such as the annual House of Bishops meetings. The visits aim to bring bishops’ wives and women together to receive hospitality, spiritual nourishment and rest.

Jane said it had been important for her to learn from the experience of others in how to bring reconciliation. She said the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) had been able to learn from the church in Rwanda about how they were able to restore relationships and reconcile communities after the 1994 genocide. She said, “At a meeting of the SSCC in 2015 the three pillars of advocacy, neutral forum, reconciliation and now institutional strengthening, were established and are today referred to by the council as an ‘Action Plan for Peace’.”

According to Jane ‘Women on the Frontline’ gives women the chance to be contributors in peace work and decision making. She said, “In situations of conflict it is women and children who bear the pain of war so they really need to be involved in bringing peace.”

The hope is that they will be able to run further programmes in other countries in the next few years.


Photo captions:

1. Bishops and wives from South Sudan during the Women on the frontline retreat and training.
2. Caroline Welby second on left, with women taking part in the Women on the Frontline initiative in South Sudan.
3. A Women on the frontline workshop in South Sudan.

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