After the recent inauguration of the Diocese of Kongor on October 11, 2014, many opinion writers and commenters have written phrases, such as “Congratulations Kongor Paneerda [Kongor my maternal Family/Community] or Kongor Wundit [Kongor Great/Big Community]…on getting the new diocese.” Such statements are both incorrect and misplaced. Overwhelmed by excitement (and possibly guilt, surprise and continued objection) after the eventual archiepiscopal confirmation of the Diocese of Kongor in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, some individuals ignore the fact that the Diocese of Kongor (religious entity), Kongor Payam (political entity) and Kongor Wut/Community (cultural and communal entity—which the non-Kongor members refer to as Paneerda or Paandie or Pathuooudie, among other Jieeng personifications) are three different jurisdictions. For example, there are believers who are non-Episcopalian by affiliations but they are living and are born in Kongor Payam and Kongor Community, respectively. These individuals are not members of the Diocese of Kongor unless they, together with other members from other payams, communities and archdeaconries in Bor, Twic East and Duk counties, choose to be part of the newly inaugurated diocese.
The unifying factor among the members from these three entities is the name Kongor. Although the members cooperate in achieving similar goals and objectives (as the ongoing celebrations in Kakuma Refugee Camp and other places in Kenya could attest), they are accountable to different authorities. For instance, the congregation of the Diocese of Kongor fall under the leadership of Bishop-Elected Gabriel Thuch Agoth Deng, while Chief Duot Ajang Duot and Hon. Isaiah Chol Aruei Barach lead other jurisdictions in the Kongor Community and Kongor Payam, respectively. The chains of authority and leadership in the Church continue with the congregation of the Diocese of Kongor and their leaders (clergy, elders and laity) accountable and loyal first, to Archbishop Hillary Garang Deng Awer, the archbishop of the Episcopal Church Upper Nile Cluster of dioceses; second, to His Grace Lordship The Most Reverend Daniel Deng Bul, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the South Sudan and Sudan and the Primate of the Anglican Communion in Sudan and South Sudan; and finally to Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the symbolic leader of all the Anglican and Episcopal Churches worldwide. On the other hand, the citizens in Kongor Payam follow a different chain of leadership and authority, starting with community leaders at various Boma levels; to Civil Administrator (CA) in Kongor Payam; to Commissioner in Twic East County; to Governor in Jonglei State; to President of the Republic of South Sudan; to the leader of East Africa Community; to the leader of African Union; and finally to the global governments through the United Nations and other political and geopolitical jurisdictions.
Both the outrageous acknowledgement after the failure to oppose the new diocese and the excitement about the final confirmation and inauguration of the Diocese of Kongor are manifestations of the ongoing power struggles in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and the diffusion of conflicts from the Church to ethnic communities. I have described similar wrangles in the last chapter of my forthcoming Christian leadership book, Christian Faith among the Jieeng: the Shift in Leadership Values, the Stages of Faith, and the Cultural and Religious Experiences of Jieeng Believers in the Episcopal Diocese of Bor. I am writing this piece to highlight the developments that led to the creation of the newly inaugurated Diocese of Kongor.
The newly inaugurated Diocese of Kongor was established in recognition of Kongor District which branched out of Bor District in 1976. For this reason, all Twic East and Duk believers are members of the Diocese of Kongor because it was approved for the congregation in Kongor District in 1988, four years after the creation and inauguration of the Diocese of Bor in 1984.
The history of Christianity (Episcopal) among the Jieeng in the former Bor and Kongor districts dates back to 1906, the year that the first Anglican missionaries from the Church Missionary Society (CMS) arrived in Malual Agorbaar, among the Jieeng on the eastern bank of the River Nile, near the current Malek Mission Centre. After the acceptance of Christianity, the Church and other non-political institutions followed the existing political and administrative units in the area to name the expanding dioceses, archdeaconries, deaneries and parishes. For instance, the Diocese of Bor was established and named after the former Bor District.
The second mission centre after Malek was built in Kongor (Pawel) in 1984. As a result, Kongor became the headquarter of the second deanery among the three deaneries in the Diocese of Bor, which was stretching from Chuei Keer (at the far south end of Bor County) to Chuei Thon or Amien (at the far north end of Duk County). The first deanery, which was headed by John Kelei Chiengkou, with Abel Alier as the President of Jol wo Lieech youth ministry, had its jurisdiction from Chuei Keer to Jalle. The second deanery, which was headed by Joseph Akol Gak, with John Chol Majok as the president of Jol wo Lieech Youth Ministry, ran from Piol (Pakeer) to Payom (Kongor). The third deanery, which stretched from Wernyol to Duk-Padieet, was headed by Samuel Majok Deng, with Isaac Deu Chol as the president of Jol wo Lieech youth ministry. The appreciation, loyalty and affiliation to these three deaneries influenced the infamous verse in Mary Aluel Garang Anyuon’s song: “From Amien to Chuei Keer is praying before you, God (Nhialic). Deliver us, we are your flock.”
After the devastation of Bor and Kongor districts in 1991, the second and third deaneries in the Diocese of Bor fell under the leadership of Archdeacon Daniel Dau Deng. Daniel Dau was assisted by senior clergy like William Kongor Deng, David Alaak and Simon Bul Manyuon. Bishop Nathaniel Garang oversaw the Church, both in the remote villages in Bor and Kongor districts and in the displaced and refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and SPLA liberated parts in Sudan. The Episcopal Church of the Sudan was using the name Kongor as the name of the district, not a name of the community. Agreeably, the Episcopal Church of the Sudan approved the Diocese of Kongor and passed it in a synod meetings in 2002 (Tombe 2012) and 2004 to be inaugurated to full diocese. Only the approval in 2004 resulted in elections for Kongor Area (a new diocese), conducted under the supervision of Bishop Nathaniel Garang.
The Controversy about the Name Kongor and the Defections from the Church
After numerous announcements about its creation as early as 1988, the Diocese of Kongor was not inaugurated because of civil war in the southern part of Sudan where majority of the congregation lived and because of the controversy that later resulted from the name Kongor. The controversy about the name Kongor started when the retired politicians, who no longer benefited from the larger population in Kongor Payam, and the senior clergy, who lost in successive elections for Kongor Area (Diocese), politicized the procedures to inaugurate the new diocese making it difficult to differentiate the three entities—diocese, community and district.
Nobody knows the circumstances that influenced Duk and Twic East politicians and civic leaders to give their district the name Kongor in 1976, and what factors later prompted the campaigns to change Kongor, first to Bor North in 2004, then to Twic East and Duk counties in 2007. The politicians might have used the name Kongor to secure larger population in Kongor Payam and Kongor Community. The quest for the change of name was probably due to change in political landscape, with Arok Thon Arok (a senior SPLM/A politician and other politicians from Kongor Payam and Kongor Community) in conflict with John Garang and other senior politicians in the rebel movement. It could be possibly because members of Kongor Community composed songs that exalted them and isolated other communities in Kongor District.
The name of the district was changed from Kongor to Bor North in a meeting attended by Bor, Duk and Twic East community and religious leaders and politicians in Panyagoor in 2004. However, the name of the diocese was not changed because the leaders and politicians agreed with the former Member of Parliament of Kongor District Hon. Elijah Malok Aleng’s suggestion that the name of the diocese should remain Kongor. Three months after the meeting, five senior clergy vied for the position of a bishop in the Diocese of Kongor (Kongor Area). Bishop Ezekiel Diing Ajang (23 votes) won over four other clergy, namely, Peter Bol Arok (19 votes), Peter Garang Thiel (23 votes), Elijah Abuoi Arok (3 votes), and Bartholomew Bol Deng (6 votes).
After the elections, Peter Bol, Peter Garang and Elijah Abuoi defected from the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Diocese of Bor, protesting the election of Bishop Ezekiel Diing whom they called “three-wife bishop” (Thiel and Arok 2005). Peter Bol and Peter Garang also wanted Bishop Nathaniel Garang to take the names of the top three contestants (Peter Bol, Peter Garang and Ezekiel Diing) to the archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. They argued that the House of Bishops should conduct elections for the Diocese of Kongor. The Archbishop Joseph Marona affirmed that the elections were fair and that the House of Bishops could elect the bishop when the clergy in the upcoming diocese had not peacefully conduct elections by their own. The clergy’s concerns that Ezekiel Diing did not fit the bishopric position did not disqualify Ezekiel Diing from contesting for elections. As a result, the same accusation could not disqualify him from being consecrated after the election results showed that Ezekiel Diing was preferred by most clergy in Kongor Area. The archbishop came to Kakuma Refugee Camp to consecrate Ezekiel Diing in 2004, but the defecting clergy (Peter Bol and Peter Garang) mobilized their clan youth members to surround Zone 3 Parish Compound, obstructing the consecration. After this encounter, the Sudanese chairperson in Kakuma advised Archbishop Marona and Bishop Nathaniel Garang to postpone the ordination because insistence might result in fighting.
After the postponement, the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry—sympathetic with the visiting senior clergy because it was the first time Archbishop Marona visited the Christian believers in the Diocese of Bor in the refugee and displaced camp—invited the archbishop, Bishop Nathaniel Garang and Assistant Bishop-Elect Ezekiel Diing in Zone 1 Parish. This invitation made the name Kongor controversial again. The defecting clergy argued that Kongor owned the new diocese and that the name of the diocese should be changed to correspond to the name of the county. In this case, the name of the diocese should be Bor North after Kongor was changed to Bor North. During lengthy talks and closed door meetings among the remaining clergy in the Diocese of Bor, Kongor Area, and after Ezekiel Diing was consecrated as the assistant bishop of the Diocese of Bor and presiding bishop of Kongor Area, the final resolution on name and the creation of full diocese were interrupted by the death of Joseph Marona, leaving the inauguration of the Diocese of Kongor in the file for the next archbishop. In 2007, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul took over leadership in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and ordered that the preparation about the Kongor Area be started over and that the name of the diocese be changed to the name favoured by majority of the clergy in Kongor Area.
The name of the diocese was changed from Kongor to Twic East, under the directive of the archbishop. On his first visit to Nuerland in April 2009, the archbishop forcefully inaugurated the new Diocese of Twic East without consulting with the congregation in Kongor Archdeaconry. As a result, the clergy, laity and elders in Kongor Archdeaconry boycotted the inauguration of the Diocese of Twic East in Wangulei because they felt dissatisfied about the course of direction of the diocese, especially after the involvement and interference of the archbishop. Few months before the Diocese of Twic East was inaugurated and new elections were conducted, the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry declared independence from the Diocese of Twic East. The congregation maintained that the procedures that the archbishop acted contrary to his expected roles and that Kongor had fulfilled the provincial requirements for a diocese:
The community of believers is convinced that the conditions required for the establishment of a diocese had already been met. For instance: in 1988, in northern Sudan, Kongor Area was promoted as a diocese and the present Archbishop, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul was subsequently consecrated as the first Bishop of Kongor Diocese; in Ame IDP (Internally displaced persons) camp, Eastern Equatoria, in 1993, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Nathaniel Garang Anyieth announced to the IDPs and ECS congregation the creation of Kongor Area; in 2004 in Panyagoor, Vicar General Rev. Ezekiel Diing Ajang was appointed as Assistant Bishop of Bor Diocese based in Kongor Area (presiding bishop for Kongor Area); in Panyagoor in 2004, the greater Bor community chaired by H.E Michael Makuei Lueth confirmed the upgrading of Kongor area to a full Diocese; in 2006, the Diocesan Synod of Bor confirmed upgrading of Kongor Area to a full diocese; the same year (2006), provincial Synod sent an assessment team under the current ECS Archbishop to the Area to establish the viability of Kongor Area as a diocese and the team confirmed the same (fulfilment of the requirements); on April 25, 2007, the former ECS Archbishop (Joseph Marona) through the provincial Secretary, Rev Canon Eng. Enoch Tombe, confirmed the upgrading of Kongor Area to a full diocese, and blessed by the provincial Emergency Synod in Juba in 2008; and Kongor Area has practically fulfilled the other requirements for subsistence of a diocese such as the building of two Cathedrals at Panyagoor and Kongor towns, house for the Diocesan Bishop and a Vehicle (Atem 2009).
The congregation also expressed their intention to sue the archbishop for manipulating the existing laws and procedures in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. On August 4th, 2009, the law firm that represented the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry wrote a letter to the Chancellor of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan:
I have been retained by my client, the Congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry represented by a) Rev. Andrew Juac Alaak—Clergy; b) Chief Duot Ajang Duot—Elder; and c) Mr. Jacob Biar Deng—laity, who have instructed my firm…to write to your Honour in your capacity as the legal advisor of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan: that the House of Bishops under the leadership of His Grace, the Anglican Archbishop of the Sudan is unreasonably and illegally withholding the establishment and creation and of the Diocese of Kongor contrary to the Ecclesiastical Constitution Rules and regulations of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan; the Congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry , Clergy, Laity, Elders and other others, is hereby expressing its intention to sue the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan before the Supreme Court for violating the Ecclesiastical Constitution of the Church; failure by the Episcopal Church of the Sudan to settle the issue out of court within 14 days after receipt of this letter will leave my clients with no other options than instituting legal procedures; and if this suit is allowed to proceed before the court, the Episcopal Church of the Sudan should expect to incur expensive advocacy and service fees (Atem 2009).
After receiving the letter from the court, the Acting Provincial Secretary replied, on August 5th: “I am writing responding on behalf of the Provincial Chancellor in your letter date 4th August, 2010 which has been received today the 5th August, 2010. Settling of the issue outside the court is welcome .We will appreciate if you could come to the Archbishop’s office on Thursday 12th August, 2010 at 11.00 a.m.” (Atem 2009).
After taking the issue out of the court, the follow-up procedures delayed for five years, with the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry continually accusing the archbishop for blocking discussions about the diocese among the bishops. During this period, the archbishop turned political and exchanged some statements with individual Kongor members, such as David Aruei Dau and William Ajang Chan. Finally, the House of Bishops and House of Clergy in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan voted for the confirmation of the Diocese of Kongor on November 27, 2013. This led to creation of the newly inaugurated diocese.
The Possible Reasons for Excitement among the Congregation in the Diocese of Kongor
The excitement among the congregation in the newly inaugurated Diocese of Kongor shows that the long-awaited journey was difficult to navigate. As seen from the preceding section, the congregation invested much energy and resources in claiming the right for the diocese. First, the congregation struggled with political pressure from other Twic East and Duk archdeaconries and communities about the establishment of the Diocese of Kongor. This wrangle caused conflict in the Church because other Twic East and Duk archdeaconries were furious about the name for the diocese, with argument that Kongor was a name of one community and that the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry had established a strong relationship with the top leadership in the Diocese of Bor to protect their name. Historically, Kongor was recognized as the flag bearer of the new Diocese, which is evident from their earliest invitation of the archbishop in Kakuma.
Secondly, other archdeaconries and communities within Twic East and Duk refused to financially support the creation of the diocese. Kongor congregation had to devise possible criteria to generate fund for the new diocese. For example, in Kakuma, all members agreed to contribute Ksh. 3,000,000, the estimated amount that was required for the consecration of the elected assistant bishop Ezekiel Diing in 2004. As the contribution continued with half of the money contributed, the archbishop visited Kakuma but the consecration failed. The congregation of Kongor had to use some of the money and, to compensate for the amount spent on welcoming the visiting senior clergy, the contribution was extended to Kongor community: all the Kongor chiefs were asked to collect money from their clan members. Other Twic East and Duk communities did not see anything favoring them. Consequently, Kongor financed everything.
Thirdly, because of leadership wrangles and undue delay in enthroning the Diocese of Kongor, the archdeacon in charge of Kongor Archdeaconry Daniel Dau Deng defected (together with John Machar Thon and Philip Agony Chol) from the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Diocese of Bor, to the Reformed Episcopal Church, a new denomination formed by Bishop Gabriel Roric Jur after Gabriel Roric disagreed with Archbishop Joseph Marona. This defection exerted more pressure on the ongoing preparation because the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry was divided over the remaining and defecting senior clergy. Despite this setback, the congregation continued with the mission to contribute the money for the elections and the inauguration of the new diocese. In addition, shortly after Daniel Dau defected, the senior leaders in the archdeaconry started campaigns, before church leaders and few community members, to get a qualified leader to take over leadership of Kongor Archdeaconry and vie for the position of Kongor Diocese. The congregation nominated the Vicar General and Radio broadcaster Ezekiel Diing Ajang to take over the position of archdeacon in charge of Kongor Archdeaconry, the position formerly held by Daniel Dau. The clergy also nominated Ezekiel Diing to vie for the diocesan elections, against other four clergy aforementioned. After Ezekiel Diing won the election and became the Head of the Diocese, there was no money to cater for inauguration services. After the disgruntled archdeaconries within Twic East refused to contribute to the budget for the inauguration, which was estimated at 60,000 in Kenyan shilling, Kongor Archdeaconry, whose son Ezekiel Diing had won the election, had to cover the expenses. The clergy in charge of Kongor Archdeaconry called entire Kongor Community in Kakuma and the members agreed to collect the estimated amount for the inauguration from the members. The members collected Ksh. 56,600 from clans and sent it for Ezekiel Diing’s consecration and continued to contribute more money and kept in Ezekiel Diing’s account for the enthronement.
After the name of the diocese was abruptly changed from Kongor to Twic East in 2009, the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry felt dissatisfied because they thought Twic East archdeaconries were reaping the fruits from the land they did not prepare. However, because Ezekiel Diing won the election, the congregation submitted their letter to the office of the archbishop but did not ask refund for the money. The amount that remained in the Ezekiel Diing’s account helped in the inauguration of the Diocese of Twic East: “30,000 Sudanese Pound was produced in cash, and a bank statement of 22,895 Sudanese Pound shown, though the account was Bishop Ezekiel Diing’s personal account” (Ramsden and Denney 2009).
The eventual confirmation and the inauguration of the new diocese means that the congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry and their friends and partners have finally achieved their dream. The excitement reveals the exploded happiness for achieving diocese in which the congregation have invested more resources and efforts. The congregational peaceful follow-up for justice is a recommendable precedence to challenge the people in authority for misusing the power bestowed on them. However, the celebration should not miss its main objective: thanking God for the guidance and protection during the struggle for social justice for the congregation. The resources used in extravagant celebrations may as well start the development of a school or a hospital in the new diocese instead of being temporarily used for perishable cause: feasting.
The rampant defections and conflicts in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan was, and still is, not about names, whether Kongor or Bor or any other name. The defections are expressions of power struggles, with senior clergy putting names and tribal differences as rationalizations and scapegoats to justify their frustrations after they lost leadership positions in some ways. Second, the conflicts are consequences of lack of dialogue and compromises to jointly address issues after certain leadership disagreements. The Church should envision a leadership that takes responsibilities for their actions. The congregation of Kongor Archdeaconry have shown some steps towards this initiative. The congregation needs great support, not discouragement, for peacefully seeking the justice that they were denied for decades.
A distinction about the values on what constitutes a church jurisdiction, a clan or community and an administrative unit, how to name such entity, and the choice of leadership and authorities to facilitate the delivery of services and activities in such an entity should guide the leaders and citizens in their choices and relationships. The Diocese of Kongor have been inclusive since its conception and as a result, it is incorrect to narrow the congratulatory compliments to Kongor Community where the diocese is located on its land. It is worthwhile to acknowledge the fact that the congregation of the Diocese of Kongor (religious identity) and the residents of Kongor Community (social and cultural identity) and Kongor Payam (political identity) are cooperative in achieving goals and objectives, but they are different entities.
Aleu, Philip Thon. 2008. “Jonglei Governor Calls on Upper Nile Church Leaders to Preach for Peace.” The Sudan Tribune. January 25. http://www.sudantribune.com.
Atem, Sirocco Mayom Biar. 2009. “Commentary: Disagreement in Bor Diocese after the Declaration of Kongor Diocese.” The New Sudan Vision. April 29.http://www.newsudanvision.com.
Deng Atem, Stephen de. 2005. “A Split in the Church.” Kakuma News Bulletin 2 (2): 1-3.
Ely, Right Reverend Thomas Clark. 2007. “Together we can make a big Difference: Establishing the new Diocese of Kongor.” Mountain Echo, an edition of Episcopal Life.
Ramsden, Nicholas, and Robin Denney. 2009. Archiepiscopal visit by His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Daniel Deng Bul to the dioceses of Jonglei State, the Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan Official Report of the Visit from Wednesday 8th – Friday 17 April 2009.Juba: Episcopal Church
Thiel, Peter Garang, and Peter Bol Arok. 2005. Proposed Post-Conflict Program: Background of the Twic Area and the Current Situation. Program, Nakuru: ANGELICAN CHURCH OF KENYA (ACK). Proposed Post-Conflict Program: Background of the Twic Ahttp://twicdiocese.org/proposalpost.htm.
Tombe, Rev. Enock. 2012. “The Episcopal Church of Sudan in the History of Divided Sudan.”Comboni Missionaries South Sudan. March 20. http://www.combonisouthsudan.org.