Ven. Dr. Tope Tapere is the Vicar in charge of Church of the Pentecost, Festac, and the Archdeacon of Festac Archdeaconry. He was the chaplain of Bishop Peter Adebiyi for about 10 years.
Tapere is a product of Ogun State University where he bagged both a master’s and Ph.D. degrees. He is also a product of
West Africa Theological Seminary where he earned a Masters of Divinity and Emmanuel College of Theology where he bagged a Diploma in Theology.
An indigene of Owo, Ondo State he had known the late Bishop Adebiyi when he was Bishop of Owo Diocese. He spoke with Church Times about his experience with Bishop Adebiyi
At what point did you encounter Bishop Adebiyi?
I got to know him around 1992. I had just finished my secondary education. It was around that time preparations were being made for a new Bishop for Owo in anticipation of the retirement of the one that was there.
I was involved in praying for the next bishop. I remember I had to return back to Owo from Lagos when I heard he had been elected so I could see his face and perhaps meet him.
But I first encountered his children before I got close to him. His children were always available. They associated with everybody. They worked along with other young people in the diocese. All his children were involved one way or the other in church groups and events. It’s either they were in the choir or the brigade. Some were involved in playing instruments. They were deeply involved with the church along with their father. They also related well with other young people.
Once you are with the children, you are also baba’s child. Bishop’s court became a place we all could enter. Bishop Adebiyi knew me from my interaction with his children. He had this keen interest in people. He believed in people. He would always ask after you and give you all the attention you could ever dream of.
He believed so much in people more than they believed in themselves. I can tell you that he brought up thousands of people.
You said thousands of people. That sounds outlandish. How do you mean?
I can categorically say that God used him to train thousands of people. I was always with him from the time I met him in 1993 till he breathed his last. So, I know what I am saying. He took to me almost immediately when we met. He called me his child. And not only me. Many other young people that came around him were addressed the same way. So it won’t be out of place to say he impacted thousands of people.
How would you assess his tenure in Owo?
He spent six years in Owo. It was during his tenure I picked an interest in ministry. As soon as he knew I wanted to go to seminary, he collected the form and signed it for me. Baba Adebiyi turned things around while in Owo. The impact his children made in the youth ministry can’t be quantified. The expansion in Owo in terms of church planting, the establishment of schools, and many other innovations have not been matched.
He was the kind of bishop that related with all. If anybody was sick, he went looking for the person. He won’t send a priest. If I got to my town when he was alive, before people would ask for my own welfare, they would ask of Bishop Adebiyi because they know how close he was to me. He took me out of Owo and sent me to the seminary. I became his chaplain after the present Bishop of our Diocese, The Rt. Rev James Odedeji had served as his chaplain.
Was there any difference between the Bishop Adebiyi you knew when you were with him at Owo and when you became his chaplain?
He did not change. For someone like me, the bishop thing is occasional. I did not work with him as a bishop but as a father. The only difference is that I became his chaplain. I served him and took care of him. I cleaned his shoes when necessary and got him ready for service. Our relationship was beyond Bishop-Chaplain. It was a father-son relationship.
What is the uniqueness of being a chaplain to a Bishop?
Prophets in the Bible had people who assisted them. Some people call it PA some think it is a deputy kind of a thing. Elisha poured water on the hands of Elijah. Jesus had three disciples that were close to him. Men of God also need people around them. If we traveled and his wife did not travel with us, the two of us would sleep on the same bed. A chaplain is a younger person called to serve. For me it was training. It was a privilege.
What are the practical lessons you picked from him?
I was with him for about 10 years. The kind of training he gave me is more than my Ph.D. degree. What I got from his person is just unimaginable. He was hard work personified. He thought of work, ate work, drank work. And he thought less of himself. He did not make demands on people.
People were his priority. To him, the work in the ministry was not more important than the people. He was never tired when it had to do with people. There are deeper things about him that can’t be shared in the public space because those things are not common.
What was your reading of him when he was about to retire?
Retirement for him was on paper. He knew he was going to retire. But he was not planning to retire. He wanted to start a foundation so that he could continue to help people and do training. He had materials that are invaluable. He never preached a sermon without a note.
He wanted to be turning those notes into books and seminars papers. His plan was to step out from being bishop of the diocese to start another round of work. Being an expert in Church History he was determined to spread his knowledge of the church to all.
He had work lined out for him after retirement. As soon as he was rounding off as bishop of the diocese, he began to attend lectures before he became sick. He took a break after retirement but the break did not come immediately. The children were already asking him to come over to rest. By the time he decided to go for rest, it was as if his body had become exhausted from work.
Unfortunately, he took ill while in the US. I don’t know which was his greatest pain. Perhaps the sickness or the fact that the sickness did not allow him to do what he wanted to do. When he came back from the US I was with him and I could see the pain in him. It was more about the sickness preventing him from doing what he would have loved to do.
So what legacy do you think he left for the Diocese of Lagos West?
It was the expansion. Lagos West started with less than 50 churches from there it went on to over 350 churches. That means from about 60 priests to about 400 priests. These are apart from the lay staff, and lay readers. The monthly wage bill of the entire workforce was in the tune of N30m to N40m. That expansion is serious work. His legacy is holistic expansion, human development, and administrative establishment.
Some of the services and events we do in Lagos west are not common in the Church of Nigeria. That is to his credit. Our episcopal visits are always unique. Everywhere our churches are planted is distinct. They are mini cathedrals sort of. The communities around our churches feel their impact.
Were you around him towards his last days?
Unfortunately the week he died I was not there. But I was with him a week before he died. I was actually also in the hospital at some point too.
People have said many good things about him. But what would you consider his weakness?
His strength happened to be his weakness. His strength was the love he had for people which became his weakness. The name Peter carries a lot of weight. Jesus said to Peter in the Bible, that in his old age, he would be led to where he did not want to go. I think this also applied to Bishop Peter Adebiyi.
There were things he would not want to do but when people come around, he would not be able to resist their pressure. He would not complain about you to another person. His strength, which is love for people happened to be his weakness. There were things some people accused him of, but those of us who were close to him, understand the perspectives of his actions.