The election of the Reverend Professor Bolaji Idowu, a former head of the Department of Religion, University of Ibadan, on October 4 1972, as the President of Methodist Church Nigeria was a call to restore ‘the years that the locust has eaten.’[1] Talented with an unprecedented foresight and missional imaginations of things to come, during his service of investiture and consecration on January 20, 1973, he expressed the need for the ordering of the ministry, structure, and the image of the church. [2] He called for the review of the inherited constitution with emphasis on indigenisation of Nigerian Methodism. [3]Between February 1-3, 1974, Professor Idowu facilitated the Asaba Retreat on thorough review of the liturgy, the Life of the Church, and Faith and Order. The Asaba Retreat, the first of its kind since Nigeria Methodist became autonomous in 1962, also focused on the need for Nigerian Methodism to adopt an Episcopal system of church leadership. [4] At the Retreat, Professor Idowu explained to the delegates that ‘we are here to pioneer the thinking of the Church on the matters listed on the agenda: for it is only when the leadership of the Church know its own mind that it can lead effectively.’ The 1974 Asaba Retreat was about effective and faithful leadership; hence, after 50 years, there is a need for a rethink to enhance the renewal and revival of Nigerian Methodism.

The six significant items of the Asaba Retreat in 1974 still resonate with the needs of the church today: Liturgy, Ritual of Office, Structure of the Church, The Quarterly Meeting, the Synod and the Conference, and the Ordering of the Ministry. [5] Professor Idowu reflected that just as ‘liturgy must grow out of the life of a worshipping people,’ he raised the ‘inadequacies of the English Book of Offices or the Divine Worship not originally designed for export. They were originally prepared for a people with one particular type of spiritual temperament.’ The 1974 Asaba Retreat, shaped by Professor Idowu’s proposal, agreed that the inherited nomenclature from the British Methodist was overdue for reappraisal because it does not reflect the true place and functions of the ministry in the Christian church. The recommendation that followed the Methodist Conference was for a constitutional change to the episcopacy in its Scriptural and ecclesiastical connotations.

To the glory of God, the new constitution was introduced at the 13th annual Methodist Conference in 1974 and passed at the Calabar Conference in 1975. On January 20, 1976, generally referred to as The Appointed Day, the Patriarch, Archbishops, and Bishops were invested and consecrated.[6]Using the words of Sir M.M. Familusi, His Pre-Eminence Idowu, the first Patriarch, Methodist Church Nigeria ‘has done much more than any of His predecessors to lift the Methodist Church Nigeria to Pre-Eminence … God’s work prospered in his hands–the number of dioceses rising from seven to fifteen and that of the ordained ministers from about a hundred to over three hundred during his time. The Christ Zion Methodist Church Nigeria, Incorporated fused with Methodist Church Nigeria before he left office. The new order of deaconesses and the improved liturgy and order of worship will remain a permanent tribute to His Pre-Eminence Bolaji.’[7]

Among Patriarch Idowu’s works are: Between God and You; God or Idol; Job – A Meditation on the Problem of Suffering; Man, His Faith, and His Destiny; The Selfhood of Church in Africa; Towards an Indigenous Church;  African Traditional Religion: A Definition; Olódùmarè; God in Yoruba Belief; and “Obituary: God’s or Man’s,” an inaugural lecture delivered at the University of Ibadan on Thursday, October 24, 1974.

Patriarch Idowu served the academia and the church faithfully until his retirement in 1984. He died nine years later, in 1993, at the age of 80. Fifty years after his famous Asaba Retreat, Methodist Church Nigeria have reviewed its constitution, especially for the repositioning of the church. To rethink and revisit the Asaba Retreat Document as a way forward to the past calls us to study and hold fast to Patriarch Idowu’s passion of ‘restoring the years the locust has eaten,’ bearing in mind the effects of the Methodist crisis in the past and the present challenges.

Forward to the past, Asaba Retreat at 50, invites us to look back again to see our past in future, to rekindle the Asaba Retreat experience in connection with the growth and development of Nigerian Methodism. Rethinking Asaba Retreat at 50, forward to the past, calls us to return to the DNA of Methodism for a fruitful future. Nigeria Methodist tradition and episcopacy is a Spirit-filled and Bible-believing faith of the Wesleys (Bolaji Idowu, Sunday Mbang) though long dead, still speaks. Rethinking Asaba Retreat at 50 calls to reflect on Patriarch Idowu:

A Colossus and Dreamer Par Excellence

The Bible tells of great dreamers

And among the most conspicuous was Joseph

His told his dreams to his brothers

And his brothers hated him because of his dreams.

The more one thinks of the dreamer’s place in history

The less one feels entitled to the distinction

Truly, the dreamer lives forever

While the toiler’s dies in a day.

In traveling through the great cities of the world

One finds great cathedrals and magnificent edifices of worship.

An architect had a vision of a temple of worship, and he put the vision upon paper

Then the builders began

And they laid stone and brick upon brick until finally the temple was completed

Sometimes centuries after the dreamer’s death

And people now travel from all corners of the world to look upon the temple.

There has been a great dreamer in the realm

Of theology, liturgy and churchmanship,

His Pre-Eminence, Professor Bolaji Idowu.

He saw a vision of a church needing liberation and emancipation for true African selfhood.

He puts his vision upon paper.

For close to four decades, multitudes have been building upon the foundation he laid

His handworks have continued to shine in world circles

His native intelligence and academic prowess

Have continued to enlighten and challenge the universe

His initiative has drastically transformed the

Methodist Church Nigeria and World Methodism.

His Pre-Eminence Bolaji belongs by right in the hallowed company

Of dreamers who are architects of greatness.

Their vision lies within the soul

They never see the mirage of facts but peer beyond the veils and mists of doubt

And pierce the world of unborn Time.

Through all ages

They have heard the voice of destiny

Call to them from unknown vasts.

Their brains have wrought all human miracles

In laces of stone their spires stab

The old world skies

With the golden crosses kiss the sun

They are a chosen few

The blazers of the way,

Who never wear doubt’s bondage on the eyes.

Who starve and chill and hurt,

But hold to courage and to hope,

Because they know that there is always

Proof of truth for them who try.

Walls do crumble and empires fall

The tidal wave sweeps from the sea

And tears a fortress from its rocks.

Only things the dreamers make live on.

They are the eternal conquerors–

Their vassals are the years.

As we celebrate the 10th Anniversary (Asaba Retreat at 50) of our BABA NLA’s home call,

And rejoice in the luminous life of a man who DARED GREATLY;

Methodist Church Nigeria acknowledges that:

It is not the critic who counts;

Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled

Or where the doer of deeds could have done better.

The credit belongs o the man who is actually in the arena,

Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.

Who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again.

Who knows the great enthusiasms

The great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause.

Who at the best knows in the end triumph of high achievement?

And who at worst; if he fails at last fails while daring greatly,

So that his place shall never be with cold and timid souls

Who know neither victory nor defeat.

From Socrates to Edison,

Every forward step taken by mankind

Through revolting centuries

Has been led by some valiant dreamers,

Whose eyes were fixed upon the dawn.

Methodist Church Nigeria is grateful to a FATHER

Whose ingenuity and courage gave our church a new identity,

The pride of selfhood and dignity of autonomy, and autocephaly.

We know how far we are from reaching

Your envisioned goal,

But we are surely and steadily moving on

With the cross of Jesus ever before us

And emboldened by a pace-setting and challenging cloud of witnesses.

Sleep on, Leader, Father and Friend,

Rest in peace, a Colossus and Dreamer Par Excellence!8

[1] Okegbile, Deji, ‘Bishop on Horseback’: Towards a Missional Episcopacy (London: Sadlprint, 2024), p. 101.

[2] Methodist Church Nigeria: The Asaba Retreat Document, February 1-3, 1974, Matters Relating to the life of the Church and Faith and Order, p. 13.

[3] Okegbile, Deji, Indigenised to Decolonise: Celebrating Nigerian Methodism (London: Sadlprint, 2024), pp. 7-11

[4] Okegbile, ‘Bishop on Horseback,’ pp. 104-105.

[5] Methodist Church Nigeria: The Asaba Retreat Document cited in Okegbile, ‘Bishop on Horseback,’ pp. 105 – 109.

[6] Methodist Church Nigeria, ‘The Appointed Day Services’ – Ratification of the New Constitution, January 20, 1976; Commemorative Service No 2: Consecration and Investiture of Archbishops and Bishops, January 21, 1976 (1-6), Lagos.

[7] Familusi, M.M. Methodism in Nigeria cited in Okegbile, ‘Bishop on Horseback,’ p.  109.

(8) Methodist Church Nigeria, ‘His Pre-Eminence Bolaji 1913-1993 Brochure for the 10th Year Remembrance Service (Patriarch Bolaji Methodist Cathedral, Ita Elewa, Ikorodu, Thursday, November 27, 2003) pp. 1-2; 15-16.