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LAGOS: CAPA Chairman's Welcome Address - by Peter Akinola

Chairman's Welcome Address

I am elated to see that this day that has been in our prayers, minds, thoughts, dreams and plans for much of the past two years is today a living reality. My brother bishops and Archbishops from all the provinces in Africa, you have by your highly esteemed presence honoured God and done Africa proud.

Our coming together is in partial fulfilment of the vision the LORD gave to us at the meeting of the primates in Pretoria in August 2001. We must now move on in obedience to that vision to take all necessary actions under God, faithfully implementing the decisions of this conference for the growth and rapid development of the Church in Africa.

So many people have spent the best of their time and resources to ensure the success of this epoch-making event. Let me immediately register my appreciation to my brother bishops and Archbishops of the Church of Nigeria who supported wholeheartedly my offer to host this conference at no cost to CAPA. So also must I express my profound appreciation to Bishop John Chew of the Global South, Bishop Bob Duncan, Canon Martyn Minns and Canon Ellis Brust for their most valued support and personal presence at this conference.

I must go further to thank all the members of the design group who deliberated long and hard on the details of the programme that is before us this week. The dioceses of Lagos and Lagos- West have provided the workforce for the Local Organising Committee (and all the sub-committees) that has worked round the clock to welcome this day. These people of God have sown bountifully; I believe that by the grace of God the blessing of God on this Conference will be much.

Africa Comes of Age

Coming of age is reminiscent of the rites of passage from one social stage to another in the life of the African child. Just as there are seasonal festivals such as New Year and Harvest to mark transition into new times, there are also ceremonies to mark transition to new positions in the social order such as marriage and the initiation of boys and girls into adulthood when they move beyond their childish conditions to take on the new responsibilities of adulthood.

It is the natural longing of the African child - a period of life that is adorned with special ceremonies (for both boys and girls). Sometimes it spans days. It is the bridge between a period of total dependency and tutelage to that of greater independence, maturity and responsibility.

He begins to cultivate his own farm, raise his own cattle, and develop his own property in addition to whatever else he does for his parents/guardians. It is also the stage when he begins to ask himself questions that no one will ask for him, tackle the issues that hitherto others had handled for him, and he must search for the answers that no one else will offer him without a hidden tag. It is a time to wrestle with whatever shackles bind him; a time to stand tall and take his own destiny in his hands. It is a defining moment and a golden opportunity. My dear brothers, I welcome you from all over Africa to this celebration of our adulthood.

Coming of age is a journey from the cradle. Like our journey to this historic conference, our place in history is critical, but worthwhile. For all who have made it here, the journey must have been a costly, sacrificial, and perhaps, inconvenient decision to move from our ministry locations. It has cost us time, money, and even health, for some. We have set important programmes aside to be here. We salute your commitment and determination to lend your heart, your mind, your voice, your experience, and your calling to this defining moment in the life of the Anglican Church in Africa - when we must appropriate to our experience the old biblical prophecy to "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you" (Isaiah 60:1)

For the Anglican Church in Africa, it has been an eventful journey from the dawn of missionary encounter and subsequent blend of values as we sought to discern what should be smothered by that encounter and what should be allowed to survive. It has indeed been a discovery of Christian values and a rediscovery of our own place in God's continual outreach to man.

Over 30 years ago, Dr E. W. Fashole-Luke of Sierra Leone observed that "if Christianity is to change its status from that of resident alien to that of citizen, then it must become incarnate in the life and thought of Africa and its theologies must bear the distinctive mark of mature African thinking and reflection"[1]

Why This Conference?

Why have we come from all over Africa, not just as regional representatives, but indeed the entire Episcopal leadership of the dioceses in all the Anglican Provinces of Africa? And why must this be on African soil? Hitherto, leaders of the Church in Africa only met outside the continent and nothing of this scale ever brought them together at home. Brothers met only in foreign lands to discuss issues pertinent to the growth of Christianity in their homeland. What an irony! Could this be the reason for the cosmetic nature of the solutions proffered to our deep-rooted maladies?

We can no longer equivocate about the fact that so many problems are peculiar to our continent and there is no way we as Church leaders can play the ostrich about these problems. The time has come for us to look at these problems and address them from our well-informed native understanding rather than western imposed and alien misinterpretations.

When the Primates met in Pretoria in the Province of Southern Africa in 2001, and the idea of this conference was conceived, these concerns were on their minds. None of us should be a stranger to the ravaging problems of Africa, but they bear repeating here:

· Poverty, squalor
· Disease (HIV/AIDS, Malaria, etc)
· The need for Self-Reliance under God,
· Partnership & Sharing of Resources in Africa
· Holistic Gospel Proclamation
· Anglican Identity/ Spirituality
· Theological Education
· Enculturation, Islamisation
· Relationship between Church and State
· Matters of Justice and Peace (war, 'ethnic cleansing', etc)
· The challenges of Episcopal ministry in Africa
· Youth and women affairs.
· Leadership crisis in Church and state

The list could go on ad infinitum, but for a start, let us focus on these addressing them from an African perspective and with a keen sense of maturity.

Christianity is not new to the African soil, considering that there was a thriving Church in North Africa at least 400 years before it got to the British Isles. We praise God for the Church Fathers who formulated the Church doctrines and Creeds that were necessitated by the theological controversies of those days: Tertullian, Athanasius, St Augustine, Ignatius-They fulfilled their ministry in their generations. However it must be said that they gave such a disproportionate attention to the controversies and definition of the Christian faith that there was hardly any time left for mission and evangelism. Among those who were to do the task of evangelisation, there was rather more disputation, rancour, division and discord. So when in the seventh century the militant and aggressive Islamic forces advanced and struck, they met with little resistance from a Church that was unprepared, weak and asleep in terms of mission. Thus, the Church was wiped out.

The Challenge before Us

It is a common saying here that "Once bitten, twice shy". Today, we all know that Islam is struggling to take over Africa. Poverty and diseases are desirous of swallowing us up. As we reflect on the issues that now compel us to articulate and rescue our true Christian identity, we find ourselves on the same path that our forbears in other generations trod. We cannot allow the same costly mistakes. While the circumstances differ, we can indeed find thoughts and answers that are akin to the questions we face in the present, and thereby find illumination for our own reflections. Our Roman Catholic brothers had their first Pan-African meeting in Uganda way back in 1969. CAPA was founded 25 years in 1979. For us therefore it is better late than never!

Africa has lost so much and we cannot in this century, afford the luxury of allowing anyone, or any situation to take us into further controversy which has become the favourite preoccupation of some of our brothers within the Church in other parts of the world.

On this continent:

· Souls are perishing daily without the saving knowledge of Christ;
· HIV/AIDS continue to ravage our most able-bodied men and women;
· Youth who should be contributing to the building up of our nation and Church are being dragged into battle and their lives are snuffed out without regard or pity;
· Nude poverty is taking a heavy toll as we live under very harsh economic conditions.
· The Church is unable to harness its vast resources for effective holistic evangelisation.
· Neo-paganism and unabashed syncretism still thrive lying under the facade of cosmetic spirituality.
· Most matters of justice, fairness and equity are still for the highest bidder.

In the midst of all these and the endless rhetoric of our mostly self-serving politicians, the Church cannot afford to be a spectator. We must arise and take our destiny in our own hands under God.

Our task at this conference is not to bemoan our predicament, but to help the Church in Africa become more firmly rooted. Because of the seriousness with which we want to take this assignment, we have assigned ourselves to seven groups each led by a speaker and rapportuer. There are 7 syndicate rooms all clearly signed. Ordinarily, this should have been a two-week programme. But we have managed to squeeze it into just five days. Therefore, let us be conscious that our time here is very short. Let us make the most of it. Meal times and tea breaks need to be strictly kept. Each group has three and half hours for its entire work-the report of which will be presented at plenary sessions in 25 minutes, leaving another 25 minutes for discussion, response and adoption.

In the Name of the LORD, welcome, Karibu and happy deliberations.

The Most Rev Peter J Akinola, CON; DD
Chairman, CAPA

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