The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, professing the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and in the Book of Common Prayers and set out in the ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
As an autonomous Province of the Anglican Church, it is episcopally-led and synodically-governed with inputs from the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity. In its polity, therefore, by established tradition, the Bishops are given the right to lead the dioceses while clergy represent the bishops at the parish level.
Every member of the church is baptized into this structure, and true Anglicans cannot for any reason ignore this structure as the authentic structure of governing our church. The Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria bear witness to this tradition of well over four hundred years handed over from generations past to our present generation. While this church recognizes the worth of its members who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, true members of the Anglican Church, baptized and confirmed, necessarily submit to the structure of the church, first to its clergy, bishops, archbishops, and ultimately to the Primate who administers the church through proper legal instrument. Hence, every clergy who accept to be ordained swear to the oath of canonical obedience and loyalty to their bishop.
It follows therefore that this church is a well-structured and governed church which does not belong to any individual or group of people. Anyone who fails and feels unable to bring himself under the governing authority of this church automatically repudiates his membership and has a right to leave or walk away. But no one has a right to hold the church to ransom.
Now the crisis in Sapele diocese is most unfortunate. Since it started, the leadership of the church has made available all its structures and hierarchy to listen to the complainants, right from the Diocesan Board, to the Chancellor and Registrar (legal officers) of the diocese. The complainants did not allow these diocesan officers to provide the necessary leadership and guidance in times like this.
The Archbishop of Bendel and the entire Bendel Provincial bishops acting on behalf of the Primate had been asked to intervene but the people had chosen to disregard them. Yet these are our recognized constitutional channels of leadership and intervention.
The complainants had severally attempted to disrupt diocesan programmes including its synod.
After several efforts, the Primate and Head of the Church of Nigeria decided to invite the complainants, to meet with him to discuss the way forward to ensure the resolution of this crisis. Unfortunately, the individuals refused to honour the call and rather insisted on removing the Bishop of Sapele diocese.
This crisis has caused enormous embarrassment to the church and its officials as well as the well-meaning and law-abiding members of the diocese of Sapele, who simply want to worship God. This is more so that the cause of this agitation is not immediately obvious, and the people’s recalcitrance has demonstrated lack of depth in both Christian spirituality and Anglican customs and traditions. The public display of this ignorance and disregard for constituted authority does not portray the church well and is rather unfortunate. To have dragged the church to this depth of indecency even in the media is lamentable.
Now, let it be known that those who are not satisfied by the operation of this church and refuse to discuss, whilst at the same time disregarding the established and constituted authority of the church have now crossed the red line.
By disregarding the leadership of the church, they have by necessary implication lost the right to belong to the church whose authority they have ridiculed and dishonoured.
Consequently, they have chosen to walk away from the Anglican Church, as they cannot submit to its authority.
Similarly, those clergymen who have followed this group are in danger of losing their ministry in the Anglican Church. They have failed to keep the oath of canonical obedience and loyalty to which they swore at ordination. They have disregarded the authority that made them. Therefore, such clergy will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action after due process in accordance with the constitution and canons of the church.
By following the laity in perpetrating this crisis, such clergymen have formed themselves into a new church that is not recognizable in Anglican polity. They have formed a church where it is allowed to follow the laity to fan the flame of rebellion against constituted authority at the instance of some deviant lay people. This is strange to Anglican polity.
We are aware that one Mr Oghenero Onojorhoevwo currently leads this group. Yet he is neither a clergyman nor a bishop. His role could have been acceptable only as a delegated member of the Diocesan Board or legitimate Church Council. His current position and role is not authorized by any accredited diocesan or provincial structure, and therefore receives no approval from the Church of Nigeria.
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) cannot be held to ransom by any group; the Anglican Church belongs only to those who can operate within and submit to its constituted authority and structures. Any lay member who follows this group must know that he is working outside of Anglican norms. Therefore, anyone who does this is nullifying his right to remain a member of the Anglican Church.
The only option now is to take advantage of the Lenten Season and repent immediately by returning to the legitimate Anglican Church with an undertaking to forthwith respect the constituted authority and structure of the Church of Nigeria. Let it be known to all and sundry that anyone, clergy or laity, who refuses to repent but continues to associate with this group, thereby rejecting the authority of the Anglican Church in the diocese of Sapele and by extension in the Church of Nigeria stands the risk of losing his right to remain as a member of the Church.
The Ven. Dr Stephen Ayodeji Fagbemi
General Secretary, CoN
23 March 2017