Right Reverend Nathaniel Oladejo Ogundipe, Bishop of Ifo Anglican Diocese, Ogun State, shares his thoughts with Rita Okonoboh on his experiences in the ministry and what Nigeria can do to become better. Excerpts:
How did you find yourself in the ministry?
I believe it is by God’s grace that I’m in the ministry. I’ve been in the ministry for close to 35 years now. I started as an agent, later I gained admission to Vinning College of Theology, Akure, Ondo State and was ordained by the late Bishop Titus Ilori Akintayo. I served under him. I also served under Bishop Matthew Owadayo. I also served under Bishop Afolabi Popoola when he was Provost of St. Peter Cathedral, Ake, Abeokuta, Ogun State. I also served under the retired Archbishop of Lagos Province, Most Reverend Adebayo Dada Akinde before I became bishop of Ifo diocese.
How would you describe your over four-year experience as a bishop?
We give thanks to God because I believe it has been God all over. The experience so far is encouraging. You move round, meet with people and the critical aspect of it has been taking care of the workers. It is always a problem, especially for missionary dioceses like ours when it comes to payment of their stipends. That has been what has been the challenge. In spite of that, I thank God for the experiences so far.
Thirtyfive years you have been in the ministry. Would you say you have any regrets?
God has not allowed that to happen. When I was serving as an agent, and then gained admission to Vinning College of Theology, an old woman came to visit and brought me a box of matches with the old 50 kobo note inside the box of matches and she prayed for me. I believe sincerely that God answered that prayer because since I’ve been in the ministry, I have never for once had cause for regrets. And I want to confirm to you that God has not allowed me to lack anything. If I need anything today, God will provide. So, I can say today that I have no regrets.
So, why did you decide to join the ministry? Was it through parental influence or you discovered it was something you liked?
I believe it is a call because initially I wanted to become a lawyer and I tried all efforts but it just didn’t work out. Four times I wrote JAMB examinations but it didn’t work out. I was a member of the choir, bible society and other such church organisations. By divine providence, after I finished my HSC at the then old Oyo State College of Arts and Science, Ile-Ife, a brother came to me and asked if I would want to become a priest but I told him I wasn’t interested in the least. It wasn’t until God ministered to me that I came into the ministry. So, I believe it was a divine call.
Very recently, you dedicated a church. More churches are springing up in Nigeria and even orthodox churches are opening more parishes. Yet, it would seem that immorality is on the rise. What do you think the church is not doing right?
Well, let me remind you that the church is not the physical building but the human beings who make up the church. The building is a place where we can gather under one roof to worship God. The heart of man is the temple of God. Having more churches and yet, immorality and other vices seem to be increasing now is the fulfilment of one of Christ’s last words on earth when He said: ‘These are the signs of the end.” I listened to a programme in radio recently of a man who described himself as a pastor. He owed a caretaker some rent. Each time the caretaker came around, he would meet the pastor praying with others and so would leave. However, the declared one day that enough was enough and as he was trying to forcefully eject the pastor from the apartment, he found on the chair in the room a skeleton, which was assumed to be that of the pastor’s dead brother. The skeleton was said to have been there for over a year. I have concluded that the time will come when those who ran away from orthodox churches will come back because they would know at the end of the day that we preached the right message. Some of these self acclaimed pastors are out to make money and fame for themselves. So, having more churches today does not mean we have become more spiritual.
You celebrated recently the diocesan 2016 harvest with the theme, ‘Harvest of God’s Goodness and Mercy.’ When you consider Nigeria’s current economic situation, do you think there is anything to be thankful for?
Looking back to the history of our nation, you will agree with me that it has been God. With all that has happened in recent years – insurgency, religious tension, calls for disintegration – and yet God has kept us as one nation, we need to give thanks. In spite of all the hardship in the land, the state of insecurity and corruption, Nigeria remains standing, we need to acknowledge God for His grace which has kept us. We need to thank God. What we enjoy today is God’s mercy and goodness. Man is nothing but for God’s grace. That’s why we need to thank Him.
Ifo diocese is an offshoot of Egba diocese, which is home to St. Peter’s Cathedral, Ake, Ogun State, which incidentally, is the first church in Nigeria. How would you describe your dicese’s relationship with other churches in Egba diocese?
It’s not only Ifo that was created from Egba diocese. We also have Yewa created in 1990, then Egba West which was created same year as Ifo diocese. The relationship has been very cordial and we have enjoyed tremendous support from all the dioceses. We have been enjoying mutual relationship.
What is your message to Nigerians, leaders and church?
My message to our leaders is that they should know that God has placed them in the positions they occupy not to feed on the masses but to feed them. Some of them see their positions as opportunities to amass wealth, forgetting that one day, they will leave this place with nothing. John 1:21 says, ‘naked I came into the world and naked will I go back.’ They brought nothing into the world and they will go with nothing. So, they should use their positions not to terrorise the underprivileged but to care for the people. I was surprised to hear that it was discovered recently that one person had over N500 million, not counting other hard currency, and millions are suffering. There is so much wealth in the nation which is enough to feed everybody but it is only in the hands of a few. So, people in leadership positions need to change their orientation and know that one day, they will leave these things behind. That is the futility of life. There is a philosophy that states that the less materialistic we are, the probability we have of making heaven. Christians should continue to pray for Nigeria. Let us as people of God run away from sin. The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.