Lessons from the life of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther for today’s Clergy

by Olutayo Irantiola

Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther

It is poignant to go down memory lane periodically and the life of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther caught my fancy lately. I did read up about him and I was able to draw some lessons from his life which will be used for today’s clergymen and all church workers.

Ajayi was born as Ajayi around 1810, in the town of Osogun, in present day Iseyin Local Government, Oyo State. The unforeseen happened, one day, when the slave marauders invaded the town and he was captured. Thereafter, he was exchanged for a horse and later for a wine and tobacco leaves; he was sold seven times to different people before he finally got to the Lagos slave market where he was sold to the Portuguese traders and the journey to the sea began.

By this time, Slave Trade has been abolished by Great Britain and other western nations including Portugal but Portuguese, Brazilian, Spanish, Cuban and some few nations ignored the anti-slave treaties. The British naval anti-slavery ship, the Myrmidon that regularly patrolled the West African coast intercepted the ship that Ajayi was in. It was reported that 102 out of the 189 slaves on board the Portuguese schooner perished in the resultant shipwreck. He was led to Sierra Leone, the homeland for freed slaves.

This was where Ajayi learn to read and write in English language and he was converted into Christianity. Within six months, the keenly watchful young man was appointed a school teacher earning seven and half pence a month. On the 11th of December 1825, he was baptized and he named himself after the Vicar of Christ’s Church, Newgate, London- Samuel Crowther, who was one of the pioneers of the C.M.S.

After knowing him a little, these are the lessons that stood him out from his peers who were all in Sierra Leone-

  • He was zealous and willing: Samuel Ajayi Crowther was a zealous and willing person. He made himself available to do the work and he did it with all his strength upon realizing that it was God who saved him from physical slavery and from spiritual slavery in terms of idolatry. He was willing to support the activities of the Christian Missionary Society. The church needs zealous and willing leaders today.
  • He was versatile: Just like Apostle Paul- Samuel Ajayi Crowther was a versatile person. He was an author, translator, a teacher who taught students, Principal at his Alma Mater, Fourah Bay College, an artisan among others. The church still needs very versatile leaders who can reach out to people via various medium.
  • He was diligent in carrying out his tasks: Samuel Ajayi Crowther was very diligent in carrying out the tasks at hand. He taught students diligently, did evangelism diligently, led other priests diligently. This is a virtue that needs to be restored to the church today.
  • He was not driven by Position: His major interest was in doing the will of God and follow the instructions of the Christian Missionary Society, for instance, when he was recommended for consecration, he declined with all humility claiming he was not worth it, just like Moses did. It was Revd Schon who advised him to accept the offer. Thereafter, he was consecrated as a Bishop. People of today are more driven by positions.
  • He opened new frontiers for missions: Samuel Ajayi Crowther after going to the Niger Delta; he was able to open new frontiers. In order to assist the natives, he was translating the Bible into their language; he was getting plots allocated to the church and winning souls for the kingdom of God. Another way in which he opened new frontiers was that he created a template for which the natives in Lagos and Sierra Leone supported the Niger Delta Diocese till it was self-supporting. He was described as always prepared to be a pioneer, opening new ground for mission and allowing his superiors and better managers to man the established stations. The church need fresh ideas from our leaders on how to move the gospel forward despite the assumption that the environment is saturated.
  • He had mentors: Samuel Ajayi Crowther did not just jump into the ministry. He had mentors and forerunners who were able to vouch for his ability and they were the ones recommending him for ordination and consecration.
  • He mentored others: In the annals of the Anglican church, names like Dandeson Crowther, Thomas Babington Macaulay cannot be forgot because they were under his tutelage and they contributed to the growth of the church. Others are John Christopher Taylor and Simon Jonas- the person who helped him to understand Igbo language, such a person would have understudied his boss and he would be able to translate overtime. Also, as a good carpenter, he sought to educate his people to be carpenters, mechanics, masons, artisans etc. He encouraged local initiatives to recruit men as his staff. This shows us that the totality of our leaders should be used in mentoring others.
  • He was firm in doctrinal issues: Although many people considered him as an extremist, he was firm in doctrinal issues. He used his Biblical understanding to maintain that polygamy was not right. How firm are today’s clergymen most especially in the face of politicians and influential congregants?
  • He was honoured: One of the greatest honour that came to Samuel Ajayi Crowther was the consecration as a Bishop and the honourary doctorate degree awarded to him by the University of Oxford. All of what he never bargained for came as peeks for his hard work.
  • He experienced disappoints as human: Samuel Ajayi Crowther had a fair share of life experiences, he was kidnapped while trying to lay the foundation of the church at Ghebe. At another time, his friend, Chief Abokko, a treacherous person, stripped him naked. At another instance, his missionary ship, Henry Venn was taken from him and it was turned into a merchant vessel.
  • He was a Social Person: Samuel Ajayi Crowther did not isolate himself from the reality of his age. He had a friend Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, an influential politician, mariner, philanthropist and industrialist in colonial Lagos. They collaborated on a couple of Lagos social initiatives such as the opening of the Academy (a social and cultural center for public enlightenment). How involved are today’s clergy in the society?
  • He was a dutiful father: From the record of his family, he was a dutiful father. All his children were educated in England, two of his daughters married clergymen and the third married a trader. His youngest son was the Archdeacon of Niger Delta, Dandeson Coates Macaulay; his grandson was Herbert Macaulay amongst others. How are the clergy of today handling the faith over to their children?
  • He took records: In one of the documents read, events were not just passing him by, he had records, for instance, in 1857, Onitsha was described as, “was about one mile in length, if not more… one broad road runs length-wise which divides it into two sections. Both sides of the roads are either covered by bushes or plantations.” Do clergies have recorded of things happening around them and to them?
  • He became a point of reference in Anglicanism: His personal records were untainted and he eventually made a name as the father of Anglicanism in Nigeria and the first African Bishop. His name was immortalized by naming the university owned by the Church of Nigeria in his honour- Ajayi Crowther University and there is an episcopal feast in his honour in Nigeria and the United States.
  • He tolled the path of honour: Towards the final part of his ministry, there was a cause for the activities of some of the priests under his leadership to be investigated, he resigned his role. Although, these atrocities were used to discredit his worth. He was described as a soft disciplinarian and a symbol of the Negro race who lacked every sign of ruling prowess. He honourably resigned. How many clergies would honorably resign rather than through their subordinates under the boss?

Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther was a man full of responsibility to the Church of England, the Missionary activities that was committed into his hands and trade in his era. However, all these still had an impact in his undoing but the challenge remains, how many clergy of today can surpass his record despite the abundance of resources at their disposal.

May God help us.

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