…Says Anglican Church struggling for oxygen in the North
The Venerable Dr. Yemi Agbelusi is the Director of the Post graduate School of St. Francis of Assisi Theological
Seminary in Wusasa, Zaria. He was the Archdeacon of Ikosi and Vicar of All Saints Anglican Church, Ketu,
Lagos and Director for Liturgy in the Diocese of Lagos West Anglican Communion before his present
position. In this interview with Church Times Nigeria he shared his ministry experience highlighting the
critical need for an appraisal in the funding of the church. Below are excerpts:
You were in Lagos as Vicar of a parish and Archdeacon before you went to St. Francis Theological
Seminary. What impression did you have about the North generally before you went there?
I was in the Lagos West diocese of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion when I was informed
about the advertisement for the position of the director of the post graduate school. I felt called to give
it a try. I applied and I was given the offer. For me it was a new challenge. I felt going up North would
provide a fresh insight into ministry for me. I have been a priest for years in the south. The Northern
experience was for me a booster. So, I did not really have any impression as it were. It was in line with
my desire to face new challenges and experience new grounds.
So what did you meet on ground as per the school?
Well, we must first appreciate that the school is over 100 years. It was established by the missionaries. It
was basically a training institution for catechists for a long time and then later it graduated into training
people for the award of diploma certificates. About ten years ago, it became a degree awarding
institution; only awarding Bachelor of Theology. It was of recent the school began a post graduate
school to award MA so graduates could do their PhD anywhere in the world. We had to upgrade
Bachelor of Theology to Bachelor of Arts so products of the Bachelor of Arts could enroll for the MA
So what is peculiar about the school and the Wusasa community where it is sited?
It is the only training arm of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion in the entire North. Wusasa is
at the outskirt of Zaria. Wusasa was cut off from the people because when the missionaries came, the
system did not want them to conflict with the Muslim community. So they gave them land that is far
from town. That is why Wusasa is a largely historic Christian community. We have a lot of old buildings
there where the missionaries stayed. There are very preserved old structures there too.
Wusasa has a strong Christian background. Bibles and tables of missionaries are still there. The colonial
authorities were there and the governor general of Nigeria. It is a tourist site to behold. The fascination
for me is that some people traveled thousands of kilometers to put the structures there and also to come and preach the gospel to the indigenes. That to me is mind-blowing. Now we can travel by plane
in less than one hour yet only a few are showing interest in evangelizing the North and making the
needed desired impact.
When The Rt. Revd. Praise Omole-Ekun became dean about 8 years ago we began the upgrade that we
are experiencing. There are about 55 northern dioceses that benefit from the training of the school. I
am the director of the post graduate school. We have the College of Education. There are people in the
school who just want theological education. We award Master of Theology and Master of Arts basically
to make sure they have sound education. Before the post graduate school was established, they had to
come to Abeokuta in Ogun State or go to Jos etc. for their PG studies. It is a big relief for many of them
who want higher education. Now they don’t have to travel several kilometers for advanced theological
So what has been the acceptance so far?
The word is going out and the school is gaining a lot of acceptance. We are getting more students from
the North to attend the school. I think it is a matter of time the school will get to the desired height. It
has come a long way.
But then how is the Anglican Church in the North?
The news is not cheering. The Anglican Church in the North is struggling for oxygen. During the tenure of
the late Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Most Revd. Joseph Abiodun Adetiloye, many dioceses were
created in the North. They had no cathedral as it were then. What he did was to assign each of those
parishes to parishes in the south that are doing well so that the south could give some form of life
support to the dioceses in the North. The Most Revd. Peter Akinola (Rtd) for instance, was sent to Abuja
when there were no churches to supervise. But he had to work to build the place. The gains recorded by
the initiative of the Church fathers are being reversed because of the mass poverty that is ravaging the
North and the continuous threat of Islamic terrorism.
Unlike the cathedrals in the south, where people have the luxury of dancing and enjoying themselves,
you don’t have such in the North. People don’t have the time and the money for excesses. In the North,
you are only concerned about the basics and you are constantly on the lookout for possible unrest from
fanatical terrorists. For instance when I am traveling around the North I dress fully like a northerner. I
can’t walk with a clerical shirt or cassock in the North. I talk with a lot of care in the North because you
don’t know what you will say that will offend your listeners especially when you are in a public space.
There is this self-censorship that has been brought about as a result of the senseless killings of innocent
lives and the destruction of properties.
So what has all this done to your theology?
I can only say my eyes have been opened. I am like Isaiah who saw the Lord when King Uzziah died. The annual circle of children harvest, adult harvest and all the jamborees we have in the south is no longer something I feel adds any value to the kingdom. I don’t fancy it any longer because I see that we are wasting resources that could have otherwise been plowed into something more meaningful and
productive. I do not see myself sitting in a church where money is spent on things that have no bearing
with the kingdom. In the North, we are concerned about the basics. Our coming together is mainly for
spiritual growth. What we take for granted here is a treasure in the North.
I won’t say we are excessive. I think we are just too unconcerned about our brothers in the rural areas both in the North and the South. The point I am making is that we need to reach out to the needy dioceses in the church. We can’t afford to be living large and throwing money on worthless projects when there are people in the same church who can barely survive. I think that is an aberration. We must remember that there is a Lazarus at our gate who wants our crumbs. If we have a church that earns N100 million in a year why can’t such church send at least N1m to distressed churches in that year. We keep pilling the funds and we pride ourselves in what we have in the account when there are churches and people that are in dire need. And the needs in these churches are not what we can’t
afford. I was amazed to discover that people come to me for assistance and when I ask them what they
need they mention amounts as little as N1000 that. Such thing breaks my heart.
So what is your recommendation to the Church of Nigeria?
They have to sit down and find a way of empowering poor dioceses. There are dioceses in the south too
that are not doing well. It is not about the North alone. I think it is about rural areas. It is time to sit
down and rather than spend resources unduly on gigantic structures, we should take care of the poor
dioceses and find a way of impacting people around us. The church is making a lot of efforts through St.
Mathias collections but it’s still a half-hearted approach. We need to take a proactive step to correct the
in-balance in the administration of funds. The Church is shrinking across board. There is need to reach
out and support the weak dioceses.
Rather than have one church being built for N200 million, there should be a model. If you drive from Jos
to Bauchi, you will find out that the ECWA churches are almost the same in terms of structure. I think
they have successfully been able to have a standard for their church buildings so that money is not
wasted on structures. If we do it right, we will be shocked at the harvest of souls that will come out of it.
It is a myth when we talk about the Moslem North. There are a lot of non-Moslems that are waiting to
be brought to the fold. There are a lot of Christians that needed to be discipled. I think it is about
We have empowered bishops and have sent them to the dioceses in the North but are we empowering
the people and getting feedback from them? I think there is need to empower the laity to carry out real
evangelical work in the North. The CMS brought the gospel to Nigeria. The CMS were mainly the laity of
the Church of England. They had the zeal for evangelism and they travelled several kilometers by sea to
bring the good news to us in Nigeria. It was when the church had been firmly established in Nigeria that
they invited the priests to come and take over the parishes. The CAPRO Mission is the most successful
mission’s body in Nigeria because it is driven by lay people. They put the churches together and now
invite the pastors to come and pastor. For us to have result, the mission’s project has to be purely laity
Unlike the cathedrals in the south, where people have the luxury of dancing and enjoying themselves, you don’t have such in the North. People don’t have the time and the money for excesses. In the North, you are only concerned about the basics and you are constantly on the lookout for possible unrest from fanatical terrorists. For instance when I am traveling around the North I dress fully like a northerner. I can’t walk with a clerical shirt or cassock in the North. I talk with a lot of care in the North because you don’t know what you will say that will offend your listeners especially when you are in a public space.
So what toll has your sojourn in the North taken on you?
It has taken financial toll on me. We have to keep mobilizing funds to help the people up there. The fact
that I have to maintain two homes too is also demanding. But then it’s a price one has to pay. My joy is
that my going to the North has made me realize the reality of ministry. It is not in talking. It is in action.
Presently we have scholarship fund for about 54 people and the total school fees of each the students is
just about N100k. We have to take responsibility for paying their school fees. We send a lot of clothes
and shoes up North. We send books. The irony is that even in the south where you think there are no
problems; priests are having challenges not to talk of those in the North. Many of the priests in the
north are barely surviving. All these theological debate on tithes, when to take Holy Communion etc
don’t even arise in the North. You can’t even raise the issue of tithe because people don’t even have
what to eat. Those are no issues. We just come together for study and worship in the North.
But have you done a paper on your findings to be presented to the church?
I am working on a comprehensive paper to send to the Church of Nigeria. Many of the students we are
training are doing a lot of studies too. The beauty about the Church in the North is that the dichotomy
we have in the south does not exist in the North. Christians see themselves as one. They don’t look at
the denomination. As long as you are Christian you are accepted. This is so because the Church in the
North is facing a common affliction. In the North we are united by common faith and not denomination.
Has the North been having these challenges all along?
Many of the churches in the capital city may not really face some of these problems. Church is usually
“sweet” in the urban areas but in the extreme; far away from the capital you talk of the rural
communities. Your income can just be about N200 for a Sunday service. In a good month, rural churches
get about N15, 000. When Bishop Praises Omole-Ekun was first posted to a parish as a young deacon, he
lived in a decrepit condition. But he did not mind. The kind of water he was drinking, he could not offer
people who came to visit him. There was a time a visitor came visiting and he asked for water. But he
insisted on giving him malt drink because the water was something else. But Bishop Omole-Ekun got
used to drinking the water. When his visitor saw the water, he was not happy. That is the kind of
situation a lot of people find themselves in rural areas especially in the rural North.
Earlier before this interview you talked about Churches being wiped out in the North. What is the
situation in the real sense now?
I can talk of the Church of Nigeria which I am familiar with. Many dioceses have been dislocated. Many
clergymen who were serving in many of the parishes have returned home. Some now go to meet their
parishioners in IDP camps. A lot of clergy are returning to the south. For me the church now is the body
of Christ not the building. Before I went to the North I saw church more as a building. I was fixated on
the building. But the truth is that the church of Christ has no walls. It goes beyond the physical structure.
My experience in the South in the last two decades plus years as a priest has been demystified. I have
realized that we are called to follow Christ not exert our energy on buildings.
We can’t afford to be living large and throwing money on worthless projects when there are people in the same church who can barely survive. I think that is an aberration. We must remember that there is a Lazarus at our gate who wants our crumbs. If we have a church that earns N100 million in a year why can’t such church send at least N1m to distressed churches in that year.
The building will go but the church will remain. I must tell you that the persecution and challenges in
the North is real. Graduates can’t get jobs because they are Christians. Unfortunately, mission in the
south is now an investment. Church wants to build a school and earn money from it. Rather than make
the schools affordable we are profiting from it. We fail to take a cue from the missionaries who brought
the schools in the first place. The missionaries did not build for investment. They built it so that the poor
could afford it. Dioceses are now struggling to have hostels in our mission’s university and they are
profiting from it.
But the argument is that the church needs money to keep the school afloat?
The irony is that the money is not going to the schools; it is going to the dioceses. What we call mission
schools are not mission schools because the churches are profiting from it. Unfortunately certain
sections of the church are languishing. There are clergy in the North who ride on Okada and here in the
south, there are others who have excess of everything good. There must be an intentional design to
build capacity in the North. Many of the dioceses have been deserted because the priests in those
dioceses were not locals. I think we need to now begin to build capacity of local indigenes to be clergy.
It would have been ridiculous to still have white priests in our churches. When the whites were in
Nigeria it was practically impossible for them to allow black priests in the churches. The CMS Grammar
School was a child of circumstances. It was founded by Rev Thomas Babington Macaulay, a priest
because he could not get a parish. He started a lesson class for pupils which later became a school. Ajayi
Crowther had no diocese as a bishop and that made him to start to do a lot of writing.
We can’t afford to do what the whites did by denying blacks the opportunity to pastor. We now need to
train indigenes to become pastors. It does not make sense to have mainly Yoruba and Igbo priests in the
North. In the seminary we have about several Hausa Fulanis that are being trained to evangelize their
people. The need to have indigenous workers cannot be over emphasized. The reason many priests
could leave their station in time of crisis is because they are not indigenes. When the crisis started they
came back to the south. That is the challenge we are having in the North. The intake of Hausa/Fulani is
still about 30 percent. We still have about 70 percent southerners enjoying the facilities in the seminary.
But then we hope that the number of indigenes will keep increasing.
Do you see yourself coming back to the south after you finish your term in the seminary?
To adjust back to regular parish life in the south will be quite challenging for me. The priorities and the
ceremonies we have down south do not amuse me anymore. I can’t sit on any church council where
decision to spend on frivolities is taken and I will be comfortable. If the primary concern is about
building irrelevant structures, count me out.
You also administer an online Bible School. Tell us about the school?
Moore Theological College, otherwise simply known as Moore College was established in 1856. I am
presently the country director for Nigeria. The college has a strong tradition of conservative evangelical
theology with a strong emphasis on biblical languages, the use of primary sources and, critically, the
importance of learning in community.
I was appointed the Country Director of CGM Academy by the school at the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem. It is one of the oldest Bible colleges in the world. They have put together materials over the
years so that people can assess the materials online. The video courses are online. There are so many
theological questions that are being asked around the world. The school is in over 40 countries of the
world with about 5000 students presently. It is a train yourself school basically and it exposes people to
basic theological knowledge. The courses have been so structured that people can get theological
education on the go. What people need to do is to log on to the website and assess the materials and
educate themselves on laptop, mobile or tablet. It makes it easy to develop yourself within traveling and
at minimal cost. Just Visit www.cgmacademyng.com/study or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org