Wherever the Igbo are domiciled anywhere in the world, they have always distinguished themselves by their unflinching spirit of hard work, resilience and unity. Some people ignorantly accuse them of always feeling marginalized wherever they are. The feeling of marginalization, they say, has always motivated the Igbo to readily gang up in self defence, in anticipation of external aggression. The truth, however, is that the Igbo have a tradition of always remaining their brothers’ keepers. They share so much in common. And they have kept their faith with that tradition. As they say, it is in their DNA to belong to one another. As a people, that belief in Igbo oneness has inevitably become their source of subtle strength in times of adversity. It has upheld their collective aspiration in life, and their commitment to family and community.
In traditional Igbo society, it is customary for women to play significant roles in religious activities. They play these roles primarily by making remarkable contributions to the spiritual welfare of their families and their communities. There are various ways women play these roles, both in traditional African religions and in Christianity. In the traditional society, some Igbo communities still have female priests or priestesses, as the case may be. Some of them are known as Eze Nwanyi, others as Nne Mmanwu. A good number of the women belong to various masquerade cults where they play very active roles. The women priestesses offer prayers for their families and communities and consult the oracles when necessary to seek for direction and instruction for the communities. Women are traditional healers in some Igbo communities, and most of these female traditional healers deal with women and children when they are ill. They also act as midwives, delivering babies for pregnant women.
Within the Christian communities in Igboland, women have continued to play very active roles in the Church. They keep the church tidy in readiness for Sunday services. They cater for the welfare of the priests and the children who come to church. In the Anglican Communion, the women ministry sometimes own and manage motherless babies homes, orphanages, skills acquisition centres and schools. In addition to all these, they manage the welfare of young adults in the church.
In contemporary Igbo society, women are very actively involved in church projects. They are seriously involved in fund raising activities for projects like the Church Hall, the Church Building itself, the Vicarage, Children’s Section of the Church and so on. Levies are imposed on community members and most times it is the women who are assigned to collect the money. The very popular August Meeting of some of the churches have turned into avenues for raising funds for church projects through the women, but it has also, unfortunately, created an atmosphere of unhealthy rivalry which is very commonplace these days, although the church has taken steps to control the situation.
A good number of modern churches are beginning to support women’s ordination as pastors and ministers of the gospel. Many have started to encourage women to hold positions of leadership. In the Anglican Communion in Nigeria, women are not ordained as priests. They can only become lay readers. But in the family, women always play powerful and active behind-the-scene roles in Igbo culture. For instance, their approval must always be sought and got before marriages are consolidated by the family.
Women also play prominent roles in public life such as in education, banking and politics. Despite their nature of being submissive to their men folk, they are highly valued in Igbo culture because of their indispensability in the family, their ability to give birth and religiously keep the family and community alive through generations. Therefore, it is impossible to gloss over the position and roles of the Igbo woman in the religious activities of the community. Literarily, they are the pillars that hold the community in place.
It was in this tradition that the Anglican Igbo Church of Holy Trinity, in the Diocese of London was aglow on Sunday 7 April 2019. That was the day the community celebrated the Mothering Sunday. Fully attired in their Anglican Communion uniforms, the women glamorously conducted the praise and worship service with the assistance of several male and two female priests of the Anglican Communion of the Church of England. The Church was filled to capacity with the Igbo and their friends who came from various parts of the United Kingdom and spanned all walks of life.
In their prayer, the Mothers’ Union thanked God for giving marriage to be a source of blessing. They thanked Him for family life, with all its joys and sorrows. They prayed to know God’s presence and peace in their homes, for God to fill their homes with His love and use them for His glory. They prayed for all who are married and for every parent and child, that God would pour His Holy Spirit on them that they may truly love and serve Him. They prayed for the Mothers’ Union world-wide, that God might unite them in prayer, worship, love and service so that, strengthened by grace, they may seek to do His will.
Preaching the sermon, the Parish Priest of St. Matthew’s Church of England, Stratford and Coordinating Chaplain of Westfield, Stratford International, the Rev. Christiana Asinugo enumerated the role women had always played from the early church. Talking on the theme: ‘Every gift is from God and every gift is for God’ she took her texts from 1 Samuel 1: 20-28 and Luke 2: 33-35. Reminding the community that the day was set apart for the remembrance of not only mothers in the Igbo church but also all mothers world-wide, she admonished participants to focus on the Old Testament reading. She said it did not matter whether the women had biological children of their own or not. As long as they were women, God planted in each and every one of them “a bundle” which was also a special gift for His edification.
Rev. Asinugo affirmed that women were God’s special gift to the family, the church, the nation and the world. Therefore, it was necessary that while Christian mothers remember those who are alive, they also spare a thought and pray for the repose of the souls of departed mothers wherever they may be.
In reflection, she said many words identify the important roles women play in today’s world. Such words include ‘strong’, ‘advocate’, ‘rock’, ‘patience’, ‘wonderful’, ‘great’, ‘teacher’, ‘instructor,’ ‘wisdom’, ‘pillar,’ ‘protector,’ ‘mentor’, ‘disciplinarian’, ‘beautiful’, ‘compassionate’, ‘generous’, ‘loving’, ‘caring’, ‘resilient’ and many more. She was sure there were many more words the community would suggest if asked to do so. Therefore, there was every reason to celebrate mothers, not only on a particular day, but every day.
Making reference to the day’s reading, Rev. Asinugo said it was an old, familiar story to the Christian community. Yet there was so much to learn from it.
The story was about Elkanah and his two wives, Hannah and Penninah. For ten years Hannah had been married to her husband. But she had no issue. It was the custom of the Jews at the time for a woman to give her husband the chance to take another wife after ten years of being barren. Hannah knew this and encouraged her husband to take another wife who would bear children for him. So, Elkanah married Penninah. She bore ten children for her husband. But she also made mockery of Hannah, speaking to her in every harsh way that reminded her of her barrenness. She may have thought all was well with her and it gave her great joy to torment, ridicule and hurt her mate, both in word and in action. Perhaps, some Christian mothers have had similar experiences. They know how much it could hurt. It was a difficult situation to cope with. But the Bible does not say Hannah ever quarreled with her mate or that she gathered other believers and demanded for them to fight back on her behalf. Proverbs 15:18 tells Christians that a hot-tempered person stirs up conflict but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Hannah was more than ever before only challenged to focus on God and God’s promises.
Rev. Asinugo enjoined mothers to learn like Hannah to be patient when they were challenged by the vicissitudes of life. She urged them to focus in prayer on God’s reassurance and He will give them the grace to overcome. Hannah prayed to God in the heaviness of her heart, asking God to give her just one child. She promised that if God would do this for her, she would give the child back to serve God all the days of his life. God was pleased. The covenant was sealed. And soon Hannah had a son and called him Samuel for she said: ‘He is my gift from God’. That was the story.
Rev. Asinugo said there were many things to learn from the story of Hannah. She was a woman of great patience who tried so much to put up with Peninnah’s taunting without complaining. She was a woman who trusted God in His providence, power and grace. She was a woman that knew and applied the efficacy of prayer to get into God’s presence. She was steadfast in prayer. She was a woman of integrity who never went back on her word to re-dedicate the child to God in service.
Rev. Asinugo said it was necessary for Christians to reflect from time to time on what they had learnt about Hannah. Some Christians could keep praying, hoping for a miracle and nothing seems to be happening. It was necessary to be patient in waiting for God’s time. God will fulfill His promise at the appointed time, not a minute earlier and not a minute later. Sometimes it could be difficult. But Christians who wait on the Lord must be strong in the Lord.
She explained that the kind of patience Hannah had was an act of trust. Sometimes, Christians pray and when the prayer was not instantly answered, they tend to lose hope. No. They shouldn’t because God is always faithful. He alone can open closed doors with maximum security. God has a plan for each of his children and every Christian must bear that in mind. Rev. Asinugo reminded mothers that they are called to make the presence of God felt in the home, the community and in the world. They are called to make the difference in the lives of both believers and unbelievers.
It would matter to Christians, she said, what their priorities in life are. If Jesus instantly asked what he could do for you, what would be your answer? she queried. In summary, Rev. Asinugo admonished mothers with the words of Thessalonians 5:16-18 : “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Welcoming visitors and newly registered members, the Women’s Fellowship reiterated the objectives of the Igbo Anglican Communion. The community has a tradition of supporting one another through prayers, encouragement and growing stronger together in their walk with Jesus as they face different life challenges and uplifts. The Women’s Fellowship provides empowerment, teachings and exposition in Christian living to members and intending members. There are opportunities for networking and hospitality, refreshments and numerous other activities. Established as a prayer powerhouse, the community meets for an hour every Tuesday night in a prayer explosion that is conducted by tele-conferencing. For more information on the activities of the various departments of the community, please contact the Priest in Charge, Hornsey Parish Church, Cranley Gardens, London N10 3AH. Or contact Ven. Dr. Christian Iwuagwu on 020 8897 2385 and 074 2986 3280. If you are Igbo living in the UK, do not miss out on this inspirational church service that holds every month. It is a testimony of unity.
Chief Sir Emeka is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ (Vol.1&2) and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)