Our African parishioners typically trace back to one of several countries: Kenya and Uganda in the east (Rev. Joel Nafuma was a Ugandan refugee), and Nigeria and Ghana in the west. They come from Anglican provinces like The Church of Nigeria, now the largest or second largest province in the Anglican Communion. In the Northeastern US, we tend to ask the missiological question “What is God up to?” from the frame of decreasing church membership. While I’m not fully sure what the frame is in many of Africa’s Anglican provinces, I don’t think it is one of decreasing numbers. St. Paul’s has benefitted greatly from the strong, confident love of Christ inherent in our African Anglican heritage. I share just one example.
Emeka came to Rome from Nigeria about eight years ago, and became one of our leading ministers at St. Paul’s, as well as one of the leaders of the African part of our community. A chorister since his youth, he also enriches our music ministry with his love of church music. One evening, as we talked about growing the body of Christ here, he shared how he freely hands out his business card to people he meets, inviting them to come to St. Paul’s.
In Anglican circles, one hears a lot about the challenges facing the Communion with regard to different and conflicting understandings of theology, religious expression and ethics. In the US, some formerly Episcopal parishes have aligned themselves as mission churches of the Church of Nigeria, where they find more common ground on these topics. There are real and important challenges here that will take prayer, humility and the fullness of time for God’s healing balm to work. That said, I believe, naively perhaps, that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). And when Emeka, a chorister from the Church of Nigeria and now leader of this Episcopal Church, passes out his business cards, he bears witness to our unity, and to the evangelical heart of the Gospel.