Griswolds visit Nigeria, world's largest Anglican province

January 22, 2002

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold arrived in Nigeria January 14, on a visit that will take him to all three provinces of the Church of Nigeria, the largest in the Anglican Communion.

Accompanied by his wife, Phoebe, and four aides, Griswold was met on arrival at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos by a team of dignitaries headed by Archbishop Ephraim A. Ademowo of the Church of Nigeria's Province I, which has 31 dioceses.

Griswold is expected to lead the annual Episcopal Retreat at the IBRU Center, Agbarha-Otor towards the end of his stay in the country.

On Wednesday, January 16, the Griswold party visited the capital city of Abuja, where a welcome team led by Bishop Tanimu Aduda of the Diocese of Gwagwalada drove in a convoy into the city. The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria, was waiting to receive them into Episcopal House, his official residence. A brief service of thanksgiving for safe arrival was held in the chapel.

Dialogue rather than violence encouraged

The next day, the American team visited the city of Bida, where the presiding bishop commended the Etsu Nupe--the Muslim traditional ruler of the kingdom of Nupe--Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako, for his wisdom in playing a moderate role between the Muslim and Christian population.

The ruler informed Griswold of the sadness of his subjects over the September 11 attack against the US, and said he wondered how such evil could be perpetuated in the name of religion. He stressed that his townspeople have always lived in peaceful co-existence with their neighbors and pledged the total commitment of his people to resolving issues of dispute among them through dialogue rather than to resort to violence, as in some other parts of northern Nigeria.

Griswold later visited the community of Doko, where he encouraged Christians in their struggle to maintain their identity in a predominantly Muslim society. Doko, which has a history of persevering faith in the face of stiff persecution, stands today as a bastion of Christianity in Nupeland.

Griswold rounded off his visit to Bida by laying the foundation stone of a 10-room guest house to be built by the diocese.

Taking the Word to the world

On January 18, the party was the guest of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in their headquarters in Abuja. There, the presiding bishop promised the moral support of the Episcopal Church in the US as Nigeria's fledging democracy faces another round of elections in 2003.

At the office of the Nigerian Information Minister, Jerry Gana, Griswold affirmed the key role Nigeria plays in the community of nations. He stressed that news about Nigeria is closely monitored in the US, noting that because of its size and great potentials, events in Nigeria have a ripple effect in the African region and in the whole world.

Gana, an Anglican from Doko, cited the 'great and indelible' contributions of the early Anglican missionaries to the making of the Nigerian nation. He said their concern was not just the conversion of souls but also the proclamation of a holistic gospel, which transformed the environment of the people they sought to evangelize through provision of schools, hospitals and other social amenities. Gana said that the only way the gospel can again make an inroad into the life of the nation is for the church to rediscover this age long secret of taking 'the whole Word to the whole world.'

At All Saints' Nursery and Primary School in Wuse, owned by Abuja Diocese, the presiding bishop addressed both the staff and pupils, expressing joy in being in their midst and noting that they are important as future leaders of the nation.

Built by faith

The visit to St. Matthew's Church was remarkable, as the church building was under construction. Tucked in the highbrow Maitama district, St. Matthew's is a congregation with great potential for growth. The Rev. Peter Okunromade, vicar of the church, rehearsed the history of the congregation and its humble beginnings in the house of one of the foundation members before moving to a nearby school. The land that the church now occupies was a result of much prayer and exercise of faith, Okunromade said, noting that Archbishop Peter Akinola was said to have given the church a two-month deadline to take the construction to the roof stage and less than a year to complete it.

The party made a brief stop at the 3,000-seat Cathedral Church of the Advent, where the Primate of All Nigeria has his throne. Built in 10 months, the cathedral combines modern architecture with plenty of space. Ade Ademo, the diocesan architect, explained to the American visitors the intricacies involved in situating the fully air-conditioned Church at Gwarinpa, an area within phase II of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The decision in 1999 to relocate the cathedral from All Saints' Church in Wuse to Gwarinpa was born out of the yearning to keep pace with the city's development.

[Editor's Note: Nan Cobbey of Episcopal Life is covering the Presiding Bishop's visit to Nigeria.]