|Urhobo Historical Society|
|THE LIFE AND WORK OF AGORI IWE|
FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN DIOCESE
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
|Originally Published in 1998 |
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo
GROWTH IN THE DIOCESE OF BENIN 1965-69
The Anglican Church in Benin Diocese under Agori Iwe, continued to grow throughout the second half of the 1960’s and until 1977 when the Bishop retired.
In 1966, the Bishop conducted twenty five confirmation services during which a total of 1,639 persons were confirmed. An ordination service was also held at Sapele on 6th January 1966, at which Mr. John Eterhere was made a deacon, and the Revds Elisha Okwezuzu and Josiah Ofili Kerry were ordained priests. Later that year, R.U.E. Mariere, Mark Forae and Vincent O. Muoghereh were also ordained.
The work of women, as expressed through the women’s Guild, and the Mothers Union, continued to flourish in the Diocese. The services of Miss K.M.L. Coltman, at the Rural Training Centre (R.T.C.) Asaba helped to promote Women’s work in the Diocese, as did that of Miss Back House, a C.M.S. Missionary, also at R.T.C. Asaba. Miss Coltman toured virtually every part of the Diocese, teaching home crafts and religious lessons to Women. She conducted an eight day convention for women leaders from all over the Diocese.
Between 1967 and 1968, confirmation services were held at 24 different centres, in which a total of 1,863 candidates were confirmed. A new dimension was added to the organisation of the church through the introduction of Diocesan Lay Readers. This new set of Lay Readers were to be chosen from among the educated, experienced, and very matured communicant members, who were to be given work to do in the Pastoral and teaching ministry of the Church. In this way, Agori widened the scope of lay Ministry in his Diocese.
On the feast of advent in 1968, six persons were ordained, four into the diaconate, and two into the priesthood. Those admitted to the diaconate order that year were Mr. F.A Eboreime, Mr. A.W. Bovi, Mr. U. O. Ayeni, and Mr. S. U. Ervwo, while the Revds E.O. Okolugbo and N. A. Enuku were ordained priests. The following year at the Easter ordination services, Mr. J.O. Kolo, Mr. J.O. Binitie, Mr. F.M.E. Vese, Mr. N.G. Lesso, and Chief D.U.A. Eferekeya were ordained deacons, while at the same service, the Revds F.A Eborime, A. W. Bovi, U.O. Ayeni, and S.U. Erivwo were priested.
These developments were clear signs of growth of Anglican Christianity in the present Edo and Delta States under the dynamic leadership of Agori Iwe.
In consequence of the vast area covered by the Diocese in Agori’s time, the amount of itineration and administrative work the Bishop had to do was enormous. As already pointed out, in 1962, the first year of his episcopate, Agori conducted thirty three services of confirmation, during which a total number of two thousand, two hundred and six (2,206) persons were confirmed. The number of persons to be baptized and confirmed in the diocese increased from year to year, especially as a result of the work of lay Evangelists like Cornelius Adam Igbudu in Isoko, Samuel Akita Asaboro in Urhobo, and Paul Umale in Benin, whom the Bishop supported and encouraged.
As more people were confirmed from year to year, Agori soon discovered that the priests available to help to nurture the flock were grossly inadequate. The Harvest was, in the words of our Lord, indeed plenty, but the labourers extremely few. This conviction and need led Agori to ordain certain person who had received some theological training either at St. Paul’s College awka or at St. Michael’’ College Oleh, or at St. Andrew’’ College Oyo, along with their Teachers’ Grade Two certificate courses. One of the persons also ordained with this set of persons studied theology at the University of Ibadan. This ordination as already pointed out, happened in 1968 and 1969. In addition to the felt need of having more priests to help minister to the new converts made by the evangelist. Agori also employed the method as a way of forestalling the erosion of Anglican presence from Secondary Schools and other institutions of learning, which the Government was contemplating taking over, and did take over, from the Churches in the 1970’s. For a number of persons so ordained by Agori in 1969 wee either principals of C.M.S. Secondary Schools, or staff members in such Schools.
In taking this step, the Bishop had the backing of Lamber Conference 1968, resolution 23 “On a wider ordained ministry” , quoted five Resolutions of the conference in his Presidential Address to the Benin Diocesan Synod of 1969. In Resolution 33, the Lambeth Conference 68, stated “that while the fully-trained and full-time priesthood is essential to the continuing life of the Church, there is no theological principle which forbids a suitable man from being ordained Priest while continuing in his lay occupation”.
He also quoted Resolutions 4,9,23, and 24 of Lambeth 68, and told synod that as time went on, the members would see some of the Resolutions being implemented. (See Diocese of Benin, The Second Session of Third Synod, of the Diocese May 31st to June 5th, 1969, p. 21).
His action in ordaining some principals and staff members of Anglican Secondary schools in his Diocese was thus implementation of Lambeth 68, Resolution 33.
By 1969, a total number of baptized and communicant members were about 50,000 while registered Communicants numbered 15,000. This is a remarkable evidence of growth in Benin Diocese at the time of its first Bishop.
It is perhaps strange that in spite of the tremendous progress made by Agori Iwe during the first seven years of his episcopate, there should be people who were unhappy with him and wished if possible to eliminate him, for whatever reason.
What he experienced in January 1968 must have been at the back of his mind when he prepared in 1969 New Year message and aid inter alia “we need not and should not recall the events of the past yea. They are so bleak and sad, that their memories will upset our faith”.
What was that experience which the Bishop would rather not recall?
Three persons visited the Bishopscourt on the night of 26th January 1968, saying that they were sent to take the Bishop’s life. The unknown visitors who little realised that the Bishop was armed, were shot at, and one died, while the others fled, shouting that they were sent.