Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Revisiting "VENN"-ette

Reverend Henry Venn (1796-1873)

In the midst of my research on Sarah Forbes Bonetta, I’ve discovered a great treasure in the process: Reverend Henry Venn (1796-1873). Since I’m not quite ready to write about the African Princess, I decided to take a side jaunt and allow some other folks to speak for me about this revolutionary thinker. Credited with coining the term “indigenous church” and siring the man credited with creation of the Venn diagram, Reverend Henry Venn was a man ahead of his time in missionary thought. The following excerpts tell the tale of a dedicated, passionate, progressive missionary in the heat of battle against Victorian views and the English class system.

“[Reverend Venn] wanted the missions in Africa to be run by the natives of the country they were in. he was also determined to bring education to young girls as well as boys, thinking that the well-being of girls would often determine the strength of the family. Eventually, he would have an important influence on Sarah’s life.” (Myers, p. 48)

Venn Diagram

It is no wonder that he often clashed with the Society. As Myers explained, “The missionaries often had a low regard for the Africans. They considered the native religions ‘primitive,’ and their writings often referred to blacks as savages.” Furthermore, “the white missionaries rarely considered the black girls [at their school] equals.” (Myers, 48-49, 56)

“Distinguished visitors to Sierra Leone were always shown the schools, including the Female Institution, as it was in these schools that Reverend Venn thought the future of the continent was being formed.” (Myers, p. 61)

Fourah Bay School (e. 1827), Sierra Leone

“[In 1862, the] Church Missionary Society was still involved in a controversy over who should lead the schools and the mission stations. The English women who taught at the Female Institution in Freetown often considered themselves culturally superior to the Africans they were teaching. The class system in England was part of the ideology the missionaries brought with them, and the English teachers did not want to work under the direction of the native peoples. Alienation between the church and the Africans often resulted. Reverend Venn was among the few who believed that African teachers and clergy should be the ones to overcome this barrier.” (Myers, p. 123)

“[Reverend Henry] Venn and Rufus Anderson of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions were the first to use the term ‘indigenous church’ in the mid-nineteenth century. They wrote about the necessity for creating churches in the missions field that were self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating (Venn used the term ‘self-extending’). Venn is often quoted as encouraging the ‘euthanasia of missions,’ which meant that missionaries were to be considered temporary workers and not permanent.” (Wikipedia/Henry-Venn)

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