Since its introduction to Ethiopia in the first century, Christianity has grown across Africa over 2,000 years creating immense and resilient communities of faith. The God Forbid panel examines African Christianity, and how African Australians are helping to grow their own congregations down under in an increasingly secular landscape.
Christianity is Ghana’s largest religion, but Ghanaian Christians are from myriad different traditions. Pentecostal churches are growing exponentially, and there’s a large Muslim minority. On a continent riven by religious conflict, how do Ghanaians approach religious harmony?
Victoria’s South Sudanese community is 9,000 strong — the largest in the country. But a few high-profile criminal cases have caused the media and politicians to identify not just the South Sudanese, but the wider African community as people to be wary of. It’s taken its toll on the lives of African Australians, both young and old.
Read the full transcript of Stephen Crittenden’s interview with Rev Dr Yaow Frimpong Manso on The Religion Report: Ghanaian Presbyterians
Meanwhile the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Reverend Yarl Frimpong Manso has just been in Australia. And because Calvinism is not a theological tradition we usually associate with Africa, we thought it would be interesting to meet him.
Before European colonization, Ghana was the centre of an important kingdom whose wealth was based on gold, and the Reverend Frimpong Manso is a member of the famous Ashanti tribe that stood against the British throughout the 19th century. He was in Australia to establish an Australian branch of the Presbyterian church of Ghana in the Western suburbs of Sydney. There’s an interesting issue of ecclesiology here: Presbyterian churches are locally governed, and when you emigrate, you tend to take your local church with you, which is why in Australia’s major cities there are separate Chinese Presbyterian churches, Korean Presbyterian churches, and so on. I’m very interested in the story of the Christian missionaries in 19th century Africa, and as you’re about to hear, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana has a very interesting story.
Frimpong Manso: The Presbyterian church of Ghana was established in 1828. It was at the request of the King of Denmark and Basle Mission in Switzerland who was contacted, and they let four of their missionaries come in 1828.
Stephen Crittenden: Swiss missionaries. There’s a key figure I think called Andreas Reis.
Frimpong Manso: Yes. Four came initially and three of them died, leaving one, Hank, and then he went back and they brought another two. But then two also died soon after they were in the Gold Coast, and Andreas Reis was the only one who was left.
Stephen Crittenden: And presumably the reason they were dying was because of malaria.
Frimpong Manso: Malaria obviously, yes.
Stephen Crittenden: And then as I understand it, there’s another group of missionaries much later, a group from Jamaica, and then after World War I the Scots Presbyterian start to arrive.
Frimpong Manso: Yes. It did happen that when the mission was to be closed, Andreas Riis was advised by one of the Chiefs, a Chief called Nana Addo Dankwa, and he said ‘You go and find somebody of our colour who holds your book, and if he comes, and talk to us about your Jesus, we would believe in that.’ And so he went back to Switzerland, the Mission Council prayed, and they thought of going to Jamaica, that is the West Indies, to bring some of our own people who had been sent there because of the slave trade, and have become converted Christians in the Moravian church, and they were brought and truly when they came to Ghana in 1843, they had the first converts.
Stephen Crittenden: And I think those early European missionaries did a great deal of work in translating the Bible into original languages very early on, 1860, 1870, that sort of period.
Frimpong Manso: Yes, because they saw language as a very important tool for communicating to the people. You know they brought also education, strongly as a delivery to the people, having the philosophy of training their mind, training their heart and training their hand. And so Presbyterian education is known to equip people with good knowledge, not bad knowledge.
Stephen Crittenden: In other words the Presbyterian church has been deeply intertwined with the rise of the middle class in Ghana?
Frimpong Manso: Obviously training most of the leaders of the nation. The Methodists are also in education, Catholics are there, but the Presbyterian church of Ghana started education quite early. Our current president himself went to a secondary school which was established by the Presbyterians and Methodists.
Stephen Crittenden: So give me a snapshot of the religious make-up of Ghana?
Frimpong Manso: Ghana has a population of about 22-million, thereabouts. But the Christian population is about 62%, and the Presbyterian church of Ghana I’m quite sure about 1-million people plus. Christian Council of Ghana has about 16 denominations that National Catholic Secretariat is there, the Pentecostal Council, Charismatic, we have about 62% Christian nation.
Stephen Crittenden: I take it the other big part of that is Islam?
Frimpong Manso: Yes, about 10% to 15%.
Stephen Crittenden: And what are the relations like between Christians in Ghana and Islam? They’re pretty fraught in Nigeria, what are they like in Ghana?
Frimpong Manso: Thank God in Ghana we relate very well with the Muslims. I don’t know why. But maybe they assumed the principle of accommodation, and because of that they have lived very well with the people and Christianity has no problem with Muslims in Ghana. We meet together on a common platform called Religious Council, and that one is even headed by a Muslim.
Stephen Crittenden: Tell me about the Presbyterian church itself. Here in Australia I think it’s true to say that there are very progressive liberal Presbyterians, but there are also very conservative Presbyterians as well. What’s it like in your church?
Frimpong Manso: The Presbyterian church of Ghana is an offshoot of the Pietistic Movement from 1815, and so that Pietistic movement and idea seems to be cutting across our church, so that we think the church is spiritual. All the same we are reformed.
Stephen Crittenden: That would have been very strong in the Moravian church?
Frimpong Manso: Strong in the Moravian church and the tradition of the word of God being central to worship, so that we do not concentrate very much on just spirituality and other things to the exclusion of the social. It is a holistic ministry and we have a vision for the total person, the Presbyterian church of Ghana is a balanced church.
Stephen Crittenden: Now you were telling me that one of the big issues that the church is facing at the moment is its concern about the secularisation of education in Ghana, which has not been previously secularised. There’s been a very strong trend of mission schools.
Frimpong Manso: Yes, the Presbyterian church of Ghana and Methodist and all the others, religious and moral education have played a major part in shaping the lives and destinies of the people. Now government is secularisng education in such a way that they want to take away – and they have actually said that it should be taken away, religious and moral education – and that is a big issue for the church’s mission bodies.
Stephen Crittenden: So you’re saying that in fact the thing that’s made Ghana successful is in danger of being taken away.
Frimpong Manso: Taken away.
Stephen Crittenden: Now we have to get you to talk about what you’re doing here in Australia, because there are Ghanaian Presbyterians living particularly in Sydney in some numbers, and you’ve actually come to Australia to found a branch, an Australian branch of The Presbyterian church of Ghana.
Frimpong Manso: Yes. We have mission policy now. We have been bearing fruit, and that means we also must take the gospel elsewhere. But that is done through our members who are scattered all around the world, Ghanaian Presbyterians travel a lot. And so I travel as a Moderator to visit our members in other parts of the world and this is my first time of coming to Australia, Sydney, where we had two congregations but they split on matters of misunderstanding. And my aim has been to put them together so that we have at least one Presbyterian church which is recognised here. Now we want to partner them with PCA, Presbyterian Church of Australia, and it is going well, the relationship.
Stephen Crittenden: But the leadership of the church will be back home in Ghana?
Frimpong Manso: Back home in Ghana – but we will partner them with Presbyterian church of Australia.
Stephen Crittenden: And this is in Wentworthville in Western Sydney, is that right?
Frimpong Manso: Yes, but one group was in Wentworthville, another group was in Guildford, we are now putting them together. We did the inauguration at Merrylands.
Stephen Crittenden: How have you found worshipping with Australian Presbyterians? Is your church in Ghana very different from the Presbyterian church of Australia?
Frimpong Manso: I would say that the Presbyterian church of Ghana, being an African church also has some vibrancy that goes with it, in terms of music. We dance in the church, and here they don’t dance. We sing.
Stephen Crittenden: I don’t think Scots Presbyterians went in for dancing. Or the Swiss either.
Frimpong Manso: That aspect of sanctimonious sanctity which seems to permeate every aspect of maybe the Western worship is now developing into a balanced form in Africa. But I found the sermons that I’ve listened to from Wentworthville, the Minister there very, educative and inspiring. They preach good sermons, I love it.
Stephen Crittenden: It’s a great pleasure to have you on the program. Thank you very much for coming in.
Frimpong Manso: Thank you, too. I wish you all the best.
Stephen Crittenden: The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Reverend Yaou Frimpong Manso.