Abiodun Babatunde Lawrence
1898 to 1943
Holy Flock of Christ Worldwide
Abiodun Babatunde Lawrence joined the Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S) Aladura Movement in 1926 and soon became one of the prominent leaders. This movement had started in Lagos in 1925 as one of the Yoruba Aladura or “Owners of Prayer” movements. It began through the ministry of Moses Orimolade Tunolase with the assistance of a young and energetic woman, Christianah Abiodun Akinsowon. During the first four years the movement gained prominence and attracted elites within the Lagos community. However, from 1929 schisms threatened the unity of the movement as the principal leaders parted ways in succession. Lawrence, later nicknamed “Major” Lawrence by Orimolade, was one of the leaders who broke away and established his own version of the C&S movement, named the Holy Flock of Christ (HFC) in 1932.
Birth and Early Life
Lawrence’s father originally came from Ikole Ekiti, but was raised by Brazilians in the Brazilian quarter in Lagos, Nigeria. His mother, who originally came from Ijebu, was a popular yam seller. Lawrence was born in Lagos on December 25, 1898. His names Abiodun and Babatunde are cognomens, what the Yoruba usually call oruko amutorunwa (distinguishing epithets that a child brings with him or her into the world). Abiodun is a combination of two words Abi (to be born)and Odun (festival). Usually, a name such as Abiodun is given to a child who is born during festive periods. The combination of the names Abiodun and Babatunde was unique. The traditional name Abiodun suggests that he was not only born during a festive period, but also on the actual day of a festival—Christmas Day 1898. The second one, Babatunde, also has a traditional connotation. Baba in Yoruba means father, while tunde literarily means “he has come again,” thus Babatunde means “father has come again.” Such a name is usually given to a male child who is born immediately after the death of his paternal grandfather. The belief is that the deceased grandfather has returned to the family, a practice in keeping with the Yoruba belief in re-incarnation.
It is believed that Lawrence’s parents received a revelation or prediction while he was an infant that he would grow up to be a leader followed by many people. As he grew up, he developed the habit of looking at issues from a spiritual point of view. His peers reported that they felt that the spirit of God was upon the young boy.
He attended St. Peter’s Primary School, Faji, Lagos, where he excelled and out-performed many of his peers and classmates. Very early in his life, people identified him as a man who loved to be a peacemaker, a mediator, a reconciler, and one who was eager to render help and assistance in whatever way possible to members of his family, neighbors, peers and colleagues. He was also known for being philanthropic.
Lawrence became a committed Christian while he was a member at St. Peter’s Cathedral, a church within the Anglican Communion in Ita Faji, Lagos. Those who knew him described him as “worshipping the Lord with all his heart, mind and soul.” He was also known as a bold, serious, and enthusiastic member of the congregation. He served as a “sideman” or usher, an executive member of the Young Men’s Christian League, an executive member of the Young Men’s Christian Union, and a Sunday School teacher. He was involved in prison visitation and ministration to inmates, particularly by helping prepare prisoners to re-integrate society after their release and discharge.
Lawrence studied printing at the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Printing Press and worked at the Railway Printing Press, Ebute Metta, until February 1934 when he resigned to become a full-time pastor. His colleagues at the CMS Bookshop and Printing Press, Ogunmefu and E. J. Fasoro, who were also his neighbors, observed a special call of God in young Lawrence’s life, and his potential to be a steward in “the vineyard of God.” Although young and enthusiastic, many observed that his humility and God’s anointing enabled him to know how to work closely in the company of elders.
Joining the C&S Movement
By what some believe was divine intervention, Elder W. A. Akinyemi, the father of Dr. W. A. M. Akinyemi, persuaded him to join the C&S movement in Lagos in 1926. The C&S movement grew out of the ministry of Moses Orimolade Tunolase in collaboration with Christianah Abiodun Akinsowon, a young, beautiful and charismatic lady (later Mrs. Emmanuel). Orimolade and Christianah Abiodun ministered together as a father and daughter team. Christianah Abiodun offered visions and predictions while Orimolade conducted healing sessions and performed miracles. It was unbelievable for Lawrence’s colleagues, friends, and mates to see him join what they thought was such a pedestrian movement meant only for peasants. Lawrence was highly intelligent and a respected young man in society.
Soon Orimolade appointed eminent leaders to help attend to those who needed prayers and healing because alone he could no longer handle everything. He called them “the Praying Band.” Lawrence’s qualities showed up immediately in the C&S, and Orimolade picked him to be one of “the Praying Band.” Members of the movement believed the Band was divinely chosen because it was the group in charge of spiritual matters. The group was handpicked by Orimolade after a session of fasting and praying. He picked seven, replicating the example of the disciples who appointed seven men of good report for material distribution in the first church. However, Band members held spiritual positions, assisting Orimolade in all matters of special fasting, prayers, and spiritual warfare. Led by E. A. Davies, they became the inner core of the original Aladura or C&S Movement. Along with Orimolade, these seven leaders became responsible for the spiritual well-being and progress of the C&S.
Soon Lawrence enjoyed a close relationship with Orimolade who made Lawrence the head of the “visioners” and “seers.” It was Orimolade himself who added the title “Major” to Lawrence’s name, just has he had added the title “Captain” to Christianah Abiodun’s name. Therefore, members of the movement always referred to Lawrence as “Major Abiodun Babatunde Lawrence” even though he had never been in the military. Lawrence was acknowledged as a leader among his peers. Followers believed the Lord was with him and used him mightily to support his leaders. He was an unparalleled visionary within the movement. Under Orimolade and Davies, Lawrence, as Spiritual Leader, carried out the following: Spiritual preparation, guidance and leadership of the movement, revival and convention preparations, oversight of the visioners, administration, interpretation of visions and dreams, prayer warfare in healing ministrations, and words of exhortations to members. Delivered, weekly, monthly, and annually, members believed his words were divine messages. Therefore, even though Lawrence may not be described as a co-founder with Orimolade of the C&S Movement as was Christianah Abiodun, he was certainly Orimolade’s right-hand man.
Separation from the C&S Movement
In spite of Lawrence’s position within the hierarchy of the C&S Movement, over time visions and signs appeared to point Lawrence to a more prominent calling. In October 1926, Lawrence had a prophetic revelation. But he kept it to himself and did not reveal it until it was actualized in 1932 after the establishment of the Holy Flock of Christ Organization. Second, in 1928, many people reported seeing a star over the residence of Lawrence on 49 Kakawa Street, Lagos. The star was seen as such a mighty sign and indication among C&S members that Orimolade himself had to go to see it. Third, many people claimed that they observed either the same star, or a similar star, in the same place at 10:30 pm on December 12, 1933, shortly after the establishment of the HFC. Lawrence’s supporters agreed that the stars were signs and an indication of divine attestation, testimony, and approval of the work that Lawrence was doing within the C&S movement under Orimolade and would continue to do in future.
In 1928, shortly after the anniversary of the Convention/Revival of the C&S, which had gone well, disagreement suddenly arose over matters arising within the movement. It is not very clear what the genuine root of the discord was, but it was severe enough to cause the first schism. Regrettably the misunderstanding and the rancor between the two founders of the C&S Society, Orimolade and Christianah Abiodun, grew worse and became more acrimonious. Efforts by some elders in the church to settle the misunderstanding met with failure. In early 1929, Orimolade, with supporters on each side fuelling the conflict, wrote a letter to Christianah Abiodun, advising her to form her own separate society. It was probably not her desire to break away but the actions of her followers, which she did nothing to control, suggested otherwise. Whatever the cause, the split was complete and, at least for that time, irreversible.
That year, Christianah Abiodun established her own society, another variation of the C&S Aladura movement, which she named The Cherubim and Seraphim Society. Orimolade’s party in which Lawrence remained for the time being, opted for the name The Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim Society.
Three days after Christianah Abiodun established her branch of the church, Orimolade sent the seven leaders of the Praying Band to Okun Ibeju to pray on matters that had led to the disagreements that split the Movement. The seven moved out as requested by Orimolade to Okun Ibeju, a beach on the Atlantic Ocean, about ten miles from Lagos toward Epe. It was a quiet location where there were no distractions–an ideal solitary location for prayer. One of the prayer points requested by Orimolade was prayer for Lawrence’s safety, potentially a ruse to win Lawrence to Orimolade’s side over the matters in contention.
C&S members believed that God sent the following messages through Lawrence in a vision at that prayer retreat:
Do not believe in sweet talk. Do not desist from praying night and day against dangers that threaten the body. Do not look for help from people; only look up to God who only can empower. Carry the cross now and be ready to tell Moses Orimolade and all the members the truth because you can only dwell with the Lord by being always truthful.
The divine messages were communicated to Orimolade, but he chose not to heed them. Therefore, another rift developed within the Aladura Movement. The seven members of the Praying Band, the spiritual leadership group of the original C&S Movement departed from Orimolade and formed the Holy Cherubim and Seraphim Aladura Movement (HC&SAM) under the leadership and chairmanship of Davies with Lawrence as the Spiritual Leader. However, this breakaway body could not cohere for long. Another split occurred which finally separated Lawrence from the stump of Orimolade’s group led by Davies.
Lawrence eventually became discouraged and disenchanted because the messages he uttered were ignored and rejected by some members. He said that people preferred to turn to fads or fashion. In Lawrence’s view, the leaders of the movement had abandoned holiness and adopted rather shameful and unchristian practices. He contended that the love of the flesh had taken the place of the spiritual and the holy.
Founding of the Holy Flock of Christ Organization
Because of these deviations, Lawrence decided to call on God for direction. On February 20, 1932, he went on his annual prayer tour to Olorunkole Hill, near Ibadan, Oyo State. He considered two main prayer points: that all nations should be born again spiritually and that spiritual worship should not become a thing of the past in the world. As soon as he returned from the tour, he went straight to Ibeju beach in Lagos and went on a Lenten fast for forty days during the Lent of 1932.
On his return from Ibeju beach, he went to the HC&SAM to deliver his message after the Wednesday service on April 13, 1932. His message was that the Lord wanted him to disassociate himself from the HC&SAM. He was direct, absolute, and determined. Many people became despondent and sad when they heard his message. As might be expected, some people condemned him, as a “selfish and self-centered man” who was not satisfied with his position. Others declared that they would go with him wherever he went. Three leaders from the HC&SAM decided to follow him: C. B. Olumuyiwa, D. K. Idowu and J. O. Adefope. Many of the prominent members of the HC&SAM decided to follow Lawrence because they saw the Spirit of God on him. They saw him as an instrument in the “vineyard of God.” This was the beginning of the Holy Flock of Christ (HFC) with its emphasis on mystery and the leading of the Spirit. Lawrence described the founding of the HFC in his first report:
We prayed for 36 days. On the dawn of May 15, 1932, after the Morning Prayer, 321 names were voluntarily added to the register of this Holy Flock of Christ. In the evening prayer meeting, the Almighty God surrounded us with His rainbow. Two women went into labor in the morning and three christening/naming ceremonies were performed. In the morning service of May 15, 1932, the name of this organization was given from above as HOLY FLOCK OF CHRIST. The glory sign appeared on children, adult males and females. The children’s and females' glory sign was so much. Forty days after the Pentecost day, the liturgy, rules and regulations to be used in this organization were given to us from above, which we are using now presently in the Flock.
The Lagos Branch of the HFC met in the houses of the four former leaders of the HC&SAM who joined Lawrence’s group. It was necessary to ensure that the first branch was solidly founded and healthy before venturing out to form others. Saturday night vigil was particularly popular. When members of the HC&SAM saw the glory of God being manifested in the HFC, they sought to join. On August 13, 1941, their request was formally brought to Lawrence. He responded that for their request to be considered, they had to agree to some corrections in doctrines in some areas, such as vision, prayers and praying, dreams and dreamers, and the roles of spiritual workers within the HC&SAM. The HC&SAM did not formally reply to the corrected points, so Lawrence did not give them a formal reply. He insisted that the message of God was that the HFC should remain separate and distinct from any Aladura movement. Mixing with or combining with other churches was out of the question.
With the HFC formally established, from April 13 to May 14, 1932, daily prayer was held in Lawrence’s house at 49 Kakawa Street focusing on three prayer points: all souls should become spiritually born-again, true spiritual worship should not become a thing of the past in the four corners of the world, and Jesus Christ should breathe on worshippers afresh according to His promises in the Gospel. Spiritually-minded people made it a point of duty to attend the daily morning prayers and reported visible blessings of the Holy Spirit in their daily businesses and affairs. The prayers culminated in the name “Holy Flock of Christ” being revealed and affirmed for the new organization at the morning service that was held in Campus Square. After the service, everybody present retired to Lawrence’s house to register their names in the new HFC Organization. The spiritual message to all members that evening was that the HFC would be made a covenant to the world if all members were spiritually and heavenly minded.
Growth of the HFC
On August 29, 1932, Lawrence, in his capacity as Spiritual Head of the HFC organization, took the group on their first evangelical tour. The tour started with Mr. J. O. Osinbowale, and their first port of call was Epe. From there, they moved through Atijere to Ibadan, Fiditi, and southward to Odogbolu and Okitipupa, all in the Yoruba-speaking southwest region of Nigeria. Later he was joined on the tour by some lady members: Emily Ogunlana, Elizabeth Adefope, E. O. Olumuyiwa, Joanna Talabi and Dorcas Talabi. Witnesses attested to great works of healing, ministration and exhortation. The report of the first evangelical tour was prepared when the team returned to Lagos on October 17, 1932. It was read by Mr. Osinbowale to the joy and satisfaction of all members.
It was during the first evangelical tour that Senior Spiritual Elder C. B. Olumuyiwa started the process of purchasing a permanent site to house the HFC. Everyone searched earnestly and eventually the group felt that the Lord was leading them to 45 Okepopo Street in the city of Lagos. Meanwhile, on May 21, 1933, Lawrence, in his capacity as the Spiritual Leader of the organization, appointed officers and trustees. Then on September 29, 1933, all the officers and members of the HFC moved to the new location of their “House of Prayer,” which remains the headquarters of the organization.
With a permanent “House of Prayer” and a fairly extensive work of leading and administering the growing work of the HFC, on February 13, 1934, Lawrence decided to move into the HFC’s permanent accommodation where he became a full-time minister, evangelist, and church planter. For almost ten years he lived there under various conditions. In total, he planted fourteen churches in the Lagos, Ijebu, and Oyo areas. His followers described him as being steadfast in prayer and fasting, courageous, loving, generous, and hospitable. They say he exemplified what Christian leadership should be—self-abandoning, righteous, empathetic and self-sacrificing. Through his actions, he became a father for the fatherless, hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, and a provider of jobs for the jobless. Lawrence was always calm, cool, serene, calculating, unimpulsive, gentle, humble, forgiving, and patient. He was described as a giver who never counted the cost of giving. Above all, the members of the HFC remember him as a prayer warrior and a shepherd who administrated the church well.
The HFC after Lawrence
Lawrence moved back to his own house at 18 Oke Suna Street, Lagos, on October 11, 1943 when his illness became terminal. He died on October 19, 1943. Lawrence was survived by two children, a son and a daughter, both now deceased. His son was called Babatunde or “Tunde” and his daughter Oluyinka or “Yinka.” Both took an active interest in the affairs of the HFC and married in the church. Tunde rose up in the hierarchy to become Senior Spiritual Elder. His children survived him. Only two of these children played notable roles in the affairs of the HFC. Tunde’s late son was in the HFC’s musical band and a member of the choir. Yinka’s children are very involved in HFC affairs. Femi is an Elder and he pastors the HFC’s branch in Maryland, USA. He is well known among pastors and evangelists in the United States. Yinka’s daughter, Feyi, is a visioner and a worker among women in one of the branches in Lagos State.
Between 1943 and 2015, the leadership of the HFC rested on the shoulders of seven different men in succession. After Lawrence, Prophet Emmanuel Adeseye was the Alakoso or “Coordinator” from 1943 to 1946. He was followed by Spiritual Elder D. K. Idowu, Coordinator (1946-1955); Spiritual Leader Most Ven. Joseph Olukoya Adefope (1955-1977); Ven. S. I. Ogunfowora, Coordinator, (1979-1980); Most. Ven. Moses O. Osisanya (1981-1983); Spiritual Leader Most Ven. Joseph Oluremi Osinbowale (1984-2012); and Most. Ven. Josiah Adetola Adefope (2013-2015).
The two Adefopes who have led the church are brothers of the same parentage. The older Adefope, Joseph O., who left Orimolade with Lawrence, was much older in age than his brother Josiah. The older Adefope was a powerful preacher and visioner. With good administrative skills and a sense of humor, he was able to pilot the affairs of the HFC for decades. The present Spiritual Leader, Josiah Adetola Adefope, is a “chip off the old block.” A seasoned civil servant like his brother, he has a good hold on the HFC. To his credit, he delegates his duties to able assistants but oversees quite effectively the general administration of the church. Venerable J. O. Babalola is the General-Secretary.
At the time of the writing of this biography in January 2015, the HFC, founded by Lawrence, remains a strong and spiritually dynamic but low-key praying and worshipping band organization, headquartered at 45 Okepopo Street, Lagos. There are about seventy-five branches worldwide, mainly in Ogun, Osun, Lagos, Kogi and Edo States of Nigeria. There are also branches in Philadelphia and Maryland in the United States of America and in Israel. The HFC is a blend between modern day Anglican /Methodist /Baptist liturgy and style and modern Pentecostal churches. The main thing the HFC has in common with other Aladura congregations is the wearing of white garments in most, not all, of their services. Members do not put on the white garments in their various homes and wear them all day. Instead they put them on during services and prayer meetings. It is a church that believes in prophecy and members see visions, dreams and hear voices which they relay to the other members of the church.
The HFC is over 80 years old today. Within the Aladura movement, it is a distinguished member of the Organization of African Independent Churches (AICs).
1. Brief biography of Orimolade. Orimolade was born about 1879 in Ikare, Akoko in present day Ondo State. He was a prince but also born crippled in one leg, because of the circumstances surrounding his birth. It is believed that before he started his ministry, he received a vision that instructed him to bathe in the water of a nearby flowing stream. He obeyed and partially recovered from his disability, but he limped throughout the rest of his life.
Although Christianity was new in the area during Orimolade’s formative years, he was one of the early converts and adopted the name “Moses” on his baptism into the Methodist Church. As he grew up, he became more prayerful, spending much time in the study of the Bible. In 1916 he set out from his native town of Ikare preaching the gospel in and around Yorubaland, the Middle Belt, and the Northern part of Nigeria. Between 1916 and 1924, the record indicates that Orimolade visited Kaba, Ilorin, Kaduna, Jos, Zaria and Kano.
Orimolade returned to Lagos in 1924 and decided to settle in Lagos where he stayed with the sexton of Holy Trinity Church, Ebute-Ero. He was soon known for his powerful prayers and healing sessions, for which he was nicknamed Baba Aladura, “the Praying Father.” As he went around preaching, he did not initially attempt to establish a church but he directed converts to the church of their choice nearest to them. That notwithstanding, people filed up to his home for prayers.
Christianah Abiodun Akinsowon, later nicknamed “Captain” Christianah Abiodun Emmanuel, joined Orimolade’s team in 1925 after she had been in trance for some days, and was restored after Ormiolade prayed for her. Soon afterwards, they developed a strong father and daughter relationship in their work. Orimolade was forty-six years old and Christianah Abiodun was eighteen. It was a powerful combination. Scores of people came for prayers and divine guidance through visions and predictions given by Abiodun while Orimolade conducted healing sessions and performed miracles. The group increased by leaps and bounds and, after several revelations, adopted the name Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S) Society. The name of the church was registered in November 1925 with seventy disciples, as they were called, forty-five men and twenty-five women. It was symbolic of the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out in twos in the Bible.
2. In order to satisfy the yearnings for both work and recognition, Orimolade constituted another group of elders and called them “Patriarchs.” While the Praying Band was in charge of spiritual matters the Patriarchs took charge of administration. Other groups followed. But one that was very significant was “the Army of Salvation” composed of loyal and energetic young men who performed security and safety functions as guards and ushers on important occasions and processions.
3. Acts 6.
4. The seven members of the Praying Band were: Lawrence, E. A. Davies (father of lawyer H. Q. Davies), H. A. Phillips, C. B. Olumuyiwa, D. K. Idowu, J. A. Phillips, and J. O. Adefope who joined Lawrence when he founded the Holy Flock of Christ (HFC).
5. Orimolade was heartbroken and shattered by the factionalization and break-up of the C&S Movement. He withdrew from Lagos and moved initially to Osholake Street in Ebute-Metta, and later to Ojokoro near Agege where he died on October 19, 1933.
6. Lawrence appointed the following officials within the HFC: Mr. C. B. Olumuyiwa, Senior Spiritual Elder (SSE); D. K Idowu, J. O Adefope, L. I. Gabriel, J. Ayo-Coker, and M. A. Thomas, Spiritual Elders (SE); T. A. Oyesanya, E. O. Ayodele, S. I. Ogunfowora, J. O. Fakeye, M. I. Oje, F. A. Okutade, M. O Osisanya, J. O Onagoruwa, G. A. Martins, and J. O. Richards, Superintendents; E. A. Macaulay, J. A. Abodunrin, James. O. Taiwo, Theophilus Akin, P. A. Odutade, S. M. Odusanya, and S. S. Aiyelabola, Assistant Superintendents; Samuel S. Cdumbu, Deacon; Ms. Sarian Fiyakola Taiwo, Deaconess.
Deji Isaac Ayegboyin and S. Ademola Ishola. African Indigenous Churches. Bukuru: African Christian Textbooks, 2013.
J. D. Y. Peel. Aladura: A Religious Movement Among the Yoruba. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/user:Buckweath/sandbox. Accessed January 4, 2015.
Http://www.mounthorebintercontinentalC&Smc.com/4%20history.html. Accessed January 4, 2015.
Oral interview with Dr. Kole Abayomi, Vicar General, Holy Flock of Christ, Lagos and former DG, Nigerian Law School, Abuja. January 8 and 11, 2015.
Oral interview with Pastor Michael Okeowo, Pastor of the Holy Flock of Christ at Agbado-Ijoko, January 5, 2015.
Oral interview with Spiritual Leader Most Venerable J. A. Adefope. Holy Flock of Christ, Lagos, January 8, 2015.
Oral interview with Venerable J. O. Babalola, General-Secretary of Holy Flock of Christ, Lagos, January 9, 2015.
This article, received in 2015, was written by Olusegun Obasanjo, former military head of state (1976-1979) and president, Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999-2007) and currently a student at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) under the supervision of Deji Ayegboyin. This article also appeared in the August-September 2016 issue of the Journal of African Christian Biography. Click here to read the Journal.