In this down-to-earth interview session, Sola Solanke engaged The Ven. Ebenezer Ajayi Adewole, Dean of the Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral, AVMCC, GRA Ikeja Lagos on his ministry, his role as the Dean of the Cathedral, his relationship with the Lord Bishop, Diocese of Lagos West (Anglican Communion), The Rt. Rev. James Olusola Odedeji, and other sundry issues. It’s a must-read. Enjoy it!
How did you get into the ministry, in the first place?
My father was an Anglican priest. He retired as a Reverend Cannon in 2004 and died in 2014. While growing up as a child in the vicarage, I had a kind of aversion for the ministry because I saw what my father was going through as a Reverend, and I didn’t like it.
I didn’t want to commit myself to that kind of lifestyle. Number One, when you’re in the ministry, you don’t have your own time. Secondly, the people that you pastor, most of the time, don’t appreciate you. And then, my father was not in the mainstream in the sense of all his postings being to churches at the border; to churches that cannot afford a sexton; to churches that cannot pay their assessment.
So, at times, to even cater for us, his children, it was our mother coming to assist. But, we thank God for their lives. It even took some time for us to know that it was our mother providing the greatest part of the resources of the family. My father struggled to send us to school. It was really a struggle for both of them to send us to school, for which all of us their children thank God today. Nine of us, and by God’s grace, the least of us has a Master’s Degree today. Even at that, I didn’t like the struggle my father had to go through.
But, right from the onset, my father knew I was going to be a priest. So, when I finished Secondary School, he told me he wanted me to go for selection. I didn’t talk. He now bought JAMB form for me and filled in Religious Studies because I told him I wanted to go to the University. I purposely didn’t do the exam well because I didn’t want to be a priest.
So, in the second year, I took JAMB and filled Accountancy myself. Chief Abiola was alive then. I wanted to be a big Accountant like Chief MKO Abiola. I was eventually admitted to the University to study Finance.
Although I was born into a Christian home, I go to church, but I wasn’t a believer. In my Final year, I had an encounter with God. He made it clear to me that He needed me in the ministry. I struggled over the years, but eventually, I had to surrender. After I had worked as a civil servant for about 4 years, I resigned and entered the seminary.
Thereafter, I became a Reverend. My parents became happy and watched me grow in the ministry until my father died in 2014. I had become an Archdeacon then. My mother is still alive. I started from Osun Diocese and later got transferred to the Diocese of Lagos West.
What has been your experience working in the church since you started? Can you share some of these experiences with us?
Church work is God’s work. We were called as Pastors to serve God, serve the people, and also to lead the people. So, every challenge that an average leader faces out there, we also face, but with greater intensity, because there are some things you don’t expect should be happening in the church for the fact that we are believers.
For me, when I was coming into the ministry, I thought by the time I preach the sermon with anointing for 2 or 3 months, everybody will be born again. But, I have discovered that the word of God has an impact, but it is God who does His work in the heart of His people.
I keep wondering how some of us believers think and still act like unbelievers. That, for me, is a major challenge. Then, in the Anglican Church, we face the challenge of finance. You have too many things you want to do but with limited finances. It means it will take time to get those things done. That’s a challenge. However, I can tell you that it is sweet and beautiful to serve God. One name I coined for God, out of my experience is, ’’Good to follow’’. When we follow Him with commitment and dedication, He rewards us. He takes care of us.
You have been around for a while now in the Diocese of Lagos West, what does it take to be the Dean of the Cathedral?
The Dean of the Cathedral, in the hierarchy of the church, and according to our constitution in the Diocese of Lagos West, is next to the Bishop. He’s the one that oversees the Cathedral. He represents the Bishop. He’s not like an Archdeacon but is directly under the instruction of the Bishop. The Cathedral is such because it has the seat of the Bishop. So, the Bishop owns the Cathedral, hence the Dean performs his duties and functions under the instruction of the Bishop. Whatever the Dean wants to do, he must have the consent of his Bishop.
For me, I have been very lucky to have a leader who is a child of God and a servant of God. The Rt. Rev. James Olusola Odedeji is a child of God! He’s my boss, and also my father. He’s very considerate, caring, and very loving. Forget about eye service. What I’m telling you now; I say it in the room with my wife. She corroborates it. You need to work with Baba and Mama Odedeji to really know them. Baba is generous. I call him a distributor, considering the way he extends his hand to others. He wants progress for his priests. He loves us and cares for us. If any of us falls ill, he will monitor the priest till he recovers. That’s Bishop Odedeji for you.
Can you recollect your first encounter with the Lord Bishop? You must have heard about him before you met him. What impression did you have of him?
I actually didn’t hear much about him, before I met him. I didn’t know him from Adam. However, there was a time we wanted to start a church in a particular area of Oshogbo, Osun State where he had some influence. My Bishop then, Retired Bishop Popoola of Osun Diocese spoke to him to be of help to us. He was then Archdeacon at Oshodi.
Readily, he assisted us by driving down to Oshogbo, connected us with some people, and we were able to start the church. That was the first time we met. At that time, I had a bad impression of Archdeacons in Lagos. I used to see them as people that are proud. Because we are in the hinterland, I normally will not gravitate toward an Archdeacon in Lagos. Ordinarily, I’m not hungry; hence I don’t need food from anybody. So, on seeing me, he was so excited, and we built a relationship. Occasionally, he would call me.
One day I was looking for someone to help me raise money for one of the churches I pastor in Osun, I then sent him an invitation to preach at the service. He couldn’t come but sent one of his priests in the Cathedral.
Then, he had become the Dean. Specifically, he sent the then Cannon Adegoke Agara, now Bishop Agara of the Diocese of Ido-Ani. Apart from preaching a powerful sermon, he brought us money, communion wine, and bread! That was how we kept the relationship going. When eventually he became Bishop of Lagos West, he invited me to join him; to have a place in his ministry. I thank God for that invitation which he asked me to pray over, which I did. That’s how I found myself here.
Looking back at the 10 years of the Episcopacy of the Bishop, how will you describe his achievements?
I don’t want to discuss his achievements outside his person. Bishop Odedeji is a man of faith. He’s a man who has a large heart and believes that all things are possible. He believes in God’s leading. Whatever God asks him to do, he does. As a result, you will find the hand of God in all his achievements in this diocese. For example, in his enthronement sermon, he introduced the acronym, YES. ‘’Y’’ for youth empowerment, ’’E’’ for aggressive evangelism, and ‘’S’’ for spiritual growth of members. In the area of youth empowerment, a good number of youths have benefited from vocational training, and scholarships awarded to indigent students; touching lives.
For me, by building people, specifically youth, you are building the future. In all Anglican Students Fellowship in all our higher institutions, when they see Bishop Odedeji, they always attempt to carry him shoulder high in appreciation of his support. That’s building into the future. His effort is robustly complimented by Mama Bishop in her own investment in the girl-child otherwise known as the Royal Gem, Royal Vessels, and the Girls’ Guild.
For me, what Mama is doing is, building to avoid repairs. Then, aggressive evangelism. He has not only sustained the wave of church planting, started by his predecessor, but he has also planted more churches and built sanctuaries in the diocese.
He made sure his priests are comfortable preaching the gospel. Don’t believe any priest in this diocese who says he’s hungry. Just ask if the Bishop owes him any stipend. Even when churches can’t fulfill their obligation to the diocese, the diocese under the leadership of Bishop Odedeji fulfills the diocesan obligation to the priests.
So, the priests are comfortable focusing on their work. That’s part of evangelism. Anointing without food will turn to annoyance. ’’Covenant Seed’’ is also being used to assist churches.
The spiritual growth of members is also given premium attention. If any member of this Cathedral is spiritually stunted, it is because he or she is not embracing what is coming from the altar.
Coming to physical development, the greatest bang was the Bishop’s Court. I don’t know any Bishop”s Court in Nigeria, equipped with an elevator to the Diocesan Office. There may be, but I haven’t seen any.
You must have seen the gigantic buildings in the complex, especially the architectural masterpiece, ‘Chapel of His Glory’. There’s no member of this diocese who will get to the Bishops-court, and won’t be proud of the diocese and the Bishop.
You also need to pay a visit to the ‘City of God’ where there’s a 250 Room en-suite 5-Star building. It’s nearing completion now. By the time it’s completed, you’ll marvel. At the Cathedral here, Baba is playing a leading role in the way he’s helping us to raise money. Recently, somebody approached him to give him a personal gift. Instead of accepting such, he asked the person to drop the gift in aid of the new Cathedral. By the time the person responded, it was 8 figures he sent to us.
If you’re to make recommendations to the diocese on what should be improved upon, what are those things you will recommend?
For now, I think we should not shift our focus from our 3 Cardinal objectives of Youth Empowerment, Aggressive Evangelism, and Spiritual Growth of our members. We should just ensure that we keep moving in the right direction. To all our members in the diocese, this is a ministry to support. Let’s see what we can do to move at greater speed, so that by the time the Episcopacy of our Diocesan clocks 20, we will have greater things to celebrate. You know Jesus said it, ’’Greater works, you shall do!’’
In my view, all the people that have been there for this diocese should continue being there for us. We must ensure that unity and love continue. I can tell you that the diocese is doing very well. Let’s sustain it. Let’s maintain the move of God in our midst.
You are in the midst of the high class of society in the Cathedral; have you ever felt intimidated by their presence and status?
You see, my brother, nobody is big before God. If anybody calls himself big, God makes him big. It is the backing of God that makes people big. When you know God, you are not intimidated from doing what is right. For me, I bank on the help of God at all times. I have no strength of my own. I am naturally shy. I run away from the crowd. But, in the midst of our human weaknesses, and human frailties, just as Paul said, ’The power of God is manifest’. When I am not convinced about something, I may not do it, but when I am convinced about something, and God is leading me to do it, I go ahead to do it. And, I thank God.
The little I know about this Cathedral is that every member is a lover of God. If you are their priest, and they are celebrating you, it’s not really you they are celebrating; it is God they are celebrating.
So, there are no oppressors among our people in the Cathedral. They are lovers of God. They just want to serve God. They want to be relevant. I have seen that in them. They have zeal. They have passion for the things of God. You only need to provide the needed leadership. I don’t go solo in my leadership; I carry people along because nobody knows it all. In short, there are no cases of embarrassment or intimidation in the Cathedral. But, every day, we depend on the power of God to move on.
Looking forward, what are your expectations for the diocese in the next 10 Years, God sparing our lives?
The Bible says, ‘’Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, neither has it come to the heart of men, what God has prepared for His people’’. I know God has a bigger, a greater plan for this diocese. Things will get better. Very soon, we will have a new Cathedral. The plans are on to even do greater works for God.
This diocese will be double of what it is now, in the next 10 years; in terms of attendance, resources, and in terms of impact in Church of Nigeria. I know a day will come when this diocese will not only be assisting other diocese, but will pick up the salaries of some dioceses and be paying it. This is because all the plans on ground now will be at matured stage in the next 10 years. This diocese will continue to play leading roles in fulfilling the great commission in preparing people for eternity to come.
Has there ever been an occasion the Bishop got angry about any action you took that didn’t go down well with him, and reacted in a manner you don’t like?
(Chuckled) Hmm … I can always tell you that ‘Baami’, (that’s what I call him privately), lives what he preaches. Whenever he tells you that he forgives people before they offend him, he practices that .He’s a mature Christian. I have never seen him get angry, talk less of shouting at people. This is someone who will let you know what to do, and, I don’t think I’m the heady type. As long as my boss doesn’t ask me to sin against God or come and join cult, I have no problem.
If you know you have a boss, you’ll follow his instructions. When an organisation has two heads, it has become a monster. I recognise the leadership of my Bishop, a Godly one, and I follow. I have no problem. He makes what he wants you to do, clear enough, so why do you have to disobey? I call him, my father in the faith, my mentor in the ministry and my boss at work. That does not mean Bishop Odedeji is not firm. At least you can see it in the way he administers the diocese. He will let you know where he’s going. And, when you know, you follow. Simple! For me, I follow the spirit of my leaders. I try to know what they want, and I do them.
You must have counted yourself lucky to have had the opportunity of working under Bishop Odedeji. Am I right?
Sure! Sure!!. In fact, my concept for the ministry is more robust now than what it used to be. I can’t be assessing myself, but I think I have become a better priest, knowing him. For example, his generosity of heart, I learn from it every day. Is it his relationship with people? The fact that he doesn’t talk people down. His plainness, I learn from it. Nothing to hide. The kind of energy with which he works, I try to meet up.
So, I count myself favoured rather than ‘lucky’ working with him, and I’m still learning every day. There’s a way he talks into people’s life: ’’I know you can do it. I trust you’’. Words like that encourage and bring out the best in you. You don’t want to disappoint. You want to live up to expectations.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
(Chuckles & Laughs heartily). God owns the future. I want to see myself in the plan of God for my life; being where God wants me to be per time. I love to be in the will and purpose of God for my life. That’s all I crave for.
On a lighter mood, how do you relax after a stressful day?
For me, I go home and play with my family. When I get home, I crack jokes, and everybody will laugh. At times, I will enter my room with my wife, play some music, and dance, especially when the pressure is enormous. At such time, my favourite song is:‘’E se gan ni, E ku itoju mi, Mo mo’ore!’’. I’ll sing it, go to bed, refreshed.