70-year-old Bishop Ezekiel Folorunsho Ikupolati was born on June 6, 1948. He is from Iyara in Ijumu Local Government of Kogi State. A 1984 graduate of Emmanuel College of Theology and Christian Education, became born again in August 1973 while in the military and was ordained in the Diocese of Kwara on June 24 1984 as a deacon. A year after on June 26, was posted to work in the same state until another diocese was carved out which is Lokoja Diocese. He worked there until he was appointed the Dean of the Church’s seminary in Okene, Kogi State. He was there until he was preferred Bishop on March 28, 2008 and then became the Bishop of Diocese. He retired from the service of the church in June 2018.
In this interview, Bishop Ikupolati shared his experience in ministry with our correspondent; Adekunle Adewunmi.
You were in the military before you became a priest. How did you become a Christian?
While in military, we were usually having a kind of Fellowship which I used to attend. But I could remember the very day I gave my life to Christ in a Methodist Church in Kaduna State. I was invited by a pastor friend for a revival though I wasn’t a pastor then. When I got there, I requested to present a hymn which was titled “there is a stranger at the door, let him come in” and as I was presenting it, I observed that something happened to me as if I opened the door of my life to that stranger.
There I realized the need to submit to Jesus. There and then I surrendered my life to Him. Ever since, I’ve continued like that all along while in Kaduna. But then, after my conversion while still in the army, I started attending St. Michael Cathedral of Kaduna before I was transferred to Lagos.
When did you retire from the army and how did you become a priest in the Anglican Church?
Before 1980, I was having the Call to go out and be a minister. I sincerely wanted to be an Evangelist but in 1980, I heard that they were looking for candidates to attend Emmanuel College, Ibadan to be trained as ministers in the Anglican Communion. I got the form and took permission from my boss in the army who also granted me to proceed for the interview and I went. I had to write a voluntary request for retirement at the army when I was offered admission into the Seminary because I wasn’t due for retirement as at then. My application was granted then, I went for 3 years training as a minister in the Anglican Communion. It was thereafter that I was posted to the Diocese of Kwara.
Was your first pastoral assignment in Kwara State?
Yes, it was in Kwara. Although, before we finished from Seminary, I was always going to Lagos during long vacation to work. I worked in Awodi Ora and Mile 2 during our long vacation and some other places. After the training, I was posted to Kwara where I was ordained.
In what way has being a Soldier helped in your pastoral work?
Thank you very much. In fact, my background as a military man really helped my ministry because there are lots of challenges in pastoral ministry. It takes a determined person. My military background and training has been sustenance for me because where I would have been discouraged or withdraw, I remained unperturbed. So, it was not difficult for me to reconcile the two lines in administration and it gives me courage to preach the word of God fearlessly.
People say; ‘it’s his military blood that’s worrying him’ because, I sometimes look very undaunted, determined like I don’t feel what they are throwing against me and God himself has helped me with that because ever since I got saved in the army, I understood what it means to be called. I’m so convinced and never doubted it and it settled some things in my ministry.
Relating to people as a pastor and relating as a soldier, is there any difference how have you been able to balance the two?
There’s a difference because if the soldier is not a Christian, he might not be able to do the work of a pastor since there might be pastors who are not necessarily born again and soldiers that are born again who can have an output of a Christian leader. In my congregation, not all of them really know that I was a Soldier because I never told them publicly about it except those who have known me before and some of them said that my military life has been a contributory factor to my success. People saw it in me even in the army fellowship. I could remember while in Lagos how Soldiers misbehave in uniform, I never did that even before I came into the pastoral ministry, I already know myself as the child of God, I never allowed the military uniform intoxicate me.
What has been your experience while in the Diocese began?
Ah, thank God. It has been very challenging but God has shown his faithfulness. I’m the pioneer Bishop and I work in my hometown. When Jesus Christ said the Prophet is not without honour but except in his own country, I experienced the same. So, the experiences I can say, has been very challenging but sweet due to God’s faithfulness because he has been on my side and really helped me until today and I’m without any regret. The hands of God has been mighty upon me, his faithfulness has helped I can say. Left to me, I can’t beat my chest that I’ve done well but God has been the one who has worked with me and for me.
Any exciting experience since inception as Bishop
I can say one of the works of a Bishop is to ordain other members. This has been a joy of heart for me to lay hands on people and ordained them into ministry and they’ve been doing well. I’ve seen that God has used me to bring people into the fulfillment of their calling. So throughout these 10 years that I’ve been a Bishop, I’ve seen the joy of the lord over the people I ordained and some of them have been promoted by the divine permission of God. I’ve been able to do what God wants me to do, though not satisfactorily to human being but God has not abandoned me.
How has the Anglican Communion helped you do well in ministry? Would you have done better in other denominations?
In the Anglican Communion today, I want to assure you that there have been a lot of tremendous positive changes. Reason being that we have a lot of younger generation Bishop who have pumped in some radicalism, evangelicalism and lots of breakthrough which has helped the Anglican Church to come back to what it’s supposed to be. Basically, they are supposed to be evangelical and a lot of young priests and Bishops have done that. I’ve done lots of things that if it’s the matter of declaring the word of God, the mind of God, we have done it without fear or favour, not that we don’t receive challenges and even sometimes opposition but they continue to let us know that yes, what we say is right. So, in the Anglican Church in our hands as a Bishop have not been denied what they should know about God and his word.
I want to felicitate with you on your retirement but, can one really retire from God’s work?
Thank you so much sir for that question. Just like today, I was telling one of our priests that God ministered to me this morning that this retirement issue is not part of his program but only constitutional. By constitution, I should retire at 70 but I will continue to do God’s will as long as I live. So, retirement is a mere official thing with man but with God, the work continues by the grace of God.
Now that you are retiring, what is your expectation in the Anglican Communion?
After retirement, any area I’m giving to serve, I would not hesitate to do that. On my own, I’d do whatever God wants me to do; to propagate the gospel in any dimension because I believe in evangelism.
What will you describe as the greatest temptation you ever encountered in ministry?
One of the greatest temptations was from some of the Priests conniving against my authority, trying to frustrate anything I do. Some of them in the area of transfer always refuse to go but will rather instigate the Church against us. They don’t like going on transfer at all, whereas, transfer happens to be a major part of the ministry of the priest. They don’t want to go but they will create problem between the Bishop and the Church and pretend as if they are innocent.
How were you able to manage such crisis?
Well, concerning some of them, we have to stand our ground and insist they have to go on the transfer. There was a particular individual whom when asked to go on a transfer, stayed put and cut the church from the diocese until after a lot of interventions. We finally dismissed him because we tried him in 3 different churches and he was doing the same thing. We had no other option but to dismiss him.
What will be your advice to upcoming ministers/protégées?
The first thing I’d like to advise is that people should be sure of God’s Call, they shouldn’t receive God’s call emotionally or perhaps because of certain things that suited them or do not suit them.
Secondly, they should be ready to sacrifice; they should be ready to go wherever they are sent to go. It’s important that once you have accepted to receive the call, you should also be ready because Jesus also said anyone who wants to be his disciple must first of all, deny himself, take up his cross, follow him. Doing this will make God’s call accomplished in one’s life.
They should have a vision. Every minister should be able to know what he has to do, like having a budget to direct them where to get the source of their spending and how to spend it. So, a pastor should have a vision that will guard and guide him in all he does.
He should be able to have a close contact with the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ himself gave us the pattern; he was always praying to his father in heaven. So, prayer should be a kind of staff for the pastor to walk.