First Nigerian Bishop In Church of England Counters Islamist Terror With Message Of Love In Jesus Christ

The new Bishop of Woolwich, Dr Woyin Karowei Dorgu.Ruth Gledhill

The first ever Nigerian chosen to be a bishop in the Church of England today spoke of how God is with those suffering pain and loss in Berlin.

He described his personal experiences of the depradations of the Islamist terror group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Rev Woyin Karowei Dorgu told Christian Today: "In time of pain and difficulty, people ask the question, 'Where is God?'

"I often say God is with us. That's the message of Christmas. Emmanuel, God with us.

"God never abandons us in our time of trouble. In fact but for the grace of God, many more people may have been killed in Berlin yesterday.

"What I often think is that it could have been worse, but for the grace of God. So God is with us in our suffering. God bears our pain with us, he cries with us. But for his support and strength, how would we cope in difficult times?"

He spoke of his time as a medical doctor in a missionary hospital in Zaria in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, where many victims of Boko Haram atrocities were treated.

"I've got friends back there whose families have been affected, whose relatives have been abducted," he said.

"What happened in Berlin yesterday is unthinkable and it is not acceptable.

"Even when we differ on religious or political grounds, we should talk with each other rather than resorting to violence. The pain and harrowing devastation that is caused by things like that are very difficult to imagine.

"I lived in a city in northern Nigeria, in Zaria, where 127 churches were burned down in one day. And lots of Christians were killed in their churches. So I know about the pain of extremist violence and the pain of human suffering that comes with these events."

He acknowledged London could be a target for the Islamist terrorists but added: "I think we shouldn't give place to fear. I think we should be hopeful and trusting and prayerful and be on the lookout for each other's welfare and support each other.

"And I believe by doing so we will not give in to fear that divides and creates pressure. Fear is intimidating, fear is not good, fear creates tension, fear creates suspicion. If we give place to love, hope, trust and the peace that Christmas brings, then we will not be giving into fear. So I plead with Londoners to live in hope and love with each other and share the goodwill message of this Christmas season."

Dr Woyin Karowei Dorgu with his wife Mosun and the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun.Ruth Gledhill

Known as "Brother K" to his parishioners at St John, Upper Holloway in north London, Karowei's appointment as the next Bishop of Woolwich makes him the first black and ethnic minority or "BME" appointment to an episcopal see in the Church of England since that of John Sentamu, now Archbishop of York, more than two decades ago.

Woy in his native Ijaw tongue means God and Karoway means priest or servant of God. His father, a senior government official who was the first head of the civil service in the mid-west region of Nigeria, was "unknowingly prophetic" when he had his son christened "servant of God", said Karowei's wife Mosun.

He was born in Burutu, a sea port in the south-eastern delta region of Nigeria.

Both Karowei and his wife trained as doctors in Nigeria. They came to Britain when he received his "call" to the ministry at age 29 and he trained at the London Bible College and at Oak Hill, the evangelical seminary in north London. She is now a consultant child psychiatrist.

He said he was excited by the vision of the Southwark docese: "hearts on fire – loving God, walking with Jesus, led by the Spirit."

He described how he was born into a Christian family but rebelled and left the church for a brief period of atheism. But he met some Christians at university, saying: "I decided to accept Jesus as my personal saviour and Lord in my early 20s."

He pledged to embrace the Archbishop of Canterbury's "renewal and reform" programme.

"I will promote and encourage a culture of prayer, mission and church growth that is intentional, proactive and determined. I would encourage natural evangelism and new priorities in ongoing mission at our doorsteps and vibrant ministry in our churches, chaplaincies, workplaces, homes and communities that is aimed at achieving more personal growth, congregational growth and fresh expressions of church."

The church needs in particular to celebrate its young people and invite them to be part of the "Jesus movement", he added.

"I will seek to promote and encourage a culture of prayer. I will encourage natural evangelism thorough relationships and friendships.

"I come among you as a partner in the Gospel of Christ, a brother in Christ. All the glory will return to Him who has called us as ministers of his Gospel. I will endeavour to be a Christ-centred leader who is prayerful, collaborating intentional, caring, thoughtful and persistent in Christ."

Currently, just over 3.4 per cent of all stipendiary clergy are BME and an even smaller proportion, 2.2 per cent of senior staff, are BME.

In fact there are just five other senior BME clergy in the Church of England. They are the Dean of Manchester, Rogers Govender, Archdeacon of Southend Mina Smallman, Archdeacon of Barking John Perumbalath and Archdeacon of Hackney Liz Adekunle.

The appointment of the Karowei to be a bishop in the Southwark diocese was welcomed by senior clergy as an historic move that will bring new missionary zeal for Jesus to Britain. 

Bishop Chessun told Christian Today: "Karowei has a very infectious, attractive faith. I look forward to the contribution Karowei will make as a committed evangelical Christian, as a disciple and as someone who sees that they are called to be a missionary. Karowei and his wife felt that their call, their Christian call, firstly in their medical training and then in their discipleship, was about being missionaries. This will be a wonderful enrichment of episcopal ministry in this diocese."

He added: "For Karowei this is not about coming to England as a missionary. This is about his whole life being witness, being about missionary zeal for the Gospel, whether in Nigeria, England, Woolwich or the Diocese of London. That is the nature of his calling."

Canon Stephen Hance, director of mission for the Southwark diocese, who worked with Dorgu in Tollington parish 20 years ago in north London, said: "He is a person of resilience. He is an evangelist for Christ with a pastor's life. He is a man who evidences the presence of the Holy Spirit in all he does."

The new Bishop of Lichfield Michael Ipgrave, former Bishop of Woolwich, said: "I am personally delighted by this appointment. Karowei is a valued colleague and friend, and a priest of great spiritual stature.

"I much enjoyed working with him in developing the church's response to Nigerian communities in South London, and I am sure that he will do a wonderful job as my successor in Woolwich, where he will share with Bishop Christopher and the archdeacons in leading such a vibrant and diverse part of the Church of England.

"It is more important than ever that the leadership of the Church reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. This appointment is a very welcome sign of the crucial part that black and minority ethnic clergy have to play in the Church of England."