Most Revd. Emmanuel Nglass’s abiding faith
I was shocked by the news I received in a WhatsApp exchange with my younger sister, Mrs. Nimi Akinkugbe in the evening of Sunday, February 28 that the retired Archbishop of the Niger Delta Province of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), His Grace, the Most Reverend Emmanuel Ebenezer Nglass had at 11.30 p.m. the previous night gone home to the Lord whom he loved and served with such sincerity until the end.
His passing was more of a shock to me when I learned later that night when I spoke to his son Julius who for several years has been an irreplaceable part of our Ajumogobia Science Foundation annual Christmas concert, that his passing had occurred while he had been in hospital where he had been admitted for a few weeks.
This was because I had spoken with him just the week before and he had not even mentioned that he was in hospital! He was his usual cheerful self with his characteristic sense of humour. There was not a hint of any serious health concern. We exchanged our usual banter in which he unfailingly asked about my wife, my children, my siblings and other mutual friends. That was Archbishop Nglass – interested in the welfare of others, even on his hospital bed.
I was blessed to have known the retired Archbishop the Most Reverend Emmanuel Ebenezer Nglass for over 12 years. I met him in 2003 soon after my appointment as Attorney-General in Rivers State in 2003. I represented the Governor, Sir (Dr.) Peter Odili at the opening ceremony of the Synod of the Niger Delta Diocese which held in Port Harcourt that year. From that time he took me and my wife to himself.
It was indeed on that occasion that I discovered his incredible humility and infectious sense of humour. There I was, a comparatively young lawyer, amongst all these senior and revered Bishops and the Archbishop of the entire Niger Delta Province of the Church of Nigeria!
At some point it became my turn to address His Grace and their Lordships attending the Synod. As I stood to speak, I felt a sense of mild indignation over the disappointing absence of the charismatic and eloquent Governor who had earlier confirmed his attendance and whose speech would have been one of the highlights of the opening ceremony. There was perhaps also a touch of curiosity over what this young man was going to say on the Governor’s behalf. Spontaneously I decided to break the ice by first telling the following impetuous story.
I said an Archbishop, a Bishop, a Priest and a Lawyer found themselves at the Pearl Gates in front of St Peter. This opening got the Bishops’ immediate and full attention. I suppose it sounded so much like one of the many biblical parables with which they were familiar! The gates were flung open wide and St Peter welcomed them all very warmly. He then asked the lawyer to wait at the gate while he took the Archbishop, the Bishop and the Priest to their individual mansions.
He took them to this area with numerous mini mansions around a huge hall in which there was much rejoicing at the massive reunion between all former colleagues in the priesthood. It was not long before they had forgotten about the lawyer. After two days the Archbishop remembered the poor lawyer that they had left at the gate and asked about him. They were told that he too had been settled in his own quarters. They then asked if they could visit him. They were accompanied by all their Archbishop and Bishop friends, curious about this lawyer friend of the revered Archbishop.
What they saw when they got to the lawyer’s quarters baffled them. The lawyer occupied a huge luxury mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens all by himself! They were puzzled and asked St Peter, why the lawyer’s mansion was so grand while theirs were comparatively modest; yet they had spent their lives in the Lord’s vineyard while on earth! St Peter quietly explained that the special mansion had been assigned to the lawyer whose arrival had caused the greatest rejoicing ever in Heaven because he was the first lawyer to ever enter heaven!
In the now relaxed atmosphere that prevailed following the uninhibited laughter that followed, my remaining remarks on behalf of the Governor were of course appropriately serious and well received. That was how my close relationship began with His Grace Archbishop Nglass, (and so many other Bishops in attendance that day) that we maintained until our last conversation the week before his untimely passing.
I, like numerous others, will miss his unfailing early morning birthday and wedding anniversary greetings and prayers. I don’t know how he did it but on every birthday of mine since 2004, he would call to wish me a happy birthday. My wife would receive a similar call on her birthday, as did numerous other people in all walks of life across the country.
He was gentle, thoughtful, kind and spiritual. He was clearly enjoying his “rest” in his sadly premature retirement. But even that he accepted without recrimination or bitterness, as God’s will for his life. But this was a busy rest. Preaching in St Cyprian’s Anglican Church in Port Harcourt on one Sunday; and St Peters Anglican Church in Port Harcourt the next; or at St Pauls Anglican Church in Andoni on another; or in the Church of Nativity in Ikoyi, Lagos on yet another; in the U.S. on a holiday one year; in Hong Kong the next, visiting his loving and gifted children and grand children.
But the Lord suddenly chose to call him to his final rest, as He will (call) all of us one day. What Archbishop Nglass’ life and sudden passing teaches us once again is that we should, like the Boy Scouts, always “Be prepared”. I have no doubt in my mind that our dear retired Archbishop was.
May he rest in peace and may his wife Lady Adela, his children and extended family and we his friends, be comforted by the assurance of his rest in eternity in the bosom of Our Lord on account of his unwavering service, unconditional love and abiding faith.
The incomplete version of Ajumogobia’s tribute celebrating the Most Reverend Nglass’s passage, which was first published last Sunday, was a production mix-up.
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