Last Sunday, October 4, I attended a church service that I had informed readers about in September last year! I was there in full force for a service I had looked forward to 13 months earlier, and for which I had written on the subject; the election, resume and upcoming induction of the then Accra Diocese Bishop of the Methodist Church, then the Right Rev. Titus Awotwi-Pratt, as the new Presiding Bishop of the whole church at the Wesley Methodist Cathedral in Accra last Sunday. He succeeds the Rev. Professor Emmanuel Asante who is also well-known as the chairman of the National Peace Council, and who was also the chief celebrant at the service.
Today, I take the title from an event that happened in Nigeria in 1975 when the Nigerian Methodist Church inaugurated a change in church government to the episcopal one we have had in the Ghanaian church since 2000, that is, a quarter century later. I remember that event clearly, and consumed voraciously all the literature associated with the Nigerian experience because the representative from the Ghanaian church to the Nigerian event was my own father, then bishop, as the current designation goes, of the Winneba Diocese. My father actually composed a song for the Nigerian event which they treasured as a further link in the joint history of the two churches. I had an even keener interest in the matter for academic reasons when I later came to read for my Advanced Levels, books on African Traditional Religion authored by the first head of the episcopacy in Nigeria, Rev. Professor Idowu.
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A church planted by missionaries
The relevance of this title, to me, does not come from the presence of representatives from the Nigerian church at last Sunday’s function, the leader of which I have quoted at the head of this column today, but the singular fact that the church in Nigeria was planted by missionaries from the then Gold Coast in 1842. There is thus a link which unites the two more than merely shared common doctrines and faith as laid down by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism worldwide. To further prove this, the lead Nigerian came with two ministers from Nigeria who are actually Ghanaians by nationality! The event, thus, and their presence, therefore, had much more significance than mere words can describe.
But don’t let the similarity of changes mislead you. The Nigerian transformation took inspiration from the Eastern Rites, that is Greek Orthodoxy, and Rev. Professor Idowu was actually addressed then as His Eminence the Prelate, to our bemusement at the time! The Ghanaian church’s transformation was, however, inspired by an ingenious mix of the Western Rites, that is the Roman Catholic Church and American episcopacy. The Ghanaian head is thus addressed as Most Rev. Of course, anyone who has followed my writings will remember I opposed episcopacy for the church in Ghana, and said so in an article published in this very paper in 1996. My position now? I can live with it, since the core doctrines of the Methodist faith remain unchanged, only the exploitation of titular encumbrances to becloud the clarity of the message. Of course to be accurate, the Appointed Day in Ghana would be that day in 2000 when the Most Rev. Samuel Asante-Antwi was also inducted as the first head of the Methodist episcopate, but I am awarding myself dramatic license in this regard.
Father and son
The Most Rev. Titus Awotwi-Pratt, as he is now known, becomes the 4th Presiding Bishop of the Ghanaian church since it went episcopal in 2000. Readers will recollect that I identified the Most Rev. Pratt as the only head of the Methodist Church since its inception in this country in 1835 whose father also headed the church, and which fascinating fact, was what drew me to the subject in the first place. It so happens that his father, the late Most Rev. Charles Awotwi-Pratt, was also the 4th President of the autonomous church in 1977! I need not add that both Pratts, father and son, were December-born and both Friday-borns! Of course, it was the elder Pratt who commissioned the younger Pratt into the ministry in 1977. Weird, but true.
It was thus, a justly joyous occasion for Ghanaian Methodists who had gathered in their numbers for this auspicious day. The government and people of this country were ably represented by the Acting President, Vice President Amissah-Arthur, who is also a devoted Methodist.
Yes, all the past Presiding Bishops were present, from the first Rev. Dr Asante-Antwi to Rev. Dr Aboagye-Mensah and the immediate past, who, as I have indicated, and as convention demands, officiated at the function. For the first time too since the episcopacy, I understood the procession of the clergy, roughly grouped around the five original dioceses at autonomy in 1961, Cape Coast, Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi and Winneba, in reverse order. Of course, there are now 18 dioceses, so it made sense to me for the lay, like me, to divine. The presence too of heads of member churches of the Christian Council led by its chairman, Rt Rev. Emmanuel Martey of the Presbyterian Church, served to inform all present, of the ecumenicity of the occasion.
What struck me, however, was the new gown and stole in which the new Presiding Bishop was robed. The heavy silken black gown with the pink stole embodying the current crest on the church in Ghana with the well-known inscription ‘’Thy Kingdom Come’’ on the left and the Methodist seashells on the right side of the stole signifying the Wesleyan dictum that his parish is the world, all combining to give an effect, to the discerning, of the unity of the old and new forms of church governance. I await the day that the old practice of the head of the church using the national coat of arms to signify that he is a national, not a particularist pastor, to affirm the relevance and heavy tasks which all Methodists in this country, have placed upon the shoulders of their new leader. May the leadership of the Most Rev. Titus Pratt flourish.