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 acns.org