Priesthood: Why I abandoned engineering for the pulpit
VENERABLE JOHNSON ADEBOLA ADEBIYI is the Archdeacon of Ikotun Archdeaconry of the
Diocese of Lagos West of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion. The Archdeaconry is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. In this interview Ven. Adebiyi who is the younger brother of the former Bishop of the Diocese, The Rt. Rev Awelewa Adebiyi shares his ministry experience. Below are excerpts:
How did you come about ministry work in the first place?
Well my coming to the ministry in the Anglican Church was fortuitous. As a matter of fact I was born Anglican, but I was attending the Evangelical Church Winning All then because it was the nearest Church to where I was residing. It’s a bit of a long story. But then here I am today. I never left the Anglican Church in the real sense. It was just that I felt comfortable attending churches close to where I lived.
But what were you doing before you became a priest in the Anglican Church?
I am an air conditioner and refrigerator engineer by training. I attended Willesden College of Technology in North-West London. I came back to Nigeria in 1978 and was upgraded to a senior staff cadre, at The Polytechnic, Ibadan. Later I got a scholarship and went to USA for my Bachelor’s Degree. I came back in 1988 and was promoted to the position of a Lecturer. But I got tired of lecturing because I was doing the same thing over and over. I was even encouraged by some of my students to leave The Polytechnic. They were very close to me. They just felt since I was so good in the practical that there was no need tying myself down in the lecture room. As a lecturer I had a massive workshop in town where I had apprentices. The minimum qualification of my apprentices then was O’ Level because I believe any of them could still go for higher education. I was doing pretty well outside the polytechnic. So my resignation did not make me lose anything. Soon after I moved my family to our new house.
So you now became a priest?
No. I left the polytechnic to face my profession. I was getting jobs from big clients and was enjoying myself. But then my coming back to the Anglican Church and becoming a priest is a long winding story. Let me try and see if we can get around it. There was this church in Ibadan that had been abandoned so to say. They had no priest and I lived close to the church. But I never knew the church was existing. Shortly after, I moved with my family to our own house then I was attending ECWA. But my brother, the retired Bishop Awelewa Adebiyi came one day and wondered why I was not attending the Anglican Church close to me. After praying about it, I decided to take advantage of the nearness of the Church to my house. So this particular Sunday I decided to attend the Anglican Church. My wife had gone to the ECWA church as usual. By the time I got to the church I met just a handful of people. I joined them and then asked for the priest. Rather than show me the vicar in charge of the church they said I should lead them in the service. Apparently there was no priest in the church. It’s an old Anglican Church that had been abandoned by the authorities.
There was no priest that was sent from the Bishop. The members were mostly old people about five of them. So they would just come and go every Sunday like that.
To cut a long story short, I became their pastor so to say. At a point I moved to Lagos and would come to the church from Lagos every weekend. Before I left for Lagos the church had grown. We had close to 100 people and the church authorities by this time sent a priest to the church.
I moved my workshop to Lagos and I was getting jobs from companies. All the while I was not contemplating coming to full time ministry. I was content with my job and the weekly appearance in Ibadan to support the priest that had been posted to the church. It was the Then Ven. Olu Akinyemi (OurArchdeacon) who later invited me and said that God needed me to come and serve in the Anglican Church as a full time priest.
I told him I was not interested in being ordained. But he said he was very sorry for me. He said Baba would have punished me for being disobedient to the heavenly call. Pleading, I humbly asked him again who the baba was. He then said it was Baba God. I said I would think about it and pray to confirm if God was the one asking me to come and work. Immediately he exclaimed, “what?! Baba said He wants to send you ministry, you are saying you’d think about it, and what are you thinking about? He retorted.
I was even thinking within me about my personal job and wondering how I would cope with the work of a priest. But then he responded, “Baba didn’t say you should not do your job, just commit yourself on Sundays.” I was relieved. I left his place, thanking him but I didn’t return to his office. This was after I had retired voluntarily from the polytechnic.
But somehow after a lot of hide and seek I attended Ibadan Diocese Theological Seminary and then Immanuel College of Theology. By December 1995, I was ordained a Deacon at St. Michael’s Church Oyo. My brother, Bishop Adebiyi was present at the Ordination. His fears was more about the challenges in priesthood which he felt I was not well prepared to undergo. But today we give God the glory for how far he has helped us. In the Adebiyi family, we have 13 priests and one Bishop even though our parents weren’t priests. I think it is God’s own way of working in us for his own purpose.
But how come you are in Lagos?
After my ordination in Ibadan, I was ceded to Ibadan south Diocese in March, 2000. I was in Ibadan and would have joined Bishop Akinyemi in Igbomina Diocese when he became Bishop.
At a point it was clear to me I could not continue my personal business again. I had to close both the one in Lagos and Ibadan down. A priest who was my friend and whom I was always coming to see in Lagos, encouraged me to come to Lagos. It was during my interaction with him that I began to consider coming to Lagos. He eventually helped with my transfer to Lagos West Diocese. My first station was St James, Akute, then, I was transferred to St. Stephen in Bariga. Then, to Church of Ascension in Opebi,Ikeja to St. Paul Ishagatedo. I think I have been to about eight churches in Lagos so far.
Some people would conclude that you rode on the back of your elder brother the Bishop to get where you are?
Not in the least. As a matter of fact people picked quarrel with me that I was not coming to see my brother when he was translated to Lagos West Diocese in 1999 as Bishop. I did not see the need for it then. I felt he had his own challenges and I should also be allowed to face my own challenges. I said earlier he did not approve my becoming an ordained priest. I only went to announce to him that I was going to be ordained. Though we are blood brothers there was no time I took advantage of his office for assistance. It’s not in my character to do that. There were days I was challenged financially but refused to go to him. Rather I would look for somebody else to help me. My understanding is: Why add my own problem to his. I was conscious then that all his children were in the university and that he had a lot of expenses to bear. So that was what restrained me from always going to him. But there were times on his own he would invite me and insist that I take some of his things for my use.
You’ve been here for 2 years, can you tell us about Ikotun Archdeaconry of the Lagos West Diocese. What’s peculiar?
Honestly speaking, we still have a lot of work to do here. Perhaps the reason we don’t see so much zeal here is because of the business environment. But then I believe with time and prayers we will continue to reap great harvest of souls here. We must also understand that that there is so much poverty in the land.
Soon as I settled down I later discovered that the challenges are enormous. And I also found out that no matter the work done by your predecessor you will still have to do more and sometimes it would appear nothing had been done before you came. But then we must give credit to those we took over from and hopefully wait on God to take the archdeaconry to another height. I must appreciate those who supported us when we first came and how they made our coming smooth. It was tough at the beginning but then we are getting by gradually and trusting that we can only get better.
What does this 10th Anniversary connote?
The 10th anniversary is a very unique ceremony because getting to become ten years is no play. We thank God for how far He has brought us. There may not be much to point to for celebration. But then we were not where we were 10 years ago. In fact, the Archdeaconry has increased; in terms of the number of churches under it. There are 16 churches and the whole area is completely rural where business activities are petty trading. But then it has great potential. Our expectation is that we will keep growing.
Given your background in vocational training, are you not looking into that direction of helping the young people in this Archdeaconry?
We are doing the bit we can do. For example, we have assisted our Bishop to train one of our boys in Peter Akinola Technical Institute in Abeokuta. The only area that we look at is the area of giving them encouragement and running programs that will encourage them to do something with their hands. Our Diocese wants to build a vocational centre. But to have such institution or project, you must invest in tools because both the trainers and the apprentices need tools. We are looking into that area as God gives us the grace. We also offer scholarship to students and help pay part of the school fees of some indigent students. We have a food bank where people are encouraged to come and take food stuffs. This is done as God provides for us. It’s our own social intervention programme.