…we can’t serve God and mammon”
Venerable Feyi Ojelabi is the Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Jude, Ebute-Meta, Lagos. The Church is one of the priced heritages of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. It was established in 1867 and has over the years been the springboard for many Anglican Faithful. The Church sits elegantly in the heart of Ebute Metta, Lagos covering a vast land space with a number of structures around it.
Ven. Ojelabi shares his ministry experience with Church Times including the church’s experience in the heat of the covid-19 season
28 years of pastoring: My experience
It has been quite interesting. God has given me the opportunity to pastor all kinds of people. The low and the high. I started at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Ikorodu. The people were predominantly Ilajes.
They are special people. I was living with one of the church members who vacated his living room for me. I was in that church for 7 years. It was a swampy area and houses were built with planks on water.
Then, I had about three sets of rainboots to wade through the water whenever I wanted to go on visitation. It became a norm that if they are not in the church, they knew I would visit them, play with them and pray with them. The Ogun river basin water was a problem for us whenever it was released.
This is apart from normal rainfall. Whenever the water was released, the whole of that area becomes a dead end. But I still enjoyed my stay in that church. The people were fervent. Till tomorrow, they still celebrate me and my wife because there is nothing that happens there that they will not call us.
My leadership style
When it comes to service to God, I don’t joke with it. In dealing with people one has to be consistent and pragmatic. The first church I pastored there was no roof but God enabled us to fix the roof before we left because of the way we carried the people along. It was tough. But after spending about five years there, even those who were my enemies became my friends because they knew my position on some issues.
Pastoring the rich
High-class people are wonderful. But the catch is that what you would not take when you are rich you don’t take when you are poor. We had partnership together with the wardens not to share church money but to do what God has called us to do. My goal is to be like Christ. It is my responsibility to look after our members. We play and interact. I don’t see myself as all in all. We rub minds together. It is true God has blessed some people. They are rich yet they have the fear of God.
They relate respectfully with us. Some are arrogant no doubt. But the really wealthy people are courteous and respectful. When I suspect that some of them are trying to push beyond their boundaries, I respectfully put them where they belong. We can’t afford to serve God and mammon. We can’t allow the name of Jesus to be trampled on because of mammon. People have so many descriptions of me because they see me from different perspectives.
Between people and building
It is good to build people but if you build people the same people will build the structure. As tough as it was during the covid-19, we sponsored the medical bills of members. Our own belief is that whatever we do for members is not so that they could do something back to the church but that they will experience the love of Christ. Our master Jesus went about healing the sick and meeting the needs of people. I remember while at All Saints Church in Yaba, giving back to members as part of my style. Wherever I go I would float a Food Bank.
So, in All Saints, I preached about taking care of the needy and I announced that there was a need for us to float a Food Bank. I said if they were led to support it, they should see me. I was amazed at the response we got. Since I left All Saints, members have been supportive of the project. There was no time that we used Church funds to carry out the project. Rather, individuals would contribute towards buying foodstuffs that will be distributed to interested people in the community.
We have an efficient committee that manages the fund and ensures that it is run properly. You can never tell whose life is touched by the gesture. Some children will take note of this and remember that the church has been a blessing to them in the future.
Those who come for counselling
I will say only 15 per cent of those who come for counselling come for spiritual counsel. The remaining 85 per cent come to ask for a favour. But I believe it is more blessed to give than to receive. During the covid-19 season, God took us to another level in terms of giving. So, we have no reason to complain.
Covid-19: It was a turning point
Covid-19 as we all know it will continue to be a big one because it is what many people had not experienced before. We had a lot of programmes mapped out for the year before the pandemic came and disrupted all. Nigeria even had a programme mapped out for the Year 2020.
When the pandemic came, we thought it would be for a while but it lingered on for long. It is a new normal that we reluctantly embraced. But today we thank God that we are among the living. It has been a tough one even for our parishioners.
Bonding with parishioners
We should not look at the negative aspect. It drove the church to be more proactive. Today everybody is on the internet. We now project our services online. We do it for those who could afford data. Some people did not have the opportunity of going online in the heat of the covid-19 season. But we still sent messages to them on their phones
How covid-19 affected church service
We now have more regard for time in our services. The government told us the services should not go beyond two hours at a point. I find that quite instructive. I think the time has come for us to be more proactive. We are yet to get to a 24-hour power supply, so we have to chart a new course and be time conscious. Our three-hour service can be contained in two hours. Before we used to spend about 4 hours on one service. But before covid-19, we had trained ourselves to keep to time. Now, I can run three services conveniently.
I am an advocate of keeping to time. The God we serve is the same God of the valley and mountain. He works according to time. He set the time for harvest and planting seasons. So, the era of calling people ten times to come and do thanksgiving is gone.
Covid-19 has destroyed many things. Many have lost their jobs. But the church should still be able to give hope to people. The church has no choice but to be more proactive. It is true some of the requests we get are not genuine but we can’t afford to close our eyes. During the covid-19 season, we were able to raise some money that we distributed to members. Those who benefitted were so appreciative.