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Soname: Politics’ loss, the Church’s gain

ON SUNDAY, 7th February this year, all roads led to Agbowa-Sagamu, Ogun State as Bro. Akinola Olumakinde Soname was formally invested with the office of Lay President, Methodist Church Diocese of Remo, Ogun State. Soname is my “egbon” and friend. A banker, financial expert and business administrator of repute, he is also a philanthropist par excellence. I did not know the Lay President of a thing was a big issue until D-Day came. I then began to search and ask questions as well as brush up on the Methodist Church as a whole.

As I left primary school in my home town of Owo in 1967, Methodist Secondary School, Owo was my favourite as the next port of call. I wrote and passed the entrance examination and promptly presented myself at the school on resumption day – but my father would have none of it. He refused to pay my school fees or sew my school uniform. I must attend Owo High School, the school founded by “the Leader”, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin, or nothing!

Ajasin, the proprietor and principal of Owo High School, was the political leader and rallying point of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group. I had once accompanied my father to one of their meetings at Ajasin’s Igboroko building, not far from my father’s 13, Idimisasa shop. I, too, insisted, it must be Methodist Secondary School or nothing! But after “wasting” two years at All Saints Modern School, my mother counselled that I defer to my father. I did and got admitted to Owo High School in January 1970.

Till date, I cannot say what it was about Methodist Secondary School. Owo High School appeared more prestigious, in the same league as the oldest of the secondary schools, Imade College, and the two elite girls’ schools, St, Catherine and St. Louis. Therefore, when news got to me that Soname would be the Lay President of the Methodist Church Diocese of Remo, Ogun state, I decided to read up – thanks to Google – on the subject. I had always known that the Methodist Church was founded by the Wesley brothers – John and Charles. Thanks to one’s elementary history!

The Methodist Church originated as a revival movement within the 18th Century Church of England but became a separate denomination after John Wesley’s death. The movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States and beyond, aided by vigorous missionary work. The Methodist Church today is said to number close to 100 million adherents worldwide.

Founded by John Wesley (1703 – 1791), Methodism had its roots in 18th Century Anglicanism. Its founder (John Wesley) was a Church of England minister who sought to challenge the religious assumptions of the day – but he chose to “fight” and change the system from within. His goal was not to break away from the Church of England. While Wesley could be called a “rebel” of sorts, he was of a different mould from Martin Luther who had challenged the “sinful” practices of the Catholic Church, with his “95 thesis” which he nailed to a church door in Nuremberg in 1517, thus sparking off the Protestant Reformation that ended the monopoly of the Catholic Church over Christian spiritual matters.

Luther’s reformation propounded two central beliefs – that the Bible is the central religious authority and that human beings may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds. The Methodists, on their own, have five beliefs that set them apart from other Protestant Christians of their early days. Recall that the Church of England’s own break from the Catholic Church was as a result of festering “irreconcilable doctrinal differences” capped by the political dispute over King Henry VIII’s desire to have his marriage annulled by the Pope, a request the Pope declined to grant.

Methodism’s five beliefs are, one: Methodists believe in logic and reason. People, they say, must use logic and reason in all matters of faith. They believe in the Bible and in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The early Methodists met regularly for Bible study and prayer; they received the Holy Communion and engaged in acts of charity. They, therefore, became known as “The Holy Club” or the Methodist because of the methodical way in which they carried out their Christian faith.

Two: Evangelism and Missionary work. Methodists observe the season of Kingdomtide, which encompasses the last 13 weeks before Advent, during which Methodists are encouraged to engage in charitable work as well as alleviate the suffering of the poor. These ideals they put to practice in the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, schools, etc.

Three: Covenant Services. Methodist churches annually follow the call of John Wesley for a renewal of their covenant with God, usually on the first Sunday of the year. The original Covenant prayer given by John Wesley is still widely used, with minor modifications here and there.

Four: Inclusiveness. Methodists believe that building living relationships with others through social service is a means of working towards the inclusiveness of God. Methodists preach that Jesus died for all of humanity and not for just a limited number or group. Thus, everyone is entitled to God’s grace, provisions, and protection. This belief denies the views held by some that God has preordained an elect or select number for eternal bliss while the others will end up in hell fire regardless of what they do.

Five: Methodism is known for its rich musical tradition; as such, singing is a big part of the Methodist’s church service. No wonder, then, that Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, was instrumental in writing some 6000 hymns. Many other eminent hymns writers have their roots in Methodism.

Interestingly, as the Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church and the Methodist also came out of the Church of England, so also did the Methodist Church give birth to the Baptist Church in 1844: The immediate cause was a resolution of the General Conference censoring Bishop J. O. Andrew of Georgia who, by marriage, came into the possession of slaves. Southern Christians used their Bible to justify slavery.

There are many beliefs of the Methodist that are mainstream Christian. They recognise the historical ecumenical creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed, which they use frequently in services of worship. They believe also in the traditional Christian belief in the triune Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So also do they believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ!

Methodism repudiates purgatory because it has no Biblical basis but it affirms that salvation is through Jesus Christ’s atonement, death, and resurrection. Methodists do not speak with new tongues (in other words, they are not Pentecostal); do not practice the patronage or veneration of saints but do honour and admire them. For instance, they observe the All Saints’ Day.

They believe in eternal life; and that believers can look forward to life with God after death. They regard funeral service as an opportunity to express grief, celebrate the life of the deceased and affirm their faith in God. Methodist believe in the new-birth (that is, to be born-again) and in the marriage of one man, one woman.

I must admit I learnt a lot! What are the functions of a Methodist Diocesan Lay President? He shall be a Lay member (not a priest) elected by the Diocesan Synod by secret ballot and holds office for a period of three years, eligible for re-election for another term only. To be eligible to stand for election, the candidate must have been a full member of the church for at least 15 years immediately prior to the election; he must not be an employee of the church; and must have served in other capacities in the church for not less than six years.

The Lay President presides over the Lay session of Synod; performs duties assigned to him by the Synod; presides over the Representative Session of the Synod and other Diocesan meetings when the Bishop is absent (except the Constitution otherwise provides); is a member of the Diocesan Council; is also a member of the Council of Lay Presidents; and assists the Bishop in the supervision of the finances of the Diocese to enhance its growth and well-being.

Other functions of the Lay President include: To assists in promoting and supervising the activities of Circuits and other officers as directed by the Bishop to engender effectiveness and efficient performance for the physical growth of the Diocese; to be a member of the Archdiocesan Council covering the Diocese; to be a member of the quarterly meeting and Church council of the circuit and local church to which he belongs; and to assist in promoting the activities of groups and societies in the church (where societies exist) under the control of the Bishop.

Quite a mouthful; yet, these are not all! I am certain Soname is up to the task. His experience across many fields of human endeavour has adequately prepared him for the task ahead. His humility and warmth will open not only doors but also hearts for him. He will easily get the cooperation of others, which is vital for success.

Hear him: I am a firm believer in the concept of obeying God’s injunctions by seeking egalitarianism by practicing altruism which can largely be achieved through political power. It can be argued that philanthropy will achieve similar outcomes but the government is a surer bet in terms of continuity and integration and sustainability of programmes and development initiatives. That was the reason for my veering into politics 20 years ago. Assuming one would live for a century (100 years), is it not wise and pragmatic to turn to the Lord’s work, especially when one has spent two-thirds of a century (approximately 67years) in excellent health and modest wealth? The rest of one’s days should be a straight course home to the Lord – whenever he calls. Psalm 90 readily comes to mind as a reminder, prompting and tickler to do God’s work. These are my inspirational motives.

Well said! Yes, apart from being a friend, one particular reason why I took interest in Soname’s appointment as Lay President was his foray into politics, as he had mentioned. He soon realised he was not cut out for it or, better still, that our politics was not (is still not?) ripe for his kind of person. Without saying that politics is a dirty game (it is not!), not everyone can be a politician all the same. Not everyone is cut out for politics – our kind of politics especially. Not everyone has the temperament for it. Not everyone can stand the rigours and quicksand predilections of politics. But there are a lot of other areas where each and everyone can give to society. Humanity can – and must – be served in diverse ways and forms. When one door closes, another must open!

Frantz Fanon said: Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. Individuals, too, must discover where they can best function in the development of society and move in that direction. I have not the slightest doubt that Soname will prove his mettle as Lay President of the Methodist Church Diocese of Remo, Ogun state.

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