So here I am in Nigeria, Owerri – “the eastern heartland,” one-time capital of Biafra – to be precise. As you can imagine, there is plenty to write about but Internet access is spotty so I’ll just make a few notes here.
The church here is huge. I mean that in so many ways – lots of people, lots of priests, many dioceses, big buildings. Owerri is a relatively wealthy diocese and has a very active newspaper, a printing press, big health programs, a 60-room conference facility that is quite nice, and a lot more.
I traveled to Umuahia today to visit a seminary there. It is about 50-km away from Owerri and we passed through four dioceses to get there. It gives you a sense of the size of the church. Nowhere in the U.S. would you do that in such a short distance. Now, there are good reasons to argue that Nigeria has too many dioceses and the current focus is on strengthening the existing dioceses (not all are as well put together as Owerri) rather than creating more, but still…
People here do not recoil in horror when they hear I am an American Episcopalian. I didn’t, of course, expect them to do that but the way discourse is in the Anglican Communion these days, that is perhaps what some might expect. I believe I am received as a faithful brother in Christ. At the airport, I received an effusive welcome from the priest sent to pick me up who was just so delighted that an American had taken the time to come to Owerri.
Beyond the Anglican churches here, there are just a ton of churches of all kinds. Many are stand-alone, self-initiated churches, not connected to any denomination. What is interesting is how many churches have some version of “international” or “worldwide” in their title, as in “Charismatic Renewal Ministries International” or “Church of Yahweh around the World.” As the churches look for a competitive advantage against their neighbours, it is thought that claiming to have international connections – though none of these churches do – helps. This matters to Anglicans here, who actually can claim to have international connections and value them. But then when those international connections start to be “embarrassing…”
On that note, Anglicans here care about the Anglican Communion. A group of clergy wives I spoke to today (more on that in another post) could name several things about the American church beyond homosexuality. How many clergy wives (or clergy) in the U.S. could name anything interesting about the Nigerian church? Anglican Communion news features regularly in the diocesan newspaper (I have been reading back issues) and many people can talk about it. Would that it were the same in the U.S.!
More to come. I have barely begun to soak anything in.