“We are the new society God has called into being,” proclaimed Nigerian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, before more than 6,000 worshipers at Eucharist yesterday morning. “It is one people reconciled, of every color and culture, the one and only family of God.”
In a 20-minute sermon notable for diplomacy, clarity, and fervor, the chief pastor of the Kaduna province of the 17.5-million-member Church of Nigeria, undoubtedly satisfied those who have been praying, like Bishop Idowu-Fearon himself, for the unity of the church at a time of crisis.
“Our church family takes the Episcopal Church very seriously. When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. America, don’t sneeze too much,” he said.
Drawing from the second reading, Ephesians 4, Idowu-Fearon described it as a turning point for Paul – and, by inference, the church. “Paul is moving from theology to its practical and concrete applications. I beg you to lead a life that is worthy of that call.”Those who may have anticipated more pointed comment from the archbishop on issues heating up Convention had to content themselves with reading between the lines of his eloquent message.
“They had hardened their hearts, they became callous, they gave themselves to immorality,” he said, of the pre-Christian life Paul describes. Idowu-Fearon called for Christians to “put off the old life, turning away from it in distaste, and put on the new life.”
More pointedly, he continued: “It’s not possible to change the heart, but it is possible to change the behavior…Changing one’s dress, one’s attitudes, and one’s behavior are essential to becoming Christian. But we are mistaken if we think it’s all up to God. The way you behave is the way you become.”
Deputy Sandie Brochak from Southern Ohio said: “He made some good points – very pertinent to what’s going on here. There’s more of a subtle message, but if you were looking for it, it was very direct.”
Still, the archbishop refrained from any detailed directives reflecting the more conservative stance of the Church of Nigeria, second largest, after the Church of England, of the member provinces of the Anglican Communion. Instead, he called for kindness, compassion, and forgiving among Christians.
Referring to his five years of collegial work with Frank Griswold – they met at the 1998 Lambeth Convention – Idowu-Fearon said, “Frank, you’ve taught me a lot. I’m beginning to understand American culture.”
New York Bishop Mark Sisk praised the sermon: “I’m grateful that he spoke kind words about the presiding bishop. He deserves kind words. [Idowu-Fearon] spoke out of his African context, recognizing our American context. It was splendid.”
A former military school student in leadership training, the archbishop said: “I’m the only general from my class still serving in the army – of Jesus Christ.”
In Nigeria, he noted, becoming a Christian marks a major change in a person’s entire life. “Public baptism marks the passage from the realm of estrangement, paganism, and darkness to the realm of Christianity.” Noting that he had found Christ at age 12, he said, “I’ve never been the same since.”
In the spirit of Anglican unity, Idowu-Fearon concluded: “We have to repent and to come to Christ and be reconciled to him. Then, we will be able to build bridges.”