Rev Diana Mirembe Nkesiga is the Vicar of All Saints’ Cathedral Kampala the highest position to be held by a female Anglican priest. She spoke to Agnes E Nantaba
Born Diana Mirembe Barlow in 1960 to Mary Nantongo and Hugo Barlow, Rev Diana Mirembe Nkesiga remains the first woman to be ordained by the Anglican Church in Uganda. The second born for Barlow’s five biological children, Rev Diana attended Nakasero Primary School and Gayaza High School, from where she joined the National Teacher’s College Kyambogo in 1981 where she graduated in 1983 as a teacher of English and religious education.
She taught for close to three years and took on her calling in God’s ministry by pursuing a degree in theology at Mukono University then Bishop Tucker Theological College in 1986.
At Bishop Tucker, Rev Diana met fellow student Rev Dr Solomon Nkesiga in September, 1986 and after a three-year open friendship, they took on holy matrimony at St. Francis Chapel in Makerere in 1989, the same year of her graduation.
While Solomon’s first position was to teach at the Anglican Martyr’s Theological Seminary in Namugongo, Rev Diana was denied ordination but was permitted to become a commissioned worker in 1989 and a deacon in 1991. Passed over for the priesthood in 1992, she pushed authorities in both Uganda and then South Africa, where she was doing mission work to allow her to be ordained. Finally in 1994, she was ordained by the Anglican Church in Uganda. Returning to South Africa, she had difficulty finding a placement as a priest until Bishop Desmond Tutu intervened.
“We spent 13 years in South Africa but even after this long, I was still skeptical about the role I would play in church as a female cleric,” says Rev Diana.
“Finally my husband convinced me to return and as I wrote my personal creed, God helped me deal with the spirit of rejection.” She was hired as a consultant in Viva Network in charge of Southern Africa and before she realised it, Kampala Diocese was knocking on the door for her service.
Her husband died in 2015 and was Vice Chancellor at Bishop Stuart University at the time. She remembers him for his dry sense of humor.
Rev Diana Mirembe Nkesiga’s liteside
Any three things we don’t know about you?
I love life, a good laugh, people and God. I always had short hair until 2013 when I started growing it for my 25th wedding anniversary in 2014. The best thing I did for myself was insisting on celebrating that anniversary; it is something we had to do and the Solomon at the celebration wasn’t about to die.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It is real happiness with all weaknesses, challenges, flaws and mistakes; you don’t have to wait for society to define you.
What is your greatest fear?
Heights have always been my physical fear.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Sometimes it is procrastination; not being able to move on to the next thing and sometimes I have been quick to speak although I am honest when I have gone wrong.
Which living person do you most admire?
I admire a child called Mbabazi; she was born without limbs but doesn’t see herself as disabled. She was Solomon’s best friend and walks me to tears because of her confidence.
There is also a young lady Amanda whom I admire for her courage despite being HIV positive. Joyce Meyer inspires me by the way she has held the bull by its horns and how frank she is about herself and life.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I largely spend on other people because sharing is my greatest joy. For myself, it’s been varying with seasons; of recent I spend a lot on my hair and pamper myself a bit more; before I could only trim my hair. If I could also spend on shoes but I can’t because my shoe size 9 is rare.
What is your current state of mind?
At peace .
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Over the years, Ugandans have become too critical to even appreciate the slightest of things. We are so critical of anything that is us or made by us not knowing that we have survived so much and so we can’t afford to tear ourselves down.
On what occasion do you lie?
Protecting my children and marriage would make me tell half-truth.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My skin colour made me stand out as a young girl and be bullied. As for my feet, I have learnt to appreciate it as a special creation.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Respect for a woman, confidence and love for himself .
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
She should not be afraid of her strength and doesn’t have to pull down anyone to be where she is.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Apart from God and my children, I love Mbabazi. These are people I feel loved by. There is a lady called Grace Kirya; at 80 years, she enjoys life and yet it hasn’t been easy for her. My mother has brought me through a lot of things. I also love Stella Ayo and Fiona Kiconco for their compassionate character.
When and where were you happiest?
Giving my life to the Lord Jesus at age 14; also finding and living with Solomon was an amazing journey. Nothing can beat giving birth to a child.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I love singing but my writing also hasn’t yet come out.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
After learning to love myself with all my flaws, I would really love to speak with wisdom and have greater lover for the scripture.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Working with a young man who was an alcoholic and seeing him recover and grow from strength to strength. That has changed my attitude on how to help alcohol addicts deal with the problem.
Where would you most like to live?
Uganda outside the city which is why I stay in Budo; I also love Port Elizabeth in South Africa for the relationships I have there.
What is your most treasured possession?
Solomon’s bible collection; the intention is to get everybody a bible in his or her language. It is something my late husband started and we partnered with the Bible society to sustain it in his memory.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Watching a loved one die and being totally helpless to do something about it. The other thing is someone being totally torn by hatred.
What is your favorite occupation?
Working in ministry to serve the Lord and His people.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am a spontaneous person
What do you most value in your friends?
Being real; you can’t be out of touch with the ground. Not forgetting where you come from.
Who are your favorite writers?
I have read books like ‘leadership without titles’ that have taught me that titles don’t mean anything. Rather it’s the ministry that you do and how it impacts lives that matters.
I love Philip Yancey for his book ‘The Jesus I never knew’; it helps me deal with everyday struggles and live the word of God rather than just reading.
Who is your hero of fiction?
I enjoy comedy and good movies like `Emergency Room’. I also love animation and my favourite movies are ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Happy Feet’
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I quote Mother Theresa a lot but I can’t live like her. Florence Li Tim-Oi was the first woman to be ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion. I admire her resilience to serve even during difficult times like wars.
What is your greatest regret?
I wish I had done a lot more with my husband; I was very independent and I am learning many lessons from him in his absence.
How would you like to die?
The way my father died; he was still looking good and it was a painless and silent departure.
What is your motto?
‘I believe in you and me because I believe in God’ and ‘there is only one me and one you so don’t let the world be reserved on you’.