New Lay Leadership ignites awareness among laity in Sierra Leone

BO, SOUTHERN SIERRA LEONE – Not many Lay Leaders in local churches and districts in the Sierra Leone Conference understand the role of lay leadership in the church. Hence, the lay leadership has been in a moribund state. Not any more; a new conference lay leadership executive is changing all that through training of district lay leaders and local church lay leaders using provisions on lay leadership in The Book of Discipline – the denomination’s book on governance which constitutes the law and doctrine of the United Methodist Church – as their guideline.

Conference Lay Leader, Mrs Anne Koroma (right) and Associate Lay Leader Dr Victor Massaquoi speaking to a crowd of laity gathered at Trebes Memorial UMC.
Conference Lay Leader, Mrs Anne Koroma (right) and Associate Lay Leader Dr Victor Massaquoi speaking to a crowd of laity gathered at Trebes Memorial UMC.

“We, the laity, own the church. And we want to make this felt across the conference. We no longer accept the situation where the role of the lay leaders in their local churches are confined to just reading announcements and notices,” newly elected Conference lay leader, Anne Koroma told the Centenary UMC congregation on Sunday June 12 after a day’s training of District lay leaders in Bo, southern Sierra Leone.

At the training on Saturday June 11, several issues creating confusion in lay leadership at district and local church level were identified:

  • Local churches do not understand the relevance of lay leaders or what they are supposed to be doing in the local church or conference.
  • Council chairs are more powerful and respected in the churches than the lay leaders.
  • Conflict between some local church lay leaders and their pastors owing to lack of knowledge on the role of the lay leader.
  • Some pastors don’t understand much about the roles of lay leaders and hence do not confer with them when they take major decisions affecting their churches.
  • District lay leaders complain that they do not have resources to travel around local churches.

Anne Koroma and her associate, Dr. Victor Massaquoi embarked on a snap visitation exercise to four main churches in Bo City to share with pastors and their congregations the new relationship they want to see between local pastors, district superintendents and their counterpart lay leaders.

“Organizations in the churches today are not au fait with basic provisions concerning the role of the

Dr Victor Massaquoi talks to District Lay Leaders at the Bo training on goal setting.
Dr Victor Massaquoi talks to District Lay Leaders at the Bo training on goal setting.

lay leader in our Book of Discipline. Hence, lay leaders are not taking leadership roles and showing viability of the laity in their congregations and districts,” Dr Victor Massaquoi said at Centenary UMC in Bo Central on Sunday. “Now we see the need to train the lay leadership on the provisions in the The Book of Discipline to increase their leadership capacity. This would create an impact on their leadership skills in the local churches,” Massaquoi asserted.

Presenting to pastors and church lay leaders what he called ‘a summarized nine point functions and relevance of lay leaders in their respective churches and districts on Sunday, Massaquoi emphasized in all four churches visited, that the laity must wake up to their responsibilities as enshrined in paragraph 607 in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. He however cautioned that the new leadership was not asking lay leaders to create tension between the laity and their pastors but to work alongside the clergy to add to the viability of the church.

“Now that I know my responsibilities as a lay leader in my district, I am going back to take charge and exercise my role as District lay leader – Moyamba West District Lay Leader, Jenneh Daramy Roberts said in a vote of thanks after the Saturday training.

Dr Victor Massaquoi talks to District Lay Leaders at the Bo training on goal setting
Dr Victor Massaquoi shows The Book of Discipline to the gathered United Methodist Lay leaders in  Bo, Sierra Leone.

For the awareness raising to take effect, Massaquoi says the lay leadership will embark on popularizing The Book of Discipline conference-wide. He said the Lay Leaders do not know their functions because they have not read The Book of Discipline. The exercise he hopes would have a dual benefit – pastors will know where the need for collaboration with lay leaders in their churches and districts are while lay leaders too would know where their responsibilities lie and must be prepared to play their role as they are in ministry with the clergy.

Leonard Gbloh, Lay Leader for the Western District said he had served in the Conference for fifteen years, but that was the first time he had had the opportunity to attend a Lay Leaders training program which empowered him to know how much significance the United Methodist Church apportions to Lay Leadership. “For far too long, the laity in the Sierra Leone conference have been sleeping. Let us cease to be lukewarm and take our role in making the church viable”, Gbloh charged at the Trebes Memorial UMC in Bo on Sunday.

Copies of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church are scarce in Sierra Leone. Only a few privileged clergy and lay have copies. Many lay leaders at the training said they were seeing The Book of Discipline for the first time. Anne Koroma’s team hopes to change all that by reproducing excerpts of The Discipline that address Lay Leadership and making them available to all lay leaders in the conference.

The Lay Leaders one-day session was also not oblivious of likely tensions that changes they anticipate to make would likely cause. Hence, they identified sources of conflict that exist in their respective districts. Some of the common areas of conflict identified hinged on egocentrism, reluctance to relinquish power even when certain people have served in positions for so long, leadership approach – some leaders are autocratic, money as a source of conflict – leads to class divisions, discrimination based on social status, and social interests taking precedence over spiritual things. They agreed that the issues were bringing divisions in the church and were worth redressing.

The training and awareness raising session ended with two main action points: Funds and Resource Mobilization and Visitation and Conflict Resolution.

At Trebes Memorial UMC, the pastor Rev. Winnifred Ngegba, suggested a training for clergy and lay leaders to have common understanding as a way of avoiding tension between pastors and their lay leaders. The team agreed that it was a wise suggestion and said that the Conference Lay Leader and her Associate would be speaking at the July United Methodist Clergy Retreat in Moyamba. The Sierra Leone Conference clergy meet every August to address administrative issues and challenges in ministry. This year, they are meeting in July.

Reporting and photography by Phileas Jusu.
United Methodist Communicator of the Year, 2014.