In Memoriam: A Great Leader and Friend

Bishop Telewa Johnson

Painful news came this week from across the Atlantic. The Right Rev. Dr. Solomon Tilewa Johnson, Anglican Bishop of Banjul and the Ninth Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa, fell while playing tennis before being pronounced dead at the Medical Research Council.  He was 60 years old and the first Gambian to be the Archbishop of West Africa.

News of his passing was received with great shock by many Gambians, who considered him a great role model for his self-comportment and dedication to the service of God.  In a predominantly Muslim country, he was revered and celebrated for his high moral standing.

I first met Archbishop Tilewa Johnson at the 1998 Lambeth Bishops’ Conference. We had just begun talking when some of the notable bishops were passing by. “That one,” he said, pointing to one of them, “is one of the smartest bishops.” Pointing to another, he said, “That one is one of the bravest.” Pointing to another who was passing by, he said, “And that one is one of the most prayerful. I on the other hand, am the TALLEST!” and collapsed into gales of infectious laughter. 

Since then, when we got in touch, I always said, “And how is the tallest bishop?” 

He would respond, “Still tall!” 

We got the chance to spend a good bit of time in the lead-up to the GAFCON 2 Conference in Nairobi. In front of the multipurpose building where most of the meetings were held, there are some steps. I was able to stand up several steps higher than he and, for the first time, see him eye-to-eye. I said, “Oh. I’ve never seen your face up close!” We laughed about that. 

Speaking about those gathered for the GAFCON meetings, his observation was telling, especially considering that Western liberals were always trying to manipulate things in his Province. He said, “Look at these people. Listen to what they are saying. There is life in this group. Other gatherings are empty. This is the life we need to pursue.” 

God bless you, Archbishop Tilewa. You did indeed stand tall. May you enter in to the joy of your Father’s Kingdom. I will miss your laugh and your insights.