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
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."