The Rev. Canon Laura Howell
Trinity Church, Bethlehem
Samuel David Ferguson knew all about pilgrimage. He was born in South Carolina in 1842 and emigrated with his family to Liberia when he was six. He was educated in the He was ordained deacon in 1865, priest in 1867, and missionary Bishop of Cape Palmas, Liberia. Education was constantly in the forefront of his attention. He traveled throughout his diocese, starting schools in local villages and raising money for buildings and teachers. The ECW and Julia Chester Emery (commemorated in our calendar on January 9) assisted him.
Eventually, with the help of a gift from Robert Cutting who was treasurer of the Board of Missions, Bishop Ferguson founded Cuttington College in 1889. Despite being closed for twenty years due to the Liberian Civil War, it grew into a university. It is still an Episcopal institution of higher education. As Bishop Ferguson planned, it is still heavily involved with improving life in surrounding communities, as well as educating people for ministry in its divinity school.
Bishop Ferguson spent his life in Liberia, dying in Monrovia in 1916. You can read more about him, including a pamphlet he wrote about the history of the church in West Africa, at the Episcopal Archives.
Life is uncertain, although most of us go through our days expecting our plans to come to fruition. I suppose we must do that, even when we secretly suspect that things could turn in wildly different directions. Who could have foreseen that a pilgrimage that started with a baby in South Carolina; stopped off at a teacher’s college in Liberia; touched down for three ordinations; was the first African American to be seated in the House of Bishops; and founded a college in a thatched hut, would have continued to this day? We can only hope that our own pilgrimages point in the same life-giving direction and holy purpose.
Almighty God, who raised up your servant Samuel Ferguson and inspired in him a missionary vision of your Church in education and ministry: Stir up in us through his example a zeal for a Church, alive with your Holy Word, reaching forth in love and service to all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.