Inaugural Sermon

Agbebi's Inaugural sermon delivered to congregation 1902
Members of Rev. Mojola Agbebi’s congregation, deliverer of the celebrated inaugural sermon of 1902. Source: ASIRI Magazine

Inagural Sermon is term used for sermon on 21 December 1902 by Mojola Agbebi, the poet and Baptist leader, in which his belief in Ethiopianism was outlined. The sermon was delivered at the celebration of the first anniversary of the African Church in Lagos. In his sermon, Agbebi drew from Apostle Paul’s assessment of the essentials of Christianity, stating that the non-essentials of one nation may not necessarily be those of another nation. The essentials, according to this vibrant preacher and nationalist are the preaching of Christ, the triumph of the Gospel, the success of practical righteousness. Formularies such as prayer books or hymn books, he argued, may be nationalized, stressing that “no one race or nation can fix the particular kind of tunes which will be universally conducive to worship”. He said “Our dundun and Batakoto, our Gese and Kerken, our Fajakis and Sambas, would serve admirable purposes of joy and praise if properly directed and wisely brought into play. In the carrying out of the function of singing, therefore, let us always remember that we are Africans, and that we ought to sing African songs, and that in African style and fashion. He said, “The innumerable multitude in Heaven, which the Seer of Patmos saw, were of ‘all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues,’ African, Briton, French, Icelander, and consequently were making their ascriptions each in his own tongue. The joys are one, Redemption is one, Christ is one, God is one, but our tongues are various and our styles innumerable.”

Agbebi’s inaugural sermon makes huge contribution, in author George Shepperson’s view, to the development of West African nationalism. Edward W. Blyden, widely known as father of Pan-Africanism, believed it showed Africans were struggling for a different personality. John E. Bruce, once a father figure to Marcus Garvey, excitedly asked for the sermon to be published in a Negro American newspaper and after Agbebi’s demise, made efforts to immortalize him among Negro Americans as an African personality.