KEYNOTE ADDRESS OF THE MODERATOR OF PCC TO THE SYNOD COMMITTEE OF UNITY, Church Centre Kumba November 20, 2017
Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC)
Synod Committee of Unity, Church Centre Kumba
November 20, 2017
Theme: “That They May Be One” (John 17:21)
The Synod Clerk,
The Financial Secretary,
Distinguished members of the Synod Committee,
Dear Brothers and Sisters for the sake of the faith.
We greet you with the Pauline greeting to the church at Ephesus: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Eph. 1: 3-6).
It is a great honour and a humbling experience to address you our fathers in the faith, senior ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, colleagues in the vineyard of God and friends by the love of Jesus Christ. Our people say it is not for nothing that the hippopotamus comes out of the water to the full glare of those beside the River. That is why this – Post Diamond Jubilee Synod Committee of Unity is a crucial one.
Introduction to the context
The legendary African writer of blessed memory; Chinua Achebe published his world acclaimed book, “Things fall apart”.“Things fall apart” is about the tragic fall of the protagonist, Okonkwo and the traditions and culture of the Igbo people (a tribe in Southern Nigeria) to the advancing horizons of maiden Christianity by the Missionaries. “Things fall Apart” though a fictive novel, it exemplifies a scenario in which, when the centre no longer holds, everything falls apart. It seems we are in a period of human history when many things are falling apart and disunity is the order of the day.
The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has come and gone. The global celebration was preceded by the ‘Luther decade’ which culminated on October 31, 2017. We had a wonderful celebration here in the PCC with a specialized liturgy. While these celebrations were swashed with theological and spiritual significations, not many remembered that our separation, disunity and seeming irreconcilable spirit with the Roman Catholics has lasted for 500 years. See what disunity can do.
The yawning gap of separation within the protestant family is visible. The mainline churches and the Pentecostals are in rivalry; the Pentecostal churches themselves are mushrooming into little individualistic theological and doctrinal fragments. The other day, it took us a whole day of arguments for the Francophone churches of CEPCA to agree on a firm, unanimous position on the Anglophone crisis. Even the declarations of the Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon on the Anglophone crisis are limited to the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Welsh protestant minister and preacher, was so pessimistic about church unity when he said, “Putting all ecclesiastical corpses into one graveyard will not bring about a resurrection”. In other words, bringing all churches together will never lead to unity.
Such is the state of the body of Christ, one of disunity. Theologians console us that we are united in diversity and that unity is not uniformity. True! But what about the scandalous disunity on the essence of Christianity – the body of Christ, or the Lord’s Supper?
During the 500th years of Protestant Reformation celebration, the liturgical task force of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church published “The Common Prayer: from conflict to communion – Lutheran-Catholic celebration of the Reformation in 2017”. Could this be a glimmer of hope for unity in the body of Christ? Jesus Christ says in the gospel according to John, “That they may be one” (Jn. 17:21).
Call for Unity in the PCC
As a church, we begin this Synod Committee of Unity with a great reminder from Jesus Christ that, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mk. 3:25). Let me repeat a story from Aesop fable:
Aesop tells us that there were four bulls which were great friends. They went everywhere together. Fed together, and lay down to rest together; always keeping so close to each other that if any danger were near, they could all face it as one.
Now there was a lion which had determined to have them but he could never get at them singly. He was a match for any one alone, but not for all four at once. However, he used to watch for his opportunity, and whenever one lagged the least bit behind the other as they grazed, he will slink up and whisper that the other bulls had been saying unkind things about him. This he did so often that at last the four friends became uneasy with one another. Each thought the other three were plotting against him. Finally, as there was no longer any trust among them, they went off by themselves, their friendship broken. This was what the lion wanted. One by one, he killed them, and made four good meals.
Our people say, ‘united we stand, divided we fall’. Solomon the wise man of the Bible confirms this wisdom of our people when he said, “…A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecl. 4:12). Unity is an indispensable pre-requisite for growth but growth also can be the source of disunity.
Growth is positive for a church like ours, and our size may be strength. Growth also provides variety in ideas and opinions. Growth and variety can be assets when constructively used; otherwise, our growth and variety in opinions can only be a liability to us. Recently, while we preached schools resumption as a fundamental human right, some of our colleagues chose to sympathize with those who burnt down our schools. While we called for an objective and prudent expression of our prophetic voice, some went on social media to weep up emotions that we were weak and docile, thus lending credence to the false accusation that we received bribe from the government of the Republic of Cameroon.
To those who were doing this, if not for personal ambition, we ask: why would our own Pastors go on social media to render the church weak? While we thought that the ugly tentacles of the Northwest and Southwest divide in the PCC were dying, today, we are being reminded by some congregations and Pastors that the prime qualification for appointments should be tribe and not merit or spiritual maturity.
Recently, we are experiencing the proverbial Paul and Apollos divide. But who is Paul? Who is Apollos? As a church, how are we united with the teachers in their plight? Ah! We have celebrated our dividing forces over our uniting forces! We have celebrated our failures more than our successes. We have celebrated our perception of failures over our vision for success. We have rejoiced on the mishaps of individuals believing that their mishaps would be a stepping stone to replace them! It must not be so with you.
The story is told about two brothers who worked together on a family farm. One was unmarried and the other was married with children. They always shared equally what they grew, both produce and profit. However, one day, the single brother said to himself, “You know, it’s not right that we should share the produce equally, and the profit, too. After all, I’m all alone, just by myself, and my needs are simple. But there is my poor brother with a wife and all those children.” So each night, in the middle of the night he took a sack of grain from his bin, crept over the field between their houses, and dumped it into his brother’s bin. Meanwhile, unknown to him, his brother had a similar thought. He said to himself, “It is not right that we should share produce and profit equally. After all, I am married, and I have my wife to look after me and my children for years to come. But my brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.” So he, too, in the middle of the night, took a sack of grain from his bin and sneaked across the field to deposit it in his brother’s. Each night for years the brothers would sneak a sack of grain into the other’s bin. And both were puzzled for years why their supply did not dwindle. Well, one night it just so happened that they both set out for each other’s house at the same time. In the dark they bumped into each other, carrying their sacks. Each was startled, but then it slowly dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another. Suddenly the dark sky lit up, and a voice from heaven spoke, “Here at last is the place where I will build my Temple. For where brothers meet in love, there my Presence shall dwell.”( Bausch W.J. 2014, A world of stories P280)
A family dwells in unity when God dwells with them. Unity in the church like ours is a mark of God’s presence amongst us. Meanwhile disunity is amongst the best weapons of the devil to retard kingdom business. May our unity be derived from a shared vision and common purpose. Apostle Paul reminds us: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Our Prophetic Voice
Our prophetic voice has been tested during the Anglophone crisis more than it was tested during the rebirth of multi-partism. The presence of the social media has made matters worse because everything on social media seems good but not beneficial. There have been moments when our prophetic voice was rated very highly, but at other times in this same Anglophone crisis our prophetic voice was undervalued. We were humiliated and promised death. May we remind ourselves that the prophetic voice of the church is objective and dependent on God’s revelation. The prophetic voice of the church is not an emotional or individual enterprise, but it is informed by God, guarded by the love of Jesus Christ and prompted by the Holy Spirit. The prophetic voice is never sealed by fear of death. Our call for schools’ resumption is evidence that we are not teleguided by a group of people no matter how legitimate their claims may be. Schools resumption has been accompanied by a mixed bag of blessings, although we still believe that we did the right thing because it agrees with our mission, the mission of Jesus Christ entrusted to the church.
We make decisions that reflect the will of God, not decisions that make us popular on the social media. Therefore, leadership is often a lonely journey. We call on our colleagues to be responsible with the use of social media in the name of expressing the prophetic voice. Even if a colleague has an individual position, he / she should consider what the Church is saying.
We will go to school, and if they burn the schools, Christ will empower us to rebuild; and if they burn the schools further, we will study under the trees. Education is one of the Millennium Development Goals and a universal human right. On the other hand, we wonder how the burning of denominational schools makes a political cause divinely ordained? We must reflect well as Pastors.
We once more take this opportunity to reiterate our position on homosexuality and other forms of sexual deviances especially in the age of social media and its free access to weird sex materials.
“The Synod Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon meeting on behalf of Synod at the Church Centre Kumba 21st – 23rd November 2010 discussed the various tenets of human sexuality and took note of homosexuality which we agree is against our understanding of the scripture… We believe that homosexuality is against God’s plan for any natural sexual relation and procreation and therefore attracts God’s wrath on its victims. Consequently, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon distances itself from all forms of homosexual life style and prohibits Christians from getting involved in those practices. The Presbyterian Church in Cameroon is however, called upon to care for victims of this orientation with the intention of enabling them to direct their sexual preference towards heterosexual relations.”
We have just celebrated our Diamond Jubilee on the theme, “Be Reformed Transformers”. The celebrations, though meant to be low keyed, ended up being colourful and insightful throughout the nation, a true sign of love, fellowship and commitment to our beloved church. As we said in our PCC day message, the theme was a reflection of our identity and how our identity defines our mission and our future. What next after the Diamond Jubilee? Our Post-Diamond Jubilee commitment is never to be cap in hand before our partners abroad begging for financial assistance. Our New Economic Concept and Strategic Management will reflect this commitment in our evangelistic stride and financial sustainability.
New Economic Concept and Strategic Management
Our New Economic Concept and Strategic Management is, Spend Less Evangelize More (SL-EM). This model was introduced during the 2017 central budget planning. It is coming shortly after the PEA adopted the Retreat to Reorganize (R-R) module. Our New Economic Concept and Strategic Management plan hopes to make the church’s economy durably self-sustainable. We hope to optimize or maximize existing, idle and underused resources. We hope to re-finance by adopting austerity measures. Such measures will include international cuts on expenditures as much as possible, increase in savings, spending on the newest productive variables and a robust collection of income. Our New Economic Concept and Strategic Management plan may be shrewd but it is comprehensive. Should we keep operating schools and health units that cannot break-even, simply to meet up with emotional and tribal gratification?
Take for instance, each year we spent 18 million francs only on salaries of teachers in PSS Kumbo. Yet, at the end of each year, we still ended up with unpaid salaries, taxes and CNPS dues. Worst of all, we usually ended the year with disgruntled teachers who hated the system. The New Economic Concept of SL – EM is proposing that if we use just 2.5 million of the 18 million spent on salaries of teachers of PSS Kumbo each year, we should be able to train 100 Kumbo children each year at 25000 francs per Child in our Government Secondary Schools. By this venture, we would still be evangelistic and SL – EM would help the Church to save 15.5 million francs CFA.
Someone may say that we are losing our non-profitability status and we are compromising mission for profit. Our congregational finances operate on a non-profitability status. However, business units are regulated by the free money market forces of demand and supply or a cost-benefit analysis.
The Agro-industry is an integral part of our New Economic Concept and Strategic Management plan. We remind you of our motto: “one congregation, one farm”. We call on the Financial Secretary of the PCC, to apply his mastery in managing financial crisis. We call on all stakeholders, vote holders and vote controllers to show goodwill and the spirit of the fear of the Lord towards the implementation of the 2018 budget.
Mid-Term Balance Sheet
We are about three years old in our five-year mandate, which is slightly more than half way gone. It is courteous to present our own side of the story. First and foremost, we thank you for the privilege to serve you, and for all the support which you have given us through collaboration and execution. We do not know whether we have met the mark but we do know that we have given our hearts to the task, and only God who knows the thoughts of every heart may adequately judge us. The first years in office are like years of sowing seeds; it takes time for what is planted to germinate and grow, before the harvest. We see leadership vision in its long term, that is, even after we leave office, the seeds we planted will be harvested by posterity.
a) On the spiritual plane, we pleaded with God to help us reconcile and unite the church after those seriously contested elections. Today, you can bear witness that everybody has a place in the leadership of the church as long as one is competent. We have not given room for victors’ justice. This explains why we were given one of the most hilarious receptions in the Bakossi Presbyteries, in one instance alongside the former Synod Clerk. This is the reconciliation we pledged ourselves to. Today, some of our most ardent critics are colleagues in the very high offices. They can be sure that as long as they criticize objectively, we will not view them as opponents. That is the reconciliation we ask God for when we assumed office and for us it is our greatest achievement.
b) Concerning spirituality and worship, we chose a middle way of doing things, between those who advocated for extreme charismatism on the one hand and those who advocated for a dogmatic “Basel Mission Presbyterianism” on the other hand. Our goal was to empower Pastors who will then empower the Christians. This has worked well as we no longer have many cases of doctrinal diversions. Instead, there is a return journey for those of our members who went to other churches.
We have organized collective retreats for Pastors and the entire church, namely: in 2015, one-week guided prayers with a liturgy for the nation of Cameroon. In 2016, a 3-day Presbytery retreat for Pastors and church workers. In 2017, a 5-day retreat for all Pastors. Still in 2017, a 7-day retreat and fasting for school resumption and for the Anglophone crisis. These retreats have produced great and immeasurable results. As a follow up to the Pastors’ retreat of 2017, each Pastor was given 7 devotional books to sustain their spirituality. Our forty days guided lent devotions and fasting sums up the mark of corporate spirituality since we assumed office. Each year we distribute between 9000 – 15,000 copies of the lent booklet, second only to the Daily Bible Reading and Diary in terms of supply.
There is an evident spiritual stability and growth in the PCC today. We have discerned pastoral maturity amongst colleagues thus mitigating the rampant dismissal of Pastors. In spite of all these, some people still think that we must be Pentecostal in order to be truly spiritual. Some think spirituality means the complete absence of sin. This ought not to be so. Spirituality is an inner awareness of God’s presence in all we do. Spirituality is our main agenda but it is also an individual’s responsibility.
c) On human resource development, we have given room for training amongst personnel of the church with enough resources as the organization is growing. Take the case of Pastors; about 40 pastors are presently involved in work-study at the PTS. They will graduate with at least a Bachelor or a Master degree in Theology. In the last three (3) years, three (3) Rev. Drs. have been produced, with about five (5) others in the making. These are very expensive ventures, especially as this would increase the wage bill of the budget. However, we cannot deny Pastors the possibility of capacity building. Our hope is that increased capacity would lead not only to quantitative but also to qualitative output and this will help us to balance the books. We are more committed than ever before to grow the income of the church wherever possible.
d) On business strides and projects, there is ongoing construction of a paper production factory at Presprint Limbe while the completion of 12 classrooms at PCHS Limbe is on-going as well. In PSS Douala, 3 classrooms and 2 dormitory blocks are under construction, while plans are underway to construct a PEA college in Yaounde and a new Synod Office as our Jubilee gift to the Church. Also, there is the on-going construction of the Women’s and Men’s work Secretariats respectively. The finishing on the commercial building in Bamenda is currently going on. This is same with an ultra-modern hospital in Yaounde, an Out Patient Department (OPD) department in Kumba and a PESH guest house in addition; there is the importation of 5 containers of medical equipment from the USA and Canada. As for what concerns the revitalization of Preswood as well as 03 PYC (Presbyterian Youth Centres), the disbursement of funds (209 million FCFA) from the government is being awaited. We received farm tools of 02 tractors, 03 grinding mills, among others, to boost agricultural activities in PRTC Manyemen. We are also awaiting the final documents of Press Micro Finance Institution from COBAC.
Even as we list these ongoing plans, all is not a bed of roses, beautiful as roses are, they have thorns. Some of our decisions have not been pleasing to some people but that is the consequence when an organization becomes too large, decisions hardly meet the expectations of all. The church is like a big farm, by the time you finish cleaning one part of the farm, the other part is bushy as if nobody ever passed there.
Dear distinguished members of the Synod Committee, Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We have all come from different ships but we’re in the same boat now”. We either sail together or sink together. Let us focus on what unites us than what divides us. Richard Baxter, of the “Reformed Pastor” writing after Augustine Hippo said;
In essentials, unity,
In non-essentials, liberty,
In all things, charity.
Thank you for your kind attention and God bless the PCC.
Yours for the Sake of the Faith,
Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba