by Ishola Alolanle Fatai
I haven’t been to church in forever, or at least what feels like it. That should be obvious enough, right? What with me being an atheist and all, particularly considering I grew up Muslim and not Christian. But I’ve always had something of a curious relationship with the House of God. Even long after I “came out” as an atheist, I still attended church – due in part to friends of mine and their bizarre need to keep inviting me. They were probably worried about my soul, bless their hearts. But back to the matter; I’ve learned a lot from church services in my day; directly, or indirectly, and despite the fact they tend to annoy me more often than not, I find them to be quite good for people-watching, whenever I’m in one of those pretentious societal-observer moods of mine.
Like many of you I heard – or read – about the COZA “scandal” some days ago. I put “scandal” in quote because there’s a part of me tempted to roll my eyes at it; I mean, a man had sex with a girl, big deal, it happens everyday, right? Or not. This isn’t just any man, and clearly it’s taken quite the toll on the girl, so the sensitive part of me pushes past that. But in any case, I digress. I’m not here to play psychologist or preach.
So yes, like many of you, I read the story and experienced a number of feelings. The major difference between myself and you, is that reading the Ese Walter confession was my first “experience” with COZA. Prior to that, I had no idea any such institution existed or that it was even so popular. So naturally, the public reaction, not just to the “sordid” nature of the story, but the “COZA” part of it, got me curious. Now, I’m typically not one to give in to passing curiosity, but the combination, I suspect, of the “noise” surrounding the story, the fact I haven’t seen the inside of a church in who knows how long, and the proximity of the church to my house in Lagos (which I found out thanks to someone mentioning it last night) made me find my way to the church this morning.
What I experienced was, well, nothing out of the ordinary. I imagine the Abuja branch of the church would have been a lot more “juicy” considering that is where the accused pastor is resident, but that’s just by the way. I stepped into the church and the first thing that struck me was that I miraculously didn’t burst into flames instantly; guess God doesn’t hate us unbelievers so much, after all. The other major thing that struck me was the “young” vibe I got. Now, I’ve been to enough churches to know that each one has a USP. There are the “prosperity” purveyors, the ones who preach the opposite and say you must be willing to suffer, the ones who say the concept of sin is fallacy (particularly good for arguments, these ones) and, well, as many more as you can imagine. It was clear to me that COZA was (or, well, is) supposed to be a “hip” and “cool” place to worship. It made sense, really, seeing how many young people across the internet reacted to the news. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. In a business climate as saturated as the Nigerian religious market, it would essentially be suicide not to set yourself apart.
The service was… interesting. The parts of it I listened to, anyway. After we got past the – very noisy, I must say – praise and worship session (which to me is stepping side to side awkwardly in an attempt to “dance” and clapping just to blend in) there was a lot of talk about “purpose” and how everyone has a path to follow in life and bla bla bla. Also a lot of talk about connecting to The Holy Spirit in order to always be in tune with said purpose and… yeah, you get it. No, there was no talk of the now infamous Ese Walter – not that I was expecting any to begin with.
All in all, a pretty normal church service. Is it one I would attend again? Possibly. I mean, not once did I hear any condemning of “unbelievers,” and for me the make or break rule with Christians has always been their attitude about people who don’t share their beliefs. Not to say I know for sure that COZA somehow shows love to such folk, but I consider it something of a plus that they didn’t go out of their way to spread hate, either. Also, there were lots of hot girls there, one of whom may or may not have given me her number. Amen to Holy Hook-ups.
I will say, though, that the environment does seem conducive to the story Ese Walter told. That’s just my opinion, of course, based on no hard facts or figures, and it’s really neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, but there it is anyway.