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Samuel Ajayi Crowther

On this day in the church calendar, we remember the ministry of Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1806-1891), the first African Bishop in Nigeria.[1] His early life was lived quite differently: he was sold into slavery at the age of 15. However, after his captivity, he was put on a ship, which was then seized by a British anti-slavery patrol in 1822. Those enslaved were taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they were set free.

While in Freetown, Ajayi went to a Church Missionary Society (CMS) school. He was baptized in 1825, at which time he took the name of Samuel Crowther and he subsequently became a teacher. CMS saw in young Samuel a great deal of leadership potential so, in 1842, he went to the CMS theological college in England. He was ordained in 1843 and returned to Sierra Leone to begin his ministry as a priest.

Crowther is remembered for many things. He was among those who translated the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into various indigenous languages. He was a renowned evangelist and teacher, as well as negotiator! He was ordained a bishop on June 29, 1864, and, as such, became the first African Bishop for Nigeria and regions of West Africa.[2]
Bishop Samuel serves as an example of one who took to heart what Mark 16:15-17 reports of Jesus’ command to his disciples, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." We know it again from Matthew 28:19-20. He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity and obey everything that I have commanded you."

His life is a great example of dedication, commitment, learning and ministry. As we reflect on his story today, I pray we would similarly be stirred to follow his example in our daily lives: learning God’s word, understanding it and applying it in our own lives and contexts; seeking to relate it to those around us, to both those we know and those we’ve yet to meet.

"Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy holy apostles many excellent gifts and didst charge them to feed thy flock: give thy grace, we beseech thee to all Bishops, the pastors of thy Church, that they may diligently preach thy Word, and daily administer the godly discipline thereof; and grant to the people that they may obediently follow the same; that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
(Frank Colquhoun, Prayers for Every Occasion,
Morehouse-Barlow, 1974 p.332)

[1] For more on his life see Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, Church Publishing, p.148
[2] Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity, Eerdmans Publishing, 1977 p.567
The Rev. Nicolas (Nick) R.D. Dyke
Pastoral Associate
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