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Tribute to late Archbishop Dr. Solomon Tilewa Johnson

Mar 14, 2014, 9:57 AM

‘‘The curfew tolls the knell of parting day

The lowing herd wind slowly over the lea

The Plowman homeward plods his weary way

And leaves the World to darkness and to me’’.

This powerful quotation is from an erudite British poet, Thomas Gray. It is the first stanza of his masterpiece poem entitled ‘‘An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard’’.

At twilight on Tuesday 21st January 2014, the most reverend Dr. Solomon Tilewa Ethelbert Willie Johnson (1954-2014), departed from this our transitory world to ‘The Great Beyond (i.e. eternity).

‘‘Plowman Dr. Johnson’s’’ sudden demise was indeed a monumental bolt from the blue, and this brings surfacing to the landscape of my mind, the famous and highly inspirational words of the late veteran singer, ‘‘Gentleman Jim Reeves’’ and I quote:

‘‘This World is not my home

I am just passing through

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue

My Saviour beckons me

From Heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home

In this world anymore’’

The late Archbishop Dr. Johnson was a distinguished and honourable Gambian and ECOWAS citizen, as the Metropolitan Archbishop and Primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa (CPWA).

He was the Chief Shepherd of the 35.6 million faithful in his vast geographical West African jurisdiction encompassing an area of 667, 540 kms square, engulfing nine sovereign states of the CPWA, 10 dioceses in Ghana, two dioceses in Sierra Leone and a single diocese in Cameroon, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, The Gambia, Senegal and the Cape Verde Islands.

The vastness of Archbishop Dr. Johnson’s official jurisdiction brings to mind the highly inspirational words of Stanza 2 of Hymn No 1 of the Methodist Hymn Book. It reads:

‘‘My gracious Master and my God

Assist me to proclaim

To spread to all the earth abroad

The honours of thy name.’’

It goes without saying that the greatness of a nation is not necessarily determined by its size. Theology and history have taught humanity that sometimes great things may come out of small nations.

The theological evidence can be found in the book of Matthew, Chapter 2, Verse 6 which reads thus:

‘‘But you Bethlehem in the land of Judah;

Are by no means the least among rulers of Judah

for out of you will come a ruler

Who will govern/shepherd my people Israel’’.

This is a prophecy of Prophet Isiah about the birth of Jesus Christ in a lowly place.

Therefore, the very fact that the late Archbishop Dr. Johnson from small Gambia rose to the coveted episcopal position of chief shepherd of the West African Anglican community was indeed a clear fulfilment of the Holy Gospel.

Late Archbishop Dr. Johnson was an all-round veteran sportsman, he played football, cricket, basketball and lawn tennis, and he was an excellent athlete. For several years, I played lawn tennis with him and others.

The late Archbishop held the following admirable academic qualifications, such as Diploma in Theology, which he obtained in 1980 from Trinity Union Theological College, Umuchia in Imo State, Nigeria; a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology, which he obtained in 1985 from the University of Durham UK; and Doctor in Ministries degree, which he obtained in 2000 from the Graduate Theological Foundation of Indiana USA.

In February 1990, the late Archbishop Dr. Johnson was consecrated and enthroned as the 6th Bishop of Gambia and the first Gambian Bishop of the Anglican Church in The Gambia.

The late Archbishop was a great reformer, and he reformed different aspects of the Anglican Church in The Gambia.

He demolished ancient buildings which constituted the then Bishop’s Court, and constructed in their places, the present admirable edifice known as ‘‘Samakat Tilewa House’’.

The word ‘‘Samakat’’ is a Wollof word which means ‘‘Shepherd”. He also reformed two structures of The Rev. J.C. Faye Memorial School, and transformed part of the then Bishop’s Court into guest houses and a retreat house, which are bringing in revenue for the Anglican Church.

He also spearheaded two important contractual agreements for the Anglican Church for income-generating purposes. The first agreement was between the Anglican Church and the Elton Petroleum Company in Serrekunda.

The second agreement was between the Anglican Church and Guarantee Trust Bank in respect of the personage property at Independence Drive in Banjul.

In 1990, there were only two priests in the Gambia Diocese (both foreigners). He sent two young Gambian men to Nigeria to study for the priesthood. They were Rev. Canon Jacob Okiki Cole and Rev. Fr. Francis Edward Rigobert.

Both men were born the same day, they were made deacons the same day in 1994, and they were both ordained as priests the same day in 1996.

In Country, he personally trained and ordained many lay readers to become deacons, some of whom he later ordained as priests.

He believed in the Biblical injunction ‘‘When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren’’.

Another notable achievement of the late Archbishop, was the construction of the gigantic Anglican Church in Serekunda, which may be fittingly described as ‘‘a Magnificent 21st Century Gambian-style Basilica’’.

By so doing, he followed the example of his Biblical namesake ‘‘King Solomon the Wise’’, who also built a magnificent temple for his beloved God.

The Revised Laws of The Gambia, were launched during a grand launching ceremony that took place at the Ministry of Justice on 11th February 2011. When Bishop Johnson (as he then was) was invited to say the Christian prayer, he delivered a masterpiece, as usual.

About a week before he died, he eloquently delivered the Christian prayer at the Call to the Gambian Bar Ceremony, for the second batch of Gambian home–trained lawyers at the High Court grounds.

The late Archbishop’s superlative wisdom was sought by the Gambia government on many occasions. He was appointed as a member of the constitutional review commission, which produced the draft 1997 Constitution of the Second Republic of The Gambia.

He was also the vice chairman of the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC).

The PIEC metamorphosed into the IEC and the late Archbishop was appointed as the first chairman of the IEC.

He was also elected twice as the chairman of the Association of Non - Governmental Organisations (TANGO) (1992 to 1994 and 2006 to 2008).

He was also appointed twice as the chairman of the board of governors of the Gamworks Agency (1993-1994 and 2007–2008).

On 1st December 2013, I was awarded a Phd degree Honoris Causa in Philosophy by the Zoe Life Theological College, Philadelphia, USA, for ‘‘Promoting and Sponsoring Christianity in The Gambia’’.

One good reason for this award was that, about two years ago, I and other pastors and Christian scholars, successfully undertook an intensive diploma in Theology course, which was jointly organized by the Gambia Christian Council and Wycliffe College of Theology (University of Toronto, Canada.

The late Archbishop and Professor Dr. Glen Taylor of the said university were our top theological lecturers.

At the time of his sudden demise, the late Archbishop was the indefatigable chairman of the Gambia Christian Council.

The late Archbishop had a very cordial inter-faith relationship with Muslims of The Gambia. On several occasions, he was invited to ‘‘Gamos’’, and he attended them and brought solidarity messages from the Christian community to those gatherings.

This was indeed a highly commendable gesture, which went a long way in consolidating the National Peace and Tranquillity which The Gambia is known for all over the world.

With the sudden passing away of the late Archbishop, The Gambia, West Africa, Africa and the world at large have lost a great and noble son of the soil.

‘‘His sun went down while it was yet day’’.This was God’s will, and we all have to accept it in good faith.

Our deepest condolences go to his widow, venerable mother Priscilla Johnson, his three children and his elder brother, Rev. Victor Johnson, my good friend.

As a nation, let us pray fervently for his dear soul to rest in perfect peace.‘‘For The Gambia our homeland, we strive and work and pray...’’ Amen.

Let me conclude this Tribute, by quoting stanza 9 of the aforesaid masterpiece poem, which reads thus:

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power

And all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave

Awaits alike the inevitable hour

The paths of glory lead but to the grave”

Dr. Henry DR Carrol