A few years ago, the diocese of Owerri began a new organization – the Anglican Christian Fathers’ Fellowship as a way to reach out to men in their congregations, somewhat as a Mothers’ Union-type organization for men. This past weekend was the annual diocesan conference – about one thousand men, representing all the parishes of the diocese, listening to talks on various subjects, all under the theme “Our Children Are Coming.” There was even a lengthy talk on hypertension. (Whenever you think I am just gallivanting around Africa having a grand ol’ time, remember the hour and a half I spent listening to an exquisitely-detailed talk on high blood pressure. This is research, people, not vacation.)
I wasn’t able to be part of the entire conference but I did catch a good deal of it. One text that was repeatedly referred to was Ephesians 6:4 about how fathers are supposed to rear their children in the ways of godliness. (Or something like that. I don’t have the text in front of me.) In his keynote address on Saturday, the bishop said that in Igbo culture, men are so focused on having sons that they ignore their daughters. This, he said, was wrong and un-Biblical, citing the Ephesians passage. (It is a rare example of the household codes being used for a liberative purpose.) He looked at lots of fathers in the Old Testament – Abraham, Moses, Samuel – and drew lessons from them. The major lesson was that you need to be involved with your children’s lives. He also essentially endorsed women’s ordination along the way.
(The contrast the bishop drew with Christian practice and the demands of Igbo culture reminded me that in my experience, Christians in Africa are so much more aware of how their culture influences their faith than westerners are. This is likely because the experience of living in a non-Christian culture is at most only a few generations removed. But culture, of course, shapes the American church as well. Is it any wonder that a society as individualistic and consumeristic as ours has produced a theology that stresses the importance of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and worship services that resemble rock concerts? But we fail to notice these things and instead think we can be both Christian and live the values of our culture.)
The conference concluded with a five-hour (!) thanksgiving service on Sunday which all the senior clergy in the diocese attended. Awards were handed out to “distinguished Christian fathers.” The evangelistic worship style of the Nigerian church was on full display, more on which in another post.
Here I am addressing the thanksgiving service and presenting Bishop Cyril with a Yale Divinity School paperweight.
I had some questions about the fathers conference – for instance, is it really accessible to all men or just the sub-set of wealthy fathers? There was a registration fee for the conference and significant costs associated with attending. But as I have learned elsewhere in Africa, the Anglican church has a lot of repenting to do for being too focused on higher-status and wealthier people.
Those concerns aside, I found it so fascinating that a church could be full of men three days in a row. What a concept!
(There are a few more pictures on Facebook.)