Divine Commonwealth Conference in Nigeria breaks new ground

The primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the Most Reverend Nicholas Okoh, who is the chief host of the conference

Report from Day 1 — By Chris Sugden

The Divine Commonwealth Conference (see website), the first of its kind in the Church of Nigeria is being held in the National Christian Centre in Abuja. It was opened on Monday night by Archbishop Nicholas Okoh and is being attended by 5 000 members of the Church of Nigeria.

Archbishop Okoh said that the conference is neither an Episcopal Synod, Clergy Conference, nor a gathering only of Anglicans or Nigerians – “it is the Body of Christ, the new humanity, the ecclesia of God, which is the divine commonwealth of God. ..It is a call apart for our spiritual rejuvenation and mutual edification, in an atmosphere of deep spirituality and learning.”

All the sessions take place in the magnificent National Christian Centre. The day begins with bible studies in 20 groups of around 200 followed by a talk and lecture with discussion and questions. On the first morning the Rev Miles Toulmin of Holy Trinity Brompton and Alpha spoke on The Church as the Divine Commonwealth, and Professor Gerry Gana, who held various Cabinet Posts over many years spoke of moral issues facing Nigeria in the fields of politics, business and social relationships between various groups in society.

The afternoon is devoted to specialist seminars with well –informed speakers. There were very good reports of the seminar given on the Challenges of Violence by Bishop Timothy Yahaya Bishop of Jalingo in Northern Nigeria where the violence is specially experienced.

Some readers will be familiar with the format of the Jerusalem GAFCON conference in 2008, others will be familiar with the format of New Wine and Spring Harvest Conferences. Imagine if you will all the events taking place in one huge permanent tent ( the National Cathedral) where people can freely mingle and be together throughout the day. Worship is led by the massive organ, formal choirs and upbeat music groups. It includes traditional hymns, classical anthems, and lively gospel “praises”.

During one session questions were asked about the issues of sexuality in the western churches. Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya, and chair of the Primates Council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans referred to the statement by the Global South Primates in China in September: [12. At the same time, it grieves us deeply to observe many Anglican churches in the west yielding to secular pressure to allow unacceptable practices in the name of human rights and equality. Beginning with the undermining of Scriptural authority and two millennia of church tradition, the erosion of orthodoxy has gone as far as the ordination and consecration of active gay and lesbian clergy and bishops, and the development of liturgies for same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Eliud stressed that the theme of sexuality should not continue to be a mission theme. “We have discussed this long enough. It is no longer at the centre of our struggle. We know where we stand. We have listened long enough.”

Other senior Nigerian leaders echoed this response and said “We should face our mission and evangelism without allowing human sexuality to become an issue. It is not an issue here – the only people campaigning on this issue are coming from outside and sending our own young people trained abroad here to promote it”.

Bishops and Archbishops from West Africa were present and supported this response.

The Archbishop of the Methodist Church Archbishop Iweoka brought greetings and commended the international visitors ( from Ghana, Kenya, USA and England) for making the convocation truly international and proving that the church is of one foundation.

Pastor Adeboye, the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church commended the Church of Nigeria for its faithful witness in the Anglican Communion. He was self-described as an “Anglican on Excursion” having been brought up in an Anglican family and church. He said “I believe that God who is starting a new thing in the Anglican Communion here will start a new thing in your lives.”

Archbishop Okoh prayed for his ministry and that of the Redeemed Christian Church and looked forward to further interaction with them.

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