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Euthanasia of a Mission

African Church Autonomy in a Colonial Context

by Jehu Hanciles


Examines the pivotal role African agents, influences, and reactions played in transforming a mission into a national autonomous church.

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May 2002


Pages 296
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Religion/General
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Henry Venn, secretary of the London-based Church Missionary Society from 1840 to 1872, coined the term euthanasia of a mission to describe the vital process whereby a foreign mission becomes progressively indigenous and independent. His vision of church autonomy was first implemented in Sierra Leone, and the author examines this experiment in detail to uncover the nature of early efforts at constructing an African Christian identity separate from foreign influence and control. Through a detailed analysis of the crises and controversies evoked by African interpretation and appropriation of Venn's vision, the author illustrates the complex interaction of foreign missionary action, indigenous Christian response, and socioeconomic factors in the problematic transition from mission to national church.

Venn's ideas had far-reaching influence on the growth of African nationalism, political consciousness, and nation-building. His experiment led to local efforts to merge with the foreign missionary efforts and to an eventual takeover of leadership and mission responsibilities by native Africans. Hanciles chronicles the initial missionary efforts in Sierra Leone, the growth of the mission, the problems that arose, and the emergence of Ethiopianism, a movement which promoted the idea of African nationalism. The book argues that in the West African region, at least, Venn's experiment precipitated some of the most profound ecclesiastical crises of the 19th century and unleashed powerful forces of change that continue to this day. By focusing on the African factor in the intensely problematic transition from mission to national church, this work contributes to the ongoing reappraisal of the significance of African Christianity as a major stream of Christian history.

Table of Contents

IntroductionThe Sierra Leone Mission: Survey of a LaboratoryHenry Venn's Scheme and the Sierra Leone OptionState of TransitionPlanting the Seed: An African MinistryThe Formation of a Native PastorateProblems of GrowthGrowing ProblemsEthiopianism: A Counterquest for Identity and IndependenceThe African VisionManaging the EuthanasiaNew Possibilities, Old ProblemsThe Challenge of IndependenceSummaryAppendixBibliography



[W]e are introduced to a host of remarkable European, African-American, and African figures that played significant roles in Christian missionary endeavors in Sierra Leone.—The Journal of Religion

Looks at an early mission experiment in Sierra Leone as an example of an early effort to construct an African Christian identity separate from foreign influence and control.—Africa Book Ceatre Book Review

Hanciles provides a thoroughly detailed account of the Anglican Church mission in Sierra Leone in the later half of the nineteenth century....Hancile's research is exceptional, enabling him both to portray the historical figures in rich detail and to make the book apprachable to non-experts. However, this work will be best appreciated by serious students of African colonialism or Christian missionary studies—Religious Studies Review


...Jehu J. Hanciles illustrates how the members of the Anglican church in his native Sierra Leone reacted to the application of Venn's policy, and describes the profound racial and ecclesiastical crises it provoked. He also details its contribution to the pan-African Ethiopianism movement which was to become influential in the African dispora. Moreover this stimulating, scholarly and critical work by one of the leading younger West African historians makes an important contribution to the now burgeoning discipline missiology—Christopher Fyfe^LReader in African History (retired)^LUniversity of Edinburgh

^IEuthanasia of a Mission^R brings full circle studies of the remarkable Henry Venn, foremost British missionary leader in the nineteenth century. By concentrating on the impact of Venn's policies and administrative initiatives on the ground--both for the missionary and the local church--Dr. Hanciles lays bare the dynamic and often troubled relations among the several parties. At once a visionary thinker and a forceful administrator, Venn helped unleash forces that contributed to the economic, social, and political development of West African societies. This groundbreaking study gives us a fresh angle form which to understand the ^Imodern^R missionary process that was still in process of formation when Venn launched his famous Native Pastorate Experiment in 1860.—Wilbert R. Shenk^LPaul E. Pierson Professor of Mission History and Contemporary Culture^LFuller Theologian Seminary^LPasadena, California

The author's meticulous research, lively prose and wit make this an insightful, compelling story of the formative years of Christianity in West Africa. He controls the narrative with a keen eye to historiographical issues in the reconstruction of a period, a detailed statement and evaluation of an experiment based on Venn's ideal, an ear to voices which are usually submerged in records preserved by missionaries and the critical reverberations in contemporary missiology.—Ogbu U. Kalu^LHenry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity and Missions^LMcCormick Theological Seminary

This is the most comprehensive and illuminating study yet published of the outworking of Henry Venn's famous three-self theory of Christian mission in a particular regional context. Dr. Hanciles' book deserves to be read widely-not simply by scholars of missions, but also by all those interested in the history of Sierra Leone and the role of Christianity in the shaping of modern Africa.—Brian Stanley^LDirector, Henry Martyn Centre^LFellow^LSt. Edmund's College, University of Cambridge

The ^IEuthanasia of a Mission^R is a welcome contribution to the literature on the reassessment of the Western missionary enterprise through one of its most sagacious and effective agents, Henry Venn. It is true that the vision of Venn for the church in Sierra Leone today lies in ruins amidst the shattered fragments of a grief-stricken land, but that vision while it was alive dominated missionary counsels for a good deal of the nineteenth century. But Venn belongs also with questions of local autonomy and indigenous leadership. Hence his perennial importance. Hanciles is to be commended for drawing attention to that local dimension.—Lamin Sanneh^LProfessor of History and of World Christianity^LYale University

A work of outstanding importance. Dr. Hanciles unravels a complex story with skill and insight, as he reveals the interplay of people and processes, events, and ideas in Africa and Europe. He has advanced our understanding of the modern history of African Christianity.—Professor Andrew F. Walls^LCentre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, University of Edinburgh and Scottish Institute of Missionary Studies, University of Aberdeen

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