The African Church: Celebrating Strides of Glory at 119 Years
The African Church is an African Instituted Church founded on October 13th 1901 in Lagos Nigeria and incorporated by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The church sprang up from the Church Missionary Society (CMS), now Anglican Church in Nigeria and was planted as an evangelical seed by a group of African Christians who had the dogged vision of sound Christian worship the indigenous way. The vision of the founding fathers of The African Church was birthed by the need for the recognition of the African culture in the then Euro-centric Anglican Church. Also, there was a clamour for a number of African Clerics to progress in the leadership of the Anglican Church, having obtained progressive education, which did not materialise due to continued domination of European leadership. Thus, The African Church is noted for leading a (religious) revolution against European imperialism 59 years before Nigerian’s independence, as the Late Elder Jacob Kehinde Coker who was the then People’s Warden, led some worshipers, including a group of ministers, out of St. Paul’s Church in Lagos on October 13th, 1901 in protest over the ill treatment meted on Africans in the white dominated church under the leadership of Bishop Turgwell. The African Church held its first service on the October 20th, 1901 at the Rose Cottage, Marina, Lagos. It was estimated that between 600 and 800 worshippers attended the first service held under a canopy during which Lay Preacher D. A. J. Oguntolu preached his first powerful sermon, taking his text from Song of Solomon chapter 1 verse 6: “Don’t look down upon me because I am black because the sun has tanned me: my brothers were angry with me and made me work in the vineyard. I had no time to care for myself.”
In spite of persecution by the British colonial government under the influence of the CMS (Anglican Church), The African Church constructed its first building in just 28 days on a piece of land leased from influential members namely, B. A. Roberts, A. E. Coates and D. A. J. Oguntolu on Balogun street, Lagos with three hundred and fifty pounds to accommodate 600 members. The building was dedicated on December 22nd 1901 by Rev. J. S. Williams, vicar of St. Jude’s Church, Ebute-Metta (who later became the Primate). A second church known as African Church, Salem was later incorporated and this led to initial expansion efforts with other native churches such as United Native African (U.N.A.) Church and the United African Methodist (U.A.M.) Church merged with the church – a merger that was scuttled and these churches survived distinctly.
The African Church has a unique democratic administrative structure with The Primate as the spiritual head and the Lay President, the Administrative head. This structure flows from the National leadership, through the Provincial, Diocesan, Archdeaconry to Cathedral/Parish levels as enshrined in its constitution. The 1st Constitution of The African Church was made on December 14th, 1922; the 1st Amended on October 21st, 1960; the 2nd Amended on May 11th, 1979; the 3rd Amended on February 27th, 1992; the 4th Amended on May 8th 1998; and the 5th Amended and current Constitution came into effect on May 17th, 2014. The 5th Amended Constitution created Provincial structure leading to expansion to the present seven Provinces, each under the spiritual and administrative leadership of an Archbishop and Provincial Vice Lay President; and sixty Dioceses, each under the spiritual and administrative leadership of a Bishop and Diocesan Vice Lay President respectively. The National leadership of The African Church is under the spiritual leadership of The Primate and administrative leadership of the Lay President. Since its establishment, The African Church has produced 12 Primates, namely The Most Reverends Jacob Silvanus Williams (1922-1933), John Afuwape Lakeru (1934-1956), Emmanuel Motilewa Olulode (1956-1962), Adeola Aboyade Cole (1963-1969), Daniel Okelola Ogunmodede (1970-1974), Joel Ogunmade Ademunlegun (1975-1987), Oluwole Ajediti (1987-1989), Olawunmi Opeyemi (1989-1992), Solomon Olayiwola Babawale Olawoye (1988-2000), Abraham Olumuyiwa Onadotun Onanuga (2000-2009), Emanuel Josiah Udofia (2009-2019) and the current Primate of The African Church is His Eminence, The Most Reverend Julius Osayande Olayinka Abbe (2020 till date). In its 119 years of history, a total of 24 Lay Presidents have emerged in The African Church, namely, Andrew Thomas (1904-1921), J. H. Glover Willoughby (1921-1922), J. Abudu Thomas (1922-1924), N. T. O. Davies (1927-1928), Ade Olugbile (1929-1934), S. L. Akinoso (1934-1939), J. H. Glover Willoughby (1940-1941), J. Akinwande Tomas (1941-1947), Akin Adeshigbin (1947-1953), E. I. Joseph (1953-1956), E.B. Akinyemi (1956-1964), D. A. Olaiya (1964-1968), Emmanuel Okusanya Okunowo (1968-1978), Akin Adio Adeshigbin (1978-1982), Adeniyi Coker (1982-1986), Adeniran Ogunsanya (split 1987-1992), S. A. Dada (split 1987-1992), S. K. Adedoyin (1992-1997), S. Bayode Oludemi (1997-2002), Oluwole Odusanya (2002-2007), B. J. Samuel Horsefall (2007-2010), Ebenezer Olubukunola Okunowo (Acting 2010-2011), Ebenezer Olubukunola Okunowo (2011-2018) and the current Lay President of The African Church is Engineer Babatunde Odufuwa (20018 till date).
The African Church receives and accepts the Bible as the standard of its faith. It also accepts the Old Testament and the New Testament as being canonical and sufficient for salvation. It accepts and believes in the Fatherhood of God and the Holy Trinity. The church is a member of nationally and globally recognized body of churches including the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) and World council of Churches. The African Church practices the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, has its own compilation of Hymns and native songs in its Hymn book (in Yoruba language) and Hymnal (in English language). The church contributes actively to the educational development of Nigeria through the establishment of schools at primary, secondary and tertiary levels in various cities and towns in Nigeria. The church trains its clergymen at The African Church College of Theology, Lagos affiliated to the University of Ibadan.
Today, we celebrate The African Church – a church that has grown from its cradle in Lagos to all parts of Nigeria, Missionary dioceses in Ghana and London – at 119 years of great and glorious evangelical strides.
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