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Canterbury remembers Crowther

04 July 2014

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

Celebrating the ministry of Bishop Crowther: the Archbishop of Canterbury (centre) with Nigerian delegates outside Canterbury Cathedral last Saturday

Celebrating the ministry of Bishop Crowther: the Archbishop of Canterbury (centre) with Nigerian delegates outside Canterbury Cathedral last Saturda...

THE 150th anniversary of the consecration of the first black Anglican bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c.1809-91), was the subject of a thanksgiving service in Canterbury Cathedral on Saturday. But prayers of repentance were also said for his later betrayal by other Anglicans.

Crowther had been snatched, aged 15, from his home in Nigeria, and sold to Portuguese slave-traders. He was freed by the British Navy and taken to Sierra Leone, where he was baptised. He translated the Bible into Yoruba before he was ordained in London in 1843 and served as an evangelist in Nigeria.

He was consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral to serve as Bishop of the Niger Territory, but was forced to resign in 1890 after accusations were made to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) about the behaviour of the missionaries working with him, even though he was exculpated by the CMS committee.

In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury described Crowther as "the apostle of Nigeria", a "hero" who had been "betrayed and let down and undermined" after being "falsely accused, not long before his death". The service was one of thanksgiving, but also of "repentance, shame, and sorrow for Anglicans, who are reminded of the sin of many of their ancestors".

The Archbishop warned the congregation not to condemn Crowther's opponents without holding up a mirror to today's Church: "Whom do we exclude by reason of race, or nature, or disability, or in our desire for power?"

The service was held at the suggestion of the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, a former Bishop of Guildford, which has a diocesan link with Nigeria. It was attended by a delegation from the Church of Nigeria and the Nigerian government.

The prayers of penitence were led by the executive leader of the CMS, Canon Philip Mountstephen. A song of the Igbo Christians of Eastern Nigeria was sung, and Amal Pepple, Reader of the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Gwarinpa, Abuja, read from the Old Testament.

The 70 million Christians in Nigeria were Crowther's "spiritual heirs", Archbishop Welby said. "We seek new apostles, and the grace to recognise them when they come."

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