Revd Stephen Fagbemi, PhDFriday, September 18, 2009
[email protected]
Sunderland, UK



he world is conscious of events and especially historic moments in its history. This is the rationale for what is called Red-Letter Days. Individuals celebrate birthdays and a variety of anniversaries. The same is true of societies to the extent that some days are sacrosanct in the calendar of some countries; even the powerful countries of the world are not exempt. For instance, the world celebrates New Year's Day on January 1, the Welsh celebrate St David's Day on March 1, and the English celebrate St George's Day on April 23. For America, July 4 is Independence Day while Nigeria celebrates its National Day on October 1. The Christian calendar is equally full of many significant days such as Christmas on December 25 and All Saints' Day on Nov 1.

As an Anglican, I am well aware of so many saints' days annually observed in the calendar of the church. The list is endless. What is interesting is that those days have vital importance to the celebrants. For instance, the year 1776 is so important in the history of America to the extent that John Adams, politician and America's second president, in writing to his wife Abigail about the American Independence in 1776, said: It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Each memorable day is distinct for the significance that it has for people. For the people and parishioners of St John's Anglican Church, Oba-Ile, Ondo State, Nigeria, the month of September 2009 is a very historic month and unlike any other September in recent years. It is the celebration of the centenary of the introduction of the Christian faith to the community and also the birth of St John's Anglican Church. As the prophet Isaiah foretold 'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined' (Isaiah 9:2).

It was in the year 1909, that is, during the reign of Alayeluwa Oba Orioge I, the Oloba Oodaye of Oba-Ile, that the erstwhile dark and idolatrous community of Oba-Ile witnessed an unprecedented penetration of light, freedom and salvation and their own realisation of the prophecy of Isaiah. It was an Ijesa man, Mr Olowojeun, and (later Archdeacon) T.A.J. Ogunbiyi who brought the light of the gospel of Christ which subsequently led to the birth of St John's Anglican Church, Oba-Ile. The light has since continued to shine and darkness has not overcome it. The faith was initially accepted by 12 people, among whom were Aguda Ogunlalaka, Obanla Fatoyinbo, Gabriel Amubioya (who later became the second Baba Egbe), Hannah Ogunremekun (later the first Iya Egbe), Alejo and Daniel Esan (my God-father).

The history of the church in the New Testament and in the Roman Empire, especially until the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, shows that 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church'. To a great extent this is true in Oba-Ile, as without the courage and bravery of the early Christians we would not be talking of Christianity in Oba-Ile let alone celebrate its centenary. As their faith grew so were their encounters with the traditional worshippers, and because they broke age-long taboos they also encountered severe persecution. In fact, it was the intervention of Oloba Orioge I that saved them from more severe penalties for daring to come out to see the ASORO (the chief priest- Chief Bara) on Isasoko Day, the second day of the new yam festival, when everyone was expected to remain in-doors. They ate new yam before the new yam festival. They faced persecution, imprisonment and fines. In fact, they were fined 30 by the District Officer in Ado-Ekiti, because they had inadvertently let the roof of Obanla Fasemore's house caught fire during their celebration of Christmas.

In spite of the troubles and persecution the believers did not give up; rather the church grew in leaps and bounds to the extent that between 1926 and 1934 during the tenure of Mr Akinyemi Obasanya (father of Akinyemi Obe) as the agent Catechist they had moved from their first place of worship to a second and newly erected church building.

By 1952, the church had grown into a full parish status even though it did not get its first resident Vicar until July 1970 when the Revd (later Ven) S.A. Olofin took residence as the first Vicar of the church. It was during his incumbency (1970-1976) that the foundation of the current modern church building was laid. The long and memorable ministry of Catechist Adesokan, a native of Ijare (1954-1970) was partly responsible for the delay in securing a priest for the church. Pa Adesokan became the longest serving church worker that the church has had in its history.

Christianity also came with education initially benefited by the early converts who were taught the art of reading Yoruba alphabets, ABD, and also the reading of the scriptures and learning of catechism. But this later metamorphosed into formal education with the establishment of St John's and St Paul's Anglican Primary Schools in 1947 and 1956 respectively. This has won many pupils for Christ. It is also remarkable that Anglican Christians later played prominent roles in the establishment of Ejioba High School, Oba-Ile in 1976.

The church that started with 12 individuals has today grown in so many directions. In its early days it was so conscious of its missionary calling that it evangelised Igoba and Araromi, both closely connected to Oba-Ile. It would be recalled that Igoba was formerly known as Oba-Odo being an extension of Oba-Ile (Oba-Oke). In recent years, Oba-Ile has added another church, namely Anglican Church of the Ascension, in Oba-Ile Housing Estate. But St John's Church remains the proud mother to the numerous churches of various denominations in the town; the first was the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), which was headed by Elder Nathaniel Oluwatimilehin, until then a lay reader in the Anglican Church. Not only this, St John's Church has also given birth to five ordained clergy of the Anglican Church, namely the Ven J. Ola Adesuyan, Ven. W. O. Faloye, Ven Dr Stephen Ayo Fagbemi, Revd Olugbenga Adesuyan and the Revd Michael Fagbemi. Incidentally, all, but Ven Faloye, come from Umogun quarters.

It is impossible to celebrate the present achievement without acknowledging the sacrifices and commitment of the many who have served this church since its inception. They received the light and kept it burning before it was passed to the current generation. So, we recall with thanksgiving the efforts of the past heroes of faith in Oba-Ile, who have now joined the church triumphant, men and women, who are too many to mention, among them were Aguda Ogunlalaka, Obanla Fatoyinbo, Gabriel Amubioya (later the second Baba Egbe and later the Odopetu of Oba-Ile), Agunloko, Hannah Ogunremekun (the first Iya Egbe), Daniel Esan, Alejo, my late uncle Julius Omodara Fagbemi, a foremost church representative and community leader, Job Okankiri(father of the present Baba Ijo), S. O. Fasemore, Samuel Olakunle(the immediate past Baba Ijo), Chief Balogun, Samson Fabilola (Seriki), Hezekiah Omolewo Fagbemi, my own father, treasurer and church delegate to both Akure District Church Council and the synods of Ondo and Akure dioceses, J.K. Komolafe, J.A.B. Fasemore, Esther Bolade Fagoroyo, L. F. George and Prince Adeola Omodara, who also became the Akuajo of St John's Church, late Princess Aderemi Fabilola and late Princess Aderosoye (nee Omodara) both former regents of the Oloba of Oba-Ile, just to mention a few.

It is vital also to remember with thanksgiving the labours and ministries of many ministers and servants of God who served in this church either as Catechists or ordained pastors. Among them we recall the ministries of all the catechists, especially the last of them Catechist J. Adesokan, who served the longest of all ministers in this church, past or present; and all clergy beginning with the Revd (later Ven) M.D. Dare who had a very short spell in the parish, the Revd (later Ven) S.A.Olofin, in whose tenure the foundation for the modern church building was laid; Revd(later Ven) I.O Awosusi,Revd Canon(later Bishop) J.O.A. Fabuluje and his colleagues from Vining College Akure, Revd S. Ade Komolafe, Revd (later Ven) Dr Dapo Ajayi, the Revd Stephen A. Ayebola, Revd (later Ven) E. A. Alieu and Revd (later Ven) Kola Omoju who came to help during interregnum, Revd (later Canon) B. O. Olumuyiwa, Revd (later Ven) Seye Ojediran, who also covered a short interregnum, Canon Prof. (later Bishop) J. Akin Omoyajowo, Mr (later Revd) A.O.Olisa, Revd J.Olawuni, Revd (later Ven) S. A. Borisanmi, Revd (later Ven) D.I.O.Fadugba, another Ijesa man who came at a critical point in the history of the church to lay the foundation for the successes that later attended the ministries of his successors; the Revd (later Canon) J. O. Omotayo, Rev(later Canon) J.A Alade and most recently the Revd E.M. Oyebamiji, who was transferred in July 2009.

It is rather historic that in the year of its centenary celebration, the church is blessed with the creation of Oba-Ile Archdeaconry with the headquarters at St John's Church. This is to be officially inaugurated by the Anglican Bishop of Akure, the Rt Revd Michael O. Ipinmoye on Sunday 20th September 2009 when the Ven Victor Omola, will also be licensed and inducted as its first Archdeacon. The present crop of leaders and the parishioners deserve to be commended for their selfless service to the church, the PCC, church chiefs led by Chief Makinde Oguntona, the Baba Ijo and Chief Mrs Lydia Oguniyi, the Iya Ijo.

It is also vital to acknowledge the hard work of the Centenary Committee under the Chairmanship of Chief J. I. Oguntoyinbo with Mr Felix 'Femi Fagbemi as its Secretary. As part of the activities marking this anniversary the church is also recognising the contributions of many of its own sons and daughters who have contributed immensely both to the life of the church and the society as a whole. They are to be honoured with diverse awards during this celebration. Among them are Chief Agboola Bayode, Chief Mrs Stella Kosemani Kolawole (nee Fagbemi) also the Iya-Ijo of St Luke's Church, Idiagba Titun, Akure; the Ven. J.Olawumi Adesuyan, Mrs Taye Fasemore and Ven Dr S. Ayo Fagbemi, among others.

It is remarkable that this church has contributed immensely to the social development of the town and the Nigerian society at large. It is no exaggeration that the erstwhile dark and idolatrous land has now developed immensely. The influence of Christianity is felt in many areas, not least within the traditional Oloba-in-Council where many of the chiefs are active members of one Christian church or another. In fact, the reigning Oloba of Oba-Ile, Oba Joseph Oluwadare Agunbiade, Otutubiosun III, is a parishioner of St John's Church and so have many great Oba-Ile community leaders.

With thanksgiving to God for the services of the members of the church triumphant, I wish to congratulate most heartily all members of the church militant here at St John's and all Christian believers in this land on the centenary anniversary of the birth of Christianity (and the birth of St John's Church) in Oba-Ile. The gospel (faith) that was once delivered by the saints must not stop with this generation; we must rather endeavour to work hard so that the same faith can be commended also to future generations.

Here lies the greatest challenge to members of St John's church Oba-Ile, and indeed all Christians in Nigeria. The Christian faith is a life-changing faith based on genuine relationship with God. People who have been truly transformed must positively impact their society. The situation in the country today leaves much to be desired, and any genuine believer must be asking, 'Where are the Christians when corruption and vices are permeating our land?' We congratulate the Christian community in Oba-Ile for the services of the past 100 years and challenge it to look to the future. What would be the legacies of the next century? Congratulations to St John's Anglican Church Oba-Ile and all its sons and daughters at home and abroad.

Happy Centenary Celebration!

The Revd Dr Stephen Ayo Fagbemi, Co-ordinating and Anglican Chaplain, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, UK