Visit to the Diocese of Wiawso

In January this year, encouraged by the training officer of the Diocese of Liverpool, I took some Study Leave. As I mused on what I might do, I thought about our recent Lent fundraising effort at St Luke’s Southport for the Diocese of Wiawso in Ghana, West Africa, and from this the idea grew.

I contacted Bishop Abraham Ackah, the first Bishop of this young diocese (it is only ten years old) and asked if I could come and live among his flock for a month. He responded very warmly, and so the project began. The Church in Ghana is thoroughly Catholic in doctrine and tradition, and the diocese of Wiawso is no exception. The liturgy and spirituality is Catholic in the best meaning of the word, and the Word of God does not go unnoticed: there is no doubt that the faith is vibrant and alive.

I arrived in Accra, Ghana’s capital, and then journeyed onto Wiawso, about six hours away. Wiawso is a rural area, and the main crop is cocoa: something on which the population and church depend. A good harvest means a good year, and people are heavily reliant upon this factor. Wiawso is green and lush when the rain falls, but while I was there it was very dry and dusty. I was immediately bowled over by the generosity of welcome and hospitality shown to me, not just upon arrival but throughout my time there. Whether it was the Bishop, a parish priest, or members of a congregation, I really did feel at home everywhere I travelled. This is no cliché: it was true sincerity, and a truly Christian welcome.

My programme entailed staying with the Bishop and his wife, Margaret – two wonderful and saintly Christian people – then being taken by different Archdeacons to visit their four archdeaconries and 80 parishes. The need for priests is urgent: there are only 24. The diocese has young men in seminary, however, and I met two of them. They are much needed; and, although the diocese does not always have the means to pay for their training, it still enrols them, trusting that the Lord will provide.

Each parish in Wiawso has a parish church and often four to six mission stations, which are staffed by catechists. The priest will often get around them all in a month; but the need in such a sacrament-focused church is, of course, for priests to feed and nurture God’s people. The church there needs priests, and the call is being responded to: the mission field is fertile but the Lord’s vineyard needs labourers, and any support people can give to their training and resourcing is much needed – certainly financially, but even down to chalices and vestments.

I travelled all over, from urban areas to rural ones, meeting priests and people; and worshipping, interacting with dialogue, and preaching in various places. I experienced funerals, the churching of women after childbirth, assemblies, and the opening of the Bishop Aglionby Memorial Clinic – which was a grand day, and very momentous. As well as spending time with clergy and their families – and sharing the joys and sorrows of ordained life with the priests – I was most struck by the similarities that we have in common as priests: taxed by worries of attendance, finance, and mission.

The two words that stood out for me throughout the whole trip were ‘Joy’, and ‘Poverty’. The people in Wiawso are so joyful in worship, and in life: thankful for the blessings of the Lord and for being in God’s service. You could not be unaffected by the worship and the Spirit being at work during this time. But people are in poverty. The schools struggle, and yet the thirst for education is apparent. Those who are educated drink rapidly, not allowing one bit of teaching to drop.

Projects in parishes are abundant, as they seek to embark on building programmes and sharing the faith. These things really are infectious. Whereas in the West we may be hesitant about such things, in Wiawso the people of God trust him and move on to build his kingdom. It is gratifying and refreshing to see that the word of the Gospel is still enough to draw people to Christ: to worship andadore him. No gimmicks are needed but the Sacraments and the Word of the Lord.

There is great courage in the Diocese of Wiawso and in Bishop Abraham, his priests, and people. Where others may be tempted to walk away, they themselves are strongly moving forward: seeking how best to serve the people through churches, schools, and healthcare. They will not desist from the work of the Lord and this is indeed an encouragement.

I personally feel humbled, gratified and thankful for my time in Ghana, and in particular for the assistance that the Cleaver Fund and other bodies have given me to undertake this Study Leave. It has helped me to think and pray, to understand the church in a different culture and context, and to know that all we do in the name of the Lord is blessed by him.

Without this opportunity I would not be any of the wiser about how our Lent collection helped people, how our contribution towards the training of a seminarian would affect him and the church, and how our fundraising for the local school would enable 50 more children to have the opportunity of education.

I can only thank the Lord for these blessings, and continue to be enthused and encouraged in all of this. Please pray for the Diocese of Wiawso and please help them as you can. ND

Paul Hutchins

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