RIGHT Reverend James Olusola Odedeji was consecrated bishop on February 24, 2013 and was enthroned on April 28 to preside over the Anglican diocese of Lagos West. Our SAM EYOBOKA was there when he addressed addressed religious correspondents recently. Here are excerpts from that parley:
How did you receive the news of your election as the bishop of Lagos West Diocese?
I know they went to the Ibru Centre, Agbarha-Otor in Delta State for the bishops’ retreat and I am aware that the agenda included the election of bishops into the three dioceses of Akure, Oshogbo and Lagos West. All along, we’ve been praying for God to give us a leader that will replace our Papa. We were expecting that after election, the delegates will come home and our bishop would be announced.
On this fateful Wednesday, January 9, I returned from the cathedral tired after a prayer meeting. I managed to eat a light dinner and went to bed. I was asleep when I received a text message. I ignored it because I was tired. After the third beep, something said to my spirit to open my phone. So I opened it and saw the first text ‘Congratulations, God has done it.’
I didn’t know what was happening, so I assumed that some people I prayed for had received their testimony. I looked at the second one, I saw ‘Congratulations my lord.’ I still felt that might have been a mistake. But the third one was so explicit; ‘You have just been elected the bishop of council of Lagos West.’ It was at that point that it dawned on me and the sleep went away. I called my wife and she advised that we must be very sure.
We were trying to pray while the whole compound has turned into jubilation, my parlour was flooded, the outside was flooded, everybody saying congratulations. The phone was ringing; when they could not get me, they called my wife. We didn’t sleep till about 2:38 a.m. When they asked me to address the people, I didn’t know what to say than to say let us thank God.
I must be honest, I believed that one day I may be, but I never expected it now because I still have a lot of years ahead. Number two, I never expected to be elected bishop of Lagos West. But I won’t tell you that I never expected to be a bishop in life because I entered the work at a very tender age. I was 22 when I entered Emmanuel College. I was ordained two years later and I have gone to schools. I became a dean at 42 and being a dean at 42, there is the likelihood that one day I would become a bishop.
How far has it been?
It has been glorious, interesting, it has been challenging; but I must confess, God has been in control. The first thing that we did was to visit all the churches in different locations. As of today, I have visited 328 churches and had confirmation services in so many churches. We have confirmed about 1,799 candidates and have also done some other duties like laying of foundation for churches. We have attended spiritual programmes, been to lots of dioceses in this part of the country to exchange pleasantries.
Considering the very big shoes you’ve stepped into, what has been the major challenge that you have faced?
Let me first of all address what you said about the big shoe, when I came in. I have decided not to put my legs in anybody’s shoes. I want to wear my own shoe because God knows why He has done what He did. So it has been challenging because this diocese is the largest diocese in Nigeria. We have 30 archdeaconries, we have population. I can tell you that population is an advantage.
We have some churches with over 4,000. We have more than 8,000 members here. For a young bishop like me to pastor such a large church, you can be sure that it’ll be very demanding, but like I’ll always say, God has been in control. He has been supplying the necess-ary anointing and energy to cope. All that I solicit from my people is prayer.
What are those things you would like to do differently from what you have seen?
I have been saying it everywhere; I have three major areas that I believe God is asking me to impact. The first one, this diocese is blessed with human and material resources: we have people, we have churches, we have men, and we have women. But I believe that everything is not naira and kobo. I want to lay serious emphasis on the spiritual growth of the members.
I don’t want anybody to leave the church and go to hell. My idea is that I want every member to be candidates of heaven. So spiritual growth, spiritual revival will be my major focus. I believe that Jesus Christ was not drunk when He said ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all other things will be added unto you.’ The second one is about the youths. I want youth empowerment, not only by putting food on the table, but being able to breed young men and women for the next generation because we are all products of our past experiences.
This country I believe can only get better through the younger people coming up. I want us to lay emphasis on the youth development, youth involvement in activities of the church. The third one is what they call pragmatic evangelism in an aggressive manner. It is not evangelism to share tracts to people, to communicate to people about the saving power of God, the salvation plan of our saviour but also to influence our community until they buy our lifestyle.
Because the Bible tells us that not everyone who calls Him Lord Lord will enter the kingdom of God, but everyone who does the will of my father and the will of my father is that we must be our brothers’ keeper. I said to some of my people here that there’s no point you being rich and some people are wallowing in poverty.
All the crimes in the country are not unconnected to the fact that people are hungry. We can see poverty boldly written on the faces of our people. And when a poor man cannot eat, a rich man cannot sleep. We are known to be the most generous diocese in Nigeria and that we will continue to do as long as God continues to support us. I believe so much that your money cannot buy heaven or secure eternity.
Talking about youth emp-owerment, what is your take on the continued closure of their schools as a result of ASUU strike?
It’s unfortunate that these youths have been at home for the past four months. I’m not happy! I believe many parents are not happy with the development. In the past four months, a lot of them have joined bad gangs, a lot of them have even died, because I heard that some students were involved in an accident. I’m sure a lot might have been pregnant or into a lot of atrocities.
An idle mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop. It’s unfortunate that these things are happening when our president happened to be a lecturer before and one would have expected he’d know the implications of the strike. I’m told he has been trying to make sure that this thing is resolved; but as long as it has not been resolved, to a common man, he has not done well.
I believe it’s high time that this country looked for another means of settling rifts and rancor in the education and other sectors. It seems that in our country today, the only language that our leaders understand is strike and that is why every parastatal is going that way because they believe that’s the only way they’ll get their voices heard. We condemn the leaders in this country, what of the followers? If the followers are good, the leaders themselves can be replaced.
What is your stand on Pentecostalism and Anglicanism?
The Anglican Church I know has a heritage and doctrines; but I think it’s an error of terminology for anybody to say a particular church is Pentecostal. Every church is expected to be Pentecostal because we all trace our origin to the day of Pentecost. So the Anglican Church is Pentecostal because we believe in the practices of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the senior partner in whatever we do in the church.
So I don’t have anything against the new generation churches because they’ve actually added to us. I believe with the arrival of the new generation churches, we are now awake. If you attend some of our programs now, you’ll be wondering whether this was the Anglican Church you used to know. I don’t know the message you will hear anywhere that you cannot hear here.
The joy we have today is that most of our leaders and the bishops are evangelical in nature and the youths are finding their feet seriously in our church. When you go to the US, UK, you’ll discover that some of our churches there are empty; but in Nigeria, particularly in this part of the country, we ensure that many of our youths who had gone, are coming back in their thousands. And if at this age I’m a bishop, you’ll know its part of the allowances given to young people to grow because I consider myself to be a young man.
What is your take on the challenge in the Anglican Communion?
That’s the trouble on ground. In the global Anglican Future Conference, we believe in the authority of the scripture and we are not going to bow down for the authority of man. It is human madness to say that a man and a man can get married. It is barbaric! When God created the world, He created Adam. He could have created another Adam that will have the same features, but He created Eve. It is part of the devil’s intervention in the affairs of the world. The devil is taking charge of the world because the world has been too lukewarm. It is as a result of prayerlessness and carelessness.
But now the church is coming up, like this conference we went for, everybody was of the opinion that that is not scriptural. We have not changed our names, we are still Anglicans, but we are professing the true Anglicans. The conference we went, we are projecting into the future, saying that whatever that might have happened, we are trying to push it aside and we are looking at the glorious future that will respect God, respect righteousness and holiness.