BRIEF PROFILE OF BISHOP CYRIL CHUKWUNONYEREM OKOROCHA
Dr. Cyril Okorocha is a Fellow of the University of Edinburgh, Center for the study of Christianity in Non-Western World; a Crowther Fellow of the University of Birmingham, Selly Oak Colleges; former Head of Religious Studies, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) , Zaria and Coordinator of Higher education in religion for ABU related Colleges of education in Northern Nigeria; trainer of Lecturers in teaching and learning Christianity in Higher education, ABU Zaria and its related Colleges; Visiting Lecturer and staff Trainer for East Africa Association of Theological Educators; Visiting lecturer/Adjunct Professor School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, USA; Founding Associate and visiting lecturer of Oxford Center for Mission Studies, Oxford UK; Founding member and West African Secretary, International Fellowship of Evangelical Theologians; Founder and Director, Institute For Theology and Mission in African, Owerri and Enugu, Nigeria; Member International Association for Mission Studies; Founding Member, British and Irish Association for Mission Studies(BIAMS); Organiser of the G-CODE 2000 movement that has revolutionalized the Anglican Communion.
For the past 13 years by divine permission and vocation, he has been the 3rd Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Owerri. One of His academic mentors, Prof. Andrew Walls, a renowned World Missiologist, Historian and Social Anthropologist, describes Dr. Cyril as
“A meticulous Scholar of an extraordinary intellect, integrity and giftedness, very articulate and yet endowed with a down to earth and thoroughly humane pastoral heart which seems to exude with the loving presence of the spirit of the Living God which touches everyone around him with a graciousness which can only be described as coming from his Lord, Jesus Christ whom Cyril always says is everything to him”.
He is a rare gift of God to His Church and the world, spanning into two centuries. Dr. Okorocha is at once a social Anthropologist, a missiologist, a philosopher and an extraordinary Biblical theologian, a preacher, exegete and bible expositor; counselor, pastor and a highly gifted and prolific writer.
Dr. Okorocha is married to Dr. (Mrs) Eunice ( who is by personal choice and merit, a member of the 8 persons Canterbury Review Team, the Apex body which forms the fulcrum on which the world wide Anglican Communion revolves, and of which Her Majesty, the Queen of England is already a member).
For seven years (1991 – 1998), he served as a special emissary to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Director for Missions and Evangelism and Theological Education, as well as the Coordinator of the World Wide Decade of Evangelism, for the Global Anglican Communion, based in London with his amiable lady wife, Dr. (Mrs) Eunice I. Okorocha, and their four children.
BRIEF PROFILE OF ARCHBISHOP BENJAMIN CHUKWUEMEKA NWANKITI
(Second Bishop of Owerri Diocese;Bishop-25:4:68, Archbishop 20:4:97;
Second Bishop of Owerri Diocese)
"“To those who know him,
No words are necessary;
To those who are not so privileged,
No words would be sufficient”
This was part of a tribute paid to Benjamin upon his retirement, as
Archbishop of Province Two. One of the favourite hymns of Archbishop
“ I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One,and One in Three.
In 1947, the CMS School at Christ Church, Owerri received as one of its teachers, one Benjamin Chukwuemeka Nwankiti; who had been brought to the Church as Agent. Ben, as he became popularly known, was born on 25th April, 1928 at Egbu when his father was employed as Agent. He received part of his early schooling here. Later, he went to Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, where he passed out creditably in 1946 with the Cambridge School Certificate. After this, he proceeded to St. Mark's Colleg, Awka for training as a teacher. It was here in Awka that he changed his mind, and decided to go into the church as a humble Agent. In those days an Agent was not even a Catechist; he was a multi-purpose church employee whose function was defined only by the Catechist under whom he served. This was what Benjamin met when he was brought to Christ Church, Owerri by the Archdeacon, the Venerable Victor N. Umunna, Benjamin was handed over to the Wardens-Pa Joseph Ofurum, Pastor's Warden and Pa James Kamalu, People's Warden, none of whom knew exactly what to do with this young man. So Benjamin became bell-ringer, sexton, odd-job-man, Choirmaster and School Teacher. From Monday to Friday he was a school teacher and took charge of Elementary class four, which was at that time the top class of the school. On Saturdays and Sundays, Ben organised the preparation for the church services on Sunday. Christ Church has always had two congregations-the Igbo and the English congregations, so Ben's education came in quite useful in the conduct of the English services. In these church services he was assisted by his old teacher at DMGS, Sam Osuji, then the principal of Emmanuel College, who played the organ. The Choir was drawn mainly from boys from Emmanuel College. This writer was one of those choristers, especially the few who went on to learn to play the instrument as well. It was clear that Ben had decided to devote his life to the service of Christ in whatever capacity he was apprehensive, but Ben's mind was made up. Those, like this writer, who associated closely with him in those days will testify to the serious-mindedness of this young man, his great love of others, his vision, his determination to get on with his job, his football (right full back in those days) and, above everything else, his great humility. In the Michaelmas Term of 1948, Ben Nwankiti was sent to Melvile Hall (now Immanuel College), Ibadan for a three year course leading to the Diaconate Ordination. On July 1, 1951, he was ordained a Deacon and was posted to Christ Church Onitsha. In 1952 he was transferred to the Cathedral Church of All Saints Onitsha. It was from here that, in 1955, he was sent to St. John's College, University of Durham to do a degree course in Philosophy, leading to the Bacelor's of Arts Degree. In 1958, he obtained this qualification; back home in 1959 he was posted to Abagana. In 1960, Benjamin became the Vicar of St. Bartholomew Church Enugu; and between 19961 and 1967 he worked in the Religious Department of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Benjamin is a product of Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha. On April 25, 1968 (St. Mark's Day-Ben's 40th birthday) he was consecrated a bishop. On January 1, 1969 he became the Bishop of Owerri (following Cockin), the second in the see of Owerri, and the youngest bishop (at 40) in the Province of West Africa. On April 19, 1997, Ben was elected Archbishop of Province. Two, confirmed and enthroned in this office the following day, on Sunday April 20. a year later, on April 25, 1998, Benjamin stepped down as Archbishop, having reached the maximum age of 70. THE EPISCOPACY OF BENJAMIN NWANKITI "There is the need to think of the Church Through which our risen Lord is seeking to redeem The world from all the evil with which it is infected". - Leonard Hodgson. The months following the enthronement of Bishop Nwankiti as Bishop of Owerri (with headquarters at Egbu) were marred by civil war activity. 1969 was particularly unsettled, since many areas of Igboland (Biafra) had fallen to the Federal armed forces. Some of these areas were part of Owerri Diocese, so missionary work was much hampered. It was against this background that the need to think of the Church through which our risen Lord sought to redeem the world…, and his messager, the Bishop, set to work. The war ended in January 1970. there was devastation all over the area, and there was much pressing need for relief work in the resettlement and termination of the refugee problem. As a hymn writer put it,; it became a battle to rescue the perishing and to care for the dying. The relief work mounted by Owerri Diocese did much commendable work. It could be said, quite safely, that the actual work of reconstruction and development of the Diocesan functions began about 1972. Top on the agenda was, perhaps, the training and, in some areas, retraining of personnel. The need arose here for the training of more pastors to cope with the expansion of the Diocesan work. Women's work was instituted, and Mothers' union was reactivated. The youths were not left out-the Anglican Youth Fellowship was established. Soon the normal life of the Diocese had been restored. GROWTH OF THE CHURCH THROUGHOUT OWERRI DIOCESE In 1984, two historic events took place: the Okigwe/Orlu Diocese was announced, and soon inaugurated with Bishop Samuel Ebo, of the Diocese of Jos and one-time provost of All Saints Cathedral Church, Egbu, as the Bishop. His translation/enthronement took place in St. Paul's Church, Nkwerre, which became his Cathedral Church. The other event was the institution of the Mbaitoli/Ikeduru Archdeaconry with headquarters at Holy Trinity Church, Obazu, Mbieri. With the departure of Okigwe/Orlu, what was left on the administration at Egbu, was Owerri, Egbu, Mbaise and Mbaitoli/Ikeduru Archdeaconries. In keeping with the spirit to expand the ministry of Christ, there remained much room for progress and expansion. Meanwhile, two Junior Seminaries had been established-the Archdeacon Dennis Seminary (for boys at Mbieri) and the Dora Chinyere Nwankiti Junior Seminary (for girls at Inyishi). Women's work embraced a weaving centre. 1985, the Bishop, instituted the Sacred Order of the Knights of St. Christopher. By this creation, Bishop Nwankiti became the founding patron of the Order, which has spread all other dioceses east of the Niger, including Asaba, Warri, Benin and Sabongida Ora. The merits of Christopher as a Saint are well known and do not bear repetition here. What is refreshing is the speed with which other bishops adopted this most worthy idea of their senior brother, Benjamin. In the first investiture ceremony held in All Saints Cathedral Church, Egbu, fifteen knights, of whom the late Maxwell Onyeagu was one, were invested with the Order. The late Eze Mitchel Egbukole was similarly honoured in 1988. In 1992, at the Synod held in Christ Church, Owerri, the theme prayer was: Prosper with your blessing, O Lord, the work to which you have called us in this Diocese, and strengthen the hands of all who serve you. Make our worship more worthy, our witness more effective, our lives more holy, inspire us all with fresh zeal in the furtherance of your kingdom, for the honour of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. It was an act of providence that through this prayer the Synod was able to pass a resolution which led to the creation of Mbaise Diocese out of the existing Mbaise Archdeaconry. This Archdeaconry had been created in 1977 by Bishop Nwankiti, when the Reverend Canon Maduakolam became the first Archdeacon. At that time there were ten parishes. The inauguration of Mbaise Diocese, with Bishop Cyril Anyanwu, provost of All Saint Cathedral Church, consecrated as Bishop, took place on the feast of St. Andrew on 30 November 1992 in St. Michael and All Angels Church, Ife Ezinihitte, which became the Cathedral Church of that diocese. The Diocese of Okigwe North and Okigwe South were to be inaugurated on 7 February 1994. Christianity had reached the Okigwe area in 1908 at Arondizuogu and Ezeoke in 1913. Okigwe North (with Bishop Alfred, I. S. Nwaizuzu) and Okigwe South (with Bishop Bennett Okoro) seemed to complete the exercise. The result was that Owerri Diocese which took off on 27 January 1959 had been desolved into Owerri, Orlu, Mbaise, Okigwe North and Okigwe South Dioceses. Five bishops, of whom Bishop Nwankiti of Owerri (Egbu) became the elder stateman.
“Believe not those who say Thy upward path is smooth, lest thus shouldst stumble;
and before the truth” ___Anne Bronte
Crowther, even though he was a Bishop of the Church of England, was of little consequence in the eyes of the young white missionaries who were not even ordained priests at the time. Nevertheless, Crowther’s leadership, from 1854 to 1891 when he died, was unassailable. He charted the course which the Church Missionary Society was to follw into Igboland, with the result of what is evident here today. It was this same colonial mentality which made the authorities in London decide that Archdeacon Dennis, and not the Rev. J. C. Taylor, should organize the work of the missionaries in this area. The original intention as decided by Crowther had been that Taylor, being an Igbo man, would be more readily accepted than any other leader But it seemed the time was not ripe for a black leader.
Archdeacon Dennis was sent out by the London Bible Society to see to the translation of the Bible into the language, which is Igbo. With the death of Crowther British attitudes returned to white supremacy. So Dennis became the organizer rather than Taylor. Certainly Taylor being black, and assisted by Onyeabo, could have done a better job in this area, since it was already Home to him. However, by 1939 the growth of the Owerri Mission (headquarter at Egbu) was remarkable. Evidence of the presence of the CMS could be felt as far away as Umuariam in Obowo; Arondizuogu in Okigwe/Orlu, Nkweshi/Oguta and in and around Mbaitoli and Ikeduru. Control and supervision of this vast area still came from Onitsha. It was not until early forties that a superintended was posted to Egbu. By this time up to nine Church districts had been created. For this large area the superintendent became a priest of the rank of Archdeacon-Owerri Archdeaconry.
The last white man to serve as Archdeacon here was Wilcox. With his departure it seemed that the CMS authorities had decided that the time was ripe to try a black man. That man was the Rev. H. O. Nweje who was promoted Archdeacon.
“Nna anyi Nweje” was a native of Onitsha, a man of very simple and quite disposition; a man of incontestable integrity-the embodiment of what the older generation today see as a true pastor. He was affectionately known as Holy Nweje, because his philosophy was never to hurt even a fly. The people of Egbu made him welcome and became a member of their community. It was under his supervision that all Saints Church building construction started. That year was 1939. The CMS Mission had come to stay, so it was time to commence putting up permanent structures that would last through time.
All Saints Church, Egbu has always been the church station for the people of Egbu Nchi Ise. It was designed, at the time, to accommodate no more than 400 worshippers. Meanwhile, in other districts (Nine in all), mud and thatched buildings were giving way to permanent structures; but unlike those buildings being constructed by Roman catholic authorities, our church buildings were small in scale. Some people have wondered whether this was a reflection of the fact that conversion of people to Christinaity in many areas was slow.
The importance of Egbu as a focal point in the administration of church work has been on the ascendancy since then. All Saints Church has grown from a village church to a Parish Church and on to an Archdeaconry Church in 1939. Today, it is a Cathedral Church whose position of pre-eminence is not doubted.
In the decision to enlarge and modernize the building as befits this mother church, the second oldest east of the Niger, mention should be made of those who served here as superintendents before, during and after the tenure of Archdeacon Nweje.
There were such men as the Revernds Ibeneme, Onyelobi, Onubogu, Dike, Echezona, Okechukwu, Eneli, Egolu and Mbonu. Remarkably all these men, with the exception of Revered Mbonu came from the Onitsha administrative division. Mention should be made here also that there was no alternative to this “ijeko ebe” presence, since our citizens here were slow in answering the call to serve in Christ’s ministry. About this, however, more later. Archdeacon Nweje was succeeded in 1945 by Archdeacon Victor N. Umunna.
Archdeacon Umunna went to Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he obtained the Diploma in Theology from the University of Durham. Umunna was, apart from Archdeacon Dennis, the first pastor who was a graduate to be posted to Egbu. This fact encouraged him to review the kind of education being given to pupils in the primary schools in this area. Curricula were also reviewed; and he and the education authority began to look beyond possession of Teachers Grade II as a desirable and compulsory teacher qualification.
The result was the improvement in teacher training, as well as their retraining. Improvements were to be noticed in the quality of students turned out throughout the Archdeaconry.
About this time, 1946, the authorities at Onitsha began to realize that their area of authority which now which encompassed the whole of the Easter Region, was too vast for the control of one Bishop. An area embracing the Southernmost part of the Eastern Region was designated the Niger Delta Diocese, with headquarters in Port Harcourt. The head was to be an Assistant Bishop-Assistant to the Bishop on the Niger, who resided at Onitsha. D.B. hall was consecrated Bishop, and became the Assistant Bishop on the Niger with authority to look after this new area which included the then Owerri Archdeaconry with headquarters at Egbu. Creating an administrative area in which the vast section of Owerri Archdeaconry was playing a secondary role, did not escape the notice of some Christians from the area. There was frustration, leading to agitation, which led to what, in trade union language, would be called a militant action. A word here, perhaps, on the merit of agitation.
During the colonial administration, many administrative officers probably felt that a sanction should be written into the tablet containing the Ten Commandments, namely, “thou shalt not agitate over what you claim to be your legitimate right”. Indeed, the Governor at the time, Sir Arthur Richards (as he the was) told our politicians (in 1945) that agitation for self government was intolerable. In his words “In order to agitate you are setting the hands of the clock back”. Agitation, to every expatriate, was impertinent; and Bishop Patterson must have felt the same at the time Timothy Onyewuchi and his group moved to voice their dissatisfaction over the slow pace of progress in the development of Owerri Archdeaconry.
A number of Christians from this area led by Timothy Onyewuchi from Umuodu Village, Owerri, had moved to attack what they saw as discrimination against the people of Owerri area, especially in the area of the training of personnel for the priesthood. A meeting was held in enugu where the movement started. Prominent among those who attended were Mr. Onyewuchi himself, who was both convene and chairman, Mr. Ben Ajoku from Mpama Village in Egbu, Mr. Agunwa and Mr. Bennett Anyasodo from Mbieri and a few others. This meeting gave birth to a baby called the Owerri Diocesean Christian ASociety. It was through the determined and untiring efforts of this body that the idea for a Diocese of Owerri was conceived. In 1959, the authorities at Onitsha finally agreed that Owerri Archdeaconry should be carved out of the Niger Delta to become the Diocese of Owerri. One visible outcome of the work of the Owerri Diocesan Christian Society was the change of attitude by the authorities in the training and ordination of priests from the Owerri area. J. Ude-Anyiwo and S. N. Iheagwam (father of our present Bishop) were selected and sent for training. They were ordinated in 1945. Other were to follow- S. N. Okoli and F. U. Nworie in 1948; Benjamin Nwankiti, G. N. maduakolam in 1956. Benjamin Nwankiti rose to become, in 1969, the Bishop of Owerri.
At the time of this Synod (1955) Nigeria was still under the colonial tutelage. So there were about the readiness of a Nigerian citizen to be made a Diocesan Bishop. However, looking at the terms agreed under which a new diocese could take off in Owerri, it became clear that the new diocese could not be inaugurated in 1958, just three years after the agreement. As number of facilities needed to be provided, especially since the new Bishop would undoubtedly be a white man. The site of the Bishop’s Court was considered, sought and procured. The present location opposite Afo Egbu was considered sufficiently detached providing sufficient space for a residence to be constructed. As there was no electricity power supply at that time, the building design assumed the open plan pattern to ensure unrestricted air flow ventilation in keeping with the colonial-based building designs. The sum of £3,000 would be laughed at today; but at that time this was a princely sum. This sum was quickly raised by this determined group. Confirmation of this fact was made at that Synod of 1955 when the Archdeacon of Owerri, Bishop Nkemena, reported that the foundation fund money had been subscribed, and that construction of the Bishop’s house had commenced. With this encouraging statement the President of the Synod, Bishop D. B. Hall proposed formally that the Diocese on the Niger, under whose care Owerri Archdeaconry was ready to be made a diocese, and moved that a prayer be sent to the Archbishop of the Province of West Africa to institute a Diocese of Owerri, and to request the Episcopal Synod to elect a Bishop. This proposal received unanimous approval. And so, Reverend George E. I. Cockin, an Irishman, was elected and confirmed Bishop of the new Diocese of Owerri. He was consecrated by the Most Reverend J. L. C. Horstead, Archbishop of West Africa and, at the time, Lord Bishopof the Diocese of Sierra Leone. This event happened on January 27, 1959, on which day the Diocese of Owerri was inaugurated. All saints Church,, Egbu, then became his cathedral Church.
Bishop Cockin got down to work soon after the inauguration of the Diocese. In may 1959 he held his first Synod here in All Saints Cathedral Church. There being still one Archdeaconry-Owerri which spread over the large area from Egbu to Obowo and Ezeoke in the east; Nkwesi and Oguta to the west and Okigwe and Arondizuogu to the north; the need arose to establish an administration which would make the work of the new diocese easy. This meant the creation of more Archdeaconries and, of course, the institution of more parishes. More trained personnel were needed, especially in the number of priests. Accordingly, in June of that year the first ordination by this Bishop was conducted. The recipient was the Reverend Robinson Obasi Okere, who became a deacon. Okere became a full priest one year later. In the nonths that followed, Christian Okafor and Onwurah Onyejekwe were ordained in a process of ordination that was to follow up till the end of 1968. on the whole forty-one pastors were ordained in this period. One of these (in December, 1964) was Noel Amadi, Nwa Egbu (See Appendix).
Going by today’s standards, Bishop Cockin’s take-off was slow. This was due in part to the lack of adequate number of trained personnel. Another reason is the setback brought about by political upheavals in the country. National security from the date of Nigeria’s Independence having become unsure, long range planning became difficult. In 1964, Nigeria came to the brink of a precipice politically. Politicians could not pull back from this, soon the morming of 15 January, 1966 matters were brought to a head when a group of young army officers removed the FederalGovernment. To Bishop Cockin, an expatriate, as with all other expatriates in the country at that time, the future became uncertain. This must have affected his work; for in the ten years of his episcopacy here, the Bishop was only able to ordain forty pastors.
Military rule in this country has always been a strange phenomenon. At this time the nation was in a state of flux, and the confusion brought about the large scales killing of innocent civilians, especially those of Igbo origin who were living all over parts of the northern region, brought about radical changes in the local administration here which had overnight come under severe pressure, following the return home of fleeing Igbo citizens, which was accompanied by the pillage of their properties. The military governor of Eastern Nigeria, Lt-Col. Ojukwu, sensing that at a time like that, only Igbo people could ensure their own safety, made an order compelling every non-indigene of Igboland to leave Eastern Nigeria. Bishop Cockin was affected. It became necessary, therefore, to look for a suitable indigenous candidate to replace him as bishop. Early in 1968, the Reverend Benjamin Nwankiti, a native of Atta, but serving in the Dioceses on the Niger and stationed at Enugu, where he worked in the Regigious Department of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporartion, was elected bishop. On 25 April of the year he was consecrated bishop at All Saints Cathedral Church here in Egbu. With this consecration Bishop Nwaniti was able to attend the Lambeth Conference in London that year. Bishop Cockin left at the end of that year, and on January 1, 1969, Bishop Nwankiti succeeded him to the see of Egbu-Owerri.
BRIEF PROFILE OF ARCHDEACON DENNIS
Archdeacon Dennis, apart from being a theologian, was a classical scholar, having been to Isington School and King's College, Durham. As a scholar he had mastered the Greek, Latin and Hebrew languages from which the Bible was translated into English. In order to tackle the job of this translation. Dennis embarked upon the study of Igbo language. Although he was greatly assisted by Jeremiah Nwobi (Father in-law to Bishop Okorocha) who conributed the Isuama Igbo version which later became the Union Igbo version. The Union Igbo version is easly read by most people. Others who assisted him were Alphonso Onyeabo, Anyeagbulam and Umunna and other locals, the task was enormous for an adult. But he managed to acquire a working knowledge of the language through the special efforts of the Rev. J. C. Taylor, a Sierra Leonean of Igbo extraction, who became guide and interpreter to the team. Work began later in 1906, beginning with the translation of the New Testament.
Archdeacon Dennis died in 1917 when the ship in which he was sailing back to England was torpedoed in high seas. For his work, the University of Oxford had awarded him an honorary degree of master of Acts.
IN MEMORIAL ARCHDEACON DENNIS
Archdeacon Crowther, a son of the late Bishop, upon hearing of the death of Archdeacon Dennis issued the following statement.
“We were shocked to learn of the sad and irreparable loss we have sustained in the drowning of the Venerable Archdeacon Dennis. He was a man we could hardly spare in the Mission field; (because of) his loving nature, untiring zeal. His readiness to help others cannot be over-rated, all of which actions are deeply appreciated by us, in the Niger Delta Pastorate Churches. He has left us a valuable and lasting legacy in the Ibo union version of the Bible”.
In his own tribute, the Reverend Fred Douglas wrote:
“As long as Ibo remains a spoken language-and it is numbered among those along the West African Coast-this extraordinary man’s work will live. Of all who have successed3d in making any impression in Ibo life and thought Archdeacon Dennis must be accounted the greatest, though one is not unmindful of men like Dr. Baikie, Bishop Samuel Crowther, and Bishop Tugwell. Great as was their service, Archdeacon Dennis has done greater in what, out of a very polyglot of dialects, almost as heterogeneous as the Latin tongues of Europe, he has made an Esperanto of Igbo that has caught on with the masses, thereby giving to these people, the third largest in West Africa, a common vehicle of expression and a language of literature which in turn has widened the (ethnic) consciousness, causing it to feel the throb of unity and to look with dim seeing but hopeful eyes to loftier destiny”.
Nothing need be added to these eloquent testimonies.