The day I swore to stop attending my mother’s church, I was 18 years old, in university with the chance to for once be rebellious and get away with it.
I was grown and old enough to make the decision of quitting her church, Sanctuary of Glory Evangelical Ministry Inc., but you see, I grew up in Nigeria, where parents still nursed the laughable idea of being able to give you a good ass whooping no matter how tall or how grown you became. I knew that backlash would greet my decision at the door. I knew that my spirituality or better yet my “religiosity” would be questioned. I knew that my mother would ask if I thought these new generation churches that only preached prosperity and greatness rather than focus on the second coming of Jesus, were ideal for one’s spiritual growth. The churches where people called God – Gad, where food was served to first-timers to entice them into coming back the next Sunday, where no one knew the songs the choir sang and ushers were so flamboyantly dressed, they took the attention off Jesus.
But I was resolute. If it meant having menstrual cramps every Sunday morning, I was ready. Whatever it took to end my Sunday affair with her small evangelical ministry whose pastor called you out for sleeping during service. I often slept but he never caught me, mainly because I have since my childhood mastered the art of dozing off with my eyes open. They say it is a disorder, but if this was your church you would want a sleep disorder. I have often said that there is a thin line between a long church service and a hostage situation. If there was ever a Sunday service closed before 2pm at my mother’s church, I was not in attendance. Her Pastor cast out the spirit of sleep if he ever caught you nodding off then proceeded to make you the subject of his remaining sermon, completely abandoning what God had earlier asked him to minister to the people. He justified this with being led by same God to preach about sleep, perhaps somebody needed to hear it and stop sleeping too much, stop being lazy.
He was often very angry. He didn’t do much to hide his disgust whenever power went off from his microphone or the loud speaker made a shrilling sound. He fumed when the Halleluyah response from the church showed signs of dwindling at any point, told them the Halleluyah was either too small or not at all for his God. One could hear the spittle that formed by the corners of his mouth lace the microphone every Sunday from the complete nuisance of a megaphone tied to a window facing west of the church. His wife on the other hand was gentle as a dove. The only time I heard her raise her voice was one day after service when a member had come out to the parking lot to find his okada missing. She comforted the owner’s wife and said the words; distraction from the pit of hell a little too loudly while pacifying her. Pastor’s wife usually wore stylish hats with net trimmings that covered her eyes every time as though she was shielding them from the sun or something. Perhaps she was shy. She didn’t look shy in photos that appeared on church handbills though, where pastor usually sat in a big chair and she stood behind him slightly bent, her two hands hand delicately placed on his shoulder, one over lapping the other. She was that type of woman who called her husband daddy, whose husband regarded her as the first born of the pack of children and treated her as such, yelling at her to leave his room because he wanted to pray or calling out furiously while starting his car engine “I will leave you behind and you will find your way to church if you don’t get into the car now.”
Ok I had never heard him say any of that to be honest, but I had seen her curtsey while on the phone to him too many times. One day after house fellowship, pastor was out of town as he usually was many times, preaching the gospel everywhere. But he phoned in at the end just to pronounce blessings on those of us who still deemed it important to gather in God’s presence inspite of fuel scarcity. His wife spoke to him afterwards, away from the rest of us but I could see her through strings of brown beaded curtain, half kneeling and saying yes sir, no sir, but sir, mo ti gbo sir in near whispers. Believe me I turned my face away immediately.
It was this kind of Pastor that my mother insisted was our spiritual head, covering, shepherd, Daddy pastor, priest. Way too many names for a short man. But he was a Man of God, a Bible believing one. “Say what you must, but it is obvious he loves God dearly” she often said of him. “He would never do anything to anger God,” which to be honest is relatively true, because once, when a certain choir uncle got his girlfriend pregnant and confessed in confidence to pastor immediately he found out about it, pastor decided he had to be punished for this unforgiveable act of rebellion towards God. He called him out unexpectedly on a rainy Sunday morning, right after the offering basket had come round the fourth time, for love offering, seed offering, permanent site offering, and a fourth one that escapes my memory now. I only had love offering. For the second and third offering, I put my fist quickly in and out of the satin wrapped, wine coloured basket in pretense and by the time it was coming back round the fourth time, I shut my eyes tight in deep worship and hoped that my neighbour standing next to me would be smart enough to not disturb my personal time with Jehovah. She wasn’t. She tapped my arm with the basket twice but I remained steadfast in worship, until minutes later when I heard the Pastor clear his throat into the microphone then bless the offering of God’s people did I open my eyes.
He looked morose, contrite and prayed without the vehemence that I was accustomed to.
He began by telling us that “we would pray…again.”
“For forgiveness,” he added quickly.
”Ask God for a cleansing, a purging, a spiritual cleanse.”
As the prayer and wailing gathered momentum, he punctuated now and again with shouts of deliverance.
“Deliverance…deliverance Lord…Your people need your deliverance…Deliverance for your people Lord,” magnanimously excluding himself from said deliverance.
After the prayer session that lasted roughly 20 minutes he called out choir uncle who emerged slowly from where he had been seating inconspicuously behind the shiny blue set of drums. A huge rock held the biggest of the drums in place and choir uncle seemed to have hit his leg slightly against it as he made his way forward. Pastor motioned for him to stop just as he was about to begin ascending the alter. He pushed him back a little further with no words but the flapping of his palm in the air as a sign, somewhat like the way security guards in Ibadan restaurants motion for you to keep reversing your car until you suddenly hit a wall, then they spread their palms and say stop.
Without instruction, choir uncle knelt down and bowed his head.
“In all my years in ministry” Pastor began, “no one I know has ever done something of this magnitude. No one I know has ever put my people…God’s people, the people God put in my care… no one has ever put them to shame, put them in harm’s way like our brother here has done.”
He sounded offended. The church grew silent completely.
“There is a reason the spirit asked me to lead you all to pray for a cleansing and a purging. You will know soon.”
“Brother Mark”, he beckoned nonchalantly at someone from the technical unit. “Please bring another microphone let Brother Soji use his mouth to tell the people of God what he did.”
Brother Mark jogged up the aisle and held the microphone before Brother Soji’s mouth. He started with a murmur that Pastor interrupted…”please speak up Bro Soji, speak up, let God hear you.”
I,…I…,My… I put my girlfriend in the family way. She… is pregnant… for me”
Hmnnnnnnnnnn the entire congregation sighed in a monotone. Then some murmuring continued
“Go on,Go on” Pastor’s voice urged him from behind. Brother Soji moved his mouth, searched it for more words to say, but no sound came out, only his breath; weightless vapour.
“Brother Soji here, a long time choir member impregnated a woman, church… defiled God’s temple. He informs me they will be having their wedding soon, but not in this church” Pastor added quickly.
He proceeded to let him know with much disgust and little empathy that the Holy Spirit had no doubt departed from him and the said lady, right before putting him on 8 weeks suspension from the choir or any other unit.
“I will not say much, but this is a time for you to seek the face of God. Ensure you come to church but touch nothing, do nothing.”
Rain poured heavily that morning, hitting the aluminium roof of the church angrily as if God was corroborating Pastor’s anger and the congregation continued murmuring, with a few praying under their breath, my mother too, asking God for grace to stand in these end times. The awkwardness of the service did not end even after Pastor asked the church to offer up prayers of forgiveness for Brother Soji and led him in the repentance prayer. It did not end for weeks, it lingered for just a little while more after I stopped seeing Brother Soji in church.
No one talked much about Pastor or his anger, the worry lines that seemed to be permanent on his forehead from pastoring, except at home or in clicks that people formed especially during Youth for Christ meetings. Young people peddled gossip they had heard from their Aunties or fathers or anyone who had at any point had a close shave or run in with pastor. The gossip seemed to happen a lot more after Brother Soji left.
It was at one of these meetings that the sister’s coordinator had spilled the horror she went through when pastor instructed her to get a virginity and pregnancy test done a day before getting married otherwise he would not wed her in the church and that he even followed her to the hospital to ensure the results weren’t fake or altered.
It was also at this meeting I knew I was running away from the church. I could not risk pastor ever following me to get a virginity test done in a couple years to come and so strategically, I planned my exit.
NOTE; While the above story is based on true facts and happenings I have seen for myself and heard about, it is still largely a work of fiction. The church and names bare no resemblance to anyone. However, if you feel for some reason that this is your pastor’s sub, you are very welcome to catch it.