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Owerri Knights dehumanized By Hon Sir Sydney Ukonu

Thursday, 11th October, 2012, was a gloomy day for the Knighthood Order, in particular, and for the Anglican Communion, in general. On that day, revered Knights of the Owerri Council were publicly dehumanized on the orders of the Bishop of a sister diocese.

Knights of  the Owerri Council had gone to bury our diseased colleague at St. Simon’s Church, Ikperejere, in Ihitte-Uboma L.G.A, As it is the custom,Knights and Ladies were fully robed. We traveled in two 60-seater luxury buses while many Knights and Ladies traveled in their private vehicles. Knights and Ladies from our Council numbered over three hundred.

Hopes were very high that the outing was going to be successful as our late Knight was a good Knight by all standards. Testimonies from his home church and community also portrayed him as stainless. The Archdeacon who preached the funeral homily corroborated this when he stated that the Church and the community would find his replacement extremely difficult. The same was true with St. Cyprian’s Church, Federal Housing Estate, Owerri where he was a member. His residence was very close to the church and successive priests found him ever ready to assist in whatever way he could.

Never in my 19 years as a Knight have I witnessed the Knighthood Order dehumanized as was done at that burial. What did we do to deserve this treatment? Nothing one could lay hands on. We first made a stop at the man’s house where, along with the local officials of his Church, we received his body. After a brief lying in state we led the body to the Church for the funeral service. At the gate leading into the Church premises our Deputy President passed an order from the Bishop of the Diocese that Knights must remove our jackets, our caps and swords before being allowed into the Church. That we must comply without question. So Knights and Dames were seen publicly undressing and dumping their jackets, swords and caps into vehicles. Who were the Knights subjected to this public disgrace? They were Octogenarians, serving and retired High Court Judges, Chancellors of Dioceses, Traditional Rulers, Professors and other top Professionals, top government functionaries,  Parliamentarians as well as distinguished Christian fathers and mothers. It made a very shameful scene.

The Bishop who made the order carefully stayed away from the funeral while his clergy were taciturn. Our brother Knights from the Okigwe South Council looked askance and were not helpful. We entered the Church in a disorderly manner, looking at best, like AYF members. Observers of this humiliation included Knights of the Roman Catholic faith. One of them shrugged his shoulders and said that this show of shame could never happen in their Church. For whatever reason the directive was given, it could not have been in good faith. A situation analyst described Owerri Knights and the family of the diseased as victims of an unfortunate circumstance. That it was a case of the grass bearing the full brunt where two elephants fight. Of course, we have been hearing that up there among our shepherds it has not been as peaceful as it should be. We, however, refuse to bear the brunt of whatever is happening up there.

This calls to mind an august guest the Knights received at the Joint Council Convention at Nsukka in 2007. The now retired Archbishop of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, the Most Rev. Maxwell Anikwenwa, making a passionate appeal to Knights had argued that Knights were the only hope the Church had for restoring sanity to the House of Bishops, threatened to its foundation by the so-called autonomy of Bishops. He dwelt at length on that subject at the end of which a Knight asked an honest question, “Would a Bishop listen to a Knight that he investitured?. The Archbishop’s reply was “Nnyo-o, he may not listen. But he has a conscience. His conscience will continue to prick him until he does the needful.”

Today a cleric has disrobed Knights publicly. Tomorrow another may retaliate or do something else not less arbitrary. What happened at Ikperejere was very unfortunate and must be condemned before it becomes a culture. I must however, state that the Owerri Council recently buried two of our colleagues in Orlu Diocese and that both the Archbishop and the Orlu Council co­operated very well with us. The Owerri Council always co-operates with other Councils that come to bury their colleagues in Owerri Diocese. Yet the Owerri and the Orlu Councils are the oldest

Councils   in   the   Owerri   Ecclesiastical   Province.      We   do   not understand what message that unfriendly act was meant to convey.

We need to remind ourselves that the Anglican Church comprises three Houses; the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. They are complementary Houses. None should see itself as superior and none should be made to feel inferior as the Church cannot exist without any House. At the top we want to see the humility, carriage and comportment of present-day Church leaders more in tune with the Lasbreys, the Onyeabos, the Vinings, the Patersons, the Holy Nwejes and the Nwankitis of yore who made Church administration smooth and sweet and whose leadership style was visibly uniform, charitable, selfless and Christ-like. They did not chase away their flock with their staff of office.

Let us face it. I did not find what happened at Ikperejere on the 11th October, 2012, funny at all. No lover of the Anglican Church should have found it funny. If no one else would speak up, a seventy-five year old Anglican from birth who has seen both the ancient and the modern should speak up. This is not a matter of letting the sleeping dog lie. The reputation of our Church is at stake. Since the shepherds would not look their colleagues in the ^ace and tell them not to harm the institution they lead, it behoves the flock to speak up; mindful of the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ and the likely pattern the last judgement may take. I know that sins of omission are as grave as sins of commission and that in the Kingdom of God which is imminent, there will be no Sacred Cows.

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