The old saying goes that we are dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of giants. If what we do in the present seems impressive it is because of the incredible training given to us by fathers and teachers, unsung heroes like Bishop Geofffrey Adeniyi Ayinla Bamgbose. Unsung heroes often experience their moment of glory or greatest level of appreciation only once their journey on earth has passed. We often take for granted the contributions of many who, together, are responsible for building the foundation and development of our theological training. It must not be only upon reflection of their contributions with the finality of their passing that we begin to feel the true weight of their loss. It is better and inspiring to sing of their contributions when still alive.
Bishop Bamgbose, a Methodist Christian by strong conviction, ‘a benchmark of devotion’ is one of these unsung heroes of faith, Methodist episcopacy and extraction. Few who have recently entered the Nigerian Methodist ministry and Christian communication field know his name, yet we owe him and many others like him still living a tremendous level of gratitude for their dedication to Nigerian Methodism and the Body of Christ. Bishop Bamgbose, warmly ecumenical in his dealings with others devoted his life to the development and mentoring of leaders. Bishop Bamgbose’s theology have three missional keynotes – it is Evangelical, Biblical and Missionary (EBM). Bishop Bamgbose’s episcopacy is about God, a practical theology and practice, making as transparently obvious as he can the relationship of God to the world. The call to the episcopate by consecration and invocations to the power of the Holy Spirit points to a holy sacrament, an official recognition and act of the Church. To Bishop Bamgbose, the bishop, like every disciple, is called to a personal holiness. The truth is that holiness is perhaps something we more often talk about than practice. Bishop Bamgbose’s episcopacy is neither the twin tendencies of modern political and economic structure of individualism or collectivism that hinders the missional possibility of truly church and truly human being. Using the words of E. M Forster, individualism denies connexional possibility, collectivism prevents connexionalism. Bishop Bamgbose’s episcopacy does not see ministry or human world in terms of private progress or prosperity at the expense of social and spiritual responsibility neither does he deny individual the possibility of making and taking missional responsibility and progress. Bishop Bamgbose’s episcopacy asserts the centrality of healthy relationship under the guidance of the Holy Spirit which is eroding away today in the ministry and church.
Bishop Bamgbose is the third child out of the eleven children of late Gabriel Adeola Ayinde Bamgbose, and Mrs. Elizabeth Olufunke Ebunoluwa Bamgbose (nee Wright). Bamgbose comes from a popular family Bamgbose of Oke-Arin fame in Lagos. The history of the family is traced back to Awaye in Oyo State. They migrated from Awaye to Abeokuta, and later settled down in Lagos. His great great grandfather was the BABA ELELEDE, of the Bamgbose Street near Tinubu square (where he used to sell pork meat). His mother is the first daughter of late Bishop Wright of the African Church. His maternal father was one of the people who built the Christ Church Cathedral at Marina, before he received his call into the ministry. He founded the Ebenezer African Church, Somolu. The mentoring and inspiration Bishop Bamgbose received from his maternal father led to his call as a Methodist minister.
Before the death of Bishop Wright at the age109, years, he had the privilege of listening to his grandson, Bishop Bamgbose reading the Old Testament lesson from the book of prophet Isaiah chapter 61:1ff during 1948 advent season. At the end of the service he prayed for Bishop Bamgbose that the spirit of the Lord should rest on him for the work of the ministry. Bishop Bamgbose, the first of the two surviving children of his mother out of eleven was born on the 6th of June, 1936, at Shomolu village in Lagos. His surviving brother victor Ishola Bamgbose (late) was also a Methodist minister
For his primary education, Bishop Bamgbose attended Seventh Day Adventist, U.N. A. Primary School, and Methodist Primary School both at Ekotedo and Oke-Ado in Ibadan. At the end of his primary school education in1954, Bishop Bamgbose had his Secondary Modern School education in the Old Western Region between 1955 to 1957. He attended Secondary Modern School Elekuro at the Wesley College compound, under supervision of late Mr. Hughes. The first headmaster was Late Mr. Odulele. Mr. Hughes took interest in Bishop Bamgbose because of his excellent performance. Among the first four brilliant Modern School students arranged by Mr Hughes to sit for entrance into Wesley College, Bishop Bamgbose was selected as one of the four. Bishop Bamgbose was admitted to Wesley College, Elekuro, Ibadan, in 1958 and passed out in 1961 under late Chief J.O.O. Ojo as the College principal. Bishop Bamgbose had special distinction in English Literature and science. During his training at Wesley College, Bishop Bamgbose enrolled as a Methodist local preacher in training under the College Chaplain, Rev. F. E. Murton. As a double honours, Bishop Bamgbose graduated as a Grade II teacher from Wesley College and as a trained Methodist Lay Preacher. After two years in teaching profession, he candidated for the Methodist ministry in Ilesa district under the leadership of Rev D B Esan. In 1963, Bishop Bamgbose had his trial sermon at Methodist Church, Oke Oja, Osu. Under the presidency of Most Rev J.O.E Soremekun, Bishop Bamgbose appeared before the Ministerial General Purposes Committee (GPC) at Agbeni Methodist church, Ibadan. Revds Esan and Amos Solarin were the saving grace for Bishop Bamgbose when the ministerial panel felt he was too forward to confront the panel on Methodist doctrine. Bishop Bamgbose was subsequently sent to Trinity College, Umuahia for his ministerial training. While at Umuahia, between 1964 to 1966 for his ministerial training, he was one of the four students that excelled in Hebrew and Greek Bible. Just as he concluded the examination on London Diploma in Theology. The Nigerian civil war was gathering momentum when Bishop Bamgbose completed his examination, London Diploma in Theology. There was decree for non-indigenes to leave the eastern region. It was at this point with the support of Rev Canon Falope and his Secretary that Bishop Bamgbose got the World Council of Churches (WCC) scholarship to study in the United State of America (USA). Bishop Bamgbose left the shore of Nigeria in the height of the civil war to study at Virginia Seminary, in Alexandria, USA, where he got his Bachelor in Divinty (B.D).
On his return to Nigeria, he had a training course on Islam in African project at Ibadan under Rev Crossley where he studied Islamic Religion and a little bit of Arabic. He worked briefly with the Federal Radio Corporation where he was trained as a Producer. He later became a Producer Grade 1 in Religious programmes. He was a circuit minister at Ereko (1968), with oversight on Folawiyo Bankole Memorial Methodist Church. Methodist Church Olorunda, Agege, Tabon Tabon, Igbogila, Ipaja were also under his pastoral care. He was also a part time teacher of religious studies at Methodist Girls High School, Yaba under Miss Walker as principal. Bishop Bamgbose was teaching lower and upper six classes.
Between 1971 to 73, Bishop Bamgbose served as a circuit minister under Bishop Orekoya at Agbeni Methodist Cathedral, and also as a part time teacher at Immanuel College of theology, Ibadan. From 1974 to 1977, Bishop Bamgbose served as the circuit superintendent and the first Presbyter of Hoare’s Memorial Methodist Church Yaba Circuit, covering, Sogunle, Abule Ijesha, Ijesa tedo, Igbobi Folami, Elliot Memorial, Iju etc. In 1978, he joined the staff of Immanuel College of Theology as a full time lecturer, teaching Greek, New Testament, Church History and Pastoral Counselling. In 1979, he was moved from Immanuel College to Port-Harcourt and was later changed to Methodist Church of Trinity, Tinubu, where he served as the presbyter for only nine months. On October 1st 1979, Bishop Bamgbose was transferred to Wesley Cathedral, Olowogbowo, Lagos, as the Presbyter where he served for eleven years.
At Olowogbowo and with the permission of the Methodist church, Bishop Bamgbose combined his ministerial work with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria without taking stipend from the church. He brought the name of the church to the limelight as a religious broadcaster and producer. As a producer, he attended Conference of the World Council of Churches in 1983. At Wesley Cathedral Church, Olowogbowo he established Faith Clinic with Bro. Femi Osundahunsi and this development later led to night vigils at Olowogbowo and some other orthodox churches in Lagos. With the support of the Church leaders meeting, Bishop Bamgbose changed the day of burial service from Saturday to Friday to allow more evangelism outreach on Saturdays. In 1991, Bishop Bamgbose was moved from Wesley Cathedral, Olowogbowo to Williams Memorial Methodist Church, Ago –Ijaye, where he served briefly for one year. On the 6th of January, 1992, he was transferred to Methodist Theological Institute (MTI), Sagamu as the Rector. Bishop Sunday Aluko, who served with Bishop Bamgbose at MTI Sagamu as Registrar described him as ‘one of the unsung heroes of faith of Methodist extraction.’ Bishop Aluko writes, ‘I pray that I should have grace to write volumes about your piety, your lifestyle, your self less service to the church of God and generations of man. I was your astute Registrar for many years. You reposed your trust in me, in that you entrusted the whole Institute at Sagamu to my care whenever you were away. You had nothing to be afraid of. And I did not betray the trust you repose in me. You always shared with me from the brown envelopes you collected from the trips you made to churches. We were playing and eating together with Nortey, Onuoha and myself when work allowed us to fellowship together. Iya Omo, my wife was our cook. No discrimination among us in Methodist Theological Institute, Sagamu of your days as Principal of note. We are now big boys in Methodist Church Nigeria. We can sing your untold story of your love and kindness to younger Ministers. I can equally testify your firmness, boldness to dam any consequences without minding whose horse is gog. One day, at GPC you preached against reckless spending within the hierarchy of the church. You alluded to hotel bills because you were privy to the bills as the Principal! You counselled that if those at the helm of affairs could forgo their comfort in the hotels and the money be put together to build a Conference Centre, the better it would be for the church. It was murmured through out the GPC of the year among some leaders that they could not sacrifice their comfort for anything. Where are we today? Baba, you are still alive today to mark your 85th birthday, tell them, those who care to listen, that all I said about you and our relationship in MTI, Sagamu was not true. Baba G. A. A. Bamgbose, the unsung hero of faith ride on in good health for many years to come. Happy birthday and happy retirement to you.’
In 1996, after about four years at MTI, Sagamu, Bishop Bamgbose was made a bishop, diocese of Ekiti/Owo. Sunday Adegoke, a Youth leader, Methodist Church, Akure, explained that, some things stood Bishop Bamgbose out when he was the Bishop in Akure. According to Adegoke, Bishop Bamgbose is ‘an exceptionally meek, humane, selfless, indefatigable, truthful, and courageous man of God. He took the initiative to move from a rented apartment at Ijapo to build the first Bishop House at Gbogi for Ekiti/Owo Diocese in 1997, thus putting a stop to payment of rents. He went as far as Kaduna to source for funds to build the house. All the funds he raised were faithfully committed to the building. He never thought of enriching himself at the expense of the Church. Baba simply taught us contentment and self-sacrifice. Baba used to attend our weekly Fellowships and night vigils in the Cathedral, sitting at the back. He never felt too big to associate us in such programmes, which ordinarily would have been considered a ‘local church’ affairs, not ‘diocesan.’ Baba travelled all the time moving from one Local Church to another every Sunday, most of the time without announcement. He never considered if any brown envelope would surface during those visits. As a matter of fact his focus was on those weak churches that could not even afford such. He did it without complaints all through, even though he was using a rickety 504 saloon to embark on those journeys. Baba used every available space around the Bishop’s house to cultivate maize which he dashed out to visiting members of the church. It was during Baba’s tenure that Methodist Campus Fellowship was inaugurated at Federal University of Technology, Akure, and Federal College of Agriculture, Akure. He mobilized support from the church and he was personally in attendance during the inaugurations. It was during Baba’s tenure that a second branch of Methodist Church was established in Akure after almost 70 years that Methodism started in the town. It was only the Cathedral church that existed ever before then in Akure. Baba voluntarily retired at the age of 65 at a time when he should have stayed around to enjoy some of the things he laboured for in the Diocese even though he was still lawfully permitted to stay five more years.’ Baba Bamgbose served as Chairman, Christian Association Nigeria (CAN) Ondo State for five year. And during his tenure he travel far and near to every of the state established the association. He made effort to create the awareness on the existence of the Association.
Five years ago, Sir Remi Omotoso, a former, Conference Lay President, Methodist Church Nigeria who passed away last year aptly described Bishop Bamgbose as ‘a benchmark of devotion, unwavering commitment to his calling as servant of God.’ Sir Omotoso said, “I worked with him in his days in Olowogbowo circuit and his admirer and partner in his sojourn in Methodist Theological Institute, Sagamu through to his work in Owo, Diocese as Bishop. In all these years, he was painstaking, Christ-focused, selfless, diligent, transparent, accountable and remained a fantastic teacher of the Word, bold, like a lion even though soft-spoken … I know one of his sons, his split image, in character and physique, making waves as a minister of God in Methodist Church Nigeria.”
Bishop Bamgbose represented Methodist Church Nigeria at the Ghana Methodist Conference in 1976. He participated in a Seminar on the challenges of Sharia Law at the Institute of Church and Society, Ibadan in 1976. He was at the World Communication Conference at Sweden in May 1983. He went on pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem in 1987, 1988 and 1989. He participated in a seminar on Danger of AIDs at Durbar Hotel Lagos in 1990. Bishop Bamgbose has presented papers on many topis at various forums, namely: The Challenge posed by occultism or so call secret societies in Today’s practice – What are the Realistic answers?; Christian and spirituality of our time; Men’s Fellowship, a citadel of church growth; What is Methodism?; The Church as the whole people of God; Marching forward to the greater glory of God; The Growth of the church in the 20th century and beyond; Methodist Church’s connexional system – Relation to administration, evangelical, education, expansion. Bishop Bamgbose is married with children and grand children.
On the causes of Methodist crisis, Bishop Bamgbose attributed the main cause to the 1976 constitution. The constitution was accepted but a lot of things were put into it that some members rejected. According to Bishop Bamgbose, among the inclusions that degenerated into the crisis included ‘the removal of Christ as the High Priest making the Patriarch himself the high priest, wearing of crown, regalia and use of key by the Patriarch, and the unitary system of church government. The reflection and lesson for us today is that, objection to episcopacy including autocratic authoritarianism of some traditions and other different patterns, takes many forms, ‘but characteristic of them is the suggestion that the position has come to hold a quite inappropriate sort of power, and is defended by indefensible assumptions. This brings to focus the secularisation of the episcopacy during the Middle Ages which was indeed a misleading development till date. Bishop Bamgbose’s episcopacy suggests a wholesome appreciation of the possibility of relational episcopacy against prejudice, false experience, and misleading developments. Bishop Bamgbose’s leadership suggests Methodist episcopacy as vested in the biennial Conference gives to the Bishops authority for corporate oversight and relationship as a connexion. Bishop Bamgbose’s leadership exemplifies a more ‘charismatic’ and sacrificial expectation of the episcopate.
I have had the privilege of studying, learning and sharing ministry, up close and personal, the ministry of Bishop BAMGBOSE, a bishop of bishops and teacher of teachers. Baba Bamgbose’s 85 years birthday and 20 years retirement celebration provides an opportunity to reflect on a life woven into fabric of a ministry and calling, committed to Scripture, biblical leadership, sacrificial shepherding, simplicity and honouring others. Baba is discreet in relationship with people. A secret is safe with him. In the work and mentoring of the formation of priestly candidates, baba’s inspiration and confidence in the Methodist church’s life and spirituality comes from the Holy Spirit. My father, teacher, confidant, friend and bishop, in the face of denial and persecution, when l think of you, the image of endurance, forgiveness, peacefulness, contentment, sacrifice, selflessness and humility comes to my mind. You are a peacemaker, a spiritual guide, a persistent teacher and pastor, very respectful and a practical joker. Baba, you and His Eminence Mbang are the primary reason that made me a Methodist minister today. You agreed to train me and l remain your grateful son. As your student at MTI Sagamu, you allowed me to express myself with different Student’s Union initiatives including the formation of the College Press Club, construction and strategic display of a giant Cross, an imposing Christian symbol that welcome people to MTI, Sagamu. As the Rector, Bishop Bamgbose joined us in the digging and laying of the foundation for the new College Chapel. At a time when the Press Club produced and disseminated news about the poor conditions of the College hostels, kitchen, dinning hall, and water system, Bishop Bamgbose did not yield to the advice to sanction me or report me to the headquarters. Rather, he did everything in his power to address the situation.
One cannot forget your humble devotion and sacrifice when at Orimerunmu you slept on bare floor with Archbishops Oderinde and Odubanjo throughout the famous 2000 Methodist Evangelical Convention. On this your milestone birthday and retirement, on behalf of all my course mates at MTI Sagamu, we wish you good health, happiness and joy. We love you. (Special thanks to Very Rev Michael Bamgbose for his help in collecting some information from Baba Bamgbose).