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Nigerian diocese severs ties with Liverpool following appointment of US Episcopal bishop

Nigerian diocese severs ties with Liverpool following appointment of US Episcopal bishop

The Nigerian Diocese of Akure has severed ties with the Diocese of Liverpool in the Church of England over its appointment of the Rt Rev. Susan Goff, of Virginia, as an Honorary Assisting Bishop in Liverpool.

The three diocese came together early this century to recreate the “triangle” of the slave trade as a triangle of reconciliation. From the Episcopal Archives, 2001:

Liverpool, England, and Richmond, Va., both grew rich in the slave trade during the first 200 years after European trade expanded to include North America. Recently the ties between the two cities were renewed for a more humanitarian purpose when a team of seven — three priests and four lay leaders of the Diocese of Virginia — traveled to the Diocese of Liverpool to study the climate of race relations. …

The majority of all slave ships used in what came to be known as the “Slave Triangle” were built in Liverpool. The ships dispatched from Liverpool brought rum to West Africa in exchange for slaves who were then sent on to Caribbean and American ports including Richmond. The valuable raw materials of the New World, especially molasses — an ingredient of rum — were brought back to Liverpool.

Another long-term goal of the project is to renew the “slave triangle” between the Diocese of Akure in Nigeria, the Diocese of Liverpool, and the Diocese of Virginia. This time the purpose will be one of reconciliation and healing. Akure was one of the major areas from which Africans were captured and sold as slaves. Bishop Jones has already established friendships with the Bishop of Akure and the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of Virginia, when he learned of their shared and tragic past. The three bishops have each said they are looking forward to this partnership in reconciliation.

Upon her appointment to Liverpool, Bishop Goff reflected on the work of this triangle of reconciliation.

The Dioceses of Liverpool and Virginia have been in close relationship since 2005, united by a desire to transform a shameful past and shape a hopeful future. In the years before the abolition of slavery in the US, ships set sail with manufactured goods from Liverpool, went to West Africa where they traded for slaves, and sailed to Virginia where the slaves were sold. The same ships then returned to Liverpool with cotton and tobacco, and the cycle repeated. A hundred fifty years later, we desire healing and reconciliation and, along with dioceses in West Africa, are striving to transform a triangle of despair into a Triangle of Hope.  My commissioning in Liverpool is intended as one more concrete sign of a relationship committed to reconciliation and hope.

Now, the Diocese of Akure has withdrawn from that Triangle. Reform, a conservative movement within the Church of England, cites Goff’s support for same sex marriage as cause for the withdrawal of the Diocese of Akure from the partnership.

Susie Leafe, Director of Reform said, “The Bishop of Liverpool has chosen to bring the conflicts that have torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion in to the heart of this diocese.  The long standing link with Akure Diocese, in Nigeria, has been severed for the sake of closer ties with The Episcopal Church. The decision to appoint Susan Goff as an Honorary Assistant Bishop is a provocative and divisive step which is obviously unacceptable from someone who holds themselves out as a focus of unity. Members of the Dioceses of Liverpool are entitled to expect that their bishop should respect and not simply ignore the settled will of the Communion.”

But controversy is not a new feature of Goff’s travels across the pond.

My commissioning is intended as one sign of healing and hope in another arena as well. The first international trip I made as a bishop was to Liverpool in February of 2013. Just three months before, at a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, proposed legislation for the ordination of women as bishops was narrowly defeated in the House of Laity, after passing in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy.  My visit was at a moment of pain for many in Liverpool and seemed to provide hope for those who desired to experience the ministry of women bishops.

The Diocese of Liverpool describes its ecumenical and global partnerships on its website. It is holding the door open to the resumption of the Akure partnership in the future.

We were twinned with The Diocese of Akure in Ondo Sate of Nigeria.They have broken their ties with our diocese over the appointment of the Rt Revd Susan Goff as a Hon. Assisting Bishop in our diocese.We remain open to resume this link as we seek to walk together with all parts of the communion.

Goff’s first visit to Liverpool as Assisting Bishop will take place in June.

Featured image: The Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, with his new Assisting Bishop, the Suffragan Bishop of Virginia, Susan Goff. Photo Credit: Diocese of Liverpool, via


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John Sandeman

I certainly cannot claim to connect with LGBT folk in Nigeria, and I am not sure how to convince you I am not engaged in a ruse. So no self-justifying post from me. Only sadness that it is hard to communicate.

Eric Bonetti

By definition, none of the provinces of the AC have the right to dictate anything to other provinces. So, nothing says that other provinces need to be happy with where we conclude the Spirit leads us. But trying to impose their will on us is not acceptable and never will be.

John sandeman

This discussion has been a fascinating reminder of how American this site is. No matter the topic, there is an assumption that the rest of the Anglican Communion has to be happy with the pace and direction of whatever TEC decides. Would maintaining links with Akure be in the best interests of Nigerian LGBT people? It would certainly mean discussion of criminal sanctions is more likely. Is it worth losing that for a symbolic position. I do wonder.

Tobias Haller

If you’ll pardon the observation, your comment is a reminder to me that many in the rest of the Communion wrongly think that the Americans are insisting they do as they say, or be happy with it, even though no such demand is being made. The Episcopal Church is routinely cast as the “Ugly American” of the Anglican Communion, when it has never even tried out for the role, let alone exercised it.

Moreover, this miscasting seems to come almost entirely from the conservative wing of those who are unhappy with the actions of TEC. No one in TEC is demanding (or assuming, or expecting) them to “be happy” — although we would like to think we can remain in communion. As it is, there is only a small number of provinces who feel the need to sever communion over these issues, while most others that are unhappy can accept that in a large family such as the Communion there will be times we disagree. So the responsibility for severing communion belongs where it starts: with those who do so.

Marshall Scott

John, the question of challenge vs. engagement is meaningful, and even after the fact hard to assess. Just how meaningful in challenging apartheid in South Africa was the US’s engagement vs. those nations that radically disconnected? Surely, neither was as meaningful as the voices within South Africa; but whether engagement was more helpful than disengagement would still be a matter of debate.

I will note, though, that surely this is Akure’s decision. To the extent we would be willing to engage (and I can only imagine that Bishop Goff would have been; and that her position is certainly and explicitly honorary), we can’t engage where we don’t have a colleague. Of course, as well, it’s not really engagement if we’re not faithful to our own position.

And, yes, the Café certainly reflects the US and Episcopal environment from which is springs. We Americans are notoriously parochial. I would only note (and I’m sure you would agree) that’s a human fault, and not just an American one.

Cynthia Katsarelis

I travel extensively, I’m not that parochial.

LGBTQI Christians have consistently said that our position is a beacon of hope and they ask that we talk about their situation, not ignore it.

MLK was not “parochial.” His Letter from the Birmingham [Alabama] Jail spells out that moderates saying “now isn’t the time” were worse than the bigots. There’s something not right about asking a vulnerable minority to shoulder the burden of injustice for the sake of the status quo.

The time for compassion and justice is always NOW. The bishop does not represent all of God’s Children anywhere. And there are LGBTQI Christians, especially in Nigeria, who very much need to hear the Good News of Christ Crucified for ALL, not some more than others.

David Allen

Isn’t this just a ruse to poke at TEC Mr Sandeman? You don’t really care about how LGBT folks fare in Nigeria do you? You aren’t actually in touch with LGBT folks in Nigeria are you?

As I understand it, LGBT folks in Africa wish TEC to continue to lift the lamp of equality for all the baptized.

The pace issue you raise is also a ruse, no? Because it has been a glacial pace in my mind, a 40 year process. Had it taken 100 years you would likely be here still, raising this red herring.

Eric Bonetti

How very disappointing that we cannot focus on what unites us, which is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Wayne Helmly

Please pray for our Nigerian LGBT brothers and sisters. Repudiating Virginia and Liverpool is the least of it. LGBT persons found “guilty” of being who God made them to be can be stoned to death, beaten with a cane, and imprisoned.

Living in Nigeria must be a terrifying existence for any LGBT person. God, please be with them.

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