A BRIEF HISTORY OF VICTORIA FELLOWSHIP CHURCH
- Elisabeth Seriki
- Remi Sogbetun
- TAO Alamutu
Being some of the oldest members of Victoria Fellowship Church and having served in various positions of the Church, we three were mandated by the Church Council to write to the best of our abilities, a short history of the church. The council felt it a necessary document to have in view of the church’s recent move in January 2003, to its permanent premises in Lekki Peninsula.
The Early Years
Earliest records show, that Victoria Fellowship Church (VFC) was started by a group of Americans, in the late 60’s, when the American School was still in Victoria Island. The American School later moved to Bourdillon Road in Ikoyi, and then later to its permanent site in Victoria Island, within the 1004 Flats premises. The name of the church “Victoria Fellowship Church” suggests its origins, and the Presbyterian Church Hymn Book (the red hymn book) which they introduced, is the source of several hymns, responsive psalms and the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds, which form an important part of worship at VFC till this day.
The records show that the Church’s Policy Manual was first amended in 1977. In 1985 it was amended again and was finally adopted as the Constitution of Victoria Fellowship Church on Sunday, January 27th, 1985. The drafting of this Constitution was done by two members of VFC; Mr. John Parnell, who strongly emphasized mainstream Christian belief and Mrs. Maureen Asabia, who emphasized the proper place of the Holy Spirit.
Elisabeth Seriki got to know about the Fellowship in 1981 through a Swiss couple, Renzo and Roesli Mueller, when she was looking for a church or a fellowship of committed Christians where her then 5 year old daughter Titilayo would enjoy attending Sunday school. Elisabeth had not found any Sunday school which Titilayo liked to attend. At VFC, the atmosphere was personal and friendly, and the teaching methods appealed to all ages of children. The Sunday school remains a very important aspect of VFC’s ministry, which has brought many parents to the church over the years.
In the early years, the church took the format of a Family Fellowship, an international and interdenominational congregation of committed Christians, with very few Nigerians in attendance.
In the year 1981, the American School moved to their present building in Victoria Island. In their new location the School did not allow the Victoria Fellowship church services any longer, so VFC had to look for a new venue. The Church was allowed to meet in St. Saviour’s School Hall for two or three Sundays only initially.
Elisabeth and her family had just moved to their new house in Victoria Island, which had a fairly big sitting room and some space that could be used for Sunday school. So one Sunday morning she drove to St. Saviour’s School to meet Renzo Mueller before the service to tell him that, if they did not find any other place, they could meet in their house the following Sunday. Elisabeth was heaven sent, because the Fellowship did not know where to meet that Sunday. Elisabeth’s home was blessed by God’s special presence – the first Sunday was even communion Sunday!
Inception of Home Fellowship
It was during this time of the Fellowship meeting in Elisabeth Seriki’s home that the then Chairman of Council, George Otta (from India), asked her whether she would like to come to home bible study, that she would be blessed by it. The VFC Home Bible Study has remained a strong part of fellowship at the church. It has served to impart a better knowledge and understanding of the word of God and more fellowship with committed brothers and sisters.
VFC Home Bible Study in the various church neighbourhoods (Mainland; Ikoyi; Victoria Island and more recently Victoria Garden City, Lekki) has been a wonderful tool in God’s hands for the ministry of sharing and of selflessness. Members, willing and lovingly open up their homes to one another for various other church activities as well. These include quarterly church meetings, sending forth parties for departing members and all-night vigils.
This important aspect of ministry, just as in the early church as recorded in the Bible, has led the Lord Jesus to sow a special seed of love and caring amongst the brethren at VFC. It is indeed a unique gift from the Lord and we bless him for it.
After a period, the church was permitted to continue to meet in St. Saviour’s School Hall, Ikoyi, an ideal location, the hall having a lovely view onto the Lagoon, and some classrooms available for the Sunday school.
Between 1982 and 1983, came a time when VFC almost died. The reason was that some Council members, having experienced more of the Holy Spirit where they came from, wanted some changes in the service and an additional hymn book with new songs to give more freedom to the Holy Spirit. There were others in the Council who stuck strictly to the “Policy Manual” and prevented these changes. The Ikeja members solved the problem by starting their own Fellowship in Ikeja where they had a lively fellowship with a weekly bible study and a prayer meeting where some gifts of the Holy Spirit were manifest. VFC did not have a weekly prayer meeting then.
The rest of Victoria Fellowship was divided. Some felt they could not worship in the strained atmosphere and constricted ways (at St. Saviour’s School) and began meeting in a private home. It was a painful period for the church. However, the Lord prevailed, and from a group of about five people in the service in a circle in the big school hall, the then members held peaceful and beautiful services.
Slowly, the church began to grow again. Soon, weekly prayer meetings were held on Thursdays, the main purpose of which was to pray for the Church and the service of the following Sunday. These prayer meetings were most times only attended by few people, but they made a great difference in the Fellowship. The group was blessed with close communion with God and with each other, and by answers to prayer. For example, the church began to pray for more Nigerians in the Fellowship. By and by God began sending Nigerians to join the church.
Yetunde Sodipe, now Iretunde Wakama was one of the first to attend regularly in answer to our prayer. Remi Sogbetun got to know about VFC through Iretunde and started to attend. The Sogbetuns formally joined the church in September 1988. Originally Methodists, they lost all sense of denomination in the warm fellowship of the Holy Spirit shared with other members at VFC.
During the early 90’s, VFC experienced tremendous growth in Nigerian membership. Some years later there were so many, and the number of expatriates started dwindling; not many new ones came to replace those who left the country. Then the church prayed the other way round, for more expatriates from all parts of the world so that the congregation would continue to reflect the varied and mixed composition of God’s people.
After some time the answer came. Particularly when the American Sunday School and the VFC Sunday School merged, with the help of Gaylord and Eileen Anderson, many more expatriates started coming again to VFC.
As the Church continued to grow it was no longer possible for members to know one another that well, sharing each other’s joys and problems. So it became necessary to have a Pastoral Affairs Committee (PAC). This was established by an amendment to the Constitution adopted on Sunday, 3rd May, 1992.
A few times over the years, the issue of having a Pastor was discussed. Each time however, after praying for God’s guidance and weighing the pros and cons, it was felt that this was not the right approach for VFC. Many members had been blessed by the variety of spirit-filled speakers from various denominations and lay assistants, and many had grown spiritually with the responsibilities they had been entrusted with. The church’s focus and final arbiter has been the Bible (the Word and Will of God).
A pastor would have made it difficult to keep the interdenominational character of the Fellowship and could have led to a personality-focused church, which members saw as an area of weakness in Nigerian churches. Besides, the church had and continues to thrive on the practice of the early church (after which it is patterned), to have meetings in members’ homes (Acts 16:15). These were some of the major points leading to the decision to remain, a lay-led church. It has, however, always been our desire that Jesus Christ, our heavenly Pastor (or shepherd) be the head of Victoria Fellowship Church and that we might be very sensitive to the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, so that God’s will might be done in and through Victoria Fellowship Church and its individual members.
Sowing the seed for a Permanent Location
From the beginning of 1995 VFC could no longer meet at St. Saviour’s School Hall, Ikoyi. For a whole year the church had its Sunday worship services in La Brasserie Restaurant in Adetokunbo Ademola Street in Victoria Island. Some people who used to walk to church from their homes, VFC being a neighbourhood church, did not come to the new location, but for most the change was not a problem. God continued showering his blessings on us. From the beginning it was clear however, that this was not going to be a permanent place for us.
VFC had never had large administrative or capital expenses. Most of the money which came in just passed through the Fellowship to other missionary and charitable works and institutions to fulfil God’s will for bringing more people into his kingdom and alleviating suffering. It had not been our priority to build our own church building. At the end of 1994, however, with no place for the growing congregation to meet, VFC began to explore possibilities of acquiring land for a church building, trusting God to provide what we needed. Soon a piece of land for our church building was promised to VFC by one of its members, at Lekki Phase 1.
From January 1996, Victoria Fellowship Church held its Sunday services and Sunday school on this land, in the fresh ocean breeze, under some canopies which were erected every Sunday. God was kind and kept the rain away from us every Sunday. However, God’s encouragement for us to proceed to build as quickly as possible came by way of an awesome thunderstorm during a Sunday service which totally unnerved every single member, and confirmed to us that the land on which we worshipped, was not ours. It was an unforgettable experience in the church’s history, and it forced us to seek immediate shelter the very next Sunday, in the school hall at the Corona School, Ikoyi, Lagos, Remi Sogbetun’s old primary school.
The Alamutus joined VFC in 1989. With five growing children they found the warm fellowship of the church, the convenience of a very good Sunday school and closeness to home too appealing to resist. The Alamutus, being very active members of the Corona School Parents Teachers Association (PTA), played a key role in securing the school’s acceptance to host VFC on a temporary basis. This “temporary” stay, lasted six (6) years till December 2002. During this time, the school and the Corona Trust Council showed the church great kindness and understanding, and the church also responded with regular improvement gifts to the school.
The church council and members spent great effort in securing a sizeable plot of land at the Alma Beach Estate property in 1998. From this time on, a special collection for the church building was made at every Sunday service.
An important present development is the growing work among the young people of the Church – our children, now known as the Purpose Driven Generation. This development was foretold by a prophetic dream early in 1995. The teenagers had formed a group under Andy Hunt, and the young adults of 20 – 25 yeas of age were just beginning to form themselves into a group trying to find out what God’s will for them was.
As church membership grew, the body was divided into local areas, and area meetings were beginning to take place to further fellowship among members who were more or less neighbours, and to create more and better possibilities to invite neighbours and friends who had not yet known the joy and peace which comes into our lives when we live in close contact with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as in our individual lives, it never gets boring when we walk with the Lord, so it is with the Church of Christ as a whole. Indeed, so we have found it to be true at Victoria Fellowship Church.
We thank God for this new beginning He has given us by providing us with this beautiful Temple. We earnestly pray that all the beautiful brethren at Victoria Fellowship Church may continue to be sensitive to God’s guidance in order that He may fulfil the purpose He has for us, and for many through us, so that Christ’s name may be greatly glorified. Amen!