…my first in-depth experience within a Church system.
I have been waiting to share this story for years. I may not include all the details because that would mean writing a book. But, I will share what I feel my readers would need the most.
Some years back, I served as the chapter President of Young Anglican Crusaders (YAC) in Amazing Grace Anglican Church, Obosi. Our membership was made up of very vibrant youths. All of our members were beautiful or handsome, we were mostly teenagers or very early into our twenties.
You should know what such gathering of young people would look like. There were rumours, especially from other organizations who saw us as a competition. We were also very influential outside the four walls of the Church; the streets knew us so well and virtually every young person either wanted to identify with us one way or another. Most people didn’t know my name, they call me Presido or “YAC”.
“Diverse, yet united”
Something was very peculiar about us, our oneness, our fewer religious and less judgmental attitudes and our ability to accommodate our diversity. Most of our members were not Anglicans, we had Catholics, Methodists, and Pentecostals. We even had a Muslim member and another member from Jesus of latter days saints. Our Muslim member once sent me a message saying
“Sir, I want to let you know that I believe in Jesus, I believe he died for my sins and rose again from the dead. I believe in all your teachings, Sir. I may not publicly identify as a Christian because my father will kill me but I believe in Jesus.” His father was an army officer and they lived in Army barracks Onitsha at that time.
Before you think we were shoving our doctrine down people’s throats, we never for one day discussed denominational dogmas, we simply focused on teaching the Bible, learning music, acting, meeting for discussions and our weekly night vigils where we pray for at least an hour and sing into the morning.
Let me give you a background idea of who I was before I led YAC. This will be useful when I say some things that I was going to say.
“Inexperience was a blessing”
Before I became a chapter president in 2012, I was very much less exposed to the organised Church and its systems. I was a member of scripture union as a Child, then my mum did most of the pastoring and grooming. I had no single influence from any Pastor or Reverend anywhere. I didn’t know what and what goes on inside the Church, I was a complete novice to things including the politics that happen in Church. So, when I began leading a ministry, there was no bias, there were no preconceived notions, childlike innocence was the hallmark of it.
We could have night vigils, only I and my members in the Church. We would have the Church building all to ourselves and we would pray and sing into the morning. Some elders liked what we were doing, others were agitating against it and not long, I started hearing so many kinds of rumours.
I remember the Church sexton accusing us of hosting a night party in Church and playing worldly songs. I remember getting a call from the Vicar that night where he insisted, we should go home that the Church must be locked, he said he got information that we were having a party in Church.
For as long as we existed, we were fighting one battle to another, trying to explain ourselves, trying to please the leaders, and entering into more troubles as we try.
“Do you have a girl friend?”
One day, one of the Diocesan leaders called me for a meeting, he was one of those ministers I respected and adored because of his audacity when it comes to teaching. He wanted us to have discussions around my Diocesan leadership. He asked
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
I started laughing, the question reminded me of my resolve in 2012 after I was officially made the president. I used to be in a relationship, an innocent relationship with no forms of lust attached. However, the moment I was appointed, I called her and told her that we can’t continue because I didn’t want distractions. She joined YAC later, another chapter though.
“I don’t,” I said amidst laughter
“This is not a laughing matter. Stop behaving childish, you are a leader” another Christian brother said to me. I thought they wanted to investigate me or something
“The last relationship I had; I gave it up in 2012,” I said
He took a deep breath and then said “we are all humans and let nobody deceive you, we have blood running through our veins, we have cravings and it is God who wired us that way. It is okay to have one or two ladies you are intimate with. Whenever you feel horny, they should be there to satisfy you. But you must ensure that they are mature enough to respect you despite all and keep their mouth shut.”
Surprised is an understatement, I was shocked! I tried my best not to show it anyway. He would later take me to a bar where he wanted me to drink beer and fish, I resorted to malt while he took the beer. I didn’t reject beer because of my faith, I just don’t like beer.
“One of these days,” he said as we drank “I will take you somewhere so that you see things for yourself. It is good to have some kind of experience so that you will be able to offer informed counsel to people. You will see ladies dancing naked, you can do all you want with them.”
Long story cut short, that was how I started cutting the young ties I had with him. I did everything possible to avoid him. I was very shocked; I didn’t know this was the norm in many so-called Christian circles. The more I got into these circles or the more leadership took me deeper into these structures, the more I had shocking experiences that I never knew existed before.
Note, these experiences had nothing to do with the Anglican denomination. It was pretty much the same or even worse in other places.
“Innocence, not a shield from accusations”
However, throughout these years as a leader both in Chapter and Diocesan level, I never for one day told a lady “I like you”. Yet, without that, people still gossiped, said all manner of things including “he selects people who join their ministry. He only selects fine girls and fine guys.” Lol, it was a crime that everyone who joined us caught the glimpse of transformation that was radiating even in the physical.
With all my innocence, I still got accused of using girls and dumping them. It went viral in the streets but the people who engineered these claims would later come to apologize to me. The sexton too, when he was sacked from the Church also came to me to apologize for all the false accusations, he levelled against me. So many times, people who don’t understand us will often make up their definitions of us.
The funny thing is that the people who made these false accusations know they lied but the people they lied to may have this wrong impression about us to date except they encounter us one on one. I was so innocent; I didn’t know all of these things were in the Church. I thought the experience in Church systems was the same as the experience we had in our fellowship meetings.
“…building systems, barricading the Holy Spirit…”
I have come to realize something. Many times, we attend leadership meetings and they talk about building systems in the ministry. Those are very nice stuff but oftentimes, we deny the Holy Spirit his role by replacing his role with our human efforts. We build systems that barricade the acts of the Holy Spirit.
We build systems that shield immorality and frown at the rebuke. Systems that make zombies out of members, deny them the opportunity of asking questions and demonize those who ask questions. Systems that make standing with abusers and wicked leaders a form of loyalty. A system that is more world friendly than human friendly. A system that is loud on morality but very fickle when it comes to help people grow out of their drawbacks.
In every of our fellowship meetings, we saw God’s love manifest in its raw state, our innocence and sincerity gave more room for the experience of God’s manifest presence and glory. We had more than religion could offer which was why young people would rather be in our meetings than go out on dates, they would rather bury their shame and follow us along the streets, singing, dancing, praying, and allowing the Spirit of God flow through us in the streets.
“I will be frank, I regret insisting, I regret trying to prove ourselves…”
It was this ministry run by God through inexperienced young people but very sincere, vulnerable, and open innocent people that some elders looked at and said “they are selecting members, they reject or frustrate ugly people. On Sundays, they come to church in fine dresses to get attention… At night vigils, they party around, sleep in the same space, and have orgies…” people said even worse until we were banned from having activities using the Church’s facilities.
We were also accused of subtly trying to float an independent ministry. I remember some members asking that we rent a space and start having our meetings to avoid the distractions and disruptions, I insisted that we must prove them wrong by fighting hard to remain within the Church organization and facility.
I will be frank, I regret insisting, I regret trying to prove ourselves innocent of their accusations. It has had its own merits but I am not sure if that was the right decision because today, I still see the impact of the frustrations that the ministry experienced and how it stunted its growth after us but many of us excelled in every place we found ourselves. I wouldn’t mention names but most of us are doing well where we are.
“…wondering if I was trying to get under her pant was in order.”
I also remember one of the experiences I had. A young female member who came back from boarding school joined us. As was my custom, I did everything possible to make her feel at home with us. I visited her mum alongside other leaders to have her participate fully in our activities, I remember buying her a certain uniform that we wanted to use for an event because her mother refused to give her money for it.
My attention where she was, was becoming a concern and she relied on another sister. As she narrated to the sister how I was being “over caring” to her, the sister exclaimed “is he doing that to you too? I thought I was alone!” They investigated further and discovered I treat everyone the same way. They came to meet me later to tell me about it.
I later got to know why some of them even felt suspicious in the first place. They had once belonged to some Children’s ministries where some “brothers” tried taking advantage of them. So, wondering if I was trying to get under her pant was in order.
I had never been part of those Children ministries and even while I was a member of Scripture Union children’s ministry, our teachers were mostly elders or much older adults and I wasn’t very deep in the system to have noticed if anyone was playing foul. We would go to Church or fellowship and go back home. There was not much interaction and there was nobody to pass the cup of gossip communions to us.
The first time I learned that Pastors actually sleep with their members or that “brothers” actually engage the young ones they lead in sexual escapades, I was shocked. I remember being with Miracle Okoye that day when someone made the shocking revelations to us. All through our way back home, I was shivering, I went back home gasping in surprise and would say to Miracle, “does this thing truly happen? Like in Church?”
I also remember my post-YAC experience. After my leadership had ended in YAC, I organized a meeting for ladies called Queens Hangout; it was a meeting born out of the passion to address certain limitations women face in life and career as a result of societal expectations from them. A certain person launched a social media campaign against me and the meeting, he questioned my motives about organizing a meeting only for women. Perhaps, I was trying to take advantage of the beautiful women that were loyal to me, he implied.
“…my first in-depth experience within a Church system.”
My experience as the YAC Chapter President in Amazing Grace Anglican Church, Obosi was my first in-depth experience within a Church system. I wasn’t a member of the executive before becoming a leader, I know that experiences have their own merits too but my inexperience helped me a lot because I came into the system without any pre-ideas, bias, suspicion and so on.
My inexperience gave me more room to be vulnerable, to open up to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and never limit myself with dogmas and “structures”. That experience alone changed and shaped my perception of what ministry is.
Years after I am gone, I can still say that the Young Anglican Crusaders scattered across Nigeria have remained a channel through which young people, especially Anglicans are engaged, fed and empowered with God’s word.
There is something I want you to take away from my story. It is not about the mess in the Church but about how you can preserve yourself and not mess up with your receptive capabilities. Don’t overthink this mess, don’t think everyone else is doing it, don’t try exploring deep and sacrificing your innocence just to have an experience.
You can be part of the few who are just standing. Nothing is wrong with the faith, maybe, we just need to start rethinking our strategies in building the systems and structures we put in place which provides a shield for all manner of things to happen.
We desire a place where our young people will come to and feel safe, a place where our hungry inquisitive young ones will come to and find satisfying answers, peace, the true fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the brethren. It is still possible and we can be that remnant.
I call you blessed.