Venerable Stephen Ayodeji Fagbemi, the Dean, Archbishop Vining College of Theology, Akure, Ondo State, has been appointed the General Secretary of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. He shares with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI his experience as head of the college in the last five years and speaks on the role of churches in the society, among other issues.
How has it been at the Archbishop Vining College of Theology?
I have been the Dean of the Archbishop Vining College of Theology, Akure, for five years. It was our vision to provide visionary leadership in delivering holistic training of clergy and laity that could meet the challenges of the 21st century and to work towards making it a college of international status, in a healthy environment where every soul matters. These five years have been very remarkable and I have enjoyed them in every ramification. It has been particularly interesting offering leadership in the training of Anglican clergy, especially those who will become future leaders of the church. That has been a major contribution to church life that I have personally appreciated. It has also been quite a privilege ministering to the calibre of people who worship in our chapel, the Chapel of the Annunciation, Archbishop Vining College of Theology, Oke-Emeso, Akure in Ondo State.
What are some of your achievements?
Ministry in the church of Christ is not about achievements because Christ, the owner of the church, achieved everything, and this included the giving of Himself and shedding of His blood for the salvation of all. This is the climax of achievements. Those who are called to ministry are simply called to propagate this message. So the greatest achievement for me was the opportunity to share in this ministry with those who were being trained and also to preach the message constantly to our chapel members. There has been spiritual renewal and growth in our time. That said, God has also blessed our time with infrastructural development. The whole college has been virtually transformed. We have so many achievements. Perhaps, the most important for me is the people. I have worked with a wonderful set of people who served in the college community and the chapel.
What are some challenges you faced?
Perhaps, the first challenge was changing the way we did things and the orientation of people. On our arrival, attention was not paid to how we treated ourselves and especially the clergy-trainee. So we instituted the ‘Every Soul Matters Agenda,’ which is a social and spiritual engineering of people, designed to make people recognise that every soul matters to God, so every soul must matter to us. This calls for mutual respect and dignity, self esteem and passion to treat one other well. Rich or not, every soul is important to God and we must ensure that God’s creatures are treated well. This must even affect our environment we live, We must then become agents of change in the community. So this policy began to guide our activities. It took time for some to understand, while some even misunderstood it. But I am pleased that in the end, this has great impact on our people as we gave a new understanding of life and dignity to our people. Another major challenge was securing funds to implement our projects. But given all that we were able to achieve, I can only thank God for raising people who supported us. We also instituted the Friends of Archbishop Vining College of Theology, Akure (FAVICTA) and this helped to enlist more support.
What are you going to do now after your five-year tenure as dean?
Having been appointed as the General Secretary of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), this means that I will relocate to work with the Primate, the Most Revd Nicholas D. Okoh, who has been providing clear leadership for our church since his primacy took effect in 2010. My prayers are for God to bless me with the grace and insight needed to deliver in the office in fulfilling its many responsibilities and duties, working closely with the Primate and bishops of the church. I am also praying that Archbishop Vining College will be blessed with a good successor who will continue with the work that has begun, especially as it prepares for its centenary celebrations holding in January 2017. Our valedictory service comes up at the chapel today by the grace of God.
What is your take on the current economic state of the country and what’s the way out?
In times like this, the government needs a complete review of its policies and programmes. The economic recession is not good for the country and its people. People are suffering, and government has not often appreciated the reality with which the people are faced. It is unwise for government to introduce any policy before adequate provision has been made to cushion its effect on the people. I think Nigerians are suffering from the effect of bad governance and lack of genuine appreciation of the needs of the people on the part of government. Sometimes, you wonder whether those who are in government have truly prepared for it.
What role the church needs to take to bring leaders closer to God and do the will of God for the suffering masses.
The church must not fail to challenge, teach and encourage national leaders to toe the path of honour and genuinely serve the people. Anyone who wants to serve the people truly has to serve God honestly, because the two cannot be separated. If you have the fear of God, and as we have done over the last five years, if every soul truly matters to the governor or president, then the approach to governance will be different. The church must not compromise its calling by simply begging for assistance from those in power. The church has a social and spiritual responsibility to guide the leaders and help them see what they have not seen. It should pray for them, like the Anglicans do in all our services, but we should also be ready and willing to challenge them. It is expected also that those in government will not take offence but rather listen when the church speaks.
Despite the number of churches around, the rate of crime is not reducing, what do you think is responsible for this.
Unfortunately the churches have also become part of the problem. In some cases the undue emphasis on prosperity has shifted the attention of many from preaching ethical sermons. So many who could have seriously followed the path of repentance and salvation only wanted to be reach, somewhat the true gospel may have been compromised. Now that is not to say that it is a crime to prosper only that the so many who have become preachers have not been properly trained and many things have gone wrong in the process. But it is never too late, we believe that the church still has the key to the restoration of this land. So let holiness prevail and the glory of God will manifest. Let the criminals repent and seek true salvation and deliverance.
The issue of fake pastors everywhere and instant miracle in churches, what do you think is responsible for this
It is difficult to deal with this because at one level it is the failure of government. Where unemployment is high, hospitals are underfunded and they cannot deliver effective healthcare, and where so many are hungry, fake pastors will emerge a few these fake pastors would also want to exploit the unsuspecting members of the society, and those who have no where else to turn to. For instance, where there is poor health facility you can understand why a man who is struggling with stroke or hypertension will listen to somebody who says that his sickness is caused by one enemy. I will leave you to think about other examples. It is the sign of the society. And unfortunately Nigerians like quick fix measures and we fail ourselves in so many ways.