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What we expect from our priests

By Emma Omumah

In recent times precisely on Sunday 23rd July, 2017, the Anglican Diocese of Owerri had an ordination service, which included the collation of Canons and installation of Archdeacons at the Cathedral Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (CATOL) Owerri. The theme of the ordination service was: “Recovering the Spirit of Divine Vocation in Christ and Ministering in Transparency under God’s Sovereign Intervention”.
In the said service, two Deacons received their priestly ordination, thirteen Ordinands were made Deacons, two Priests were collated Canons, while two Canons were installed Archdeacons, all performed by the Rt. Rev. Cyril C. Okorocha Ph.D, Lord Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Owerri.
The Guest Preacher at the service was the Rt. Rev. (Prof.) Andrew Igenoza, The Rector of Crowther Postgraduate Theological Seminary, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
In his homily which centred on “Ministering in Transparency under God’s Sovereign Intervention”, the Bishop gave a specific message to the Priests to, “Let the holy Spirit and power of God move in them, so as to enable them proclaim the good news in the nooks and crannies of the earth. As Christians, which we all profess to be, Bishop Igenoza advised that we take no part in any matter denoting darkness, but blow the trumpet of regeneration, and to go and make disciples of all Nations.
Citing Acts 2:17 – 21, he enumerated all that were needed before people could be saved. The special service was attended by not less than ten thousand people, comprising the Cathedral worshippers, relations, friends, and well wishers of the ordained Priests.
In his characteristic remark, the host Bishop, Rt. Rev. Cyril C. Okorocha Ph.D, aside warning people against imminent judgement after life here on earth, admonished the Priests against taking money from politicians in order to pray for them, but to always do what is good and righteous in order that God would bless them. He also warned them to desist from extortion or stealing Church money, and or getting involved in child-trafficking, so as not to become candidates for hell.
Bishop Okorocha expressed concern that many priests have, these days, abandoned their priestly vocation to become car dealers, while some others now take delight in taking their Bishops to court over issues that could easily be resolved in the parsonage. To those of them who incite greed and unbecoming behaviour into their Parishioners, he described as believing the gospel with hypocrisy.
As has often been the case, whenever a big church event takes place, or soon after it has taken place in the Anglican Diocese of Owerri, the Lord Bishop, would want to serialize his teachings on the theme of such an event, through his “Evangelical Hour Programme” on Radio Nigeria Heartland FM Station. This time around, the serialized teaching was on “The Role of Priests and Pastors in Nation Building”.
In answer to an introductory question thrown to him by the moderator of the programme, as to the difference between a Pastor and Priest, he explained that a true Pastor is a Priest, a humble servant of the people, who readily intercedes for the people, and who teaches, and ensures that people do not miss the Way. Priests, he further explained, are teachers, who must give themselves to teaching the people, and by example too. He added that, as a Pastor, you must module the life of Christ to the people.
Continuing, he said, it is the duty of the priests to pray for all strata of human beings, including the leaders of the nation, and to teach them the word of God, stressing that, when priests stop interceding for the people and the Nation, the Nation is bound to get to a point of irreversibility. In his own words, again, “all Priests should make sure that they are Priests of holy living”.
The Owerri Diocesan Bishop, no doubt, said more than have been articulated above to the priests serving under his Episcopal leadership, In like manner, other Prelates, located here and there, at one time or another have passed similar pieces of advice and instructions, to the Clergymen serving in their different Dioceses and church denominations.
But, the big question seeking to be answered is: how have these men of God responded to the teachings, charges, cautions, etc, being passed on to them? For those who wholeheartedly accepted the vocation from ‘ their early days in life, every word said to them, means a lot to them, and goes a long way to re-shape their lifestyle. But, to those who simply took up the vocation as a last resort, that is, on account of not being able to get any other job of their choice, to lay hands on, such Priests, to my mind, have remained like what a columnist described as “hangers-on” in the priesthood profession, or “Ukachukwu” as the Lord Bishop of Owerri, Rt. Rev. C.C. Okorocha Ph.D, often refers to such Priests. The utterances and behaviours of this set of Priests, all over the world, are not just uninspiring and unimpressive, but simply nothing to write home about. When they mount the pulpit, their sermons are usually watery and hardly inspiring, and if anything, easily lure a great majority of the congregation to sleep off, while the homily is still on.
As Bishop Okorocha always said: “Ministering is not just preaching, but also entails visiting, embarking on visitation to all levels of parishioners, stressing that a good teaching of the Bible, and a good preaching would always help to keep God’s people together”.
In an effort to expatiate further on the essence of the foregoing desired qualities, expected of Priests, the Prelate asserted that ideally, the priest and his wife should lead any visiting team, to either a Parishioner, family or village, where the church is located, as part of their welfare duties and human relationship.
This part of the world, especially Nigeria, has become notorious in corruption and corrupt practices. This social and economic malaise has pervaded the fabrics of the society, such that our priests, being also humans, cannot entirely be exempted from the quagmire.
While a large number of Pastors or Priests, particularly those operating within Owerri and in some other Dioceses or Church denominations can be assumed to be decent and mindful, or fearful of going contrary to the Will of God in their vocational vows, many of those ones, who got into the vocation by any means, to keep soul and body together, tenaciously clinch the slightest opportunity at their disposal to do away with Church funds, through falsification of records, usually in collaboration with their mindless Church Treasurers, by making unnecessary demands for payment of one form of allowance or the other, collaborating with contractors and inflating contract sums. A friend of mine, an Anglican too, once told me, that he was ashamed and disappointed, when a Priest at his home Church asked him to supply some quantity of building materials (sand and gravels) to the Church, instead of normally demanding for a receipt for the payment which he had made for the materials, he (the Priest) rather asked for an empty receipt. Your guess for the motive, for asking for an empty receipt in this shady business is as good as mine. According to this friend, the said “man of God” did so on more than two occasions, without recourse to its implications and the impression he was unwittingly creating before the man that supplied the materials who, incidentally, come from the Parish which the Priest was stationed.
Little wonder, the Lord Bishop of Owerri Diocese, on several occasions, has expressed concern with the rate at which many Pastors, Priests, and so-called General Overseers of Pentecostal Churches are erecting magnificent structures, all over the place, owning fleets of cars, and more so, the SUV brands, within so short a time they joined the Priesthood Order, or set up their own Churches, Some have gone to the extent of buying personal aeroplanes.
In a recent retreat, organized for the Knights and Ladies of St. Christopher, Owerri Council, the Head of the Council’s Chaplaincy, Venerable Solomon Okoronkwo, who captioned his lecture; “LIVING A LIFE OF HOLINESS”, told the Knights and Ladies, that they must eschew impurity, greed, falsification of financial records, cheating, telling lies, deceit, over-eating etc from their lives as bearers of Christ, talk more of Priests whose lives, he noted, should be exemplary and a model before the laity, placed under their care.
All in all, this is not to drive home the point that many of the Priests of today, especially in the Owerri Diocese and beyond, are not spiritual and modest in their lifestyle. It is also to say, that their preachings, utterances, and conduct are worthy of emulation, more so, as they strive to live, behave, and bear what the Holy Bible says, in tandem with what Bishop Okorocha has always admonished.
It is my wish and prayer that, those of them who are on the fast lane, and who approach the vocational responsibilities and commitments with lackadaisical attitude, should please have a rethink, as what is witnessed in many of our Anglican Churches, these days, accounts largely for why many people, especially the men, no longer show effective presence in Church services, particularly in the local Parishes and Stations.

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