“Believe not those who say Thy upward path is smooth, lest thus shouldst stumble;
and before the truth” ___Anne Bronte
Crowther, even though he was a Bishop of the Church of England, was of little consequence in the eyes of the young white missionaries who were not even ordained priests at the time. Nevertheless, Crowther’s leadership, from 1854 to 1891 when he died, was unassailable. He charted the course which the Church Missionary Society was to follw into Igboland, with the result of what is evident here today. It was this same colonial mentality which made the authorities in London decide that Archdeacon Dennis, and not the Rev. J. C. Taylor, should organize the work of the missionaries in this area. The original intention as decided by Crowther had been that Taylor, being an Igbo man, would be more readily accepted than any other leader But it seemed the time was not ripe for a black leader.
Archdeacon Dennis was sent out by the London Bible Society to see to the translation of the Bible into the language, which is Igbo. With the death of Crowther British attitudes returned to white supremacy. So Dennis became the organizer rather than Taylor. Certainly Taylor being black, and assisted by Onyeabo, could have done a better job in this area, since it was already Home to him. However, by 1939 the growth of the Owerri Mission (headquarter at Egbu) was remarkable. Evidence of the presence of the CMS could be felt as far away as Umuariam in Obowo; Arondizuogu in Okigwe/Orlu, Nkweshi/Oguta and in and around Mbaitoli and Ikeduru. Control and supervision of this vast area still came from Onitsha. It was not until early forties that a superintended was posted to Egbu. By this time up to nine Church districts had been created. For this large area the superintendent became a priest of the rank of Archdeacon-Owerri Archdeaconry.
The last white man to serve as Archdeacon here was Wilcox. With his departure it seemed that the CMS authorities had decided that the time was ripe to try a black man. That man was the Rev. H. O. Nweje who was promoted Archdeacon.
“Nna anyi Nweje” was a native of Onitsha, a man of very simple and quite disposition; a man of incontestable integrity-the embodiment of what the older generation today see as a true pastor. He was affectionately known as Holy Nweje, because his philosophy was never to hurt even a fly. The people of Egbu made him welcome and became a member of their community. It was under his supervision that all Saints Church building construction started. That year was 1939. The CMS Mission had come to stay, so it was time to commence putting up permanent structures that would last through time.
All Saints Church, Egbu has always been the church station for the people of Egbu Nchi Ise. It was designed, at the time, to accommodate no more than 400 worshippers. Meanwhile, in other districts (Nine in all), mud and thatched buildings were giving way to permanent structures; but unlike those buildings being constructed by Roman catholic authorities, our church buildings were small in scale. Some people have wondered whether this was a reflection of the fact that conversion of people to Christinaity in many areas was slow.
The importance of Egbu as a focal point in the administration of church work has been on the ascendancy since then. All Saints Church has grown from a village church to a Parish Church and on to an Archdeaconry Church in 1939. Today, it is a Cathedral Church whose position of pre-eminence is not doubted.
In the decision to enlarge and modernize the building as befits this mother church, the second oldest east of the Niger, mention should be made of those who served here as superintendents before, during and after the tenure of Archdeacon Nweje.
There were such men as the Revernds Ibeneme, Onyelobi, Onubogu, Dike, Echezona, Okechukwu, Eneli, Egolu and Mbonu. Remarkably all these men, with the exception of Revered Mbonu came from the Onitsha administrative division. Mention should be made here also that there was no alternative to this “ijeko ebe” presence, since our citizens here were slow in answering the call to serve in Christ’s ministry. About this, however, more later. Archdeacon Nweje was succeeded in 1945 by Archdeacon Victor N. Umunna.
Archdeacon Umunna went to Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he obtained the Diploma in Theology from the University of Durham. Umunna was, apart from Archdeacon Dennis, the first pastor who was a graduate to be posted to Egbu. This fact encouraged him to review the kind of education being given to pupils in the primary schools in this area. Curricula were also reviewed; and he and the education authority began to look beyond possession of Teachers Grade II as a desirable and compulsory teacher qualification.
The result was the improvement in teacher training, as well as their retraining. Improvements were to be noticed in the quality of students turned out throughout the Archdeaconry.
About this time, 1946, the authorities at Onitsha began to realize that their area of authority which now which encompassed the whole of the Easter Region, was too vast for the control of one Bishop. An area embracing the Southernmost part of the Eastern Region was designated the Niger Delta Diocese, with headquarters in Port Harcourt. The head was to be an Assistant Bishop-Assistant to the Bishop on the Niger, who resided at Onitsha. D.B. hall was consecrated Bishop, and became the Assistant Bishop on the Niger with authority to look after this new area which included the then Owerri Archdeaconry with headquarters at Egbu. Creating an administrative area in which the vast section of Owerri Archdeaconry was playing a secondary role, did not escape the notice of some Christians from the area. There was frustration, leading to agitation, which led to what, in trade union language, would be called a militant action. A word here, perhaps, on the merit of agitation.
During the colonial administration, many administrative officers probably felt that a sanction should be written into the tablet containing the Ten Commandments, namely, “thou shalt not agitate over what you claim to be your legitimate right”. Indeed, the Governor at the time, Sir Arthur Richards (as he the was) told our politicians (in 1945) that agitation for self government was intolerable. In his words “In order to agitate you are setting the hands of the clock back”. Agitation, to every expatriate, was impertinent; and Bishop Patterson must have felt the same at the time Timothy Onyewuchi and his group moved to voice their dissatisfaction over the slow pace of progress in the development of Owerri Archdeaconry.
A number of Christians from this area led by Timothy Onyewuchi from Umuodu Village, Owerri, had moved to attack what they saw as discrimination against the people of Owerri area, especially in the area of the training of personnel for the priesthood. A meeting was held in enugu where the movement started. Prominent among those who attended were Mr. Onyewuchi himself, who was both convene and chairman, Mr. Ben Ajoku from Mpama Village in Egbu, Mr. Agunwa and Mr. Bennett Anyasodo from Mbieri and a few others. This meeting gave birth to a baby called the Owerri Diocesean Christian ASociety. It was through the determined and untiring efforts of this body that the idea for a Diocese of Owerri was conceived. In 1959, the authorities at Onitsha finally agreed that Owerri Archdeaconry should be carved out of the Niger Delta to become the Diocese of Owerri. One visible outcome of the work of the Owerri Diocesan Christian Society was the change of attitude by the authorities in the training and ordination of priests from the Owerri area. J. Ude-Anyiwo and S. N. Iheagwam (father of our present Bishop) were selected and sent for training. They were ordinated in 1945. Other were to follow- S. N. Okoli and F. U. Nworie in 1948; Benjamin Nwankiti, G. N. maduakolam in 1956. Benjamin Nwankiti rose to become, in 1969, the Bishop of Owerri.
At the time of this Synod (1955) Nigeria was still under the colonial tutelage. So there were about the readiness of a Nigerian citizen to be made a Diocesan Bishop. However, looking at the terms agreed under which a new diocese could take off in Owerri, it became clear that the new diocese could not be inaugurated in 1958, just three years after the agreement. As number of facilities needed to be provided, especially since the new Bishop would undoubtedly be a white man. The site of the Bishop’s Court was considered, sought and procured. The present location opposite Afo Egbu was considered sufficiently detached providing sufficient space for a residence to be constructed. As there was no electricity power supply at that time, the building design assumed the open plan pattern to ensure unrestricted air flow ventilation in keeping with the colonial-based building designs. The sum of £3,000 would be laughed at today; but at that time this was a princely sum. This sum was quickly raised by this determined group. Confirmation of this fact was made at that Synod of 1955 when the Archdeacon of Owerri, Bishop Nkemena, reported that the foundation fund money had been subscribed, and that construction of the Bishop’s house had commenced. With this encouraging statement the President of the Synod, Bishop D. B. Hall proposed formally that the Diocese on the Niger, under whose care Owerri Archdeaconry was ready to be made a diocese, and moved that a prayer be sent to the Archbishop of the Province of West Africa to institute a Diocese of Owerri, and to request the Episcopal Synod to elect a Bishop. This proposal received unanimous approval. And so, Reverend George E. I. Cockin, an Irishman, was elected and confirmed Bishop of the new Diocese of Owerri. He was consecrated by the Most Reverend J. L. C. Horstead, Archbishop of West Africa and, at the time, Lord Bishopof the Diocese of Sierra Leone. This event happened on January 27, 1959, on which day the Diocese of Owerri was inaugurated. All saints Church,, Egbu, then became his cathedral Church.
Bishop Cockin got down to work soon after the inauguration of the Diocese. In may 1959 he held his first Synod here in All Saints Cathedral Church. There being still one Archdeaconry-Owerri which spread over the large area from Egbu to Obowo and Ezeoke in the east; Nkwesi and Oguta to the west and Okigwe and Arondizuogu to the north; the need arose to establish an administration which would make the work of the new diocese easy. This meant the creation of more Archdeaconries and, of course, the institution of more parishes. More trained personnel were needed, especially in the number of priests. Accordingly, in June of that year the first ordination by this Bishop was conducted. The recipient was the Reverend Robinson Obasi Okere, who became a deacon. Okere became a full priest one year later. In the nonths that followed, Christian Okafor and Onwurah Onyejekwe were ordained in a process of ordination that was to follow up till the end of 1968. on the whole forty-one pastors were ordained in this period. One of these (in December, 1964) was Noel Amadi, Nwa Egbu (See Appendix).
Going by today’s standards, Bishop Cockin’s take-off was slow. This was due in part to the lack of adequate number of trained personnel. Another reason is the setback brought about by political upheavals in the country. National security from the date of Nigeria’s Independence having become unsure, long range planning became difficult. In 1964, Nigeria came to the brink of a precipice politically. Politicians could not pull back from this, soon the morming of 15 January, 1966 matters were brought to a head when a group of young army officers removed the FederalGovernment. To Bishop Cockin, an expatriate, as with all other expatriates in the country at that time, the future became uncertain. This must have affected his work; for in the ten years of his episcopacy here, the Bishop was only able to ordain forty pastors.
Military rule in this country has always been a strange phenomenon. At this time the nation was in a state of flux, and the confusion brought about the large scales killing of innocent civilians, especially those of Igbo origin who were living all over parts of the northern region, brought about radical changes in the local administration here which had overnight come under severe pressure, following the return home of fleeing Igbo citizens, which was accompanied by the pillage of their properties. The military governor of Eastern Nigeria, Lt-Col. Ojukwu, sensing that at a time like that, only Igbo people could ensure their own safety, made an order compelling every non-indigene of Igboland to leave Eastern Nigeria. Bishop Cockin was affected. It became necessary, therefore, to look for a suitable indigenous candidate to replace him as bishop. Early in 1968, the Reverend Benjamin Nwankiti, a native of Atta, but serving in the Dioceses on the Niger and stationed at Enugu, where he worked in the Regigious Department of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporartion, was elected bishop. On 25 April of the year he was consecrated bishop at All Saints Cathedral Church here in Egbu. With this consecration Bishop Nwaniti was able to attend the Lambeth Conference in London that year. Bishop Cockin left at the end of that year, and on January 1, 1969, Bishop Nwankiti succeeded him to the see of Egbu-Owerri.
INTRODUCTIONAt a meeting of the Diocesan Board of 21st June 1975, held at Ezihe, Isiala Mbano (now in Okigwe-North Diocese) a member, chief Richard Onyenobi of Nekede Parish (now in Egbu Diocese) moved the motion for the building of a new Cathedral for the Diocese of Owerri. The late Dr. Aaron Ogbonna of Obizi (now in Mbaise Diocese), in seconding the motion, spoke so convincingly in support of building a Cathedral adequate to the size of the Diocese. A few days later at the Diocesan Synod held at the same VENUE (26TH -30TH July, 1975), it was resolved "as a matter of urgency, to start the building of a Cathedral Church, adequate to the size of the Diocese of Owerri".
Non Clerical Staff
THE ARRIVAL OF THE MISSIONARIES IN OWERRI
A map of Aboh Division on the western shores of the Niger shows Ndoni directly opposite the town on the eastern shore of the river. The people of these two towns have the same cultural and ethnic characteristics, so one can conclude that there was regular contact between their peoples in trade, marriage, etc. access to the east by the missionaries from Onitsha was made through this channel. About 1904, there being no open land routes during this period, trade routes followed the river and Aboh which was already a gateway, the natural thing to do was to sail south down the river from Onistha to Aboh and tie up at Ndoni across the water.
THE MISSION AT EGBU AND THE SPREAD OF THE WORK OF THE CHURCH
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying.
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and the Son, and the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things
whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always,
Even unto the end of the world. Amen”.
The route taken by the missionaries from London to Freetown, from Freetown to Onitsha, from Onitsha to Owerri and then on to Egbu was a very lone one. It was a journey made by sea and river craft; and on land mainly on foot. There was great belief that this journey would end somewhere in the heartland of Africa, where the local language would be found for the work of evangelism and the spread of the gospel of Christ. Providentially, that place-the terminal-proved to be Egbu.
Thanks be to God for this.
Church activity began in the form of open air services. The spot was ideal, being directly behind the market place (Afo Egbu). So the earliest congregation was drawn mostly from those trading in the market who, in due course, persuaded others to go and witness this strange but pleasant phenomenon. Soon church goes were drawn from all over Egbu Nchi Ise. In 1907, a small mud house was ereted and formed the beginnings of a church building. Archdeacon Dennis, who by time was combining the dual responsibility of Bible translation into Igbo with supervision of the work of evangelism just established, was able to report back to England that the Church Missionary Society had well and truly planted a seed (which had taken root) here in Egbu.
Meanwhile, the previously year, in 1906, following encouraging reports on the successful commencement of the missionary work here, emissaries were sent from Owerri and Emii for the missionary work to be extended to their areas. the response was immediate, so a Catechist was sent to Owerri and another to Emii to begin the groundwork.. At Owerri the first meeting was held in the house of one Daniel Agunonu, of Umuoroornjo. Village. It was no more than a family gathering, since those present were the man’s two wives, Fred Ejiogu and Amos Osuji, both of whom had gone to Egbu with Daniel Agunonu in the delegation to Egbu. At Emii,similar gatherings were organized, and reports showed that, like Owerri, the missionary work had taken off. By 1910, formal church services had begun. The church at Owerri became Christ Church, Owerri, while the one at Emii was named Immanuel Church Emii. The two names are remarkable: Immanuel and Christ identify one and the same person. The two churches should really have moved closer than what had been the case. Christ indeed had been made the sure foundation in these parts. J.M. Neale’s hymn is recalled here:
All Saints Church Egbu, had received its name two years before in 1907 at its church service on all Saints Day. The missionaries in 1905 had made a brief stop at Nkwesi where they were warmly received. From here they got volunteers who, as porters and scouts, helped them on the last leg of their journey to Owerri. As if to return the warm gesture, the missionaries in 1907 revisited Nkwesi, following a courtesy visit by the community leader who was accompanied by Chief Njemanze Owerri where they were again well received. An open air service was held and the people displayed their readiness to embrace Christianity.
1n 1909, some indigenes of Ihiagwa Egbe to express a desire for the church to be brought to their area. Soon two churches; St. John St.Mary were established. As with areas with which contact had earlier been made, church services almost always started initially in someone’s house. In the case of Ihiagea, St. John’s church took off from Chief Aanorue’s compound, while St. Mary was at Chimelem. In 1924, the two churches were merged and the two congregations were moved ton a land (its present site) close to the market square. Its Catechist became a son of the soil, one Mr. Agunanna. All along since the arrival of the missionaries all the people seem to have saying the same thing:
To they temple I repair. Agajem ulo-I, Chukwu, Ikpo isi ala natom, Mgbe m’gezute n’ ulo nos-I Krasit, nir’och’ebere-ya “I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the lord.”