Brief History of The Presbyterian Church of Ghana
“Big things have small beginnings”; so is The Presbyterian Church of Ghana. The First Missionaries were sent as a result of a request by Major de Richelieu, Governor of Christiansborg.
The governor had observed the bad moral life of the Europeans in the fort. His request to the Danish Crown for missionaries was forwarded to the Basel Mission which had been set up in 1815 to train missionaries.Unfortunatly the first four missionaries died within a period of three years of arrival.
The Basel Mission sent another team of three missionaries: Andreas Riis, 28years, Peter Petersen Jaeger, 24 years, and a doctor, Christian Friedrich Heinze, 28years. Unfortunately Dr. Heinze and P.P. Jaeger failed to survive after three months, leaving Andreas Riis alone.
Riis later moved to Akropong in order to be away from the problems of the coast; malaria fever, negative examples of the Europeans along the coast, and to preach the gospel to a people who were not yet greatly affected by the contact with the Europeans.
He was joined in November 1837 at Akropong by two more missionaries, Johannes Murdter and Andreas Stanger who came together with Anna Wolters, the bride of Riis.
Stanger died in December 1837 while Murdter survived until November 1838.
The time in Akropong was not altogether very successful causing Andreas and Anna Riis to leave Akropong in 1840 for Europe.
After twelve years of missionary enterprise, eight missionaries had died and there was no single convert.
The Basel Mission therefore decided to abandon the mission to the Gold Coast because they believed that the high mortality rate was a sure sign from God that Africa was not ready for the gospel.
At the departure of Riis, the Okuapehene, Nana Addo Dankwa provided the key to successful mission which had eluded the missionaries. He is reported to have said on behalf of his people:
“When God created the world, He made a book for the Whiteman and abosom for the African. But if you could show me some Africans who can read the Whiteman’s book, then we would surely follow you”.
The Basel Mission agreed to find African Christians from the Caribbean. The Moravian Church in the West Indies was willing to provide missionaries and a new team made up of Andreas and Anna Riis, Johann Georg Widmann and George Thompson went to Jamaica to find suitable Christians for the Mission.
The team arrived at Christiansborg on the 16th April 1843 on board the Irish ship, the Joseph Anderson, with 25 West Indians.
This marked the rebirth of the Basel Mission’s enterprise in the Gold Coast.
After a few weeks stay in Christiansborg, the group made its way to Akropong which was to be the nervecentre of the Mission’s work.
They stayed for a month at the Danish royal plantation, Frederiksgave, in modern day Sesemi which is about 20km north of Christiansborg.
On arrival in Akropong, the group found that the mission house that had been built for Riis during his first stay was in ruins.
‘Akropong itself wore the air of an abandoned town owing to the strife between the supporters of Addo Dankwa and Adum’.
The party was however not discouraged and began repairs to the ruined mission house and also built stone houses for the West Indians.
Thus the first Mission station was was established in Akropong.
The West Indians introduced mangoes, cocoyam, avocado pear, groundnut oil, and many others to the local food economy. One must also add that the Basel Mission introduced the cultivation of cocoa before Tetteh Quarshie.
The Lord blessed their mission and soon schools were started in Akropong and Osu. Stations were opened at Aburi, Larteh, Odumase, Abokobi, Kyebi, Gyadam, and Anum. Later the work entered Kwahu, Asante, Yendi and Salaga and subsequently the North.
The Presbyterian Training College was started in 1848 and played a key role in the expansion and growth of the church.
New colleges were founded at Aburi and Abetifi. The first clinic was at Aburi followed by the hospital at Agogo. Today we have hospitals at Donkorkrom, Bawku, Dormaa Ahenkro, Enchi, and health centres in many other places.
Other areas of endeavour of the church were in the development of the vernacular, development of roads, commerce, etc. The development of the vernacular was in keeping with the Basel Mission policy of ministering to the people in their indigenous language.
Following the departure of the Basel Missionaries from Ghana in 1918, the Scottish Mission was given the mandate to provide leadership for the church. Considering the size of the Church and the small staff of two missionaries of the Scottish Mission, it became necessary for more indigenous leaders to be drafted into the church’s national leadership.
cottish Mission through Dr. Wilkie took the significant step of organizing the church to become a self-governing Church.
A Synod was held on 14th August 1918 at the Akropong Church where two second generation West Indians, Rev. Peter Hall and Rev. Nicholas Timothy Clerk, were elected Moderator and Clerk of the Synod respectively. This was the beginning of the move towards an independent church.
For the first time, the young African church had her own indigenous leaders. Decisions concerning the Church were therefore made locally. Hitherto, under the Basel Mission, decisions were made in Basel. The Scottish Mission therefore transformed the Church into a self-governing Church.
In 1926, the Synod meeting at Abetifi decided to adopt the name ‘The Presbyterian Church of the Gold Coast’ which was to become ‘The Presbyterian Church of Ghana’ when the nation attained independence.
The name ‘Presbyterian Church’ recognized the polity of the Scottish Church which traced its background indirectly to Switzerland of which Basel was for several centuries an important Christian centre. The Church therefore upholds the Reformed polity.
The Synod also noted that the development of the Presbyteries required careful consideration. The Principal stations were therefore to be maintained until Presbyteries were properly formed.
The eleven existing districts that were retained were as follows: Christiansborg (Osu), Abokobi, Odumase-Krobo, Aburi, Akropong, Anum, Kyebi, Begoro, Nsaba, Abetifi and Kumasi.
In 1922 the Synod accepted the creation of the first five Presbyteries. They were Ga and Adangme, Akuapem and Anum, Agona and Kotoku. Akyem and Okwawu, Asante and Asante Akyem. The church operated the Synod system for a long time.
Between 1918 and 1950 Synods were held every two years. Thereafter they were held annually. At the Abetifi Synod of 2000, the church adopted the General Assembly System and in 2001 the first General Assembly was held in Navrongo