The Washington Times - December 13, 2007, 11:41PM
Archbishop Peter Akinola

\ I was sitting in a crowd of several hundred people last Sunday afternoon at Church of the Epiphany’s new sanctuary near Dulles airport in northern Virginia. The leader of 18 million Nigerian Anglicans and the one man in the world capable of challenging the archbishop of Canterbury was in town to consecrate four new missionary bishops.\

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\ His presence was an in-your-face challenge to the Episcopal Church, from which the Nigerian archbishop has extracted some 8,600 Episcopalians, who are now attending one of 60+ churches in his Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).\

\ Very few journalists have managed to sit this man down for a chat. When he announced CANA’s formation in 2005, it was at a short and very controlled press conference at Truro Church in Fairfax. Since then, when I’ve asked CANA folks for interviews, I’ve always been told the archbishop was too busy. Other journalist friends have told me of their unsuccessful tries at contacting him. The excuse is always the same: too busy, not available or not in town. 12-9-07%20020.jpg\

\ Unofficially, I heard that the archbishop was none too thrilled with an embarrassing New York Times article on him that ran last Dec. 25 and thus had sworn off American journalists.\

\ The only reporter who has managed to get through recently was the London Times’ Ruth Gledhill, who flew to Abuja to interview him in July and ran this piece in her paper. Which was great if one’s media outlet has the budget for such overseas trips. Mine does not. \

\ As the outspoken archbishop has been accused by Episcopal leaders of poaching their churches and turning them into Anglican congregations, naturally I wanted to talk with him. Especially since a large percentage of CANA congregations is in this newspaper’s back yard. \

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Above: Archbishop Akinola during the procession into the church. The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) consecrated four new suffragan bishops yesterday in a ceremony held at Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, Va. The new bishops will “minister to our growing flock” in the U.S., said CANA Missionary Bishop Martyn Minns, adding that CANA has been growing “in the face of relentless opposition and some of the largest lawsuits ever mounted by The Episcopal Church against its own clergy and congregations.” (Photo by Kelly Oliver, CRC Public Relations)

\ Since the archbishop has been in the United States four times (that I know of) since May, I figured it was high time he became available. My efforts to schedule an interview with his Nigerian spokesman Canon Akin Tunde Popoola didn’t get too far. Nor did several similar requests with Bishop Martyn Minns, the U.S. head of CANA.\ So I showed up at Church of the Epiphany. Surely I could at least introduce myself to him and arrange for some future interview, as I’d heard he was flying out that evening. He’d been in town all weekend but again, I’d been informed he was too busy. \

\ Folks at Epiphany told me he had time to be at a Saturday night dinner party in McLean so I guess “busy” is a relative term.\

\ As the service ended, the musicians struck up “The Church’s One Foundation” and all the clergy prepared to recess out the back door into a reception area. I positioned myself just outside the sanctuary so I could catch his eye. As Archbishop Akinola processed out, I saw he was surrounded by a phalanx of people in front, alongside and in back of him, who were marching him through the reception area and down a hallway. I followed.\

\ The archbishop stopped in front of a door while the phalanx protectively grouped itself around him. Then he disappeared. It took me a few seconds to realize he’d slipped up a back stairway. As the door was blocked by the phalanx, I headed back into the reception area and down another hallway where I found a second stairway. Racing up that, I began heading down the hall toward Bishop Minns’ office — where I knew the archbishop must be hiding out.\

\ But, horrors, into the hallway strode Bishop Minns himself. Spotting me, plus possibly other folks who wanted to see the archbishop, he zipped into his office and shut the door. Stationed outside was a priest from the Falls Church — one of the local congregations that has departed the Episcopal Church.\

\ I showed up at Bishop Minns’ door and the priest/bodyguard, who happened to be built like a football player, blocked my way. “I’m sorry, Julia,” he said, “but … ” as he maneuvered me toward an exit door. Well, hmmm. What’s a reporter to do? Unless I wanted to start a rumble or use tear gas, my options were limited. \

\ I managed to talk the priest into giving the archbishop my business card, then went back downstairs. I could see people ferrying up plates of food up the stairs, presumably for the archbishop and Bishop Minns. I stood vigil down near the base of the stairs, but by one of CANA’s media representatives had wised up to my movements and had planted herself within a few feet of me. \

\ I wandered off to interview other personalities and learned about a half hour later that the archbishop had left the church — presumably for the airport. \

\ What is it about us journalists that Archbishop Akinola is so afraid of? Does he not trust himself with us? Or don’t his subordinates trust him? This is an era of tape recordings and video, so misquotes can be proven and dispatched with very quickly. Or, more troubling, doesn’t the archbishop consider himself accountable? Apparently not. \

\ Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times