A prelate counts his blessings
Quite lately, conversations among both the clergy and laity of the nearly 10-year old Diocese of Lagos Mainland have revolved mostly around the imminent retirement of their incumbent bishop, the Most Revd (Prof.) Adebayo D. Akinde. Clearly, many are already missing this servant of God (even before his due date of August 23) whose style of leadership, rare humility and effusive love for people deserve a more copious treatment than this article can afford.
In the last 10 years, Akinde who also doubles as the Archbishop of the Lagos Province of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has defined his episcopacy in a rather extraordinary way. In the minds of most members of the diocese he approximates what every true servant of God should be – loving, caring and always eager to make sacrifices for the spiritual well being of his parishioners in particular and all who come his way.
A man without guiles and with rather simple tastes, Akinde has earned for himself the deep affections of his parishioners. When you hear these parishioners express concern about his exit, it is not as though they do not realise that a bishop must one day retire from active ministry. They are only lamenting how much they would miss the amiability of Professor Akinde, a rare combination of profound spirituality, intellectualism and self-effacement. A full tribute this article is not; just a cursory look at Akinde’s episcopacy in the past 10 years.
The next synod of the Diocese which rolls off tomorrow will be Archbishop Akinde’s valedictory. And as synods go, this one will draw delegates from all the parishes in the diocese as well as resource persons from across the country. But it will be much more than a typical Anglican synod. It will be the last by this much beloved bishop who has been rightly described as a church icon. The event which will kick off in the Cathedral of St. Jude and continue till May 29, partly in All Saints Church, Yaba, and then again in the Cathedral, will feature many programmes aimed at uplifting the spiritual life of not only the delegates but the entire members of the Diocese. No less than 40 other church prelates are expected to attend, in obvious demonstration of their love for their retiring colleague.
Being his valedictory session, the gathering will afford Archbishop Akinde, a tireless church leader, the opportunity to look back at his episcopacy, count his blessings and offer profound gratitude to the Almighty God who has kept him all through his evidently successful and inspiring career in Christian ministry. His accomplishments are many and awe-inspiring but he self-admittedly owes it all to the all-sufficient God whose grace upon his life has been extravagant.
Most fittingly then, the retiring Bishop’s theme for this year’s synod is: “Thy Hand O God, Has Guided.” (Isaiah 49:1-2; Luke 11:10). By this thankful theme, the retiring Archbishop is simply telling the delegates and indeed the whole world that whatever success he has recorded as a minister of the gospel and church prelate is due to the guiding hands of his loving God, the one who called him into the holy orders more than 30 years ago.
Although this is not a full tribute, it is only proper to reflect, however, briefly, on the last 10 years of Akinde’s ministerial career during which he has served as the pioneer bishop of the Diocese of Lagos Mainland and Archbishop of the Province of Lagos. Right from the first synod to the current one, this Spirit-filled and large-hearted servant of God has touched thousands of lives in very extraordinary ways. For the most part he has lived what he preached. A man of prayers, the word ‘impossible’ does not exist in his mind. His prayers are fervent and obviously from the heart, and they often bear great result. He has feared nor despised no one. Not surprisingly, his slogan for the diocese is “Fear God, Do it Right and Flourish.”
Oftentimes, parishioners are puzzled by Akinde’s ability to connect with almost everybody, despite his very busy schedule as a bishop and archbishop overseeing 13 dioceses. No Christian chore is too menial for him as long as it portrays Jesus Christ in positive light. His energy is boundless even at nearly 70 and his wisdom as a prelate simply incomparable. In nearly all circumstances, he has acted in accordance with the expressed will of the Lord Jesus. Not for him, the word failure as can be attested to by the giant projects he has executed in just 10 years as pioneer bishop of Lagos Mainland diocese -19 new churches, a most befitting diocesan headquarters, a bespoke Christian events and resource centre, a modern college, an ultra-modern bishops’ court, etc.
But much more than these, Akinde’s social skills and outpouring of blessings on people who come his way are rather astounding. Ever so charismatic and eager to bless, he has become known even among his fellow prelates as the ever generous ‘Bishop Akinde.’
In the previous synods, this renowned professor of computer engineering had chosen themes that proved not only benedictive but indeed most appropriate for the season. In the very first full synod of the diocese held in June 2007, he chose the theme, “The Church’s One Foundation.” By that, he tried to underscore the fact that Christ Jesus is the one true foundation of the church. Any other foundation is false and will crumble. The following year he settled for another very appropriate theme, “Christian Stewardship”, in which he emphasised the need for all Christians to realise that all their God-given talents are meant primarily for godly service, and not egocentric purposes.
Only last year, Archbishop Akinde zeroed in on the youths and their spiritual well-being by dwelling on the theme, “Teach the Youths Today and Fashion the Future.” At a time when many youths are succumbing to the ungodly seductions of the internet age, that theme was most apt and indeed a wake-up call to the church to help youths re-calibrate their moral compass.
I have no doubt that this year’s Synod will be the toughest for Archbishop Akinde and his lovely wife Bassey. Saying goodbye, as they say, can be hard. Yet for this rare servant of the Most High, his giant footprints in the sands of time will remain indelible.
• Rev. Canon Okey Ifionu is the Vicar of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Railway Compound, Lagos.
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