Born c. 1809 into the Yoruba, as a boy of 13, Ajayi (or Adjai) was captured in a Falani attack and sold as a slave. The ship transporting him was arrested by the British Royal Navy and taken to Sierra Leone, where he came under the care of the Church Missionary Society in 1822. At baptism he took the name of a committee member of the CMS. Samuel Ajayi was among the first students of the Fourah Bay Institution, served as a teacher in Sierra Leone, and was a CMS representative on the British government’s Niger Expedition of 1841. After studying at Islington College, the Church Missionary Society’s training school in London, he was ordained in 1843 and was one of the founding members of the CMS mission to the Yoruba people. From 1857 he led the Niger Mission with an all-African staff, covering the area from the Upper Niger to the Delta. In 1864 Crowther was ordained and appointed Bishop of Western Africa beyond the Queen’s jurisdiction. In that same year he was made a Doctor of Divinity by Oxford University (by tradition, new bishops in the Church of England were made Doctors of Divinity by Oxford or Cambridge on their elevation to the episcopate).
As the first native African Anglican bishop and leader of a native African Anglican mission, Crowther exemplified the younger Henry Venn’s indigenous church policy. Venn, an Evangelical Anglican missionary statesman and grandson of the Evangelical theologian Henry Venn, served as secretary of the Church Missionary Society from 1841 to 1872. His aim was that indigenous missionary churches should be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-extending. Venn was instrumental in securing Crowther’s appointment as a missionary bishop. However, in his later years, as his authority was increasingly bypassed and the African Niger mission was effectively dismantled by European missionaries, Crowther was the victim of a more ethnocentric missionary approach that marked the imperial period.
Crowther was also the principal influence on the translation of the Bible into Yoruba and on the orthography devised for writing Yoruba, and he encouraged vernacular translation by his clergy. While his attention was over time directed more and more to other languages, he continued to oversee the translation of the Bible into Yoruba, a project that was completed in the mid-1880s.
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is now the second-largest Church in the Anglican Communion by membership, after the Church of England.
The commemoration of Samuel Ajayi Crowther on December 31, the date of his death from the effects of a stroke in 1891, was adopted provisionally by The Episcopal Church in 2009.
Almighty God, you rescued Samuel Ajayi Crowther from slavery, sent him to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to his people in Nigeria, and made him the first bishop from the people of West Africa: Grant that those who follow in his steps may reap what he has sown and find abundant help for the harvest; through him who took upon himself the form of a slave that we might be free, the same Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.
Who are these that fly like a cloud,
and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall hope for me,
the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from afar,
their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the Lord your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel,
because he has made you beautiful.
Portio mea Domine
You only are my portion, O LORD; *
I have promised to keep your words.
I entreat you with all my heart, *
be merciful to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways *
and turned my feet toward your decrees.
I hasten and do not tarry *
to keep your commandments.
Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, *
I do not forget your law.
At midnight I will rise to give you thanks, *
because of your righteous judgments.
I am a companion of all who fear you *
and of those who keep your commandments.
The earth, O LORD, is full of your love; *
instruct me in your statutes.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Pray today especially for
- the Church in Nigeria
- missionary zeal in bishops
- those who translate the Bible into West African languages
O God, the King of saints, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all other of your righteous servants, known to us and unknown; remembering especially this day Samuel Ajayi Crowther, bishop in Western Africa; and we beseech you that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The scripture texts for the Lesson and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Psalm is taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979), and the Collect from the provisional propers for the Commemoration of Samuel Ajayi Crowther.