BISHOP AJAI CROWTHER: FRUSTRATED; HONOURED BY THE CHURCH
God commenced His ‘’revolution’’ in Nigeria through His priests of Nigerian origin with Bishop Ajayi Crowther, the first black man all over the world to be bishop in the Church of God, Anglican Communion. Ajayi Crowther was a great pioneer in many fields. The work of God was to later detonate in the 1920s, when the gospel exploded and raw miracles started happening by the finger of the Creator. The worth of the first black bishop is captured succinctly by an institution named after him in a citation at its commissioning: ‘The Bishop Ajayi Crowther University identifies itself in a very special way with the first black man all over the world to be bishop in the Church of God, Anglican Communion. Ajayi Crowther was a great pioneer in many fields. He was a keen evangelist and great man of God, who became a distinguished missionary. The most travelled missionary Africa ever known, Bishop Crowther, was the pioneer, architect and builder of formal education having opened the first school for girls in Onitsha in 1856, and later introduced primary and secondary school education wherever his Agency – The Church Missionary Society, established its presence”. (University named after Bishop Ajayi-Crowther)
As recorded by eminent historian, late Emeritus Prof. J.F. Ade-Ajayi, ‘’ While in Freetown, Crowther became interested in languages. In 1826 he was taken to England to attend Islington Parish School. He returned to Freetown in 1827 and attended the newly-opened Fourah Bay College, an Anglican missionary school, where his interest in language found him studying Latin and Greek and also Temne. After completing his studies, he began teaching at the school. He also married Asano Susan, a schoolmistress, who was also on the Portuguese slave ship that originally brought Crowther to Sierra Leone. In 1841, Crowther was selected to accompany the missionary J.F. Schön on an expedition along the Niger River. Together with Schön, he was expected to learn Hausa for use on the expedition. The goal of the expedition was to spread commerce, teach agricultural techniques, spread Christianity, and help end the slave trade. Following the expedition, Crowther was recalled to England, where he was trained as a minister and ordained by the bishop of London. He returned to Africa in 1843 and with Henry Townsend opened a mission in Abeokuta, in today’s Ogun State, Nigeria. In 1864, Ajayi Crowther who had founded Christ Church was consecrated a Bishop in London and transferred to the Niger diocese to start a new mission there.’’
More importantly, Crowther, as recorded by Ade Ajayi “was emphatic on the value of literary, academic and institutional education. He could see that if it was deep and thorough enough and based on Christian principles, it should not prevent a man from using his hands. Crowther was himself a linguistic scholar of distinction who not only encouraged education but was also at home in construction of buildings and planning artificial drainage. At the same time, he supported Herbert Macaulay in founding the Lagos Grammar School. He took great interest in the development of the Freetown Grammar School and Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone when all local resources had been exhausted. He strongly favoured education in England” It is highly remarkable that one of Crowther’s grandchildren, Herbert Macaulay became one of the first Nigerian nationalists and played an important role in ending British colonialism in Nigeria.
But Crowther suffered persecution in the hands of racial British priests who were envious of his achievements; an indication of the fact that there is no perfect church, and there is no perfect human-being. Records indicate that biased fellow Anglican missionaries challenged Crowther’s moral values and capability. They undermined him and his African staff, resulting in his resignation. Calmly, the bishop weathered the storm but later died of stroke. But God made it possible for the Anglican Church to publicly apologise to Crowther 150 years after his ordination.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England, Justin Welbyapologised for the church’s maltreatment of Ajayi Crowther at a ‘thanksgiving and repentance’ service marking the 150th anniversary of Bishop Crowther’s ordination. Welby, in a show of penitence stated that: “This is a service of thanksgiving and repentance. Thanksgiving for the extraordinary life, which we commemorate repentance, shame and sorrow for Anglicans who are reminded of the sin of many of their ancestors. “We in the Church of England need to say sorry that someone was properly and rightly consecrated Bishop and then betrayed and let down and undermined. It was wrong.” He continued: “In spite of immense hardship and despite the racism of many whites, he evangelised so effectively that he was eventually ordained Bishop, over much protest. ‘’He led his missionary diocese brilliantly, but was in the end falsely accused and had to resign, not long before his death.”
Archbishop Welby also stated that “Crowther did not make himself grand. He lived out the commands of the words he took at his consecration. And from his time forward, God has demonstrated his grace through that ministry. Today well over 70 million Christians in Nigeria are his spiritual heirs. “Today we honour him and in so doing, The Lord Jesus Christ whom he served. ‘’We are sorry for his suffering at the hands of Anglicans in this country. Learning from their foolishness and from his heroism, we seek to be a church that does not again exclude those whom God is calling. We seek new apostles, and the grace to recognise them when they come.”
TERRIFIC HEADLINES notes that if Crowther was alive at that ceremony, he certainly would have forgiven his persecutors as Jesus Christ commands.
For more on the entire lives and ministries of prominent Nigerian priests of God, please consult a publication titled: NIGERIA’S LEADING LIGHTS OF GOD: Revolutionaries in Worldwide Christianity available at the following locations:
- The Bookshops, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Redemption Camp, Mowe, Ogun State
- The Sword of the Spirit Ministries, Olaogun, Old Ife Road, Ibadan
- Dunamis International Christian Centre, Area One, Abuja
- The Bookshop, local departure terminal, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja
- The Shop, Ground Floor, Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja
- The Bookstore, Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja. Lagos