The Ascension Of Our Dream On Opebi Hill
The Anglican Church of the Ascension, Omodara Street, Opebi, turned thirty years old in August, 2013. However, the celebration began in May 2013 with several events culminating in the grand finale at the end of November 2013.
As a Brother in the church and a co-author of a book to mark the church's 30th anniversary, titled The Family Church on Opebi Hill, I have observed certain unique attributes that set this church apart from others. It is not just a place of worship. It is also a place of fellowship, of social networking, of self-help, and of mutual assistance among members. In short, it is a place of human development and progress. It is the kind of church that Nigeria needs for development.
The success story of the church is due to various factors. First, its sound foundation from the beginning ensured that its functions shall go beyond mere worship. Second, its peculiar style of operation, typified by Angli-Pentecostal style of worship and other uncommon practices, have enhanced its acceptance by the public, leading to a rapid growth in its membership from the original 20 in 1983 to nearly 400 today.
Third, the multi-ethnic make-up of the congregation has also been rewarding. This is particularly evident during the yearly Love-Feast to round off the Patronal week. The feast provides delightful opportunities for the congregation to appreciate and enjoy the richness of Nigeria's culinary diversity. It is delightfully pleasing to see our members in their "ethic" selves at this annual event, where the elders (60 years and above) are usually the chefs.
Fourth, it is a relatively classless church, despite the membership of many professionals. Even the worshippers' drivers are encouraged to be part of the worship sessions to the extent that those who have since disengaged their services from their original bosses still worship freely with their families there.
A practical demonstration of the church's classlessness is the annual church workers' Thanksgiving Day celebration for all grades of staff, from the Vicar down to other priests, clerks, drivers, and cleaners, during which everyone is robed in the same attire. Every worker is duly recognized.
Fifth, the roster of the church's Shepherds is fascinating array of professionals. From the period during which Ven. T.A.J. Oluwole, then of All Saints Anglican Church, Yaba, inaugurated the church in 1983, distinguished Shepherds have held the fort there. Late Canon Ononaiye, an engineer (then at LUTH), who took over from Ven. T.A.J. Oluwole, passed the torch to Ven. J.A. Ogunleye, a computer scientist, then called “The Builder” by the congregation because he took the church from its 'Jakande church' structure into the Tabernacle of today.
The job was completed by both Ven. P. B. Oyebolu, the erstwhile former President of Nigerian Society of Engineers, who left the church in the hands of Late Ven. Olu Oshewa, a renowned Shell geologist. Ven. L.L. Eso, the past President of Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors, served as Vicar there as well. Ven. G. Adeyeye, a Lawyer, and Ven. J. Adebiyi, an engineer, are the immediate priests before the current Vicar Ven. (Dr) Yemi Agbelusi, an accountant and theologian.
This formidable list of Vicars is matched by a 45-member Guild of Stewards which collects the church's worship collections. The Guild is made up of accountants, lawyers, medical doctors, engineers, and so on, which explains the thoroughness in accounting for the collections.
In order to boost the church's funds, the Vicars have remained non-stipendry from inception. This is an uncommon practice which has further contributed to the uniqueness of the management of the church.
So far, the church has produced about 25 lay readers from among its fold, five of whom are now certified priests, including a canon of the Anglican Dominion.
This church's social responsibility also includes the production of a State Governor, a State Deputy Governor, Several Directors General in Federal and State Ministries, several captains of industry, and an array of illustrious market women.
At the Ascension Church we believe that Christianity needs to be practically demonstrated in the body of Christ. That's why the church has invested heavily not only in the spiritual life of its members but also their challenges. It was in pursuance of these social objectives that the church adopted the mission statement: “I CARE” in 2006. It is a quantum expansion of the on-going programmes of the church's Welfare Committee.
The activities go beyond the traditional church practices of giving food, used clothing or small cash to the destitute and scholarship to needy students. The whole purpose of “I Care” is to bring relief to a larger needy group in a process that is swift, reasonable, adequate and which does not rob the beneficiary of his/her dignity. Accordingly, the church has intervened in members' lives by providing short-term financial support for rent, working capital for business/vocation, medical treatment, and other socio-economic challenges.
In Nigeria today, life and property are no longer safe as terrorists, assassins, armed robbers, kidnappers, pirates, and fraudsters are becoming accepted members of the community. Elections are rigged with impunity. Politicians, Civil Servants, Law Enforcement Agencies, and even the Judiciary are corrupt. Boko Haram has added a new twist to religious fanaticism in the country. Above all, ethnic strife is on the rise. The Vicars and members of the Ascension Church believe, and practically demonstrate, that these dastardly acts could be controlled by good leadership and an equally good following as demonstrated by the church. Similarly, effective institutions, good policies, and effective implementation are all that is needed to turn things around.
Even more importantly, the Ascension Church has demonstrated clearly that a combination of spiritual and social responsibilities is needed to spur attitudinal change in our people. As the gulf between the rich and the poor continues to widen in this country, with petrodollars concentrated in a few hands, a spiritual reawakening and attitudinal change in our people is urgently needed. It should be realised by the rich and the poor, especially the former, that we are all equal in the presence of God. The church has a duty to promote this spiritual rebirth and attitudinal change, and it should be taken seriously by all Nigerians, regardless of their mode of worship or lack of worship. We all need a renewed inner core to effect desired change in this country.
Bro. Aroloye is Co-Author of The Book, The Family Church on Opebi Hill. He contributed this from: [email protected]