by Stanley Azuakola
The Anglican Bishop of the Province of Kaduna, Most Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon recently got the second highest award in the Anglican Communion worldwide when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, presented him with the award of the Cross of St. Augustine at a ceremony at Lambeth Palace.
The award was given to the bishop in recognition of his outstanding ministry in promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue in Nigeria and across the world. The Cross of St. Augustine was instituted in honour and memory of St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is interesting that the church gave Bishop Fearon an award for promoting dialogue with another religion. But no one who has encountered Bishop Fearon will argue that it was not deserved. In fact, the bishop has prepared himself all his life for the role he is currently playing in catalysing dialogue and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. Fearon is truly a courageous visionary.
The 54 year old Fearon originally wanted to become a soldier and had enrolled into the Nigerian Military Training School. But while he was there, he began to feel the call of God upon his life to be a soldier of Christ instead. In his second year at the school, when the call became very strong, he got a sympathetic discharge and left for Emmanuel College where he trained as a priest.
In 1971, Fearon was ordained as a priest of the Anglican church and nineteen years later he was made a bishop.
Fearon however is a bishop with a difference. A strong intellectual inquirer and student, he received his Master of Divinity from Hartford Seminary in 1993 as well as a Doctorate from the University of Durham.
Then due to his particular circumstance as a priest in the North of Nigeria where it could sometimes be risky to be a christian clergyman, he took steps to understand Islam and Muslims a little better. He enrolled at the University of Birmingham’s St. John’s College to read for a master’s degree in Islamic studies. Not done, he enrolled for a second master’s degree in sociology, this time from the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Fearon then received his doctorate degree in Arabic and Islamic studies with special interest in Christian-Muslim relations from the University of Jordan in 2002.
As a bishop, Fearon still serves as a research fellow at the Ahmadu Bello University working on determining the influence of politics and religion on development.
From 1981 to 1990 when he was consecrated bishop, he worked as the General Secretary for the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion for Nigeria, and concurrently held the post of Warden of St. Francis Theological College, Wusasa from 1981 to 1984, when he became the Provost of St. Michael’s Cathedral.
In 1997, he was made the Bishop of Kaduna Diocese.
In his career, he has held the presidencies and chairs of several networks and councils. He is a past president of the Network for Inter Faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion, member of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, member of the State Religious Harmony Council, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christianity and chairman of Bridge Builders Association of Nigeria, member of the Religious Advisory Council of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and chairman of the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa.
Interestingly, in all these roles, despite being a persuasive defender of the Christian faith and defender of the rights of Christians, he has managed it without bitterness; with sympathy, with respect, with deep compassion but with exemplary firmness.
Congratulations to Bishop Fearon on his award. His accomplishments, scholarship and modesty tell a most encouraging story and stirs the possibility of what can happen if Nigerians, especially those in various levels of authority make the effort to understand the other side. He is a patriot.