During Lent, I preached a sermon on John 4 where Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. In that sermon, I asked, “What would happen if we did what Jesus did: started showing up in places no one expects and listening to people who are different than us?”
That, more or less, is what I have planned for the month of June, starting tomorrow. I’ll be visiting various dioceses, churches, and other institutions of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
The church in Nigeria is likely the largest province of the Anglican Communion, with something like one in four Anglicans living there (depending on how you count). It has more dioceses than the Episcopal Church in the U.S. It is also, like many churches in the non-western world, growing rapidly. The diocese I plan to visit first recently split itself into four dioceses to keep up with the growth. Nigeria is closely divided between Muslims and Christians and the Anglican Church in Nigeria – as one of the largest Christian bodies in the country – plays a critical role in shaping that tense relationship.
What most western Anglicans likely know about the church in Nigeria is that its leaders have been vociferous in their opposition to the American church’s actions in regard to homosexuality. The former primate of the church of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, was particularly outspoken. At Akinola’s urging, Nigerian bishops stayed away from the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
My plan is to show up, listen, and learn to what is going on in the Nigerian church. I see it as incarnational ministry at its most basic. I have an invitation from a bishop to visit his diocese for the first two weeks of my 30-day visa. I’m hoping to make enough connections during that time to fill the remainder of the month.
The trip to Nigeria is part of a summer-time project, funded in part by the Fund for Theological Education, in which I’m investigating what Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers means when those followers span the globe and represent a huge variety of cultures. Act One of the project was in China last month, a trip which has been played out in earlier postings and two Facebook albums. Act Three will be in Sudan in July.
I hope you’ll be able to follow along with me here.