The Right Reverend Theophilus Momolu Fikah Gardiner, 1870-1941
Theophilus Gardiner was born in Cape Mount, Liberia, the son of a Muslim Imam. Wanting the best education for their son, Gardiner’s parents sent him to St. John’s Mission School when he was ten years old. It was while attending this school that Gardiner decided to convert to Christianity.
After his baptism in 1883, he began training for the ministry and was ordained a deacon in 1896 and a priest ten years later. In Cape Palmas Gardiner served as a rector at Mt. Vaughan and St. James churches and as assistant curate at St. Mark’s Church. He was also a superintendent of two subdistricts and a professor of history and assistant tutor of theology at Cuttington College. For twelve years he served as the president of the Council of Advice of the Church in the Missionary District of Liberia.
Gardiner was consecrated as bishop in 1921 and became the first native Suffragan Bishop of Liberia. Because he was a member of the Vai tribe and a former Muslim, his consecration was an inspiration to many church people in Liberia. His role was greatly constrained by a white American leadership which preferred, in that period, to form the Liberian Church in the shape of a fully American institution and strongly objected to any attempts to allow the Church to be influenced by the native culture of the people it served. In spite of this, he was instrumental in spreading the message of the Church to the interior regions of Liberia. Bishop Gardiner died in 1941. [Sources]