Anglicanism in Nigeria

Anglicanism is a Protestant Christian tradition that emerged during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. It includes the Church of England and a variety of others around the world united by shared doctrine and practice under the Anglican Communion umbrella organization. The Archbishop of Canterbury is regarded as the unofficial spiritual leader of the international Anglican community.

The Anglican Church Mission Society (CMS) members Samuel Ajayi Crowther—who would become Nigeria’s first African Anglican bishop—and Rev. J.F. Schön were part of the original British First Niger Expedition in 1841. By 1857 the CMS mission was fully engaged and a diocese was established in 1864. The CMS was by far the largest and most successful of the Christian missions in what would come to be Nigeria, in part because it granted converts the autonomy to lead their communities. As such, African clergy members were active participants in the early growth of the church. The CMS also encouraged legitimate commerce, condemning slavery in favor of agriculture, for example.

Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1806-1891), a member of the Yoruba who as a boy had been sold into slavery by Fulani Muslim raiders, escaped a Portuguese slave ship and was raised in a Church Mission Society school. He became an ordained deacon in 1843 in England, joined the Anglican mission in 1845, and later led a highly successful 1857 mission along the Niger river. In 1864 Crowther was made bishop and despite CMS policy, faced resistance from white mission personnel in his home diocese of Sierra Leone. As such, he made Lagos his headquarters and frequently participated in CMS trips throughout the Niger Delta region, among the Igbo in the Middle Belt, and among the Nupe and some Muslim Hausa in the north.

Anglican missions arrived in the north roughly at the same time as the establishment of the British Protectorate of Nigeria in 1900; as a result, Anglicanism and British colonialism were seen as one in the same by many in the north, and early missionaries to the north were poorly received. With the installation of the new Sultan of Sokoto in 1903, Sir Frederick Lugard, the first high commissioner of the protectorate, promised that the colonial administration would not interfere with religious life in the north. In effect, this limited the range of mission activity to all but the north until the 1930s. This likely benefited CMS work in other regions, which had limited resources that were then concentrated among missions in the south.

The CMS established a chain of mission schools in the early 1950s, predominantly in the south. CMS schools encouraged mother-tongue literacy, and classes were taught in the local language (unlike Catholic schools, which used English). This reflected the policy of indigenous evangelism; if students could express Christian concepts in their native language, then they could share them with others. Early mission schools focused on preparing boys to become future members of the clergy, and for girls to become housewives. In the late 19th century, British colonial educational policies were put in place that transformed the mission schools to produce civil servants in the colonial administration. The contemporary Church of Nigeria has reached out to those North American Episcopalians who are uncomfortable with recent changes in the Episcopalian Church, especially the 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson, an openly gay partnered bishop in America, and the consecration of same-sex marriages in Canada. The Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, has stated that the Church of Nigeria will break with the Church of England should the latter decide to permit gay clergy living in civil partnerships to serve as bishops.


Benjamin A. Kwashi, “The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion),” The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Anglican Communion, eds. Ian S. Markham et al (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), pp. 165-183.

Constance C. Nwosu and Aboidun A. Adesegun, “Protestant Missionary Education in Nigeria,” International Handbook of Protestant Education, eds. William Jeynes and David W. Robinson (New York: Springer, 2012).

Lydia Polgreen, “Nigerian Anglicans Seeing Gay Challenge to Orthodoxy,” The New York Times, December 18, 2005, accessed September 9, 2013.

Image Credits:

"Samuel Crowther: The slave boy who became bishop of the Niger (1888)," Princeton Theological Seminary Library, from Wikimedia Commons.