In 1884 a 37 year old man was consecrated Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa in Lambeth Palace chapel. Fifteen months later he was martyred in Uganda, before he actually reached his diocese.
James Hannington became an inspiring figure. When news reached England of the Bishop’s torture and martyrdom significant numbers of men offered themselves as missionaries. Books were written about his heroic acts. One Anglican writer wrote ‘Hannington’s name has continued ever since to be an inspiration to many…’ In Uganda he is honoured, and in the Anglican Communion he is commemorated, on the day of his death, October 29th.
St Chrysostom’s Church has a stained glass window in his honour – dating from the period when his inspiration was perhaps at its highest.
However, there also has to be ambiguity about the commemoration. This is symbolised, perhaps, in a sketch by Hannington himself. We see a typical colonial figure, here Bishop Hannington in colonial dress, complete with pith helmet, being carried by ‘natives’ across a river.
Undoubtedly the Bishop was a brave man and an inspiring figure, but undoubtedly so were others. However as in some other of its commemorations the Anglican Communion commemorates only the colonial bishop by name in its annual commemoration. In the Roman Catholic church native Africans of the period who suffered martyrdom in the same persecution are named, for example, Charles Lwanga, Andrew Kaggwa, Kizito and Noe Mawaggali.
As we celebrate the courage and faith of James Hannington let us name also his ‘companions’ and their faith. Perhaps Anglicans and other christians could review their local and national church calendars carefully with an aim of being more inclusive and perhaps at St Chrysostom’s we could give a name to the black African portrayed in the Hannington window.