Nigerian Anglicans worship God in their own way at Igbo Anglican, a mission of St. James in San Jose, California
When Innocent Umunna moved from Nigeria to Northern California six years ago, he visited an Anglican church, expecting to feel at home in his beloved faith tradition. But there was no lively preaching, dancing in the aisles or participatory prayer. The North American version of church felt a bit…dull.
“Half the church was sleeping,” says the first generation immigrant. “In our services, there is more action.”
Traditional Nigerian services sometimes exceed three hours, with much more extemporaneous expression within the pattern of the liturgy. Nigerians also favor hymns over contemporary worship music. For these reasons and more, Umunna found many Nigerians in the Bay Area—a cultural melting pot home to thousands of his native people—were dropping out of church. However, he didn’t have an immediate solution.
Innocent and his family.
Umunna later moved his family from Salinas, California, to San Jose, and found a home at St. James Anglican Church in 2012. With a background in lay and campus ministry, the preacher and teacher knew God had called him to America for a purpose, and after meeting with the Very Rev. Ed McNeill, C4SO’s Dean of Northern California, he knew he had found it. Umunna joined the vestry and McNeill asked him to launch a Nigerian Anglican service. They agreed the service would function as a mission of St. James.
“Our decision was simply to embrace our Nigerian brothers and sisters, support them and equip them to grow into whatever they want to do,” McNeill says.
In October 2014, 50 people attended the first worship gathering of Igbo Anglican. Inviting fellow Nigerians was simple thanks to a professor, Dr. Samuel Obi, at San Jose State University. He connected Umunna with other Nigerians in the area as well as Nigerian gatherings and celebrations. Umunna and McNeill put together a flier to distribute to all the Nigerians they met. They also advertised on Facebook. The service now meets the second Sunday of each month with between 50 and 70 worshippers, and alternates between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion.
McNeill describes Igbo’s jubilant worship style as “respectful, beautiful and fun.” Umunna preaches the Scripture in a lively manner that engages his fellow Nigerians. If people want to dance down the aisles to bring their offering to the altar, they feel comfortable doing so. Each service concludes with fellowship and food.
“God designed this church,” Umunna says. “I have a vision for taking back our culture and making our people feel at home.”
Though services are limited to 90 minutes because of St. James’ other services, Umunna hopes one day the service will run every Sunday, bringing all Nigerian Anglicans in the Bay Area together. Meanwhile, he is completing a seminary education to become an ordained priest in the Anglican Church in North America. He’s confident his partnership with McNeill and St. James will continue to thrive.
Igbo Anglican’s founding team
“I have never seen the kind of Christian love that just oozes out from St. James,” he says. “Ed has been a great instrument to my life and also to the Anglican church. We have a tremendous depth of support from St. James at large.”
McNeill is also eager to see what the future holds for Umunna and Igbo Anglican.
“I would like to see him move into full-time ministry,” McNeill says. “God called him to North America for this purpose, and he is quite clearly a church planter. The Anglican church is going to become the Nigerian hub in San Jose for social and faith-based connection.”
Learn more at IgboAnglican.org.