Interface between Church, State and Society Is My Concern

Urhobo Historical Society

“Interface between Church, State and Society Is My Concern”

By Alex Ibru

Chairman and Publisher of The Guardian [Lagos, Nigeria]

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Being a full text of a speech delivered by the Chairman and Publisher of The Guardian on the occasion of the public presentation of St. Paul‘s Church Breadfruit, Lagos (1852-1999): From Slave Depot to a Living Church, authored by Olumide Lucas, Bolanle Awe and Tunde Oduwobi, Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, on Tuesday, January 25, 2005.

H.E. The Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
H.E. The Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel
H.E. The Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili
My Lord, the Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, The Most Reverend Peter J. Akinola
My Lord, the Bishop of Lagos and Archbishop of Lagos, The Most Revd E.A. Ademowo
Clergy and Laity of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, Lagos,
My Lords Spiritual and Temporal
Members of the Congregation of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, Lagos
Friends of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, Lagos
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me begin this short address by thanking the organising committee of this event, particularly its chairman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, a distinguished legal practitioner and citizen, for inviting me to be the chairman at this public presentation of the historic publication of the history of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, covering a period of 147 years, that is, 1852 to 1999.

It was with gratitude and humility, and without any hesitation whatsoever, that I accepted this invitation. As a Christian, and in particular, an Anglican, I have always been interested in the growth of the Christian church in Nigeria. As a newspaper man, I have always been concerned about the interface between church, state and society and how the church, alongside other elements in civil society, can play a meaningful role in the development process. As one of the supporters of the IBRU Centre, an interdenominational, ecumenical centre, under the watch of the Anglican Communion, based in Agbarha-Otor in Delta State, I have often tried to show interest in the all important task of spreading the gospel of truth in society in order to widen this side of the Lord’s Vineyard and to ensure the promotion of an ideal society that is based on the principles of truth, brotherhood, justice, fairness and the fellowship of all mankind.

I had always heard about the significance of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit Lagos. I also know many of the families and personalities that feature in its most enthralling story; but the invitation to be chairman at this occasion has given me the opportunity to be one of the early readers of the history of the church as told by three distinguished historians, in a book that should be compulsory reading for all persons who are interested in the history of the church in Nigeria, and even more how the church reflects the changing circumstances of its environment through the involvement of its parishioners. I had great pleasure going through the book. The three authors, the late Revd. J. Olumide Lucas, Professor Bolanle Awe and Dr. Tunde Oduwobi have offered in this book a labour of love that is praiseworthy, a work of scholarship that is impressive, and a story that is truly deserving of narration.

I am not the reviewer of the book; that task has been assigned to a very accomplished scholar and administrator, Professor Jacob Festus Ade Ajayi, and there can be no doubt whatsoever that Professor Ajayi will throw useful light on not just the book but all its related indications. But just by way of a welcome address, I will like to draw attention to three things that I observed in the process of going through the publication. The first is how St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, Lagos, in its period of existence has reflected, and has had to respond to, and also contribute to the history and growth of Nigerian society through all seasons and moments in more than 150 years. We are told in this book that the church began as a missionary church at the spot of a slave barracoon, where indeed the most revered Bishop Ajayi Crowther had once been tied to a Breadfruit tree.

In reading the story of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, Lagos, we also come upon the story of missionary activities in Nigeria, the growth of Christianity in Lagos, dissensions and secessions within the church, and the special relationship between this church and the city of Lagos. When the church was established in 1852, Lagos was described as a “veritable den of satanic wickedness, diabolical cruelty, heathenish barbarity, and detestable enormities.” Over the years it became the “Liverpool of West Africa,” but by the 1980s and 1990s, the same church was faced with a different kind of challenge due to the changing face of the city of Lagos.

This includes the dispersal of its members on account of urbanisation, the encroachment of commerce on its immediate environment, the need to expand the revenue base of the church, and most instructively, the threat of “area boys” who had begun to target churches for pilfering and theft. In reflecting all this, the authors, one after the other, convey the impression that the church is invariably a social unit. It affects society as much as it is affected by it. What no one can overlook, however, is how St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, Lagos has been the meeting point for many of the historical figures in Nigerian history and its emergence as a key reference point for the growth of Anglicanism in Nigeria.

I was also struck by the emphasis in this book on the character of St. Paul’s Breadfruit Church as a family church and as a historical church. Much of the story is about generations within families, serving in the Lord’s vineyard. A son takes over from his father, or brothers within the same family devote themselves to the work of the Lord. St. Paul’s Church, Breadfruit Lagos: From slave depot to living church is also about sons and daughters and their parents, and husbands and wives, priests and laity, and their contributions as Christians. The role of the family in the church is important because it is about values and tradition. What kind of values are Christians today passing on to their children? How many families today are true Christian families, living according to the Word of God?

Readers of this book will be confronted by these two instructive questions. The truth is that the family today is facing a serious crisis. Parents are too busy to show their children the path of the Lord. There are more nominal Christians in the cities than there are true Christians. As Christians, we must retrace our steps. In the end, it is only the house that is built on the rock of Christ that can stand, for, every other thing else is but shifting sand. Every family must rediscover the true meaning of Christianity in order to partake of the glory of redemption.

The third point that I would like to underscore is the emphasis in this book on leadership. The growth of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit into a living church, into a mother church for other churches, into a well-built institution with investments and outreaches is the product of a long struggle and process. This was made possible over the years covered in this book, by the commitment of both clergy and laity, and societies within the church. The authors pay ample tribute to the leadership and vision of the men and women who helped to build the church. They celebrate the commitment of those who in different capacities either as priest, organist, members of the parish council, volunteers, donors, choristers or teachers gave willingly of their time, energy and resources, to build the church and support its programmes. Every relationship with God is at the end of the day personal, but the building of the church of God, requires the collaboration of all men.

The story in this book throws a challenge to all of us: how much of your time are you devoting to the work of God? What kind of example are you setting for the younger generation? How would you like to be remembered? Our country has been adjudged the most religious country in the world, but there are many of our compatriots who are so busy that they do not have time even for God. The inspiring story of the men and women of God in this book teaches us that God is not an obstacle, but the source of true blessing. The builders of St. Paul’s Church faced many obstacles — there were secession, quarrels and petitions, financial difficulties — but with quality leadership and the grace of the Almighty, they were able to record success.

This point about leadership deserves close attention. Leadership is important in the church as it is in a nation. We live in interesting times, and our nation like the church in Nigeria has faced many transitions. What we have seen in every instance is that no nation, group or society that is led by unrighteous people can succeed. Nations can never be built successfully without righteous people. Nigeria, our country, is blessed with people and resources, and indeed the grace of the Almighty. But why are we so blessed and yet there is so much poverty in the land? Why are we so religious and yet there is so much sin in our midst?

I believe this is so because of the dearth of strong, courageous and committed leadership at every level of governance. We need in this country, in our churches, homes, society and in government, committed, altruistic, not self-seeking leadership. People can afford to be corrupt and evil and get away with it, but not at the leadership level. If there is anywhere where integrity is required, it is at the very top. A corrupt nation has no future.

As Christians, we must endeavour to play our part. God has a purpose for this nation. We must trust in the goodness of God. We must remain steadfast in our faith in the face of temptation and provocation. Young people in particular, who are directly affected by the many trails of survival in a society in transition, must brace up and refuse to be discouraged. God always sees his people through. I am convinced that he will do for us that which is right, he will give us leaders through whom he will bless and strengthen us.

Let me now seize this opportunity to congratulate the leadership of the Anglican Communion of Nigeria on the successful hosting in November 2004, of the First African Anglican Bishops Conference in Lagos. Ahead of the meeting of Primates of the Anglican Church taking place in Ireland in February, this year the African bishops took a critical and dispassionate look at the Windsor Report 2004, and issued a principled statement on the issue of same sex marriages within the Anglican Communion. They rejected homosexuality within the church, the idea of gay clergy and asserted the independence of the African church, in the context of a commitment to the gospel of Christ, according to the scriptures.

The history of the church in Nigeria as this book on St. Paul’s indicates has always been marked by an insistence on the integrity of the church and the doctrine. The position of the Anglican bishops is a fine specimen of courageous leadership. The Anglican Communion in Africa has indeed come of age. Their Lordships’ position is obviously not based on dogma or extremism, but on the need to keep the church in line with the scriptures.

I want to end this speech with a statement from St. Paul. Incidentally, today is St. Paul’s Day. St. Paul was a profile of a man of letters, who explained the teachings of Christ and the basis of Christianity with great erudition and facility. In Hebrew 11: 6, St. Paul says “No one can please God without faith, for whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists and rewards those that seek Him.” For us as Christians, faith is truly essential. We need to remain steadfast so that we may be able to declare at a critical hour as St. Paul did in 11 Timothy 4: 7-8: “I have done my best in the race. I have run the full distance and I have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God which the Lord, the righteous judge will give me on that day – and not only for me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear.”

I pray that the Lord be with each and every one of us, at every point in the race towards redemption. I invite you all to support the public presentation of this very important book, this useful contribution to the history of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, St. Paul‘s Church: From slave depot to living church, most enthusiastically and generously, and may the Almighty bless you as you do so.


%d bloggers like this: