Members of the San Luigi Orders: Mar Kwamin Ntsetse Bresi-Ando

Mar Kwamin Ntsetse Bresi-Ando (1884-1970) was the founder of the body that would eventually after his death become the Orthodox Church of Ghana within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. He was a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Thorns and member of the Order of Antioch.

Kwamin Ntsetse Bresi-Ando, who was also known by his Western name Ebenezer Johnson Anderson, was born in Ghana, then the Gold Coast, on 28 March 1884. He was raised in Apam, but little is known of his early life other than his assertion that he was of chiefly status. He trained for the ministry of the Methodist Church and was ordained for that office, serving from 1912 until 31 March 1926. On that latter date he left the Methodist Church and the Gold Coast and began his own independent Protestant church in eastern Nigeria under the name The United Free Church of Africa. In 1929, the name was changed to The Primitive African Apostolic Church. He married a Nigerian woman, Joana, and had at least three children.

On 22 September 1931, the Primitive African Apostolic Church merged with the African Universal Church and Commercial League to form the new African Universal Church, with Bresi-Ando as Supreme Pontiff. The African Universal Church and Commercial League had been founded in the United States in 1929 by Gold Coastian Laura Adorkor Koffey. Its purposes included repatriating African-Americans back to Africa in order to reverse the displacement brought about by their enslavement. This was planned to be a major part of the work of the church under Bresi-Ando.

In 1932, Bresi-Ando returned to the Gold Coast and worked with his half-brother Ernest Ando-Brew to establish the African Universal Church in Apam. A major appeal of the church was that it was all-African in its origins and hierarchy, as opposed to the colonial Christian churches, and it attracted members from the Methodist Church in particular. The ensuing years 1932-35 saw rapid growth and the opening of new parishes and schools. By 1935, the church claimed a following of some twenty million souls, which, even if somewhat exaggerated, nevertheless bore witness to a substantial body with a considerable lay following. However, the American repatriation plan proved to be a failure.

Bresi-Ando had, while back in the Gold Coast, developed an import-export business called African Churches Stores, Ltd., which was headquartered in Accra and dealt in African and European goods as well as in gold and mineral concessions. It was in furtherance of that business that he travelled to London in 1935, and whilst there lived in Hornsey. In London he came into contact with Fr. Frederic Harrington, who also lived in Hornsey, and it was probably through him that he was introduced to Harrington’s Ordinary in the Orthodox Catholic Church of England, (St.) Churchill Sibley (q.v.) This encounter with Archbishop Sibley offered Bresi-Ando the opportunity to connect his church to the historic roots of Orthodoxy; in Africa there had already been contact between Bresi-Ando and the Coptic Orthodox Church, with which he claimed intercommunion.

Accordingly, Archbishop Sibley consecrated Bresi-Ando as Mar Kwamin for the African Universal Church on 6 March 1935, and Bresi-Ando went on to establish collaboration with a number of other clergy within the Vilatte and Ferrette successions in England. From his consecration onwards, he adopted the Western Orthodoxy promoted by Archbishop Sibley and the American Catholic Church, giving his church a Roman Catholic character. Subsequently, Mar Kwamin adopted the designation Prince-Patriarch of Apam and Umuagbaghi. His consecration had been subject to an agreement that he would not perform episcopal acts within Britain, and it was his breach of this agreement in consecrating Fr. Harrington shortly afterwards that caused his separation from Archbishop Sibley.

In an interview given to the Hornsey Journal of 13 September 1935, Mar Kwamin gave a description of his church, which had by then spread to include two provinces in South America as well as its African parishes. In October 1935, Mar Kwamin conducted a visitation of his provinces in South America. Back in England, in February 1936 he was a defendant in a case at the Clerkenwell County Court where it was alleged that he had failed to pay a balance of £1 on the purchase of a piano; Mar Kwamin lost the case and what would have otherwise have been an unremarkable minor dispute was made the subject of controversy when the Registrar made a number of ill-researched remarks concerning Mar Kwamin’s ecclesiastical office. This led to an attack on Mar Kwamin in the London press, which was far from friendly to Africans at that time, and soon afterwards he returned to the Gold Coast, where he continued to manage his business interests as well as the church, which continued steady growth in numbers and had numerous church buildings to its name.

The African Universal Church was hard-hit by the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1942, Mar Kwamin responded to his Nigerian flock, who had not seen him for a decade, by again leaving the Gold Coast to work in Nigeria. However, with his absence, his communities in the Gold Coast began to divide and disperse. In response to this crisis, Mar Kwamin appointed (by mail) the Revd. Edonu as assistant bishop for the Gold Coast on 1 February 1945, and his work, while not able to restore the church to its pre-war status, at least prevented its complete disintegration.

The Ancient Christian Fellowship Review of October-December 1946, being the journal of record of that organisation together with the Apostolic Episcopal Church, published the following item,

“In Nigeria, on the Gold Coast of Africa, another great work is being accomplished under the leadership of His Beatitude Mar Kwamin I, Prince-Patriarch of Apam (The Most Revd. Kwamin Ntsetse Bresi-Ando, D.D.) Mar Kwamin is a Prince in his own right as well as a great missionary. The war stopped much of the work and there is a great need for supplies of all sorts for this Mission. This missionary work is known in the United Kingdom under the title of “The Bible Mission in Nigeria”. Mar David [Archbishop Wallace David de Ortega Maxey, who held office in the ACF, the AEC and the Catholicate of the West] has been made General Superintendent for America and it is the hope and prayer of all affiliated churches that in due season we may be able to supply the greatest need of the Mission at present, ie. teachers, nurses and doctors. The above picture [reproduced at the top of this article] will give some idea of how far the work has progressed under great handicaps.”

One of those who was active in attempting to assist the work from the United Kingdom was Mar Georgius of Glastonbury (q.v.) who co-ordinated the Bible Mission which sent Bibles to Nigeria for the use of the African Universal Church. However, the hopes of restoration were to be unfulfilled. By the 1950s, only around ten parishes in the Gold Coast remained faithful to the African Universal Church, the others having dispersed, formed schisms or united with other churches; the work in Nigeria doubtless seemed at that point more likely to bear fruit.

In May 1951, the name of the church was changed to The Orthodox Catholic Church, thus emphasising its Apostolic, if not jurisdictional, continuity from Archbishop Sibley’s Orthodox Catholic Church of England. Mar Kwamin made his last visitation to the Gold Coast between December 1955 and February 1956; after this, his attention was wholly concentrated upon his work in Nigeria.

Just as war had disrupted the work in Ghana, so it would in due course disrupt that in Nigeria, and the Nigerian-Biafran civil war of 1967-70 resulted in the dispersal of Mar Kwamin’s parishes there. On 27 May 1970, by which time he was in advanced illness, he, together with his wife and three children, was repatriated to Ghana. He died at the Cape Coast Hospital on 2 October.

Although Mar Kwamin’s movement was by then a shadow of its former self, the remaining Ghanaian parishes enjoyed growth particularly among the youth during the 1970s. Eventually, they would be received into the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1982, together with former members of Mar Kwamin’s clergy.

Some historical information about Mar Kwamin and his church can be found at the website of the Orthodox Research Institute. The Abbey-Principality rejects entirely the negative commentary provided in the course of this account concerning Prince-Abbot Joseph III and Archbishop Sibley, which is based on a series of inaccurate statements.

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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