WHY DOES A BRUSH WITH DEATH MAKE PEOPLE TURN TO RELIGION?

(On the day before he died, Sir John Tavener complained that there was “a notable lack of joy in modern art” Photo: REX)

“In the midst of life, we are in death”

“Life is a creeping tragedy.That’s why we must be cheerful.”

“Our glory lies where we cease to exist.”

Sir John Tavener’s final broadcast on the BBC’s Today programme brought home with force the truths of faith.

“In the midst of life, we are in death” it says in the funeral service. In modern conditions, we are often made to feel that this is not true. The great event with which every life must end is concealed by our culture. Up go the curtains round the hospital bed and we all talk about something else.

So I listened with unusual interest to Start the Week (Radio 4) on Monday. In January, the programme’s presenter, Andrew Marr, though only in his early fifties, suffered a stroke. He has recently returned to broadcasting. His post-stroke speech has the vocal equivalent of a very slight limp. On Monday, this made what he had to say the more affecting.

Marr told his audience that he is not religious but that, as he has convalesced, he has found himself reading religious poetry and listening to religious music. He has encountered “the possibility of sudden death”, and it has changed him. He reads the 17th-century poems of George Herbert and listens to the cantatas of JS Bach. Why might this be, he wanted to know. Why, in a culture which seems less and less interested in the formal teachings of religion, do many people feel that religious poetry and religious music matter more than ever?

Sir John explained that he had recently had a near-death experience. Since he had been ill, he had been looking back on his life a lot. Although he had moved from the Presbyterianism of his childhood, through Roman Catholicism, to a rather unorthodox version of eastern Orthodoxy, he remembered fondly a Protestant pastor of his youth. “Life is a creeping tragedy,” the minister used to say. “That’s why we must be cheerful.”

At first, Sir John’s illness had “shut everything down. God seemed to have vanished”; but then, as he recovered strength, his belief in God and his capacity to compose music – which, he said, had always gone together – returned. Now his music had become “more essential; more terse”.

The next day, Sir John Tavener died. He had Started the Week, but he didn’t finish it. In the midst of life, we were in death.

I listened to the programme again on iPlayer. Now it was charged with greater meaning by the circumstances. Its themes, sometimes apparently disparate, seemed to resolve themselves, as in music. Tavener complained that there was “a notable lack of joy in modern art”. He had just set three of Herbert’s poems to music (they will be performed for the first time next year). He quoted Dante: “All my thoughts speak of love.”

John Drury read out one of Herbert’s most famous poems, Love (III). It takes the form of a dialogue between the unworthy soul and Love (who is God, though not so named). The soul is inclined to refuse Love’s invitation to sit at his table, but Love, the perfect host, persuades him. In the dialogue, said Dr Drury, “Love has fewer words, but they are sprightly. In the end, it is Love that matters.” On Tuesday, the end came for John Tavener.

Being no musician, or even a serious appreciator of music, I cannot judge Tavener’s work, beyond saying how I have always found it – in the literal sense of the word – entrancing. One gets caught up in it. To use a phrase of St John of the Cross, one “dies to oneself”. The concept of dying to oneself makes actual, physical death less terrible.

With his long hair and his almost hippy appearance, his incongruous love of fast, expensive cars and his weakness for the pow-wow drum or a Tibetan temple bowl, Sir John sometimes resembled what, as schoolboys, we called a “pseud”. Like Sir Laurens van der Post (another favourite of the Prince of Wales) or the travel writer Bruce Chatwin, he appeared to tread a fine line between mage and poseur. But if you follow his career, you can see the consistency of a quest which was both spiritual and musical. In his creativity, he may have been restlessly egotistical, yet his beliefs turned egotism into almost its opposite. As he put it, referring to the requiem mass: “Our glory lies where we cease to exist.”

George Herbert, though high-born and ambitious, eventually chose the simple life of a parish priest. He wrote his poems, but never attempted to publish them in life. As he was dying, he asked them to be given to a trusted friend, saying that they were “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts which have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master”. He asked him to read the book and “if it may turn to the advantage of any poor dejected soul, let it be made public”; if not, he should burn it.

Luckily, the friend published, to the advantage of thousands of poor dejected souls ever since, up to and including Andrew Marr. Herbert’s glory lies where he ceased to exist.

For Herbert, that dejection he referred to was important. It was a horrible thing, but also a grace. In one of his most famous and beautiful poems, The Flower, Herbert compares his formerly depressed self to the plant that seems to die, but doesn’t: “And now in age I bud again,/After so many deaths I live and write;/I once more smell the dew and rain,/And relish versing: /Oh my only light,/ It cannot be/That I am he/On whom thy tempests fell all night.”

On Start the Week, Jeanette Winterson quoted Seamus Heaney: “Poetry should be strong enough to help.” “Strong” wouldn’t be the first adjective one would associate with George Herbert’s refined and gentle spirit, but it turns out to be the right one. His poetry helps.

I should have liked to ask Andrew Marr for his own answers to his own questions. What is it that he, an unreligious person, finds valuable in Herbert, the most truly religious of all English religious poets, or in a religious composer like Sir John Tavener?

On air, Marr asked if it were true, as some have said, that only a good Christian could read Herbert correctly. The panel were indignant at the idea, no doubt rightly so, since Herbert wrote for any human being who might need it. But the broader question stands: if people do not believe what religion says, why do they turn to its utterances when sick or dying or in fear?

The obvious, cynical, but not completely wrong answer is “Any port in a storm”. But I would argue that something else is going on, too. The chief message of 21st-century Western culture is one of self-empowerment. With technology, money, know-how, rights, medicine, problems can be solved: “You can do it!” Often this is true. But an encounter with really serious things – and nothing is more serious than death – tells you that ultimately you cannot. When you realise this, the paradoxes that are central to the great religions (especially to Christianity, which is the most paradoxical) come home with unique force. When I am weak, then am I strong; you must die to live.

In our culture, millions of people only think about these things too late, if at all. So the people who think about them all the time are helpful – and brave. Which is good reason to give thanks for the life and work of Sir John Tavener.

Source: Why does a brush with death make people turn to religion? – Telegraph

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PASTORS OF MEGA CHURCHES SAY-“WHAT WE ARE PAID CANNOT SUSTAIN US”

Revealed: Nigeria’s rich mega churches pay pastors poor salaries –

An investigation carried out by SUNDAY PUNCH has shown that many of Nigeria’s mega rich churches pay their pastors poor wages, reports SUNDAY ABORISADE

An extensive investigation carried out by SUNDAY PUNCH has revealed that many of the country’s prosperity-preaching, super-rich mega churches pay their pastors poor wages. The newspaper’s findings revealed that a substantial majority of the pastors engaged by the churches, who are polytechnic and university graduates, earn between N25,000 and N45,000 a month.

According to our correspondent’s findings, full-time pastors, in addition to preaching and teaching during midweek services and Sunday services are also expected to perform other sundry duties that leave them with little time for other business endeavours.

Some of the churches reviewed were the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the Living Faith World Outreach, popularly known as Winners Chapel, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, the Deeper Christian Life Ministry (an holiness church that has of late embraced economic empowerment themes), Christ Embassy International and Lord Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries.

Nigeria is home to several Christian denominations broadly categorised as orthodox and unorthodox churches. But a clearer categorisation of churches is the one adopted by the Christian Association of Nigeria. It divides churches in Nigeria into five broad categories. According to the CAN website, the groups are the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria; Christian Council of Nigeria, comprising the Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Foursquare, Presbyterian, Eternal Sacred Order of C&S, Church of the Lord Aladura and other orthodox Churches; the   Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; Organisation of African Instituted Churches; and ECWA – Evangelical Church of West Africa and Northern-Nigerian churches like COCIN, HKAN NKST, Christian Assemblies, LCCN etc.

In recent years, the Pentecostals, especially Pentecostal groups that preach faith, miracles and prosperity, have come to symbolise the face of Nigerian Christianity to the world. In addition to their huge memberships, running into tens of millions, these churches are also widely known because of their jet-set senior pastors and the businesses they run. These churches own primary and secondary schools and universities, micro-finance banks, foods and beverages companies, huge agricultural farms, sports teams, printing firms and so on.

Their senior pastors are known to be extremely wealthy, own private jets, maintain luxury homes in the country and abroad, and send their children to some of the best schools in the world.

However, the parish pastors of some of the biggest churches in the country, who spoke to our correspondent, painted a picture that showed that they live in a different world from their senior pastors.

Our correspondent noted that the clergymen spoke reluctantly for the fear of losing their jobs. Efforts made by our correspondent to ascertain the financial health of the churches were unsuccessful as the churches are known not to make their financial reports public, neither are they made available to their members.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God

The RCCG is one of the country’s biggest Pentecostal churches. It has a group of primary and secondary schools spread all over the country. The schools are Redeemer’s International School, Redeemer’s International Secondary School, Redeemer’s High School and Christ the Redeemer’s College. The church also owns Redeemer’s University, Haggai Mortgage Finance Bank, Lifeway Radio, Dove Media, Redemption Light Printing Press, hospitals, among others.

The most senior pastor of the church, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, a former university lecturer, is known to be humble and simple in taste, but he is also reputed to fly a private jet said to have been given to him by the members of the church.

At the RCCG, newly ordained full-time pastors with National Diplomas are currently being paid N25,000 a month while their counterparts with a university degree receive N35,000 as their monthly salaries. SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that in some RCCG churches with small congregations, parish pastors sometimes use personal funds every Sunday to run their local churches.

Sources in the church, who disclosed this to our correspondents in various states across the country, further explained that a full-time area pastor earns a minimum monthly salary of N40,000 while a full-time provincial pastor is entitled to a minimum monthly salary of N85, 000. According to the church’s structure, an area pastor is in charge of about five or six parishes while a provincial pastor is in charge of about 100 parishes or a state.

A pastor in Lagos, who spoke to our correspondent, said tithes (10 per cent) of their salaries were usually deducted before salaries were paid.

However, the pastor refused to be drawn into a detailed explanation of how he makes ends meet on such a salary.  He said, “The job of a pastor is a sacrificial one, no doubt, but what we are paid cannot ordinarily sustain us. The money is definitely not enough to meet our needs even with our access to loans and free accommodation provided by the church.

“Our parish members are most supportive and I encourage my wife to work. Some of our wives own small-scale businesses or crèches.”

The pastors said that members of the parishes are expected to generously support the upkeep of the pastor’s families and provide  “comfortable accommodation” for them. They also added that the RCCG paid half of their children’s tuition fees in schools established by the ministry.

Further investigations revealed that the RCCG is cutting the costs of running its various missions by encouraging born-again and well-trained members to lead the parishes, zones and provinces on a part-time basis.

Attempts to get the official position of the church on the welfare of its pastors failed as a member of the church’s media team, Olanike Olaomo, told our correspondent that she was not competent to speak on the issue, when contacted on phone.

She also refused to give out the phone number of the head of the team.

“If you ask for my candid opinion, I will tell you to drop your story because no one will give you the information you are requesting for,” she said.

Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries

Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries is a prayer-themed ministry led by Dr. Daniel Olukoya. It has hundreds of branches in Nigeria and beyond. The church runs school groups, comprising Mountain Top Nursery and Primary schools, Mountain Top Secondary schools, Mountain Top University, a printing press, among others.

Majority of the ministers operate on full-time basis. A source told SUNDAY PUNCH that the church operates a “central salary scale for pastors working in God’s vineyard at the church’s branch, zonal and regional levels.”

The salary scheme for the clerics ranges from N25,000 to N80,000 depending on the level of their deployment.

A pastor in a branch of the church in Abuja, who could not be named because he was not authorised to give any information on the matter, said that clerics in the church’s branches averagely earned between N20,000 and N25,000 monthly. He, however, added   that pastors were also supported by “benevolent church members.”

The pastor said, “The salary is paid by the region under which the branch is with strict directive from the headquarters since the amount payable monthly is structured. But there are also few newly ordained ministers who assist pastors-in-charge at zones and regions during deliverance programmes. These set of ministers get about N15,000 monthly.”

Also, a zonal pastor with the church in Abuja, who did not want to be named, told our correspondent that the salary for his category was between N40,000 and N45,000.

It was gathered that the church, either at the level of branch, zonal or regional was expected to provide accommodation for its pastor.

The support for accommodation, it was learnt, could come from the region under which the branch operates if such a branch was unable to bear the burden alone.

Another pastor, who pleaded anonymity, said they survived through what he described as the ‘the grace of God and the support of children of God.’

He disclosed that having chosen to work for God, they look beyond material comfort and fix their gaze on the reward from above.

“There are other supports from the church in terms of education for our children. Since the church has a school, there is a provision for a certain percentage of the tuition fees to be waived for pastors’ children. I have yet started to enjoy the privilege because my children are still young. When they start going to school, I will also benefit from it,’’ he stated.

For pastors in the regional arms of the church, they get about N80,000 monthly according to a pastor in one of the church’s branches in Benin City, Edo State, who refused to be named.

When contacted, the Chairman, Media Committee, MFM, Pastor Oladele Bank-Olemoh, said though he could not specifically say the amount each of the pastors in the church gets as salary, the general overseer takes their welfare seriously.

Bank-Olemoh said, “The general overseer takes care of them very well. He caters for their accommodation, school fees of their children and gives them money personally. Those who abide by the vision of the church and support the general overseer know that he does not joke with the welfare of the ministers.

“Every minister in the MFM knows that if you are conscientious and diligent, you will be blessed. The money you take as salary is nothing but the blessing is the most important.  You can earn so much and still not be able to do anything with it. That is what we call pocket with holes. The general overseer is passionate about the welfare of the pastors.’’

The Living Faith Church Worldwide

Winners Chapel, one of the foremost and most popular Pentecostal churches in Nigeria has a chain of about 30 secondary schools and 50 primary schools and two universities, Covenant University and Landmark University. Owned by Bishop David Oyedepo, who is famed for owning a private jet, the church also owns one of the country’s biggest and most sophisticated printing firms, Dominion Publishing House, Hebron Bottled Water, bottled water processing plant, a bakery, various restaurants and stores, among others.

Investigations by our correspondents in the South-West revealed that a newly-ordained pastor outside Lagos in Winners Chapel receives N35,000 as monthly salary while new pastors in Lagos earn between N45,000 and N55,000. An area pastor with some years of experience collects N85,000 per month while a resident pastor (state pastor) now collects N200,000 per month.

Some area pastors who spoke with our correspondents, strictly on condition of anonymity, explained that pastors could earn more depending on their years of experience.

One of them said, “Apart from the salaries, pastors are usually well taken care of by members of their local assemblies. Pastors-offering is encouraged and a pastor could get more than his salary as offering from just a member in a day.”

Believers LoveWorld

SUNDAY PUNCH investigations revealed that most pastors of the Believers LoveWorld, a.k.a Christ Embassy, owned by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, are engaged on part-time basis while the few ones on full-time appointments are paid like other workers in the ministry.

A part-time pastor of the church in the Ikeja area of Lagos State and another one in the Bodija area of Ibadan, in Oyo State confided in our correspondents that most of their full-time pastors are in the headquarters.

They said a newly-ordained pastor earns about N40,000 but that only the headquarters could provide further details.

When contacted, the Believers LoveWorld officials declined to make comments on the welfare of their pastors.

A representative of the church attached to a church in Lekki reprimanded our correspondent for “picking a phone number from the website” and added that it was “wrong.”

Another representative of the church, identified simply as Pastor Mercy of the Prayer and Counselling Centre at the church headquarters, said she was not authorised to speak to the media about issues relating to the church.

She also refused to give out the contact number of the spokesperson of the church because of the sensitive nature of the information requested.

Deeper Christian Life Ministry

Popularly called Deeper Life, the church was founded by Pastor William Kumuyi. Widely known for its strict conservativism, the church, in recent times, has embraced economic-empowerment and Christian prosperity themes, while not letting go of its conservatism. With millions of members and thousands of branches in Nigeria and other parts of the world, it owns Life Press Limited, Deeper Life Nursery and Primary School, Deeper Life High School, Anchor University, among ohers.

A top member of the church told one of our correspondents that 95 per cent of its members in Lagos are part-time workers who receive no salary.

He said, “Most of the church’s full-time workers are not in Lagos. They have jobs so they don’t have to rely on church district members. The church encourages its pastors to work, so full time pastors are a rarity. The most the part-time pastors get is N5, 000 for recharge cards monthly.”

SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that outside Lagos, the church have three categories of pastors. Part-time pastors do not earn salaries, they are said to be ‘taken care of by their local parishes’.

A long-time member of the church said, “Our pastors who are volunteer full-time pastors are not on the payroll of the church. The local church where they belong to may then decide to give them out of the offering but the tithe goes to the central (unit).”

The last category of pastors, he added, are those who are overseers and senior pastors and their salaries range from N2.5m to N6m per annum.”

The phone number of the Secretary, Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor Jerry Asemota, who is the only person authorised to speak on official issues, was switched off when our correspondent contacted him on Saturday.

Lords’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries

Investigations by SUNDAY PUNCH revealed that there is no salary structure for pastors of the Lord Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries, founded by Pastor Lazarus Muoka.

The church runs various primary and secondary schools while it also has a few standard private hospitals.

A leader of the church, who spoke with one of our correspondents, explained that when a new pastor is ordained and ‘given a pulpit’ (put in charge of a branch), he is entitled to one-tenth of whatever income that the church generates every week.

He said, “We don’t have a structured salary system for our pastors. They are paid based on the money they generate from tithes and offerings. However, the headquarters usually give a considerable amount to their wives to set up a small business.

“It is expected that the proceeds from the wife’s business will be used to augment the family’s upkeep. Also, the church ensures that all the pastors’ biological children enjoy free education at all the Lord’s Chosen primary and secondary schools.

“The church also arranges scholarship for the pastors’ children in their various higher institutions.”

The church leader added that the pastor’s family could also benefit from the welfare offering, usually meant for the needy, based on the discretion of the committee handling the fund.

When our correspondent called the land line on the website of the church, it did not connect while top church members kept sealed lips.

CAN, PFN react

Speaking in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, the Director, Media and Public Relations of PFN, Simbo Olorunfemi, said pastors’ welfare is part of the issues that would be discussed at the group’s forthcoming biennial conference, scheduled to hold in Edo State.

“The welfare of pastors and indeed Nigerians generally concerns the PFN. This is part of the issues to be discussed at the forthcoming conference. The PFN will make recommendations and suggestions that would enhance the welfare of pastors to fulfill their duties effectively,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.

The General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Musa Asake,  however told SUNDAY PUNCH that how much mega churches paid their pastors as salaries was not the business of the association.

“The Christian Association of Nigeria does not dabble into how much churches pay their pastors. It is not the mandate of the association to do so. As an association, CAN doesn’t discuss issues like that; we do not discuss doctrines. That is left for individual churches to decide. If there are issues about how much pastors earn as salaries in their churches I think the headquarters of the churches should be able to respond to that. It is not the business of CAN to look into how much churches pay their pastors,” Asake told one of our correspondents.

Copyright PUNCH.

 

Source: Revealed: Nigeria’s rich mega churches pay pastors poor salaries – Punch Newspapers