People may leave, but congregations may not quit the Church of Nigeria, bishop says

Bishop Adebiyi

The Bishop of Lagos West was turned away by the congregation of one his churches during a parochial visitation this past Sunday, and was forced to beat a hasty retreat from the pulpit after being jeered by members of a breakaway Nigerian congregation.

The ejection of the Rt. Rev. Peter Adebiyi from St Paul’s Anglican Church comes amidst simmering tribal tensions across Nigeria.  However, the bishop states that the charge of ethnic bias leveled against him is a smoke screen raised by the church’s former vicar to cover-up misconduct.   Pleading tribal prejudice in order to quit the diocese was no remedy, the bishop said, as it is not possible for a congregation to quit its diocese without the permission of its bishop.

On June 21 Bishop Adebiyi went to St Paul’s, an Igbo-speaking congregation, with a number of clergy to celebrate the Eucharist and to resolve a dispute between the parish and the majority Yoruba-speaking diocese.

When he arrived at 7:00 am, the congregation at first refused to allow him to enter the church.  After he succeeded in gaining entry and began the worship service, the vestry cut the power to the pulpit microphone and turned off the lights.  The congregation then began to sing songs vilifying the bishop.  After five hours, the bishop departed.

The immediate cause of the dispute, the Lagos newspapers have claimed, was over the timing of the bishop’s visit.  The congregation had planned a father’s day celebration, but the bishop announced that he would visit that day to celebrate—prompting the riot.  However, the dispute has been simmering for several years, prompting the bishop to dismiss the vicar in 2009 and dissolve the parish council after the congregation attempted to quit the diocese.

The congregation responded by filed a petition with the outgoing Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola asking him to investigate and on Jan 30 released a statement denouncing the bishop.

“Within the past eight years, we as a congregation have suffered silently and borne the weight of concealed hate, tribalism and unguarded discriminatory attitude and utterances of this bishop, who has roundly failed us both as a bishop and father. Bishop Adebiyi has at every opportunity demonstrated dictatorial nepotism and characteristic tribalism in handling affairs that impact our congregation at St Paul’s Church, Mushin.”

Archbishop Akinola empowered a committee comprised of the Archbishops of Lokoja, Enugu and Kwara to investigate the parish’s claims.  In its report, the committee found that that the dispute was essentially a clash of personalities between the former vicar, the Rev. Canon Edison Mgbeokwere and the bishop.  The committee recommended that Canon Mgbeokwere be transferred to his native Diocese of Owerri in the Niger Delta and backed the bishop.

However, the parish council rejected the committee findings and accused their bishop of favoring Yoruba congregations and clergy over Igbo ones.  They claimed that two of the eight archdeacons in the Diocese of Lagos Mainland were Igbo, and one of nine archdeacons in the Diocese of Lagos were Igbo.  But among the twenty two archdeacons in Lagos West, none were Igbo.

Speaking to the Lagos Sun, Bishop Adebiyi stated that Canon Mgbeokwere was not licenced in the diocese, and was serving as a non-stipendiary priest while attending law school in Lagos.  However, Canon Mgbeokwere began to collect fees from members of his congregation for services, and performed over 50 weddings, even though he was not licenced to do so.

The bishop said the former vicar was “extorting the members of St. Paul of their hard earned income” through various schemes, all the while telling his Igbo parishioners “he had the backing of his bishop and some other bishops because he is fighting the Igbo cause in the Anglican churches in Nigeria.”

While people could leave the Church of Nigeria, congregations could not, the bishop said. “By the law that established my diocese, they cannot move out of the diocese except I allow it. If I don’t allow it, there is nothing they can do; the best they can do is to leave the church. That church is entrusted unto us”

He told the Sun that in the Anglican church, “if I come to your house and you give me a piece of land at the back of your compound and I accept, thank you, build a church and you are a member of the church, from that day you have automatically lost ownership of the land. If you are aggrieved and you want your land back, you have to go to court. If the court says the land should be given back to you, so be it, otherwise the land belongs to the church.”

16 Responses to "People may leave, but congregations may not quit the Church of Nigeria, bishop says"

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