Why We Adopted Episcopacy – Archbishop Ekong

In this exclusive interview, Archbishop Christian Ekong bores it all on wide ranging issues about the Lutheran Church and the State. He spoke frankly and fired on all cylinders with the Editorial Crew of the Lutheran Herald

Who is Christian Ekong?

I want to first and foremost thank you for your wonderful determination to revive the Lutheran Herald. It has been one of the most effective tools for publicising the activities of the LCN. I commit this project to the Almighty believing Him to see it through.

Now to the business of the day, I am Christian Okon Ekong. I am from Afaha Etok Ibesikpo; but if you are looking at the structure of this church, that will be Afaha Ibesikpo District in Afaha Ibesikpo Zone. By the grace of God I am the second son my parents and the fifth child of my family. I’m married to my wife, Offiong Ekong and by the grace of God, we are blessed with 4 (four) children, three boys and a girl. This is my 25th year in the ministry of the LCN precisely my fourth year at the apex position and as such I feel that by the grace of God we have a hope, we have a future as far as the LCN is concerned.

How Did You Come into the Ministry?

Well, exactly twenty-five (25) years ago. I had the privilege of studying at the Lutheran Seminary, and graduating after a two-year training session as an Evangelist. My first posting came in the year 1987 to the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, Ediba Qua Town, now Asari Esoh in Calabar District. So after my ministry as an Evangelist, I came back to the Seminary, this time, for pastoral training for another four years. I completed that and had my first pastoral assignment at the Port Harcourt District where I had the privilege of serving three Congregations, Rumuomasi Congregation, Azuabie Congregation then extended my Services to the LCN Iriebe. I was re-assigned to serve in Jos District. I served as the Circuit Superintendent there, which task took me to areas like Langtang, Pankshin, Akwanga-all of those areas in the then Plateau State.And we also looked at reaching-out to Taraba State. It was a challenging ministry because as at that time, I saw myself into Fulani ministry because you cannot do the preaching of the gospel without visitation which of course was main avenue of getting converts into the ministry in that part of the world. So we worked that out by opening the MADO clinic, opening a clinic at Jannaret and also looked at the possibility of trying to see how we can move and be able to reach out to Fulanis in by settling them around our water dam.

The ministry however required the ability to thrive in the desert situation to encourage the Fulani herdsmen and to meet the nomads. The ministry in Tunga was 3 fold: welfare of the cattle through veterinary medicine, literacy programme to Fulani children; preaching and teaching the goodnews. Having served my four years there in Plateau, I was redeployed to the LCN Uyo where I took charge of Uyo District of the LCN as the Superitendent and I held that position for five (5) years. Within the five years I was appointed the National Sectary of LCN and served for six (6) years, during which I served the Church to the best of my God-given ability. It was from there that I was elected the National President of the LCN in year 2008.

HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARISE YOUR EXPERIENCE SO FAR AS A MINISTER PRIOR TO BECOMING THE HEAD OF LCN?

It has been completely the work of God and hand of God. When He calls you, definitely he leads you, He guides you. He empowers you. He enables you. So it has not been my capacity, but it is God himself that has so chosen me for a purpose. Remember the theme of the LCN for this year “LIBERATED TO SERVE HIM JOYFULLY”, so He has liberated me to serve, not only me, but He has given to us the grace to serve Him. So it is completely the work of God.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE LCN?

Actually when I addressed the 32nd Council of the LCN in November 25 – 27, 2011, I did mention that, when we analyse the entire church, by looking at the strength and weaknesses, as well as threats and opportunities; that we saw vividly, that this church, has its strength in Human Capacity Development. That is why the LCN is clearly seen as a teaching Church.

And as a teaching church, we will continue to build our strength on educating. We will evangelize through education, that’s why when we look at our past, the products of the Lutheran High School, Obot Idim, the products, of the Teachers Training College, Ibahachi, you will be able to deduce what we are talking about.

It is really unfortunate that the military government took over these institutions, and really frustrated us as a nation. But with trust in Jesus Christ, we will overcome all frustration. That is why we have revived the institutions. Apart from giving quality education, we see those institutions as veritable avenue for evangelizing or reaching out to the society. The church needs the Schools to help transform citizens in the society, for the Church is for the people and not the people for the Church.

God has given the Church to the people as a gift, so once you see how we maximise this gift of God in the area of holistic mission that is spiritual and physical wellbeing of the our people, education becomes all important because without it, there will be no progress. So you can see that we need this aspect to be empowered. We need to be enlightened.

By the grace of God, the proposal for a Lutheran University in Nigeria is a big dream. With this, we are hopeful that the kind of education experienced in the 60s, 70s, and 80s will be rekindled.

And by the grace of God, the Lutheran High Schools is being managed now by the Church, with seasoned educationists from the Lutheran fold impacting knowledge to the children accordingly. The performances in the schools now are very encouraging and we will continue to remain steadfast in the good teachings of the church. That is a church that believes in the teachings, confessions and values of its founding fathers.

Many Changes Have Taken Place Since you Assumed the Mantle of the Leadership of LCN, Can you Shed Lighton Matters Arising Like the Constitutional Review Leading to the Episcopacy Adopted by the Church?

Thank you very much. It is true that the Church is no longer congregational. But when we are looking at Episcopacy, we see so many things, which we will not want to go into. But the way we are setting our constitution, really makes us to know that we are looking at a Lutheran Episcopacy, not the general episcopacy. By Lutheran Episcopacy, every member of this church needs to be involved in the leadership of the church. But we are putting the bishops as leaders and the clergies at various levels. At that level as full-time workers of the church, we expect better result and excellent performance. You see, because the society we find ourselves today is very challenging. If you have to really know how the church fairs, we can compare it to what we are having in the university. For instance, if one brings a book, people would start asking questions; Oh! Who is the author of this book or that Journal? Professor so, so, and so … that’s an authority. People will rate the book and take it seriously.

If on the other hand, it is said Mr A or B wrote the book, people will look down on it.

In Nigeria today, you will really see that even our Pastors, (Reverends) who are more qualified than Bishops somewhere will not be identified in the public circles simply because, the common perception is; this one is a junior minister. As responsible stewards, we need to rebuild, we need to rebuild our masquerade big and tall so that we can really stand the challenge wherever we are. But then we want to guard against abuse because some of these bishops are the owners of their Ministries. Some are even Bishops having only one congregation, no branches unlike ours which is a national church, complete with fully structured institutions.

So want to make sure that our bishops are diligent, and lead their members in humility and by godly example. That is why we advise them to be servant leaders not lords.

We are not looking for bishops that be excited by their offices and vestments but rather bishops that will be committed to serve. With this structure, it has really helped to decentralise the Central Administration of the Church, because with the information communication technology revolution, I communicate with almost all the Bishops on daily basis.

Of course, this also strengthens the centre. You can see how the fourteen Bishops within a period of one year have been empowered to function well by their various Zones. It boosts the moral of the Church because you can ask the Bishops to bring ten, fifteen men and within some minutes, they are at your service.

We now have the hierarchy. We have selected, the Archbishop, we have selected the Bishops. We intend to select the Very Reverends soon. We have, Most Reverend, Right Reverend and we would have the very Reverends, Pastors, Evangelist and others.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE ENCOUNTERED IN THE TRANSITION AND WHAT IN YOUR VIEW ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OR DIFFERENCES FROM THE CONGREGATIONAL SYSTEM THE CHURCH OPERATED BEFORE NOW?

You see, if you look at human beings in the Church there must be grey areas which can only be changed in the cause of time. And this is what we experience; so many people will use their congregational history and will be uncomfortable with the new structure, especially if they were favoured by the former system. So with this change, it is natural, many will tend to resist it. And so many people use the exercise to set the pace for the ministers they are not comfortable with and criticize every step they take, because their thinking does not meet the current requirements of the church. And they will not see anything good in the leadership of the Church and it is happening in some places.

There is a complete misunderstanding in some quarters. The fact remains that we have not seen the growth we wanted for the past 75 years. So, we cannot continue like that. I did mention that when you are looking at growth of any institution, you will discover that at the time of inception, the growth rate is very rapid. That is the time of opportunity so you must grab it.

You will grow up and get to the time that the system becomes old fashioned, so you must change the system, change your strategies. You know, work out new modalities, to continue. There is time of declining in growth after which you cannot go up. You begin to stagnate or grow vertically or otherwise. So I met the church while the church was declining, so we cannot close our eyes and see it extinguished, that is why with the new structure, honestly the church can attempt moving on.

So we want to continue pleading with our main leaders and even our pastors who are aggrieved that they are not in one position or the other, they are not the Most Reverend or the Right Reverend to understand that all of us cannot lead the church at the same time. That all they need to do is help us move the church forward even the least minister of this church will have reason to rejoice, you won’t even feel neglected because we will be looking at the wellbeing of every member of this church including Pastors, Reverends, Very Reverends, Rights Reverend, Most Reverend and what have you. All of us must continue to safeguard the growth of the church.

THERE HAS BEEN COMPLAINS OF RECENT IN THE CHRISTENDOM OF PROLIFERATION OF TITLES AND ORDINATION OF EVERY TOM, DICK AND HARRY AS ELDERS AND DEACONS ETC. DOES THAT HAPPEN IN LCN?

Absolutely not! All Lutheran members, even outside the LCN, it is general know that when you are being made an Elder or Deaconess as the case maybe, by this church, it means you really deserve it because, it is not a national cake that is distributed to people at will. The process of screening itself is enough stress for the Church. You see, what is happening in our Congregations is that the Bishops, the District Pastors, the Congregational Pastors, would come to plead and say this is the position. We need at least one so that I can be assisted. So they are assistants to the Pastors. We are not installing people, Elders, Deaconesses as compensation for anything. But we are installing them for service. A situation where one feels that he should be made an elder because he is powerful, eloquent, wealty, influential doesn’t come in, in LCN.

If we want to be like other churches, in fact Hon. (Dr.) Emaeyak Ukpong should be an Elder right from that time he was in the House of Representatives or even when he was Local Government Chairman of Ibesikpo Asutan, so that he would bring the money to the Church.

But even at that, he was doing what he was doing not saying I am not given Elder. Even now, he comes into the Board, he contributes, gives ideas whether you agree with him or not. He says what he feels should be said in the Church and gets away. Indeed, we are happy with all these contributions. And I wish to say that many members of the LCN have the understanding that you need to do what you should do in the Church whether you are recognized or not since you are not doing it for the visible eye to see, but you are doing for God.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE LCN INSTITUTIONS. HOW ARE THEY FARING UNDER YOUR LEADERSHIP?

Thank you very much. As you rightly mentioned, of all our institutions, the Seminary is the prime one and that is because the Seminary is the fuelling station of this our pursuit and it gives us great concern that the Seminary needs to be what we think it should be for the future of the church. The Board of Governors of the Seminary is working hard to reposition the Institution fro greater achievement in the near future. We know that even our foreign partners commend the quality of our programmes in the Seminary that is equating them with the Masters degree of Concordia University. And of course we will love to encourage ourselves as a church to improve our facilities, encourage the lecturers in the Seminary to and even introduce new programmes to attract more students, perhaps not for ordained ministry.

In the years past the Lutheran Seminary Library used to be the best theological library and the first theological library in this part of the country, specifically the Southern region of this Country, but today, that’s not correct. The books are no more there! Where have they gone? We plead with our pastors who have gone there to borrow books to kindly return them. People who have gone there to borrow books from outside and have not given their proper identity for the reminder should help the church by returning our Seminary books.

Referring to our High schools, they are doing emphatically well. Last year one of our High Schools, Lutheran High School, Ikot Obong Edong came second in Science Quiz in Akwa Ibom State. It was a real demonstration of how far we have gone. In the Lutheran High School, Obot Idim, we have fully recovered the disciplinary aspect of that school. We have qualified teachers who are fully committed to teaching our students. We are really happy that our students’ performance in NECO and SSCE is gradually rising. Beginning next academic session, the schools will be left with students admitted by the Lutheran Mission and not the government’s management.

This is almost the last batch of Government intake in our High Schools. In the next five (5) years we are sure to produce many students with aggregate (9) from of subjects was we use to having in the 60s & 70s.

We started the third campus of Lutheran High School at Uquo, Esit Eket, and we are going to start the fourth one in September at Ituk Mbang, Uruan all in Akwa Ibom State. We want to thank our host Communities for their understanding-magnanimity donating land for us to start the Lutheran High Schools in their homes. Then all things being equal we have made proposals to really revive our ailing health clinics. We had so many health delivery clinics that actually encourage our rural health service in the northern part of Cross-River state. All of those were taken over by the Military Government, so we are looking at how to revive them. We have made efforts to take over from the government the Emmanuel Lutheran Hospital, at Yahe, Cross River State. For that of Eket, the present governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief (Dr) Godswill Obot Akpabio, said he wouldn’t give us back the hospital because we will not be able to manage it. But before now, there was a promise to hand-over the hospital to us as the State government wanted to build a corresponding general hospital in the area. We appeal to the Akwa Ibom State to take a look at what we are doing with our schools and be assured that we will run our hospital better than what the government is doing today.

And with that I come to the Lutheran Hour Ministries also known as the Christian Radio Studio. It is rather unfortunate that very recently; we received news of a decision, that the support sponsorship of that arm of the ministry is no more. That was just in a twinkle of an eye.

We have been meeting with the governing Council of the ‘Radio Studio’ to see how; we can take up the running of that studio. It’s quite a challenge! Challenge in the sense that the Central Administration for 60 years was run with subsidy from St. Louis Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and at a point, the subsidy was withdrawn. That withdrawal was properly done. They informed the Church and gradually cut their subsidy by percentage decrease to zero over years.

Today, the LCN is not running its Central Admission with subsidy from mission Partners. We are proud to stand before our mission partners to say, we are partners and we are comfortable. Permit me to inform you that sponsors of LHM are lay people whose thinking of ministry is different from what the clergies have. They want it their own way even in a culture that is not their own. We cannot take it. They are not withdrawing support because of the new structure of the Church as some people speculate. That institution had her Board of Trustee and G.C.

COMMENT ON THE STATE OF THE NATION WITH PARTICULAR VIEW ON BOKO HARAM AND THE SPATE OF ATTACKS ON CHRISTIAN CHURCHES?

Actually, I won’t say! We thank God for this because when it was the issue of the Niger Delta Militancy, we didn’t thank God for it, so now that this is a major issue in the North we won’t thank God for it, but we want to say that we feel very sad that we continue to experience conflicts in a Country that its National flag carries the colours of Peace and growth and its Coat of Arms is Peace and Unity. But instead of having those things we are having conflicts and corruption. Boko Haram is Corruption. It is conflict. It is violence.

And since Boko Haram it is attributed to a religious sect, I feel that this is a sect that has held the Country to ransome and whoever is associated with it shall always find violence. These guys by doing what they are doing are preventing the Christians from their freedom of worship This is a total disregard to the rule of law.

So my prayer is that the Lord will one day led them to understand like Peter that whoever raises his sword, by sword shall he die. I appeal to the Christians to remain faithful, not fighting violence with violence but fight violence with peace not our own peace but the peace that God gives to us`, because every Christian is an embodiment of peace through of the indwelling in us of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit. We have nothing to worry about but to continually ask God let His will be done.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO THOSE IN POLITICAL AUTHORITY IN ALL TIERS OF GOVERNMENT?

Where we find political institutions, we are bound to find those in governance not listening to advice. Most of them resent advice because some of those advice caution them to remember that they are human beings and will give account of their governance. What we are finding now in governance is that some of our leaders raise followers for themselves and those followers are their foot soldiers.

It is very ridiculous to note that our leaders are producing hotels, guest houses suppliers or contractors but no cares to open factorize for production of pencil, eraser, children school-bags etc. We are interested in cutting corners to steal money and fly to bank them in the West.

Why do we continue to take money from Nigeria to keep some where. This and many other corrupt practices have really slow tracked Nigerian’s growth.

I wish to call on our leaders to see every opportunity of leadership, as an opportunity to impact positively on the lives of human beings particularly, the young ones.

We are having all the instabilities that we are having in Nigeria because our leaders have not touched the lives of our young ones positively and sufficiently. It is bad, that we raise young ones who carry arms around. If we actually engage them, get them involved in using their skills to produce goods and services, we will not have problems. If we leaders in this country will give up selfishness and greed, encourage our young people by good being examples in sharing our resources, the economy of this Country will come to stability. It is not difficult. It is all about self discipline which so many of us are not ready to get into. We have seen it, even in church leaders. A church leader will think of having ten cars, and move convoy. What example are we showing?

Wealth that is supposed to go to hundred people, you take it alone. Where is our conscience? So I want to plead with church leaders that we should begin to exemplify selflessness, giving up greed so that we can help, our political leaders to lead our country well.

WHAT IS YOUR GUIDING PHILOSOPHY?

To serve and to make positive impact to my generation.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ROLE MODEL IN LIFE?

Well I would say my model is late Rev. Jonathan Udo Ekong (laughs) and if you ask me again how, I would tell you that in this part of the Country we have namesake and that was my namesake. We were pretty close to each other. I remember how humble he was, He was self-less and how committed to any task that was before him. That’s my role model.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES HOW DO YOU RELAX?

(Laughter). Jimmy does not give me time to relax and that is why even on public holidays, he gives me schedules and appointments. He schedules for me from Monday to Saturday not minding holidays or whatever. However, I remember that the last time I played football was when I was a student at the Seminary. You can imagine. I have never for once gone on annual leave and the only time I would say I relax is when I get back home. Back home, I am a husband and father, responsible one for that matter.

I am thinking of a home with basket ball stand, so that I can be bouncing and doing little exercise because for table tennis I would need a strong hand so that I will be happy. I played table tennis but doing that now is difficult.

I relax watching news by 9pm, and sometimes Skynews, CNN and that’s all. Those keep me for now! I know that once I am out off this hot seat, I will relax but for now when the tree has not fallen, the axe cannot be at rest.

HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED AFTER YOUR TNURE AS THE LEADER OF LCN?

Yes so far, apart from a very peaceful administration that is really carrying along everybody, apart from the responsible leadership which you acclaim to be a fact within this period we have in terms of infrastructural development, we have consecrated fourteen bishops for now and we have brought all these bishops up to the extent of being able to contribute to decision making of this church. And each time there is a vacancy we will consecrate to fill up such gap. We have created hierarchy for this church so that every pastor of this church is growing to become a bishop provided there will be vacancy by the time he grows to get there.

The issue of people struggling even for the apex position is LCN is not there because you can’t sit here if you have not been a bishop. In a way the Bishops selects one of them to lead. The issue of lay leaders not really knowing a pastor but judging from outlook and considering such fit to lead our Church is no more.

We have decentralized the administration of LCN. We have revived the training of Pastors overseas beginning September, 2012. We are opening more schools and providing healthcare to both Lutherans and non- Lutherans. We emphasize spiritual upliftment of our members.

Really, we have gone very far and I want to thank God for giving us the courage to have really trod this far. It wasn’t easy. We faced great opposition, but thank God we stood firm move the Church.

WHAT WOULD BE YOUR PARTING WORDS TO LUTHERAN FAITHFULS AND CHRISTIANS AT LARGE?

There is hope for all Lutherans, there is hope for Lutheran Pastors and of course they have been testifying that now it is a rebranded Lutheran church that they can happily stand any anywhere, give their contributions morally and financially unlike before. Lutherans now are bold enough to serve God because they know who they are; and it will continue like this. As we continue to find joy in serving God, He will continue to pour forth his blessing upon us abundantly.

To Nigerians, the God of peace is our God. The God of Jacobs is our shield. And so whether there is Boko Haram today in the North, whether there was militant in the South, for whatever will happen in the West tomorrow, the God of Jacob is our God.

And so there is hope for this country. Corruption will cease. People of Nigeria will come to realize that it doesn’t pay to throw away God’s given resources aimlessly. Therefore, every opportunity should be used for the betterment of the generality of people not for ourselves because whatever you keep for yourself, you loose it, but whatever you share with people, you keep it for yourself forever.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top