Saint James Hannington

James Hannington was born in Hurstpierpoint on the 3rd September, 1847. Not a brilliant scholar, he left school to work in his father's Brighton counting house. His life took a radical turn when he came of age when he decided to study to take Holy Orders. At St. Mary's Hall, Oxford, he again struggled with his studies but the death of his mother in 1872 apparently added urgency to his endeavours and the following year he was awarded a BA and ordained Deacon. In spite of misgivings by his examiners (he knew his subjects but was terribly nervous in aural examinations) he was ordained at Exeter on 1st March 1874 and preached his first sermon at Hurstpierpoint on the following Sunday. He was given a Curacy at Trentishoe in Devon.

In 1882 he heard about missionaries working on the shores of Lake Nyanza (later Lake Victoria) and offered himself to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and sailed for Zanzibar in May of the same year as head of a party of six missionaries. Within a year he was forced to return to England, crippled with constant illness, including dysentery. Yet the following year he was Consecrated as Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa on 24th June 1884 and planned his return to Africa. Landing in Freretown, near Mombasa in early 1885, he decided to open a new route to Uganda and he established himself at Victoria on the shores of Lake Nyanza, a territory then ruled by King Mwanga II of Buganda on whose orders he and his colleagues were shortly afterwards imprisoned.

All of the missionaries were killed on October 29th (Hannington's Feast Day) in 1885, Hannington being speared through both sides. His last words were: "Go tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood". Joseph Mukasa, a Roman Catholic priest and an official at Mwanga's court rebuked the King for the deaths and was beheaded for his scruples.

The story of St. James Hannington raises some questions for us about the role of missionaries. In an age when Christians are reluctant to combine evangelising with humanitarian work what is our attitude to Christian mission among non Christian people? Was Hannington's death a pointless sacrifice or does it provide us with valuable lessons today?

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