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By David W. Virtue, DD
December 16, 2022

"You have the right to remain silent..." is how the Miranda rights begin. We can only assume that the Church of Nigeria has chosen to be silent because now, more than 10 days past the horrible events at Christ Church in New Jersey, we have heard nothing -- absolutely nothing -- from any official with the Church of Nigeria. I believe everyone expected the Primate of Nigeria, Abp Ndukuba, to at least make some sort of statement.

In following up on the story of the riot at Christ Anglican Church, an ACNA church in Irvington, NJ, VOL has learned that Bishop Derek Jones, on behalf of the Anglican Office for Government and International Affairs (formerly known as "Anglicans in Action") visited Christ Anglican Church this past Sunday (Dec 11). Abp Foley Beach has increasingly turned to the AOGIA since its creation nearly two years ago to help with governmental and international matters. The office has been working behind the scenes and has intentionally keeps a low profile until recently and seeks to remain unbiased in the matters they are consulted on. The AOGIA is the team that was able to save an Iranian Anglican Priest and his family from likely execution in Iran, an event that VOL was the first to report on just over a month ago. Virtue Online reached out to the Reverend Canon Justin Murff, Executive Director of the AOGIA to ask about the recent visit by Bp Jones and for an update on the sad events from the previous week.

"We are continuing to monitor this unfortunate event," said Canon Murff. The 'event' is when a group, led by Church of Nigeria Bishop Dr. Augustine Unuigbe, stormed into Christ Anglican Church during worship services on Dec 4 initiating a riot. The group assaulted church members, yelled racial asides at Bp Ken Ross of the ACNA (who had to be secured in a locked room to protect him from an assailant), and refused to disperse when directed to do so by Law Enforcement. The members of the Church were forced to leave the church and gather in a nearby home for Bp Ross and the church members to finish the worship service that he had traveled there to do.

"On December 9th, our office received credible information that another disruption, maybe another riot, was planned. We also discovered that a second Church of Nigeria Bishop had actually flown to the United States from Nigeria to lead the dissenters, and was in Irvington, NJ to go to Christ Anglican Church without the knowledge and permission of the Church's Bishop, Bp (Ken) Ross or Archbishop Beach." continued the Reverend Canon Justin Murff. "Putting these two together, we made a recommendation to Abp Beach." That recommendation was to send Bishop Jones immediately to Irvington on his behalf.

While staff of the AOGIA would not disclose details of how their team were able to prevent a repeat riot, VOL did learn from sources that the visiting Nigerian Bishop was Bp Nathan Kanu. We also learned that Kanu met with Bp Jones before services at a nearby restaurant, and that after that meeting Bp Kanu and a few of the rioters from the previous week elected not show up at Christ Anglican Church as planned.

The Reverend Canon Lawrence McElrath, an AOGIA volunteer staff member and former Canon to Abp Beach accompanied Bp Jones to New Jersey. "Only a couple of individuals attempted to initiate disruption before and during the service," answered Canon McElrath. Leaders of the church were prepared to prevent anyone who had stormed the church the previous week from re-entering the church. However, according to Canon McElrath, "We were able to keep both sides calm and encouraged these persons to know that it was best for them to worship together peacefully."

"This all began over a year ago when the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM) Churches were forced into geographical realignment of their dioceses," explained the Venerable Job Serebrov, General Counsel for the AOGIA. "Earlier this year Christ Anglican Church, by an overwhelming majority, elected to withdraw from the Anglican Diocese of the West, so they would no longer have to be part of CONNAM and the Church of Nigeria. In accordance with their church bylaws, the Vestry then led the church to align with the ACNA and be received by Bp Ross and his diocese."

VOL joins many in asking the question, why does the Church of Nigeria remain in the US anyway? All other faithful GAFCON partners who helped start the ACNA have turned their churches over to the ACNA. Why is Nigeria still here? More than that, why are they trying to expand and grow dioceses here?

Canon McElrath confirmed that Bishop Jones spent over two hours meeting with the majority of the dissenting members (who wish to remain with the CoN) following the morning worship service. According to initial social media posts, that meeting was very productive. It appeared that the AOGIA Team was poised to look into both sides arguments in an unbiased manner and formulate recommendations to Abp Beach, Bp Ross, and Abp Ndukuba on a way forward.

However, this was all lost when Bp Kanu held a private meeting later in the evening and re-energized the dissenters. Christ Anglican Church leadership discovered that Kanu undermined Bp Jones' efforts during that meeting, even joining in using racial slurs about Bp Ross and Bp Jones. Leaked communications from the dissenting group before Kanu's meeting also identified a specific death threat made against Bp Jones on social media.

"Local law enforcement officials have had no choice but to move forward with an investigation against those involved with disrupting the church service, who assaulted members of the church, threatened Bp Ross, and damaged church and personal property," said an attorney familiar with the case. As witness testimony has been gathered, there appears to be sufficient evidence to suggest the riot of December 4 may have been planned and at least supported by the Church of Nigeria.

Given the sectarian nature of the events in question, hate crime charges are now also pending and local officials yesterday elevated the matter to the New Jersey Superior Court. All evidence has also been requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"We are glad that we are finally able to have a peaceful worship service on Sunday," said the Venerable Kingsley Obiorah, Rector of Christ Anglican Church. "While no one wants to take a fellow Christian to court, I and elected leaders of this church have a responsibility to the majority of our members and community who are tired of the constant harassment we have had to endure for many months. We can not worship when we are fearful of what this group of people might do." Those who followed Bp Augustine Unuigbe in storming the church have been formally removed from membership in the church.

VOL will continue to follow this story.

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