THE CHURCH OF NIGERIA, ANGLICAN COMMUNION MEETING OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ILE-IFE, 11TH – 14TH MARCH, 2009
PRIMATE OPENING REMARKS
A few months ago, my immediate support staff and I attended early morning Communion Service; it was in a magnificent Cathedral sitting on a hilltop and overlooking much of the city below. In all there were only about thirty people at the service. As we left the church at about 0915 hours and driving past the Church school was a field packed full of young able-bodied youths playing football.
Curious, we stopped and watched more intently at these young people we thought ordinarily ought to have been with their parents in church to worship the living God. One of the men with me in the car said: “but sir, what you see here is not peculiar to this place, it is common sight in most of our urban centers.’ I was sad. How do we today make sense of that precious and timeless bible passage: ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come, and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
Many of us are aware that many of the young people are at the crossroads of life, not knowing where to go or what to do. They are confused. Someone told me; over 70% of the Nigerian youth is unemployed. That’s not all and as if to make matters worse, over 40% of that figure is simply unemployable. Among them you find the poorest of the poor-so poor in every sense of the word that they’ve become powerless and defenseless. They’ve lost their rights and self-dignity. They no longer have the will to fight for survival.
Whenever I’ve had cause to say to the youths of our Church in Abuja: ‘the young shall grow.’ One particular young man would immediately retort: ‘if the elders allow them’. That speaks volumes. Who are these youths? Why do they behave in ways that often offend the sensibilities of the elders? Why do they prefer football field to worship in Church early on Sunday morning? Why are many of them so angry with the older generations? Do we listen to what they have to say? Do they have space and voice in the scheme of things at home as well as in the church?
To address these are many related issues we shall in the next two days together seek the face of the LORD in worship, Bible Study, in prayers and in godly conversation.
People of God from all parts of this country and overseas, I wholeheartedly welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Committee of the General Synod called among other things to carefully analyze the difficulties and challenges facing youths and how best we as a church might respond.
We are glad to welcome back home our CANA bishop, Martyn Minns. With us at this meeting is Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh. Bob leads the Common Cause Partnership that will soon metamorphose against all odds into a new Anglican province in North America.
We are immensely grateful to the bishop and wonderful people of Ife Diocese for hosting us in style. We appreciate the support given by Province of Ibadan. In so far as I can remember, this is the first time this diocese in its almost 19 years of existence is hosting a national meeting of our church. We register our profound appreciation to the Governor of the State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola for his tremendous support for the work of the Church and for all he has done to make us feel welcome. All of us in this church appreciate the Oni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II for being such a wonderful father and generous host. We register our profound gratitude to the Vice Chancellor of this citadel of learning, Prof. Michael Faborode and his colleagues for this warm welcome and labour of love in having us in their midst.
I am particularly glad that much of our work will be done on the university campus with all the youths around us. I have, on purpose, asked young priests who are in their twenty have to lead and preach at the services in the course of this holy assembly. They will also take active part in our deliberations. In addition, the bishop of Ife has arranged for them to stage a drama that tells part of their story for us. I have not come to this meeting with any ready-made answers or solutions to the problems we are eager to solve. But I hope that in the spirit of love and humility we shall endeavour to listen to one another and together under God, identify the best way forward.
The directors for the six departments in the office of the Primate are now fully at work. They are there to serve you. Please relate to them and pray for them. They are:
- Mission and Evangelism – Canon Syrenius Okoriko
- Theological Education – The Revd Princewill Ireoba
- Social Welfare – Ven Ikechukwu Okpuno
- Ecumenical Relations – Ven Shola Igbari
- Youth and Women – Ven Ben Idume
- Communications – Canon Folusho Taiwo
We have also appointed the Revd. Canon Steve Ejezie as our Chief of Protocol.
For your information and prayers:
Bishop Nwaizuru retires next month.
The Bishops of Egba and Kabba will follow in October and November respectively. It is my prayer that they will continue to enjoy robust health in retirement. Aco-adjutor bishop as been elected and consecrated for Okigwe Diocese. He’ll be installed later in April.
We have managed to build one block of four units of three-bedroom apartment for some of the senior staff at the national headquarters.
Crowther Radio has been given out to Multimesh Communications on Management Contract at the sum of Seven Million naira per annum. It’s hoped that work will commence as soon as we receive the approval of the building plans for our national secretariat and Conference Centre from the Environmental Development Control.
The 21 storey Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion Towers project may soon come back to life following the new minister’s positive approach.
The development of Crowther Graduate School of Theology and Leadership Training is progressing. When fully operational it’ll have five centers namely: Graduate School of Theology; Language Studies, Mission and Evangelism (Anglican Communion) Studies and Leadership and Contemporary studies.
The correct and improved new Book of Common Prayer will be available at a price of N1,000.00 per copy. There will also be the Altar edition in larger print at N3,000 per copy.
Mission and Evangelism
On the completion of his three-year term, Bishop Abiodun Olaoye, our Missionary to Congo is back home. He has since been installed as the bishop of the new diocese of Osun North.
We continue to receive request for mission-partners from our Christian brothers in Mauritius, Togo, Cameroon, etc. The Chairman of CNMS, Bishop Ken Okeke will give us a report.
At the home front and to the glory of God, we are poised more than ever to take the Gospel of our LORD Jesus the Christ to every part of this country no matter how far or rural. Many of the hitherto neglected remote communities now have their own bishops. The Bishops of the Missionary dioceses had their annual conference generously hosted by the Diocese of Lagos-West last November. We are grateful to the bishop and all our people in the diocese for their hospitality. We are glad to be able to announce that nearly 300 hundred new churches have been planted in last seven months of last year by these young and energetic bishops. People of God, that, money can’t buy!
We are also paying greater attention to ‘discipleship’ in an attempt to deepen the faith of our people. The catechism is being revised and synchronized with the Global South ‘Catechism in Outline’. Designed to be more comprehensive and theological, the new catechism should prove to be a powerful tool and spiritual resource for all who seek to know more about the Christian faith and appropriate conduct. Our theological resource group ably led by Archbishop Nicholas Okoh will give us their recommendations.
All Anglican Clergy Conference
The All Anglican Clergy Conference held at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in September 2008 was a huge success. The Church of Nigeria remains grateful to the Vice Chancellor, our own Ven. Prof. Nebo and his colleagues for providing essential facilities. We are fascinated by the turn out of clergy at the conference who themselves confessed to have learned and benefited greatly from it. We thank the dean and several of our archbishops and bishops for their esteemed presence at the gathering. We are grateful to those who anchored the programme. We are thankful to the Chairman of the planning committee, Bishop Ignatius Kattey and his team for a great job well done.
New Ecclesiastical provinces
Last September, the General synod approved the creation of four new ecclesiastical provinces. There is one constitutional requirement that needs to be met to enable us implementing the decision. Thus, at this meeting we would need to determine the names and the extent of the territorial limits of the new provinces. Work Group one will give us a recommendation.
All the new dioceses approved at the last General Synod except those that had a few grey areas have been inaugurated and their bishops installed. The inspection committee has visited the outstanding places, helped to clear all the identified grey areas and is here with its final reports for your consideration and approval.
The Anglican Communion
Early last month at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion had their meeting in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect’ for five days in Alexandria, Egypt. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the meeting was that the ‘status quo antel was maintained. That is to say that we remain as we have been since 2003 when the unilateral revisionist actions of TEC and Canada tore the fabric of our common life, in a state of impaired or broken sacramental communion. We have not been able to deal with the fundamental problems of our brokenness nor see through decision taken at previous meetings of the Primates.
It seems to me the Communion is playing a game of ‘just talking until perhaps someone will blink or become weary and give up the struggle. Confident that we are on the LORD’s side contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, we can be rest assured that: “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” On this vexatious issue, the Church of Nigeria will neither blink nor be weary.
On my return from Egypt, I issued a letter to the faithful titled ‘a wake up call’. I also sent an open letter to our chairman, Dr. Rowan. In both, I made it clear that America is not thinking of backing off from its new religion. And the rest of us desiring to keep the unity and structures of the Communion by all means including losing our faith and churches risk the danger of becoming a church that has the appearance of being alive but in reality are no more than what Prof. John Mbiti once described as the ‘living-dead’.
GAFCON continues to wax stronger. Membership of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is growing in many parts of the world beyond our own imagination. Here at home, some of our senior lay readers (Fellowship of Christian Patriots, FCP) organized a two-day celebration of the ideals of GAFCON with special lectures and service of praise and thanksgiving to God. We are deeply grateful to the Christian Patriots. I urge all our members to obtain copies of the lecture. The GAFCON Primate’s Council will meet in the UK after Easter. I ask for your prayers.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS
Members of the Standing Committee who were at the General Synod last September would recall that I alerted the Church of the grave dangers posed by the current economic meltdown.
Those of us outside the banking sector may never know the whole truth behind the current financial contagion, but one thing is clear, the global economy is in deep recession. While it is expedient for governments of the developed world to roll out huge sums to bail out the ailing banks to enable the world come out of recession, a more godly and lasting solution is for the operators of the system to do a lot of soul searching and overcome their sin of selfishness, greed and avarice.
The current situation has several unpleasant consequences for the Nigerian people. Many small businesses are being forced to close down and unavoidably pushing hundreds of thousands of both the employable and unemployable to the already overcrowded labour market. Sadly, many of these have of course seen crime as their next best option.
Our National Endowment Fund has been adversely affected. So far we have lost about two hundred million naira. Consequently, we have been unable to implement the Church’s budget as passed.
Whichever way you look at it, the earning capacity of many has dwindled. Our people’s Christian stewardship is severely affected. The poor is bound to get poorer. It is important now more than ever before that our churches and diocese work harder at becoming self-sustaining.
ECONOMIC CRISIS AND THE FUTURE OF NIGERIA
Two related scenarios: One, Long before it dawned upon the world that the financial market was going to be in a big mess, discerning nations had begun to diversify their economy. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a good example. Like Nigeria, it has large reservoir of oil. Within a short space of time UAE caught the right vision and invested its huge oil resources in aviation, properties and tourism, its aviation industry is so well developed that today, it has become one of the busiest hubs for most international travels. Its airport is one of the best in the world. Like Israel, they have turned their Sahara to productive land. Very tall buildings adorn the landscape.
The country is a beauty to behold. Though, strictly a Moslem nation, people from all over the world including Nigerians not only travel to UAE on vacation and as tourist, they choose to own valuable properties there.
Nigeria sells its own oil, and rather than invest the proceeds wisely in productive sectors of the economy, its political leaders simply shamelessly and selfishly distribute the money in the name of remuneration packages, outrageous allowances and totally unnecessary travels for Estacada.
Contracts figures are usually inflated and hardly ever executed. The war against corruption has been stalled. As a church, it is our prophetic duty to remind all those who take sinful pleasure in diverting national, state or Church resources to private and personal use that “a fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare” (Proverbs 21:6) and also “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means. When his life is half gone, they will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool.” (Jeremiah 17:11) The LORD our God is kind and merciful always ready to forgive the penitent. Therefore we call on all thieves to repent and like Zacchaeus turn a new leaf.
We rejoice with our brother Obong Uffort Ekaette and congratulate him over his appointment as the pioneer minister for the new ministry of the Niger delta. We assure him of our prayers and cooperation. The 50 Anglican bishops in that region are ever ready to offer the minister whatever assistance he may need. His success shall be our joy. We appeal to the minister, let not unproductive bureaucracy take you hostage. We call on the government to demonstrate in real terms that this time around, it is serious in finding lasting solution to the protracted problems of that all-important region of our country. At the same time we call on the militias and the restive youths to give peace a chance and to bear in mind that it is only in an atmosphere of peace that there can be any meaningful conversation and development.
RELIGIOUS CRISES IN NIGERIA
Would it ever end? Today it is on the Plateau. The following day it is in Bauchi. Where next? For 22 years, 1987-2009, the Christian church has suffered irreparable losses in several parts of the north of Nigeria. Yet, because the aggressors enjoy government’s tacit support the nation has been unable to bring the arsonists and murderers to justice. We are even afraid to come out with the truth behind the numerous crises. Sometimes we say it is political. If that were the case, why were churches attacked and Christians killed when it was the political party and INEC offices that should have been the target.
At other times we say it is due to unemployment and poverty. We must ask would the killing of Christians and wanton destruction of their properties eliminate poverty and provide jobs for the unemployed? When it is convenient, we say it is sectarian. The word of God reminds us that ‘you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’. Unless and until we are prepared to face the hard facts and deal with them accordingly, there may be no end to the incessant killing of Christians and devilish destruction of their properties in the north.
A cursory look at the pattern of these crises reveals that there is a common thread linking them to the fact that at the root of it all is the religious desire of some to claim the geographical entity called Nigeria for their faith. Do you know that Plateau is essentially a Christian state? Kaduna and Bauchi states where these tensions are fast becoming a way of life have very large Christian communities. This is what gives their opponents sleepless night.
People of God, you have heard of ethnic cleansing of Rwanda. The goal of the persecution Christians are facing in the north is ‘religious cleansing’. The same sort of aggression is rampant in Indonesia. Put poignantly, there are those in this country who strongly believe that Islam cannot and should not coexist with Christianity. And that is why at every opportunity; Christians in these states are subjected to inhuman treatment and savage persecution with the sole aim of wiping them off the land or until they relocate.
Only two weeks ago, Nigeria’s chief champion of Shari’a Ahmed Sani Yerima said it all in his clarion call for the total Islamization of the country and the imposing of Shari’a on the entire nation. (This Day Newspaper, Feb. 27, 2009 page 4). In this he had implicitly declared Jihad on the nation. And believe me, he is not alone. But, perhaps before Nigeria becomes another Sudan, we might do ourselves some good, avoid unnecessary bloodshed and call a national conference of the relevant stakeholders to agree on the future of Nigeria. We have in fact for too long taken our fragile unity for granted. It is better to agree to disagree in peace than to go into a religious war, which may not end in our generation. A word is sufficient for the wise.
Meanwhile, I call upon the entire Christian community, security operatives and the media in Nigeria to do a very carefully study of the two most recent killing of our people in Bauchi and Jos. Find out where the militia groups came from. Who armed them? Who gave them the uniforms they wear? Brothers and sisters do not be under any illusions. The desire to give Islam more space is not peculiar to northern Nigeria. It is already making major incursions to the Christian southeast and south-south Nigeria. I ask who would stand in the gap and when last did you meditate on Jude 3: need I say more?
Once again, I welcome you all to Ile Ife. We commit this gathering to God’s keeping and loving care. May the outcome of our deliberations honour God and bring joy and blessing to the youth of our Church. May the Church through this meeting challenge our nation not only to wake up but also to have a new mindset, to be proactive and pragmatic in developing Nigeria.
And now to the King Immortal, Invisible, the only wise God be all glory, honour, dominion and majesty, now and forever.
+ Peter Abuja
Lent II, March 2009