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IRVINGTON, NJ: Christ Anglican Church of New Jersey Fires off Rejoinder to Attempted Takeover

IRVINGTON, NJ: Christ Anglican Church of New Jersey Fires off Rejoinder to Attempted Takeover

January 5, 2023

Several stories have been published in American and Nigerian press outlets about the tragic events that occurred on December 4, 2022, at Christ Anglican Church (CAC) in Irvington, New Jersey. Some of the stories appearing in the media appear to be part of a disinformation campaign meant to cover up the systematic intimidation of Christ Anglican Church by the Church of Nigeria (CoN) and the disgraceful actions of its Bishops. The frequent liberal application of fiction in the press releases by the CoN and its representatives has left the leadership of CAC no other option but to issue this clarifying public statement in a hope to prompt the CoN to Godly repentance to protect and defend the constitutional rights and freedoms of CAC's parishioners. The leadership of CAC would also like to set the records straight regarding its previous affiliation with CANA West (Church of Nigeria) which has caused much confusion.

Christ Anglican Church of New Jersey (CAC) was incorporated in the State of New Jersey as a non-profit religious' organization in 2005. As a legally independent entity the church has the right to affiliate or seek oversight with any diocese if it chooses to do so per its by-laws. In 2014, the church decided to affiliate with the Anglican Diocese of CANA West, then part of the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM) under the leadership of The Right Reverend Felix Orji. The Anglican Diocese of CANA West and CONNAM are affiliated with the Church of Nigeria (CoN). Therefore, the connection between CAC and CoN was only because of CAC's affiliation with CANA West.

In 2021 the CoN decided to realign its mission Dioceses in North America. The Primate stated that all CoN affiliated churches in the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM) must begin and complete their transition to new diocese by May 31, 2022.

CAC was one of the churches that was ordered to change diocese as a result of the realignment. However, the By-laws of the church filed with the State of Jew Jersey do not allow the church to simply change diocese but require the church to formally vote to disassociate from CANA West before it could vote to join any another diocese. The vestry convened a special meeting and gave adequate notice to the congregation that only active church members could vote.

Since the beginning of the realignment discussion, there has been a small group of individuals who have previously disrupted church services, and it was these same individuals who sought to disrupt and prevent the church from voting in the meeting. The disruptors even claimed that the Primate was on the phone in an attempt to intimidate church members. Public order was eventually restored but only through intervention by local police. When the church meeting was finally started, the congregation's members voted 84-1 to withdraw from CANA West of the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM)).

Thereafter, the vestry informed Bishop Orji of the decision to leave CANA West. Bishop Orji graciously accepted the decision and gave CAC his blessings to withdraw from the Diocese and CONNAM.

Determined to have their way after CAC withdrew from CONNAM, the CoN sent the Venerable Elijah Ede and Chancellor Muyiwa Sobo, Esq to CAC. They claimed that they were sent at the express request of the Primate of the CoN. The representatives of CoN were informed thatsince the church was no longer affiliated with CONNAM, the vestry would need to consider their request at its next scheduled meeting and a decision would be communicated to them on when a suitable time would be for them to visit. The men were told that they should wait to visit until invited by the vestry. However, Sobo and the Venerable Ede illegally trespassed on March 27th fueling tensions and disrupting the peace of the religious service.

Despite being asked multiple times to leave the church, mayhem ensued. It was clear by their visit that the CoN had no intention of respecting the bylaws of the church and has sought to deny the parishioners of CAC the freedom to exercise their legal right to freely associate as protected under US law.

After a season of prayer and discernment, the vestry voted to apply to the Anglican Church in North America's Diocese of the Rocky Mountains. In September of 2022, CAC formally asked The Right Reverend Ken Ross for Episcopal oversight, and he and the diocesan council approved the request.

On December 4th, 2022, CAC held an episcopal service led by Bishop Ken Ross (ACNA - Diocese of the Rocky Mountains) that was invaded by Bishop Augustine Unuigbe, a Suffragan Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Trinity (ADOTT) Church of Nigeria (CoN) along a few CoN aligned attendees of the church.

The actions of Bishop Unuigbe and these individuals led once again to the necessary intervention by local law enforcement.

The leadership of CAC has seen the recent press release from the CoN and has been seriously concerned about the intentional misrepresentation of the facts contained in the press releases. Therefore, CAC would like to correct the numerous errors communicated by the CoN.

First, the claim that there was a "unilateral takeover of the Church in Irvington by ACNA without due process" is a lie on two counts. Namely the CoN has never had any direct rights or ownership of CAC.

Secondly, CAC followed its By-Laws to the letter when it disengaged from CANA West (Church of Nigeria). The members of CAC voted overwhelmingly to leave CANA West and by doing so, severed its relationship with CoN. Therefore, the assertion by CoN of a unilateral takeover of CAC by ACNA is entirely false.

On August 1, 2022, the Primate of the CoN wrote a letter to a number of Rectors in the U.S and Canada placing them under what he called a "Primatial Chaplaincy". In that letter, the Primate himself acknowledged that CAC had "Left ADOTW to another Diocese", the only church on the letter that has such a notation. The letter also noted that Bishop Nathan Kanu, would be the Supervisory Bishop, but Kanu later called the Rector of CAC to confirm that indeed CAC had left ADOTW and the Church of Nigeria.

The Rector also informed him that CAC was now under Bishop Ross. Despite their recent claims, the CoN has been fully aware that not only did CAC properly leave the Church of Nigeria, but that Bishop Ross is providing it with Episcopal oversight.

Second, it is deeply disappointed that the leadership of the CoN has, so far, failed to condemn in strong terms the sinful behavior by CoN representatives and has downplayed the attack on CAC as simply a "loud and disruptive but otherwise non-violent event". CoN leadership has chosen to deliberately turn a blind eye to pushing a parishioner violently into the choir stand, shoving the Rector and Senior Warden.

The melee at the church led by Bishop Augustine Unuigbe left children traumatized, women and senior adults fearful, and families frustrated by what happened. Indeed, members of the church and regular attenders still fear that they too could be harmed by the return of such an unruly mob. Even Bishop Ross's crosier was purposefully damaged by the trespassing party. The CoN's still has not condemned the racist and homophobic slurs directed clearly at Bishop Ross by the trespassing party let by Bishop Unuigbe. If not refuted and condemned by the Primate, one can only deduce that the CoN has displayed their true nature by the actions of their Bishop that day.

Bishop Kanu in his letter of November 29, 2022, to Bishop Ross alluded to physical confrontation if Ross did not cancel his Episcopal visit to CAC. Anglican Bishops do not storm churches or "march in", as admitted by Bishop Unuigbe, and attempt to seize a church or halt the service when it is well underway.

Bishop Unuigbe claimed that with "multiple calls coming in, I responded and showed up". However, Bishop Unuigbe's church is about two and half hours from CAC making it highly unlikely that he would suddenly show up at CAC to attend a service to which he was not invited. Bishop Unuigbe's even planned an announcement at his own church on that day about his absence that proves beyond a shadow of doubt that his trip to CAC was clearly premeditated. Videos taken by the very mob he led clearly show Bishop Unuigbe shoved a parishioner, disgracing the office to which he has been called to.

The actions of The Right Reverend Augustine Unuigbe should be condemned in the strongest terms by the Primate publicly. CAC is astounded and perplexed by the continued and sustained interference by CoN in its affairs and deeply disappointed by the ongoing disinformation campaign that the CoN has been conducting to protect the disgraceful actions by one of its Bishops. CAC is not the only church in the U.S. and Canada that severed its affiliation with CoN. Yet CAC is the only church that has been singled out for this kind of oppressive treatment, show of force, and systematic intimidation. The CoN is doing a lot of harm to the Christian mission upon which CAC was founded. Parishioners are fearful of when these individuals will act again, and the public witness for the Gospel of Christ in the community is being damaged by the ungodly actions of the distractors.

Because of the failure of the CoN to call these individuals to order and allow our American church to worship freely in peace, CAC has had no choice but to fully cooperate with local and federal law enforcement officials to ensure that its parishioners constitutional rights will be protected and defended.

Finally, CAC would like to thank the ACNA, Archbishop Foley Beach, Bisho Ken Ross and the Diocese of the Rocky Mountains, and Bishop Derek Jones and the Anglican Office for Government and International Affairs for their continued spiritual support and guidance during this challenging time. CAC will surely overcome, and the church of God will continue to march on. "They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you," says the Lord, "to deliver you." Jeremiah. 1 :19.

Mr. Ugochukeu Ochuba (Senior Warden),
Mr. Chimobi Ozumba (Junior Warden), and
Mr. Obioma Achara (Church Secretary

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