Cleric leadership: Why older people should give way to younger ones —Popoola
Bishop Diocese of Osun, Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, Bishop James Afolabi Popoola, in this interview with SEYI SOKOYA, speaks on the role of Christians in politics, among other issues.
How would you describe life as God’s servant?
I have enjoyed an abundant grace of God. At present, I am writing my autobiography, which I have entitled: My Life; His Amazing Grace. It detailed the abundant grace of God upon my life, which I have enjoyed from birth till now and I also believe that it will continue, because we are what we are by the special grace of God. I am doing this because I am retiring soon. God has been kind to me and endowed me with good health. This is why it appears that I don’t look like someone close to 70, but indeed, by November 20, I shall be 70 and then retire from the ministry of the church.
You must have spent most part of your life in the vineyard, how has it been?
It has been wonderful. I came into the ministry in 1967. I started from the lowest leader as a church teacher and gently, God has brought me this far in the last 52 years. I started at Egbado now Yewa with the late Archdeacon Falase, who accepted me into the ministry. I later went for a catechist training in Akure now, the Archbishop Vining College of Theology and after a three-year training, I was posted back to Yewa Diocese. I also went to Emmanuel College of Theology and later served in Ibadan Diocese at the Cathedral of St James the Great, Oke-Bola, Ibadan. I was ordained a deacon in 1975; made a priest in 1976 and gained admission in the University of Ibadan for another three years’ course in BA Religious Studies. I later went for the National Youth Service in Kwara. After all that, I returned to Egba Diocese and served in several capacities and finally, I was posted to Cathedral of St Peters, Abeokuta for 11 year before I was elected and consecrated bishop of Osun Diocese. I was enthroned on Agusut 1, 2000. So, I have been in Osun in the last 19 years.
What will you miss most when you eventually retire?
I am anxious to retire. The ministry is tough. People see us only on Sundays, but it is a 24-hour task. You are there all the time and you could be contacted by your member any moment and you cannot give excuses. So, it is a very busy schedule. I know I will miss the fellowship of friends within the episcopates with whom we meet regularly to discuss the progress of the work of God. I will also miss my clergy; I have been there for them for almost 13 years. I will miss the fellowship of the laity too that have been very supportive. To run a diocese for 19 years without any crisis is a special grace of God and I have enjoyed the support of the clergy and the laity. I will surely miss them when I leave. Mind you, it is not as if I am tired from the work of God. There is a mandatory age for retirement and it is 70, so if you are close to it, you are anxious to be there. The work is time-consuming and one hardly has time for one’s family, so one is anxious to be free with one’s family and devote time to other things.
The mandatory age has caused leadership problem in different denominations. What is your take on this?
I can only speak for the Anglican Communion. For us in this ministry, it is mandatory we retire at 70. Of course, we can go for voluntary retirement at 65, but if you don’t go on voluntary retirement at 65, when you are 70 you are bound to go. It is stated in the constitution of the church. This enables one to have some time to be on your own. It also reminds one that one is not getting younger and one may not be as effective as one used to be. There is the need for people at 70 to step aside for the younger people to come in, as well as explore their fresh energy in the ministry. It is not good for the church if the old people stay-put. So, it is a good decision that the church has put the retirement age at 70 for new hands to take over.
As one of the authorities of the church, are you contended with the state of Christianity today?
I am sure that one should look at himself and be careful in judging one another. Maybe generally, one can say that it was better in those years and that it is not as it used to be now. By and large, I am sure that a lot of us who serve in the church are still maintaining our integrity. Some might have lost their own, but there are many that still maintain their integrity and still serve with the fear of the Lord and they know that they are accountable to God. But in any profession there are always bad eggs and the church is not an exception. Above all, we will all be accountable to God and everybody will be judge according to what he has done.
What is your take on the claims that some Christians that are holding political offices are not representing Christians well by their actions and inaction?
It is true, but then, we still need more genuine Christians in politics. In fact, we advocate that more should go into politics and with the warning that they must remain righteous and serve as the light, because that is what Christ calls his followers. For those that are not representing us well, we will always admonish them to represent the body of Christ well.
What should be the expectation of Nigerians at large now after the 2019 general election?
I believe that God is in control, because things are not what it should be. We have just gone through elections and it is unfortunate that the process was marred with violence. I think there is the need for the education of the electorate for more exposure. I also think the government needs to put more fund into education, because once you are educated you are librated. Now that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has the grace of the second coming, they must lead effectively. They need to tackle the problem of security; the federal parliament should also do their work with the fear of God, recognising that it is a special grace they have had to have won election. The eighth assembly should be ready to perform better than their predecessors.
As the leader of a notable church in Osun State, how did you feel about the twists and turns in the governorship poll in the state?
I want to commend the politicians in the state for their maturity that they were able to go through the election and rerun without violence. It was a miracle. I also commend them for deciding to go to the election tribunal. Things would have been terrible, especially in the state if they had decided to end the whole thing in violence. Even as things are now, we pray that truth will eventually prevail. We are looking up to the judiciary for the verdict. I want to urge both parties to accept the outcome of the judiciary and come together to work for the progress of the state.
What are your plans to make this year’s synod affect lives positively?
We are currently planning for a remarkable event this year. This year’s synod will hold on April 25 to 28 and the theme the synod is Now, thank we all our God. It is will be a programme that will focus on intensive teaching on thanksgiving. Personally, I will also be thanking God that I am rounding off. This will be the last synod that I will be presiding over as the bishop of the diocese of Osun. We are expecting notable clerics to ministers at the event and we are confident that it will be impactful.