Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop in Western Africa, 1891

Born about the year 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.  The date proposed by For All the Saints is December 30, an open day on the calendar, because John Wycliffe and Sylvester, Bishop of Rome, are commemorated on December 31.

The Collect

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.



Filed under Commemorations

7 responses to “Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop in Western Africa, 1891

  1. Thank you for this wonderful ministry. I do want to ask about the date. “Holy Women Holy Men” lists today as Frances Gaudet. Why do you call it an open day on the calender?

  2. Because I’m not using the calendar of The Episcopal Church in its current form. The basis for this sanctoral calendar is that of The Episcopal Church in its 1980 form (Lesser Feasts and Fasts), chosen because it is the first sanctoral calendar after the adoption of the 1979 Prayer Book. The calendar is supplemented by commemorations from the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England, as well as a few other Anglican Churches. Some later commemorations in The Episcopal Church’s calendar (like Blessed Samuel Crowther’s) have been included as well.

    If you read “About For All the Saints” (link at the top of the webpage), you will find something of a statement of purpose:

    >>I also hope that this weblog may make some contribution toward the formation of a sanctoral Calendar for faithful North American Anglicanism, represented at the present time not only by the confessional Anglicans remaining in The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, and Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America; but also the Church in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic (which are dioceses of The Episcopal Church) and the Church in the Province of the West Indies; as well as the diaspora Anglican bodies in North America: the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA), the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), and others.<<

    Though an Episcopalian for some twenty years, I am no longer. I am now a member of one of the "diaspora" Anglican bodies noted above. I'm not creating a calendar "against" that of The Episcopal Church, but I do note that some of the inclusions in Holy Women Holy Men seem more for reasons of identity politics, rather that the Gospel of Christ. In earlier versions of the sanctoral calendar (particularly in the 1980 edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts), this is not the case. (This is not a conservative/reasserter vs liberal/reappraiser issue, either. At least one theological liberal who keeps a well-known blog has criticized Holy Women Holy Men for precisely this reason.) If in the new Prayer Book the Anglican Church in North America issues a sanctoral calendar (which in all likelihood they will do), then I will henceforth base the commemorations on that calendar, though I may still supplement from other sources.

    Some of those sources will likely be Lutheran, because the ACNA has established close ties with confessional/conservative Lutherans who have left the ELCA, and there is a group of Lutherans who are seeking to form an Augustana diocese within the ACNA. I anticipate this will bring an even greater post-Reformation ecumenical aspect to this sanctoral calendar/weblog.

    Thank you for visiting, and thank you for your kind words about this being a wonderful ministry. I truly want this to be a blessing to any who visit.

  3. riche

    I pray that God should give me the courage to serve Him to the end as my father Samuel ajayi crowther help me God

  4. kolawole AJAYI

    It is a great article,i was in canterbury kentt last week to view the diocese where my forefather samuel AjAYI first preached after his ordinance.
    Am still exploiting more kmwledge in his ideology.
    I pray God help me to do more like him on earth .

  5. Maketo Matongo

    great man indeed and this shows how great God is probably if the Great African fore father was not captured we could have not done what he did for God and the African peoples to bring Christ in local setting and using our local local languages,what a Great MAN SAM was and IS!

    • Maketo, I does remind me of what Joseph told his brothers: You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good. Through the evil of slavery, God brought the Gospel to Western Africa in the ministry of Bishop Samuel.

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