Meet West Africa’s Future Church Leaders
By Mark Michael
St. Nicholas Seminary in Cape Coast, Ghana, prepares clergy for the Church in the Province of West Africa, which is spread across 17 dioceses in eight West African countries. It has 28 residential students, and about a dozen more who study remotely, attending classes during school breaks and corresponding with their instructors at other times. It offers degrees through an affiliation with nearby Cape Coast University, which is ranked as one of Africa’s best research institutions.
Established in 1975, St. Nicholas benefited in its early days from an affiliation with the Order of the Holy Cross, which had a house in Cape Coast at the time. The Rev. Bonnell Spencer, OHC, the author of numerous books of spiritual theology, taught there for several years and organized its library, which is named in his honor. The seminary is developing a partnership with the Iona Collaborative at Seminary of the Southwest, which specializes in training for bivocational ministers.
The seminary day begins with Matins and Mass at 5:30 a.m., with all students kneeling in their assigned places in white cassocks. It closes with Evensong at 5:30 p.m. and Compline at 9 p.m. most days, and there is Benediction and an hour of Eucharistic adoration on Sunday evenings. Each service is marked by robust hymn singing, mostly in English from Hymns Ancient and Modern, but in what one student called “an Africanized style,” with drums and a syncopated beat. Students clap and dance to many of the hymns.
The ceremonial at Mass is unmistakably Anglo-Catholic, with processions and sanctuary movements executed with military precision. But during the prayer of consecration, the white-painted chancel is suddenly filled with colored twinkling lights. When the chalice is elevated, the congregation responds with the refrain of an old Gospel hymn:
I am coming, Lord!
Coming now to Thee!
Wash me, cleanse me in the blood
That flowed on Calvary.
When the ciborium is returned to the tabernacle, the congregation responds with a verse of “Sweet Sacrament Divine.”
The dean, the Rev. Canon Joseph Bain-Doodu, says that St. Nicholas has dormitory and classroom space to train as many as 50 students at a time, but the cost for students, about $1,100 per year, is beyond the reach of many who feel a call to ordained ministry. Instruction is entirely in English, which is a challenge for some students, but a necessity for leadership in the church, which spreads across territory where hundreds of local languages are used.
“They have a desire to learn,” says the Rev. Bede Anumel, the seminary’s chaplain, of his students. “They are very committed, and they need a bit of guidance and direction, but some of them are quite young.”
The St. Nicholas student body is all male, but the seminary began preparing women for ministry even before the Church in the Province of West Africa allowed them to be ordained in 2009. Bain-Doodu says the school hopes to admit more women students in the future. Even more pressing, he says, is the need for internet connectivity and access to computers for students.
The seminary can only afford three student scholarships, and with inflation rates topping 50 percent in Ghana, covering simple operating expenses has been a challenge in recent months. During announcements at Mass, Bain-Doodu urged students to conserve water, noting that recent bills had been much higher than usual.
In the face of such challenges, he says the seminary is fortunate to employ four professors, all of whom have had graduate study at institutions inside and outside Ghana. Bain-Doodu himself, who studied at Cardiff University in Wales, is the only trained canon lawyer in the Church of the Province of West Africa. Each professor teaches numerous classes each week to provide a rigorous course of study for students. Professors come from the Department of Religion at Cape Coast University and from a nearby Roman Catholic seminary to teach philosophical theology, reflecting longstanding collegial relationships.
“Though we are faced with many challenges, we are determined to make St. Nicholas Seminary a reputable institution known for both academic and ministerial formation in equipping seminarians with knowledge and core Christian values for ministry in today’s society,” Bain-Doodu said.
During a visit to Ghana in February, TLC spoke with several students about their call to ministry and their hopes for the future of the church.
Richmond Yeboah Darko, 29
Richmond is the head seminarian at St. Nicholas, and was mentored by his parish priest, the Rev. Alexander Koduah. “I have a calling to apostolic work,” he said. “I feel the conviction to evangelize to people. I feel moved to go to other places to establish churches there.”
Thomas Owusu, 26
Thomas is one of the youngest students at the seminary, and says his favorite subject is evangelism and church growth. “I hope to bring change in the Church,” he said. “Our leaders should be united and also to give an account for everything that they do in the Church and proclaim Christ to the people. Christ is love, not a god of division. … When he comes, he will take us to the kingdom he has prepared for us. It is my hope that all of us will be in heaven with him.”
Obed Dankwa, 32
Central Region, Ghana
The son of a priest, Obed says he wants to “contribute my quota to the Anglican Church and the work of God, to help to grow the kingdom of God.” He believes dioceses in the Anglican Church of Ghana are too autonomous. “I wish we could have one central governing board which can make bylaws and canon laws for the whole church. Some dioceses are rich and others are very poor. The stronger dioceses need to help the weaker dioceses to grow.” He also wishes the whole church would use the same liturgy, and notes that the church’s Book of Common Prayer is “simpler and easier to use.”
Joseph Frederick Yartey, 32
Joseph has a passion for children’s ministry: “Wherever I go, I am drawn to the youth and they are drawn to me. They tend to relate to me easily.” He is enjoying a pastoral placement at Holy Child Secondary School and is helping to rebuild Cape Coast University’s chapter of the National Union of Anglican Students. Joseph is also one of the seminary’s three organists. His favorite hymn is “Jesus, My Savior, Brother, Friend,” which he credits with helping him come to terms with the death of his father. “I wasn’t around when he died, and when they came and told me I was really bitter, but it took Christ, it took the Word, to make me know that I’m not alone, but Jesus is my friend, my brother,” he said.
James Osei Kwadwo Tawiah, 49
Sewfi Wiawso, Ghana
James set aside his promising career as a civil servant to come to seminary, and says that he misses his wife and seven children, as he can only see them during school breaks. He feels called to plant churches in his home region, which has only a handful of Anglican congregations. James is grateful that he can speak the local language, Sewfi, while also working easily among government employees stationed in the area, who primarily speak English with each other.
Ishmael Ofori, 34
Ishmael says that he has always been “very quiet, meditating, studying … always wanting to be in the presence of God.” He grew up in an African Indigenous church, and began preaching and singing in church as a boy, and had a gift for healing. Ishmael was deeply moved when his father took him to the local Anglican cathedral. “I was admiring the priests — their long cassocks, the alb, the stole; it was my desire that God would use me, to be in a cassock, to preach the Word of God,” he said. “It is my prayer that God brings in more vibrant priests, who humble themselves and embrace the customs, doctrines, and practices of the Anglican Church, so that the Anglican Church may grow.”
Meshack Issifu, 29
Meshack is the seminary’s only student from Ghana’s predominantly Muslim northern region. He grew up as a Muslim, but was baptized as a teenager after being invited to Sunday school by one of his friends. At first, his family tried to stop him from going to church, but now they have accepted his decision, and are reconciled. Meshack loves studying the Bible, and says that his professors have been very patient and supportive. He hopes to help the church “open more churches and outstations so we can grow in numbers and in spirituality.”
Jonas Amankwa, 52
Cape Coast, Ghana
Jonas received a call from God to serve as a priest early in life, but wasn’t able to answer it, and worked for many decades as an inspector with the Ghana National Fire Service. When the fire service sent out a call for chaplains, Jonas volunteered. After he is ordained, he will return to minister to his coworkers, leading services and Bible studies, and counseling them about personal and family problems. “When I go back to work,” he said, “I hope that people can see a big change in me … that my life will be able to transform others through Christ.”