Address To The Archbishops And Bishops Of The Church Of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) By His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi Of Onitsha, Agbogidi,
Address To The Archbishops And Bishops Of The Church Of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) By His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, CFR, mni, Obi Of Onitsha, Agbogidi, At Ime-Obi On The Occasion Of The Eighth General Synod Held At Onitsha, 12 – 14 September 2005.
The Most Reverend Peter Jasper Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria;
The Most Reverend Maxwell Anikwenwa, Dean, and other Archbishops;
The Right Reverend Bishops;
I have the pleasure to welcome you all to Ime-Obi Onitsha on this auspicious occasion of the eighth general synod of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). This is not the first time that the hierarchy of the Anglican Communion has visited the palace of the Obi of Onitsha. On a personal note, the last time I met you bishops in such a large number was during the last Lambeth Conference, when I was working on issues of social development and peace building.
On 25 July 1857, the Church Missionary Society landed on the shores of our ancient city. On Monday 27 July, the missionary team led by Reverend Samuel Crowther visited Obi Akazua in his palace to seek permission to establish a mission station in Onitsha. Then on Sunday 02 August, after Crowther had left for Lokoja, Reverend John Christopher Taylor paid a visit to Obi Akazua and conducted a service in the palace at 4.00 p.m for some 200 persons. Simon Jonas, a freed slave of Igbo extraction, acted as interpreter.
Today, we do not need an interpreter because Reverend Taylor and his successors left behind the English language for us. Not only that, Simon Jonas also left his name behind in the person of Simon Jonas Mbanugo, catechist and grand-father of Reverend Canon Ubaka Mbanugo, who you all know in this Communion.
Today is another historic day. We have never received this assemblage of bishops from all over Nigeria at Ime-Obi. I pray that in one hundred and fifty years from now, people will marvel at today’s event, though the Church of the future will be bigger and have even more bishops.
Indeed, this is not the first time that the Anglican Bishops of Nigeria would congregate in Onitsha. You will recall that the first ever General Synod of the Communion took place at Christ Church in this ancient kingdom. That was in 1926. I think it is fair to say that Onitsha has a distinct place in the history of the Anglican Communion, not just in Nigeria but world-wide.
The consecration service on Sunday at All Saints Cathedral was beautiful in every sense – the readings, the prayers, the sermon, the music and the sheer presence of bishops, priests and laity from the entire country. Unfortunately, I had to leave mid-way to attend another service at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where one of my subjects, Reverend Father Patrick (P-Boy) Obiora Ndulue was celebrating his twenty-fifth year of priestly ordination.
It was also a beautiful service at St. Mary’s but in a somewhat different way. The liturgy was in vernacular and some of our traditional paraphernalia were evident as part of the service. The attendance was largely the community.
I went home that day feeling totally fulfilled that God Almighty divined these two special, coincident, but contrasting worships in order to put Onitsha in its right focus as both an indigenous community and a cosmopolitan center. This city has historically welcomed people from all walks of life. It has also been a pioneering center. It was in that design that God moved the Church Missionary Society to drop anchor on our banks in 1857. The Roman Catholic Mission followed some thirty years later. Onitsha people embraced the church wholeheartedly and were in the vanguard of evangelism and education in Eastern and Southern Nigeria
Reflecting on the service on Sunday, I was particularly struck by the sermon of the Right Reverend Tunde Adeleye, Bishop of Calabar, who called our attention to the distinction between the house of Christ and the house of crisis. The song immediately preceding the sermon was distinctly impressive. In part, we supplicated to God in the song to:
Bless the shepherd and the sheep,
That guide and guided be one,
One in faithful watch to keep.
I reflected on the universality of the Church and the need for the Church to be inclusive and be seen to be so. I felt deeply that the Church, in a sense, is
an agglomeration of communities that share in the Body of Christ. And I felt equally deeply that the church is, in turn, part of the community. I reminded myself that Onitsha Ado N’Idu was the beachhead and vanguard for the Anglican Communion in this part of the country. I then asked myself is Onitsha well represented today in that Communion? Unfortunately, I felt not; indeed, the table seemed to have turned on us.
My community is now the sheep but not the shepherd. It is the guided but not the guide. Indeed, my people feel very strongly that we should be given fair opportunity to be both sheep and shepherd, and guided and guide, in this universal Communion of Christ. I need not dilate on our unhappiness with the present situation. But I should say that dialogue and trust would remove misunderstandings that may exist. Our children are keen to be part of the ministration in the Communion of Christ.
Part of the misunderstanding of Onitsha people lies with their culture and tradition, which they hold very dearly; they are not alone in this tenacity. Literally, every Onitsha person is a Christian by upbringing and practice. Nevertheless, we also have our beliefs, norms and practices, which we inherited from our ancestors and which distinguish us as a people. These characteristics are not mutually exclusive with Christianity. There may be areas of friction based largely on historic misinterpretations but the differences are not insurmountable if we apply dialogue with an open mind.
Indeed, on ascending this throne of my ancestors, I told my people that we are in the throes of change and transformation. I admonished that we must run fast enough to stand still, meaning that we must change with the world around us even as we strive to preserve those norms and features that mark us distinctly as a people. Our eternal challenge, as for other communities, is to constantly seek the balance between our customs and tradition and the forces of modernization, particularly the burden of the ever-spreading urban conundrum. But lasting change and transformation will only succeed if evolutionary and internally driven, rather than imposed from without to conform to prototypes.
My third and final plea this evening is for the church to join hands with the community in actively addressing our social ills. Onitsha has its share of urban social decadence, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency. These include youth (and adult) delinquency, drug addiction, HIV-AIDS, prostitution, armed robbery, cultism, environmental sanitation, etc. We
expect the church to stand shoulder to shoulder with the community to tackle these challenges in order to ensure a future for our children.
My dear Primate and distinguished bishops, I have taken much of your time this evening. But I do not see you often so this is my opportunity. What I have been saying is that the church and the community, which are part and parcel of each other, have much to do to broaden and deepen our mutual understanding, to create a more inclusive Communion, and to join hands in actively and positively addressing the social issues that confront us in this community. The emergence of adequate shepherds and guides from our midst will create a greater sense of belonging and leverage the success of our partnership. We count on the Anglican Communion.
Thank you very much and may God bless and keep you all.