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THE BISHOP of Sheffield has been accused of barring the Archbishop of Nigeria from preaching at a church in his diocese and putting relationships in the already fraught Anglican Communion under even greater tension.
Archbishop Peter Akinola is one of the most controversial and well-known figures in the worldwide Church, leading the 17 million-strong Church of Nigeria and heading up the influential Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. He has strongly opposed moves in the Western Churches to liberalise on the issue of homosexuality and famously remarked that you don’t have to go through Canterbury to get to Christ.
He has been a visitor to the Church of England many times in the past and has never been refused permission to preach before now.
A spokesman for the Bishop of Sheffield this week claimed that the problem was a misunderstanding of protocols governing the visit of a primate.
But the chaplain to the Nigerian Community in London, the Rev Ben Enwuchola said this week that the Archbishop had been asked to preach at a baptism service in St Thomas’s Philadelphia, Sheffield, which took place last Sunday during an informal visit to the city for a medical appointment. He agreed and asked the church to contact the bishop to seek permission. Later one of the clergy contacted Mr Enwuchola and told him that the Bishop had said he could only bring greetings but couldn’t preach.
A diocesan spokesman denied the claims of a ban on the Archbishop: “An Archbishop cannot preach without the permission of the Archbishop of the Province. It was only a couple of days’ notice. The Bishop of Sheffield didn’t say no, but just pointed to the actual procedure we must follow.” In spite of these claims the Archbishop of Nigeria left the country believing that he had been refused permission to preach in the diocese. A senior clergyman said this week that seeking permission for an Archbishop to go into another province was usually just a matter of a phone call on the part of the visiting Archbishop or the church or diocese he was visiting. He expressed surprise that the diocese were not willing to phone the Archbishop of York’s office or had not advised St Thomas’ to do so if they believed that to be the correct protocol.
Furthermore, the claims of the diocese about short notice do not square with the account of the Archbishop of Nigeria’s chaplain who said that St Thomas’s phoned him on Tuesday or Wednesday of last week to give him the news that the Bishop had said he could only bring greetings but not preach.
Ben Enwuchola expressed incredulity at the diocese’s explanation. “That is ridiculous, that is just not true,” he said of the account of protocol given by the spokesman for the diocese.
Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream said that given Archbishop Akinola’s ‘outstanding record as a church planter’ he would have been an appropriate choice of preacher at St Thomas’s. “It would be a great pity if it turns out that a simple administrative mistake means that the Archbishop has left the country under the impression that the Bishop of Sheffield’s office prevented him from preaching in a significant church plant in the diocese.”
Only last month the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, was banned from giving a lecture in Bangor Cathedral by the Dean. In contrast, the controversial liberal John Spong, former Bishop of Newark, frequented English pulpits during the 1980s and 1990s even in dioceses led by evangelical bishops.
An apology is in order - Andrew Carey comments and gives further details of the ‘banning’ of Archbishop Akinola.