“In loving memory of…” is not an uncommon inscription on pillars, pews, drum sets, among others, in churches across Nigeria. You may also have come across church ‘marriage lists’ featuring levies ranging from suits for pastors and their spouses, and even bills for getting fuel for the church’s generator. Interestingly, according to claims, the couple may be asked to simply pay an amount before the ceremony can take place. However, not all Christians seem happy with the practice, following allegations of clerics making such donations obligatory. RITA OKONOBOH, in this report, examines the compulsory or voluntary nature of such claims and possible sanctions.
PA Oyeniyi, in his late 70s had passed on recently. Pa Oyeniyi was an active member of one of Nigeria’s most popular orthodox churches. Although his son, Mr Tunde Oyeniyi, hadn’t been a member of the church as he had changed churches more than 20 years ago, it only seemed right to bury his father according to his original church rites, seeing as he had been very active till his last days when he became bedridden. Alongside his family members, they contacted a branch of the church in their hometown and were told to come for a meeting. According to him, they were asked to donate a drum set to the church before Pa Oyeniyi could benefit from the church’s rite for the dead.
“We were asked to pick something we could do for the church. We asked for a list of items we could pick from, and we picked the drum set. Although, in all fairness to the church, at that meeting, the cleric didn’t exactly come out in plain terms to say if it was compulsory or not, the references made to the drum set was seemingly one tending more towards compulsion. We had to eventually promise that before the burial ceremony was over, we would donate the cash equivalent to the cleric. In fact, I promised to make the donation, just so we could get the service underway. Somehow, I forgot to pay. Hopefully, I can redeem the pledge someday,” Oyeniyi stated.
‘I was asked to pay N25,000 before the wedding service would hold’
The experience of another Christian, John (as he chose to identify himself), may not be so distant from a marriage list made available to Sunday Tribune, represented in one of the illustrations in the report, which included bills for fuel for generator, levies for lateness to church, specific details on food and drinks for pastors and other ministers, among others.
In John’s case, it was his spouse’s church that had made the demand, he told Sunday Tribune.
“It’s one of those churches that can’t be described as pentecostal, orthodox, but they’re very popular within and outside Nigeria. They have branches in almost every street across the country. When we visited the pastor, I was told point-blank that I had to pay N25,000 before we could be wedded in the church. When I asked what it was for, I was told it was my way of contributing to development activities in the church. This was aside other things we were asked to bring. My wife just appealed to me to pay and get it over with, as that was the practice,” John stated.
‘Although, I struggled to raise N300,000, I’m happy my mum’s memory is represented in one of the church’s pillars’
A widowed trader, Mrs Olayinka, who blatantly refused to name the church, in her case, said she had to appeal to her very close friends to help her out since she didn’t have the means to raise the entire sum of N300,000 she had promised to pay to the church for a pillar to be erected in her late mother’s memory.
“It is more or less compulsory in my church. It is an opportunity that comes once-in-a-lifetime, as I won’t bury my mother twice, so I had to do it. My late mother held major positions in church, and it would have been embarrassing to tell the church I couldn’t do the needful. Do you know the pride that comes from seeing that my mother is literally the pillar on which the church rests? I can’t describe it. It’s also a way of proving my faith in God. That period was very challenging because I had spent so much before she eventually passed on. However, God showed Himself faithful and I was able to raise the money. It was nothing short of a miracle and I was able to give my mum a befitting burial as well,” she stated.
When asked if there were sanctions for non-compliance, she said: “It’s not like there are stated sanctions, but there are more or less. First, there is that ‘look’ your members give you when they find out you questioned the practice. It’s not really a big deal, as long as you have the means to fund it.”
Administering sacraments is not something that is for sale —Fr Adedigba
A Catholic priest, Reverend Father Felix Adedigba, denied such reports which claimed the donations were compulsory, insisting that they are strictly voluntary and have absolutely no stake in the determination of if such persons will be buried according to the Catholic faith.
“It’s not a rule. Wherever such is taking place as compulsory, it’s actually an aberration. No donation or contribution should be attached to the giving of sacraments. Administering sacraments is not something that is for sale. It’s Jesus Christ’s gift for believers – for those who follow him. It’s not something that should be paid for; you can’t pay for it. That you’re burying someone, are you paying for the person to go to heaven? So anywhere it is taking place and it is compulsory, it’s an aberration. There is nothing bad in soliciting for assistance for a developing church. If you’re a member of the church and you feel that for the occasion you want to contribute to the growth of the church, there’s nothing bad in giving. But it should not be a condition for someone to be buried. The person getting married or buried would have been fulfilling his obligations, so there is no point demanding what is not part of the requirements. They should not attach donation of anything to it. We need to enquire why this takes place because there could be some kind of local arrangement and there should be everyone’s consent. However, if anyone says they can’t afford that, the person should just be left alone. It should not be imposed on everybody.”
Donations in the MCN are strictly voluntary —Bishop Omoniyi
Bishop Titus Omoniyi of the Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN), in his reaction, noted that “It is not a law, but sometimes, we make appeal to them, if there are areas they could support the church. It is a freewill donation. We don’t compel people to do certain things when they want to hold wedding or funeral services in church. We only appeal for voluntary donations. We don’t sanction people; we only appeal. I don’t know of other churches but for the Methodist Church Nigeria, we don’t force people to do what they cannot do. We only appeal to them to support the work of God in any area we feel they should support. If the person cannot give what we have asked, the service will still be held.”
For weddings, all you’re expected to do is pay for the certificate(s) —Pastor Makinwa
Pastor J. Olu Makinwa of the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), in his response on charges for wedding and burial services said: “In the case of weddings, all the person has to pay for is the certificate. Only the certificate is to be paid for. However, if the church is licensed by government, you know in that case, the person does not need to go to the local government registry. So, the money paid is for two certificates – one for the registry and the other for the church. Aside that, the church doesn’t ask for any other thing. For burials, in the CAC, we don’t ask for any such money. All the church may do is to suggest that the family does something for the church. Sometimes, without even the church suggesting it, we have had families announce their donations to the church. It is not compulsory.”
‘You have to ‘take care’ of the clerics, choristers’
Another cleric, who preferred to remain anonymous, said it wasn’t uncommon to find such practices within the community of clerics.
“In the real sense of it, no one forces you to pay anything or make such donations to the church. However, it is required that you take care of the pastors, choristers, and other such people who take part in the ceremony, before the reception, because after the church service, such persons may not have the opportunity to be taken care of, as the focus of the ceremony will change. What exactly is the problem with pastors giving lists? It’s not like such things happen every day, anyway. It’s just a way to show appreciation, that’s all.”
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