In this piece, EMMANUEL ABODUNRIN traces how 90-year-old cleric, Most Rev Father Oluwole Abiola, started the Aladura International Church in the 1970s in the United Kingdom
The founder and General Superintendent of the Aladura International Church, London, the United Kingdom, the Most Rev. Father Oluwole Aremu Abiola, OBE, clocked 90 on March 3, 2019, thereby joining the nonagenarian club in good health, vitality, God’s grace and uncommon strength.
As a soldier for Christ, Rev Abiola has held sway over the Aladura International Church in the UK providing the needed platforms for many others to serve God. He is a colossus in the Aladura fold, particularly in the diaspora.
Though Rev Abiola founded The Aladura International Church in the 1970s, the mustard seed that germinated and blossomed into one of the notable Christian ministries in the UK was said to have been planted in the mid-1960s when he moved to London.
Rev Abiola is also credited with being the driver behind the formation of the Council of African and Afro-Caribbean Churches in the UK.
The council, on www.caccuk.org, had this to say about him, “The Most Reverend Father Olu Abiola initiated the formation of a council after it was realised that the African community needed a united body to advance the Christian faith. Under the precept that unity is strength , the Council of African and Allied Churches was formed in 1979 after previous attempts failed. The membership grew tremendously in the early ’80s and included churches of Caribbean origin.
“Due to the diversity of membership, the name was changed to reflect the membership so the council changed its name in 1986 to the Council of African and Afro-Caribbean Churches. The council’s membership is open to all churches that confess the Lord Jesus as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.”
Abiola, who has actively been in the ministry for decades, working in the Lord’s vineyard and spreading the Gospel of Christ in the UK, has had his influence grow beyond the Aladura fold. For his devotion to the service of God, the irrepressible and revered man of God was on June 14, 2002, honoured and awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services in interfaith relations.
In a paper titled, ‘Aladuraism – The Christian Religion of Authority & Power’ available on www.aladurainternational.org, Abiola explained how he was compelled to establish The Aladura International Church in London in the 70s.
He said, “The Aladura International Church in the United Kingdom came to being as an answer to a need in the 1960s. It was a need by students basically from the former British and French colonies, who were active and committed Christians in their various countries, but who on arrival in Britain were rejected, despised and forsaken by the very denominations that converted them or their ancestors because of the colour of their skins.
“The Aladura International Church, therefore, does not aim to segregate or discriminate against anyone, it is not a ‘black’ Church, but it aims to find and bring back into the fold (the Church) the lost sheep of Israel; the disappointed Christians who had high hopes of enjoying a Christian life within a Christian community in an assumed Christian mother-country, but who to their disappointment on reaching Britain, experienced a different situation and because of that abandoned their much cherished faith.”
Rev Abiola said his experience in 1962, after he arrived in Britain, shocked him and spurred him into taking actions.
His words: “On my arrival in the UK from Nigeria in 1962, I had bad experiences which I never thought were possible in Britain. The weather was very cold, and most of the people I met were not friendly. Being the only black person in the house where I lived, the other people in the house kept to themselves and on rare occasions that we met either in the kitchen or at the doorstep, they would not answer even when I greeted them.”
Rev Abiola said he was cold and lonely with no one to talk to and no place to go, coupled with the fact that his family was thousands of miles away.
“As an ordained minister, I attended and worshipped at the Anglican Church near my home the very first Sunday after my arrival,” he added. “To my surprise, I was told at the end of the service by the officiating minister that I would be much more at home and welcomed by my own kind and he directed me to a ‘Black’ Pentecostal Church around.
“This incident saddened me because when the first Anglican missionary, Mr (Henry) Townsend, arrived in Nigeria in 1846, it was my great grandfather, Chief Ogunbona, who accepted and welcomed him into his house. He gave him land to build a chapel and supervised the building himself.”
While recalling that back home in Nigeria in the 60s, people lived as one in their communities with no door closed or gate locked, Rev Abiola wondered why things were not the same in Britain.
He said, “The church is a place where you can make friends and know people. But here in Britain, I was alone among so many people and it got worse as the days went by that I nearly suffered a nervous breakdown.
“For this reason, I enrolled as a student with the University of London. But for the advice of one of my lecturers who told me to buy a radio to keep me company, I might have either become insane or committed suicide. The advice worked and I was able to manage myself from then on.”
Explaining the impact the shocking experience had on him, Rev Abiola said, “This personal experience of rejection, loneliness and disappointment prompted me to go out on the street in 1966 after I completed my studies. It prompted me to look for and speak to any black person that I met, especially students, to inquire about their well-being. I found that I was not alone in my predicament. So, I passed on the advice given to me by my lecturer – the need for me to buy a radio.”
He said, “To my amazement, the advice worked wonders for those I came in contact with. It was during my voluntary involvement in social and welfare work among students that I found people in appalling conditions which led many to suffer mental breakdown and some committed suicide.
“Friends and relations of people who were ill, either mentally or physically, always requested that I visit the sick either in their homes or in the hospitals.”
But, there was an encounter with a Ghanaian lady in 1968, which Rev Abiola said made him initiate regular meetings for Africans in Britain.
He said, “In 1968, I was called upon to visit an 18-year-old Ghanaian girl at the mental hospital in Epsom. The experience of seeing many young men and women from the Commonwealth countries suffering like that nearly broke my heart.
“It was at that point that I started organising weekend get-togethers and intensified my visits. I tried to get financial help to cope with the burden of the organisation and visits, but with no success.”
The get-togethers, according to the nonagenarian preacher, dovetailed into prayer meetings, counselling sessions and finally a church.
He explained, “In 1970, I decided to extend the activities to include prayer meetings and Sunday worship as well as counselling and dissemination of information. After consultations with the then Bishop of Southwark, the Right Revd Mervyn Stockwood, who also accepted to be one of our patrons, the name Aladura International Church was adopted and in 1975, it was registered as a charity.”
Having been in the ministry since then, Rev Abiola said the church, with the help of its ordained ministers and members, had continued with the voluntary social welfare work of counselling, disseminating information and visiting hospitals and prisons.
He stated, “Our voluntary work has involved us with many organisations both local and national, among which are the Balham and Tooting Law Centre, Wandsworth Panel of Lay Visitors, Family Welfare Association, National Association of Boy’s Clubs, The Standing Conference of Ethnic Minority Senior Citizens, Wandsworth Black Economic Development Organisation, English Churches Youth Council, the Interfaith network, and many others.”
Through Rev Abiola’s unrelenting efforts, amid the support of members of the church, the Aladura International Church has joined various national and international ecumenical bodies, such as the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, Free Church Federal Council, Council of African and Afro-Caribbean Churches UK, Churches Together in England, Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, and the Conference of European Churches.
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