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Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

sing a new church into being

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 18, 2005

From Greenland's icy mountains, from India's coral strand,
Where Afric's sunny fountains roll down their golden sand;
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error's chain.

What tho' the spicy breezes blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone!

Can we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Can we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth's remotest nation has learned Messiah's Name.

Doesn't age well, does it? That's a famous missionary hymn (c. 1819) composed by Reginald Heber, the Anglican Bishop of St. Asaph. Granted that it's unfair to isolate it from its origins, the earnest evangelical piety can't quite work free of the head-patting imperial smugness: the duskier races have so much to be grateful for!

Two centuries later, it's payback time. Christopher Johnson at MCJ posts Bishop Peter Akinola's decision to franchise Nigerian orthodoxy in North America:

We announce the formation of the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America. This Convocation will function as a ministry of the Church of Nigeria in America. Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada but rather to provide safe harbour for those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches. While it will initially operate under our Constitution and Canons, it will have its own legal and ecclesial structure and local suffragan episcopate.

How's that for guts? Akinola knows full well that, in Bishop Heber's terms, if it were only wood and stone his erstwhile mentors were bending over for we'd all be ahead of the game. But instead of sitting on interminable committees and task forces and getting semicoloned to death, Akinola's decided to head out into the mission field, Bible in hand, and return the favor that believing Christians once did for his own nation. Christopher Johnson obviously relishes the prospect, and speculates what consequences would follow if the cardinals now gathered in conclave were to make it a twofer:

If Francis Arinze is elected to the Chair of St. Peter, I'm not sure Nigeria could stand the shock. For it would mean that the two most important forces in worldwide Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, would, for all practical purposes, both be headed by Nigerians. Arinze, of course, would be the next leader of billions of Roman Catholics and Peter Akinola is rapidly becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in all but name.

No one cares what Rowan Williams says or does about anything but Akinola's words are important and not just in Nigeria. Should push come to shove, most conservative Anglicans would enthusiastically transfer allegiance to Abuja and consign Canterbury to the ash heap of history. When one adds the fact that both men are staunch defenders of orthodox Christianity, the election of Francis Arinze and the continued increase in influence of Peter Akinola would be a blow from which western liberal Christianity might never recover.

Arinze's election is a long-shot, but I think the shock to Nigeria would be nothing compared with the shock to Berkeley, Georgetown, and Cavendish Square. In anticipation of this new evangelical initiative, your Uncle Diogenes has provided an updated version of Heber's missionary masterpiece. Should you want to sing along, you can play the MIDI file available here.

From darkest San Francisco, from Bath and Harvard Square,
Where Mardi Gras-theme'd disco replaces Common Prayer;
From Soho's Gay Collective, from Wiccan Womynist Pride:
They plead for that corrective we Africans provide.

What tho' the silver'd sea-shells bestrew New Hampshire's fonts?
Not bassinets but T-cells the blushing bridegroom wants.
In vain their rear-guard tactics the Anglo-Catholics use;
'Tis flavoured prophylactics my Lords of Lambeth choose.

Can we whom God protected from Griswold's poison'd brews,
Can we to those infected the antidote refuse?
Nigeria! Thy mission to colder climes betake,
That haply an addition God may to God's Church make.

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