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May 02, 2017

Secretary General Brings Message of Reconciliation, Unity

The staff and student body of Seminary of the Southwest welcomed a member of the Anglican Consultative Council on April 27, as part of his larger visit to the Diocese of Texas.

Along with The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle -- the ninth Bishop of Texas -- the Most Rev. Dr. Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, Archbishop and Secretary General of the ACC made his way to the Seminary of the Southwest campus for a Q&A lunch session, guest-lecture and to preach at the school’s evening Eucharist. 

While his trip’s focus was an earlier board meeting of the Anglican Communion’s Compass Rose Society, Archbishop Josiah’s sojourn in Austin allowed the decorated theologian and scholar a chance to educate the seminarians and professors on his extensive work in the realm of Christian-Islamic relations. 

Born in Nigeria and a former Bishop of the Kaduna diocese and Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Josiah shared his life journey of receiving a sympathetic discharge from the Nigeria Military School at age 17 in 1966, leading his entry into the priesthood and ordination in 1971. 

In an interview, Archbishop Josiah stressed how important understanding and shared language are in discussing his extensive experience as a Christian in the Islamic world. “In terms of ethics and morals, we share a lot with Muslims,” said the Secretary General, a joyous tone in his voice.

Archbishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon on Interfaith Dialogue from The Episcopal Diocese of Texas on Vimeo.

“Doctrinally, the major problem is our understanding of God. We should help build bridges of understanding that go a long way into creating a community and a society of mutual respect.”

This work and outreach to Islam is a large part of his work with the Compass Rose Society (CRS) and his role as Secretary General of the ACC. The mission of the CRS is to support the ministries of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which to date has included construction assistance and monetary support in the likes of Brazil, Nazareth, clinics in Kaduna, Nigeria, and more than $1 million in donations from CRS supporters to the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, Palestine.

Despite his insistence of understanding and acceptance, Archbishop Josiah didn’t mince words during an open discussion with middler and senior students when asked about his role as religious intermediary. “Islam is a Christian heresy; My job is to help the Muslim get to where I am,” he said, referring to his status as a convert to the Christian faith.

Archbishop Josiah’s history and extensive work in Africa and the Middle East paints a picture of man stuck between multiple worlds, attempting to find common ground, even between himself and his homeland. He explained his position, saying “For me, saying ‘Because the Muslim doesn’t accept Jesus Christ as his or her savior I will have nothing to do with them.’ -- I don’t believe that is the mind of God.” 

His open-minded approach to building common ground has made him a divisive figure in Nigeria. “That statement has cost me a lot, as there are sections of my own country where I am hated,” he said, describing what sounds like a life lived in many worlds, but not truly belonging to any. “Even in my own church, I am hated for preaching love and understanding for the Muslim community. But, I’d rather be with God.”

Yet, Archbishop Josiah walks the path of Christ’s love and refuses to fall prey to the fallacy of one worldview to fit every person, saying that western and African provinces have much to learn from each other. “Africans need to hear from the west that not everything is a black-and-white issue, and that our differences shouldn’t create a wall that prevents understanding.” 

He said that neither culture has all the answers, though he said Africa has much to learn from the west, especially in regards to leaders hearing the voices of the average person. 

“We all have a piece of the puzzle and God is watching us,” the Archbishop said. “He’s made it possible and shown us how to do it, but we want to use our own methods. This is why we have problems.”

Unity was the general theme of Archbishop Josiah’s visit, whether it was speaking to students or preaching at the weekly community Eucharist. His words left an impression on many during his time at SSW, including two students. 

The Archbishop’s tone of unity resonated with Jonathan Hanneman, a junior postulant from the Diocese of Seattle. “I appreciated hearing his emphasis on reconciliation and how we, as a broad family, still want to work together,” Hanneman said. 

Another junior, Radhajyoti Trapaga Deitenbeck Kaminski, from the Diocese of Western Michigan, found the Archbishop’s stance positive. “He gave me hope for the future of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church's place,” she said. 

Despite the progress made, Archbishop Josiah knows barriers remain to reconciliation. When speaking on the future of the Anglican Consultative Council, he hopes that the Primates of the Church can come together, voicing the concerns of their provinces and bishops in a way that allows all voices to be heard.

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon on EDOT from The Episcopal Diocese of Texas on Vimeo.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is inviting these individual bishops to his own diocese. That’s why Canterbury has a historical significance. It’s the Archbishop's own diocese,” he said. “To see that invitation is to see that the vision of the Archbishop and the needs of the Communion are addressed by the church fathers -- the bishops -- together.”

Secretary General Idowu-Fearon believes unity in common, core beliefs is the glue that will unite the Episcopal and Anglican Church. “Our liturgy, our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what unites us. Whether you’re Episcopal in the States or Anglican in Canada, you take the Eucharist and you know it’s Anglican,” he said.

“We must understand that the Church is not a club, and that we are called to love.”

Harrison is a journalist in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison or email

Photos: Seminary of the Southwest Staff