ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AFRICAN CHURCH
The African church was founded on October 13,1901 partly for the reasons for the reasons stated in the preceding paragraphs but definitely as a result of the dispute which arose at breadfruit church, Lagos between the parishioners at the time was no other person than the late Elder(chief)J. k Coker, who was also the people’s warden. The dispute in question was over the transfer/redeployment of Revd.J.J. Johnson who had just been consecrated an assistant Bishop of the Niger without adequate arrangement being made for his abode and other necessary comfort in his new District. Bishop J.J. Johnson who was still in England had not even arrived back when his transfer was announced to the congregation of Breadfruit church, where he was, prior to his departures overseas, the vicar-in-charge. The church committee was therefore asked to allow Bishop J.J. Johnson to continue his pastoral care at St. Paul’s Breadfruit for some time till such a time that some arrangement would be made for his comfort in his new abode. Not only that their pleading fell on deaf ears, but Bishop J.J. Johnson’s pastoral care of St. Paul’s was terminated immediately and Revd. N. Johnson was appointed instead. In addition, his sister who was at the time staying at the vicarage, was forcibly ejected by the Church authorities.
This actually angered the people who later took a resolute decision to break away from the Anglican Church to establish a church they could call their own. They eventually found the African church and held their first service at Rose Cottage, Marina, then the residence of Elder (Chief)J.K. Coker who became the Chief of the founders of African Church at the age of 36 years. However, in spite of his tender age as well as those of most of his colleagues, the trainings which he had earlier received from Bishop J.J. Johnson when the latter was at Abeokuta, coupled with his administrative experience as the peoples’ warden of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit, stood him in good stead in later years.
At the time trouble broke out at Breadfruit Church,Lagos,St. Jude’s Church,Ebute-metta,and the former were being administered from Breadfruit church,Lagos,both belonging to the same Native Pastorate Churches and under the surveillance of Bishop Oluwole-the Assistant Bishop to Tugwell.
When the news of the trouble reached the parishioners of St.Judes Church,Ebute-Metta,majority (over 80% of them) were in sympathy with their brothers and sisters at Breadfruit Church and were in arrangement with their right to secede from that church; it was therefore not unlikely that they must have been privy to what was going on at St.paul’s Breadfruit Church,Lagos.At St. Jude’s church,Ebute-metta,wrangling and discussions were going on since October 13,1909;the opportunity however came when their own pastor,Revd,J.S.Williams was asked to help dedicate the building of the first Bethel Church, hurriedly erected at Balogun Street, Lagos by those who seceded from Breadfruit Church.Already,they had made arrangement that the building be dedicated to the service of God by Revd.S.A.Coker who had gone to Sierra Leone.
But as Revd.S.A Coker would not return on time for the dedication fixed for December 22,1901,they approached Revd.J.S.Williams, pastor of St.Judes Church, Ebute-Metta to help them dedicate the church. He agreed and subsequently carried out the dedication on 22nd December, 1901.When news of the dedication reached Bishop Oluwole under whom Revd.J.S. Williams was serving at St.Judes Church,he quried him and thereafter stopped his monthly salary which amounted at that time to E6.00. Revd.J.S. Williams carried on his job for sometime without salary and without mentioning this to any of his parishioners.Somehow,some of them got wind of the fact and later on they started contributing from their pursue to pay him a salary of E4.00
In answering the query given to him by the Lord Bishop,Revd.J.S. Williams made his people and Bishop to understand that he assisted the secessionists to dedicate their church building in order to keep them from joining other denominations and to make it possible for them to settle with,and be reabsorbed into the CMS Church later on.This idea he held up to his death.
However, he resigned his appointment with CMS church when Bishop Oluwole, unsatisfied with his explanation, charged him for disloyalty and treachery. The parishioners of St. Jude’s church revolted having felt aggrieved and disappointed at the charges levied against their pastor and of the treatment meted out to him by Bishop Oluwole. They eventually appealed to the Church Missionary Society in England who although sympathetic to their cause regretted their inability to interfere.
There and then the battle line was drawn according to a first-year report by the chief of founders, the parishioners of St. Jude’s Church having formed the Ebute-Metta Church of the Africa Church Organization continued worshipping at the premises of St. Jude’s Church under Revd.J.S. Williams until the property case was disposed of. This historical account tallied with the evidence in –chief given by Revd. Jacob Sylvanus Williams during the famous property case for the possession of St. Judes Church between the CMS Authorities, represented by F.M. Jones vs Revd.J.S. Williams and J.K. Coker representing the African church. Sir Kitoye Ajasa appeared for the C.M.S. Athorities while the case of A African Church was handled by Mr. Egerton Shyngle.
A historical account showed that early in 1902, some meddlesome persons, one of whom was identified as a principal member of the UNA invited the late Revd.S.D. Doherty to speak to some seceding members of St. Judes Church with a view to persuading them to return to CMS. Through incessant meetings they were able to get 11 members, including messrs H. Car and J.A. savage and others to them one Sunday.
They did not succeed. Later the Local Secretary of the C.M.S. wrote to claim the church from them. When the people did not buldge, they sealed they sealed the church. The church was however opened by the people themselves and they continued their service. Then Revd.
Hamlyn who later became a bishop, came one Sunday to molest the people while prayer was on. The people politely asked him to go out. AS the service with Revd.J.S. Williams progressed on the pulpit preaching, superintendent Adolphus Pratt of the Nigerian Police came in with a handful of policemen, entered the church and ordered Revd.J.S. Williams down from the pulpit. Revd.J.S. Williams refused and continued his sermon until it ended. When he came down, Superintendent A Pratt arrested him and others amongst whom were S.A. Sogbesan, Benjamin, Joseph, Hector Coates and Fred Williams.
The case was decided in court and Mr. Adolphus pratt was fined a sum of E60.00. With eleven members of St. Judes Church won over by the CMS they took the case for possession of the property to court and won.Revd. J.S. Williams and Elder J.K Coker who stood for the African Church appealed against the judgement of the lower court and lost. They then took the case to the privy council in England, they received the sympathy of the English Societies but lost the case because their lawyer, the Late Egerton shingle, played them out by not sending the brief of the case as earlier promised by him.
The parties returned home with the intention to return to England with the brief. On reaching home however, the elders met and decided to leave the matter to God. Maybe they had to take this only course for lack of money to prosecute the case further. For avoidance of doubt however, it should be stated here, that the judgement obtained in the court was “that the church properties belong to the two parties in C.M.S. and that the African Church Should always be consulted in the use of land. The church shall be the CMS Church. The first judgement dated 23rd October,1903, that is just over two years after the’ formation of the African Church in Lagos’.
To a layman, and if correctly interpreted, all the judgement said was that the African Church members shall have access to these properties if and when they return to the CMS Church, a situation which, if pursued would, defeat the establishment of the African Church. No wonder why the elders of the time decided to leave everything to God and perhaps to time, the healer of all wounds. The healer of all wounds .The case for the possession of St.Judes Church, Ebute-Metta, lasted three years having spanned 1902 to 1904 when the Colonial court of Appeal decided in favor of the minority members of St.Judes Church whose godfathers were the church Missionary Society-a decision which many people, and in particular the surviving generations of these parishioners still believe today was tailored to assist the CMS to perpetuate the Anglican Communion further.
Following the Judgement for the possession of St. Judges Church, Rev.J.S. Williams gave the African Church members who had now withdrawn from the premises of that church, a piece of land on which to build a temporary house of worship. It took 600 people working for 4days to erect the building which was opened for divine service on Sunday, November 1, 1903. The place was called Jehovah Jireh-a name forecast for the future during the thanksgiving service held in St. Judes nearly a year before when they were rejoicing for winning the case against Superintendent Adolphus Pratt of the Nigeria Police. This later on Metamorphosed into the Africa Salem Church, just on the same site, 128 freeman Street, Ebute-Metta.
PERIOD OF CONSOLIDATION AND EXPANSION OF THE AFRICAN CHURCH.
At the initial stage of the development of the Africa Church, particularly in 1902, the need to lure some of the cream of Lagos intelligentsia to join the organization was stressed and realized. At the suggestion of Mr. S.A. Jibowu, discussions were held with messrs A.W. Thomas, J.R. ShANU, M.W. Davies, F.E. Williams, F.E. Williams, E. Sogunro and others. Their assistance was solicited towards founding of a school which the new organization badly needed in view of the fact that the children of the secessionists might be turned out of CMS Schools. Their response was positive. Bethel School was started that year with Elikenah Williams as its first Headmaster.
It was however surprising that of the lot, only the Late A. W. Thomas and the Late Fredric Ephraim Williams Joined the Africa Church. It was gathered that A.W Thomas who initially was opposed to the Africa Church and even denied them the use of his auctioneer’s benches at the opening of the first Bethel Church later Captivated all the early leaders that he was appointed the first lady-lay, a position he held until 1921 when he was removed because of his obstructionist tendency to the investigation beign conducted by supt.J.A. Lakeru on behalf of the African Communication into the dispute between Bethlehem Church and their pastor,Revd.Atandaolu,charged with polygamy. As would be seen later, Fredric E. Williams also played a key role in the consolidation of the African Church Organization following the tumult of 1905-1916.He was infecting the man who made the initial appeal for reunification.
THE FIRST ELEVATION AND ORDINATION SERVICE
Within two years of its formation the African Church had spread like bush fire into the hinter-land, thanks to the evangelistic aggressiveness of Elder J.K. Coker and others. The need to ordain more priests to look after the new flocks was discussed and realized, the two ordained ministers at the time beign Revd. J.S. Williams formerly of St. Paul’s parish, Lagos. The first school of thought suggested that Bishops, as in the Anglican Church, be consecrated to ordain ministers for the church. Others were opposed to this idea saying that it was the Bishops that pushed them out of Breadfruit Church. After much discussions lasting a whole day, the general committee favored a suggestion of Revd. S.A. Coker, modified by Elder J.K. Gomez, that Superintendents be adopted instead of Bishop. The meeting thereafter decided that the two Revds.J.S. Williams and S.A. Coker bve elevated to the post of superintendents in the African Church through a resolution made as follows:
RESOLUTION OF 1903
“that the present two presbyters of our communion namely, Revds J.S. Williams and S.A. Coker, be elevated to the office of Superintendents or in other words, Ecclesiatical presbyter Bishops in contradiction to prelatical or Historical Bishops. We hereby cause same be known to all whom it may concern and the public generally. That the two aforenamed Presbysters are from this date of declaration empowered to perform the duties appertaining to such office under the rules and regulations of our General Committee, namely, Ordaining, Confirming, superintending the Clergy belonging to our Denomination(organization), and other Ecclesiastical duties that our rules and regulations may require of them.
In witness thereof we have caused this declaration to be attested to by our Secretary, and seal of our Committee to be affirmed.” Likewise, the General Committee considered ordination to the ministry and accepted the Orders, Deacon and Presbyter and a form of ordination service was made for each and accepted. Thus, on Ascension Day, May 21st 1903, due notice having been given the previous Sunday 17th May, 1903, a special service was held during which Revs. J.S. Williams and S.A. Coker were elevated to presbyster Bishops. Mr. D.A.J. Oguntolu, a vice-lay president who later became a minister, preached the sermon while Mr. J.K Coker, peoples’ warden of Bethel Church at the time read the Resolution and Declaration to congregation.
Also, on May 31st, 1903 which was whit Sunday, at 8.30am, the first ordination service in the African Church was held during which Messrs J.A Lakeru, D.O. Coates and A.O Ijaoye were ordained Deacons of the African church, Superintendent J.S. Williams officiated. Likewise, the following Sunday, one Mr. T.E Mokolu was ordained in the same church by Superintendent S.A. Coker. After ordination Rev.J.A. Lakeru was posted to Ebute-Metta Church , Revd.D.C. Coates was sent to Bethel (Lagos);Rev.A.O. Ijaoye was placed at Iloti, Ijebu District, while Rev.T.E. Mokolu was appointed to take charge of Abeokuta.
It was at this service that Late A.W. Thomas and D.A.J. Oguntolu took their oaths of offices as the first lay-president and vice lay president of the African Church respectively. A few years after the establishment of the African Church, a number of problems arose. Some of them threatened to break the whole organization. First was the case of Revd. J.S. Williams, J.K. Coker versus the C.M.S. for the possession of the Church building at St. Judes Church.
12/14, Odunlami Street,
Off Broad Street P.O. Box 6155, Lagos.