The Ministry and family life of His Grace, Most Rev Joseph Sunday Ajayi, and his wife, Mama Antonia Ajayi, remain a model of Evangelical Bishop and family. Since Archbishop Ajayi’s transition on Thursday, 9th November 2016, Mama Ajayi never allowed the evangelical legacy of her husband to wane. At 70, Mama Ajayi remains a model wife to an evangelical Bishop. Born on 26th April 1953 to Papa and Mama Dominic Ogunleye and Florence Iyaagba Fayose of the Roman Catholic Church, she was born again while in school in June 1973. Mama Ajayi remains a child of God, saved by grace and maintained in the way of the Lord by grace. Living a life of righteousness and holiness by His enabling grace and learning to obey God to abide in His Presence always by grace.
Mama Ajayi attended Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School Ijebu. Afterward, she went to the School of Agriculture in Akure and Ibadan. While in the United States of America with her husband, she completed her Master’s degree at SMU, Dalla, Texas. Mama Ajayi and Archbishop Ajayi, both discipled in the evangelical teachings, got married in the Methodist Church Nigeria, Oye-Ekiti, on 8th July 1978. Their life, Ministry, and marriage remain a blessing to many today. Mama Ajayi at 70 points to ‘for better’ and ‘for worse’ of Bishop’s wife’s roles and experiences, bearing in mind the hardship, loneliness, and satisfaction that mark spouses’ lives. Mama Ajayi at 70 reminds us of the shared moments of “privilege” encountered as part of their partners’ ministries.
The 38 years of their union point to marriage as extraordinary: a man and a woman who came together under God’s holy command, loving against all odds, sometimes loving when we are not loved back, and sometimes loving sacrificially. Mama and Archbishop Ajayi’s Ministry and marital legacies call us to remember the mitre as a crown of thorns “for worse” in loneliness, betrayals, accusations, and gossip, among others. Mama Ajayi became a co-worker when her husband was appointed Bishop, performing various roles simultaneously-those of wife, mother, and Bishop’s wife. I can attest to the resulting workload of Bishop’s wife when I remember the first Methodist Evangelical Movement Convention at the Redemption Camp, Lagos, immeasurable-as is the toll it took mentally, physically, and emotionally. Mama Ajayi “being a bishop’s wife involves being a supportive companion in the Bishop’s Ministry. There is a saying in Urdu which, translated, says that the digit one, when doubled, becomes the digit eleven. In other words, it becomes 11 times as strong. We have learned to make our decisions together and with the help of prayer.” I am a witness to Mama Ajayi’s role as Bishop’s wife in protecting her husband from being “overwhelmed by the bureaucracy of the church.”
The three planes of the Bishop’s Ministry, namely – the local, the universal, and the historical, intertwine with each other and resonates with the roles, times, and energies of the Bishop’s wife. Just as the Bishop is much more than his mission or the diocese’s chief pastor, the wife also belongs to the circle of bishops’ wives. John Taylor’s reminiscence as a former bishop of St Albans provides insight into the life and work of a bishop and the role of the Bishop’s wife. The essence of the pastoral task concerning pastoral office points to the demand of the Bishop’s wife’s daily work, especially to give the Bishop the prayerful support needed to fulfill the Ministry.
The different dimensions of the Bishop’s role, which is in accord with the New Testament Church, built upon the past, stretching out in unity with fellow believers elsewhere but located as God’s people in a given locality, explains the dimensions of the Bishop’s wife roles. Mama Ajayi states, ‘Being a minister’s wife takes trusting your husband and being involved in the Ministry together in all ramifications and doing all you do as unto the LORD and keeping the home base peaceful and loving. Taking care of your children both physically and spiritually. Protect your husband and children.’ On the secret behind being married to an evangelical bishop in a Methodist church at a time when others were going to the new generation churches, Mama Ajayi said, “I believe both husband and wife need to keep the atmosphere of the home spiritually charged. Do not be too busy to commune with God individually and together. Be one in your decisions even if you don’t like it. Let there be no communication gap.”
On her memories about her husband seven years after his transition and her advice to Christian widows, Mama Ajayi at 70 reminds us that there is no greater joy than having Jesus in your life. She says, “Let Jesus be your husband and strength. He will guide you if He wants you to remarry if you are still young. Be active in the things of God. Seek His face, continually fellowship with God, and most importantly, be Rapture ready.” On the state of Methodism today, Mama Ajayi, at 70, believes in a renewing wave of Methodist revival. She explained that we could do much together in the Methodist Ministry if we were united in scriptural holiness and not each fighting for recognition. The devil uses our disunity to wreak havoc in the church and even use unsuspecting Christians to ridicule one another and disturb revival. May God revive His church in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.