I have been deeply impressed by the clergy I’ve met so far in the diocese of Owerri. They are spiritual, prayerful, educated, thoughtful, and work incredible hours. With labourers like these, it is no wonder the church is growing so quickly here.
Here are snapshots of three.
Paul is the archdeacon in charge of the cathedral and also overseas continuing education for the clergy. We’ve had some good conversations about the importance of servant leadership. He worries that young people are becoming priests for the wrong reasons – status, influence – and prays for as much time as possible to mentor the fifteen or so priests under his charge. He recently preached a sermon on the statement that came out of last year’s Lausanne Conference in Cape Town that called Christians to a life of “simplicity, integrity, and humility.” “If 4000 Christians can agree on that,” he told me, “surely there is something we can learn from it.”
Chuks came to pick me up from the airport. He has five children, is in charge of a cluster of churches, helps prepare confirmands around the diocese, and teaches religion at a local university. He just finished – about three weeks ago – his Ph.D dissertation, which was on how the church can respond to people with physical disabilities. He has extensive experience as a church planter. One church he started grew from 20 people on the first Sunday to over 500 less than two years later. I asked him the secret to successful evangelism. “Church planting demands sacrifice. You must devote your all to it.” The second secret? “You must not condemn people. They must know you first and then they will accept the Gospel.”
Chike was a businessman for twenty years but always involved in various forms of lay ministry. Eleven years ago, he was ordained a priest. “I always knew that God had a calling on my life,” he said. “But I never thought it would involve wearing a collar.” When he went before the committee that decides whether to approve him for ordination, he was asked, “Why do you seek to enter the ministry now?” “Point of correction,” he replied. “I am already in the ministry. I am just seeking a different form of it.” Chike overseas formation for new priests now and is especially interested – as all good priests here are – in deepening the faith of people who already profess Christianity. He says there is a three-pronged approach to mission: reach, build, send. “God did not save you to get you to heaven,” he tells people. “God saved you to send you.” Chike is also a prolific author and has written several books.
All these men are, well, men, as are most of the people I’ve spoken with in my time in Owerri thus far. It’s not for lack of trying that I haven’t spoken at length with women but cultural barriers can be difficult to breach. I’m still working at it.
I should say that I have also discussed with all these men the question of homosexuality and divisions in the Anglican Communion. All of them are opposed to homosexuality and believe it is incompatible with Scripture. But none of them are opposed in a polemical fashion. They are interested in hearing what I have to say and how gay people can come to be students at a seminary. They also think that it is possible to disagree on this question and still be united as Anglicans.
Any of these priests would make great bishops and may yet be called. But they also have a lack of ambition that comes from a deep sense of self-assurance, which means they likely never will be. Still, as I talk with them, I ask myself: what would happen to the Anglican Communion if these were the voices of Nigerian Anglicanism that were the loudest?