CONCISE HISTORY OF ANGLICAN MISSION IN ATANI
Atani, the headquarters of Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, situates on the plain of the River Niger. Its geographic location on the bank of River Niger enabled it to have early contacts with European trade missions and Christian missionaries.
The establishment of the Anglican Church in Atani dated back to 5th April 1904 when the 1 Church Missionary Society (CMS) delegates arrived Atani from Asaba. Prior to that, Prince Isaac Chukwuma Odunze who sojourned in Asaba as a fisherman and trader on canoe paddles had become a convert of the Anglican Church with his entire family. Consequently, his becoming the regent of Atani in 1901 when his father, Igwe Ogbuefi Otutu 1, died offered him the opportunity to prepare and water the ground for the arrival of the missionaries.
From that 1901, the gathering of converts started, but it metamorphosed into a Church (later to be known as St. James Anglican Church Atani) with the arrival of the CMS missionaries in 1904. Later that year (1904), one Jonah, a native of Ogwashi-Ukwu in present-day Delta State was posted to Atani as the first Church Teacher, Prince Chukwuma Odunze provided accommodation in his residence for Church Service and teachings. Membership began to grow and received a big boost when indigenous refugees who fled Onitsha and Asaba to escape the horrible bombardments of the naval forces during the Benin/Edo tribal war embraced the Anglican Church.
Expectedly, there were periods of resistance to the Christian converts from radical traditionalists in Atani and confrontation of the rest of the town with the Christian converts, but with God’s intervention, good sense of judgment and wisdom the Church overcame those challenges and difficult times. As the number of converts continued to grow, there was need for a separate place of worship. In 1906, Prince Isaac apportioned a piece of land near his house to the Christians. He built a Church building there and maintained it until his death in 1929. It was a mud house and it served as Church building and quarters until 1955.
Growth and Expansion
In 1939 – ten years after the death of Prince Isaac – the elders of Atani (Ndi-ichie Ukwu) felt that time had come for allocation of a permanent site to the CMS Mission. To avoid a possible clash between the Church and indigenes during the annual Okpotu Festival, a site at the outskirts of the town was chosen and given to them. It is on this site that the present structures (old Cathedral building and parsonage, Church Teacher’s quarters, Central School Atani, New Cathedral building, Bishop’s House, Diocesan Secretariat, King’s Ambassadors Seminary and Emmanuel Castle of Refuge) were erected.
The foundation stone of the old Cathedral building was laid on Saturday, 11th January 1958 by Rt. Rev. C. J. Patterson, Bishop on the Niger. Then in 1969, Rt. Rev. L. M. Uzodike, Bishop on the Niger, inaugurated the Anglican Church in Atani as a Parish. In 1990, the Parish was inaugurated a District by Rt. Rev. J. A. Onyemelukwe, Bishop on the Niger.On 26th February 2006, the Ogbaru Missionary Archdeaconry was inaugurated by Rt. Rev. Ken. E. Okeke, Bishop on the Niger, with St. James’ Church Atani as the headquarters and Ven. Joseph O. I. Nweke as the first Archdeacon. The following year, 2007, the Missionary Archdeaconry metamorphosed into the Missionary Diocese of Ogbaru on 15th March 2007, with Rt. Rev. Samuel C. Ezeofor enthroned as the pioneer Bishop and St. James’ Church Atani became the Cathedral Church of St. James Atani.
The foundation stone of the new Cathedral building was laid on 12th November 2009 by Rt. Rev. Dr. Samuel C. Ezeofor, Bishop of Ogbaru Diocese. The building was dedicated and named “Basilica of St. James the Great Cathedral Atani” on Saturday, 11th March 2017 by Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh, the Primate and Metropolitan of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican, Communion. Consequent upon the translation of the pioneer Bishop of Ogbaru Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Samuel Ezeofor, to Aguata Diocese, Rt. Rev. Prosper A. Amah was consecrated on Sunday 3rd June 2018 and enthroned on Saturday 28th July as the second Bishop of Ogbaru Diocese.
Today, the Anglican Church in Atani is waxing stronger and stronger and the gates of hell have not been able to overcome her. Three other Churches have sprung out of St. James’ Anglican Church Atani – St. Stephen’s Anglican Church Atani, Anglican Church of the Redeemer Atani and Victory Anglican Church Atani. Many indigenous Clergymen, Catechists, Church Teachers and Missionaries have come out of the Atani Anglican Mission. To God be the glory!
1. Mr. Emmanuel M. C. Ogene
2. Mrs. Caroline N. Adigwe