BRITAIN’S Church of England has formally apologized to Nigeria’s Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther for the ill-treatment meted out to him during his tenure in office which led to the dismantling of his ministry by racist missionaries.
Regarded as the father of Anglicanism in Nigeria, Bishop Crowther, who was born as Ajayi in Isheyin in 1807 and is credited with bringing many Nigerians to Christ. So great was his impact that he was ordained the first African Anglican bishop in 1864, despite great protest from several European clergy who felt native Africans were too savage to be ordained as bishops.
Historians said prejudiced fellow Anglican missionaries wrongly questioned the moral values and competency of Bishop Crowther and his African staff and systematically dismantled his mission and undermined his work, forcing him to resign. Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby issued as formal apology for the role of the Church of England in the saga.
Preaching at a thanksgiving and repentance service marking the 150th anniversary of Bishop Crowther’s ordination, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “This is a service of thanksgiving and repentance. Thanksgiving for the extraordinary life, which we commemorate and repentance, shame and sorrow for Anglicans who are reminded of the sin of many of their ancestors.
“We in the Church of England need to say sorry that someone was properly and rightly consecrated Bishop and then betrayed and let down and undermined. It was wrong.”
A former slave, Bishop Crowther became a great linguist, translator, scholar and mission teacher. He is credited with producing the first ever Yoruba Bible and greatly influenced how European government’s improved their view of Africa in the 1800s but despite his passion and high achievements, he was undermined.
One researcher at the Boston University’s School of Theology in the US, said: “Mission policy, racial attitudes and evangelical spirituality had taken new directions and new sources of European missionaries were now available. By degrees, Crowther’s mission was dismantled by financial controls by young Europeans taking over and by dismissing, suspending or transferring the African staff.
“Crowther, desolated, died of a stroke. Bishop Crowther was then replaced by a white bishop.”
Archbishop Welby added: “In spite of immense hardship and despite the racism of many whites, he evangelized so effectively that he was eventually ordained bishop, over much protest. He led his missionary diocese brilliantly but was in the end falsely accused and had to resign, not long before his death.”
“Crowther did not make himself grand and lived out the commands of the words he took at his consecration and from his time forward, God has demonstrated his grace through that ministry. Today well over 70million Christians in Nigeria are his spiritual heirs.”
In 1864, Bishop Crowther was ordained as the first African bishop of the Anglican Church and was consecrated on St Peter’s Day by Charles Longley, the Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral. That same year he was also given a Doctorate of Divinity by the University of Oxford and died of a stroke in Lagos on December 31 1891.