Bishop Dabale returns to active status, plans to retire in ’07
Jan. 12, 2006
Bishop Done Peter Dabale
A UMNS Report
By Tim Tanton*
Bishop Done Peter Dabale, who leads the United Methodists in Nigeria,
has returned to active status after being on leave of absence for
Dabale, 57, also has decided he will seek voluntary retirement as soon
as a new bishop can be elected, said Bishop Peter Weaver, president of
the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
The West Africa Central Conference, which elects bishops for Nigeria and
some other African countries, is planning a special election in March
2007. Bishops are the top clergy leaders of the nearly 11 million-member
United Methodist Church.
Dabale was placed on leave of absence last May by the council’s
executive committee. The church in Nigeria was “conflicted” and had
leadership issues to be worked out, Bishop Roy Sano, council executive
secretary, said at the time.
“They’re not issues of morality,” Weaver said. “...These are issues of
administration and the way the conference operates.” The solutions
included Dabale and others “being open to some new ways of operating.”
And the issues aren’t all around one person, he added.
Dabale came off leave at the Nigeria Annual Conference gathering in
December, said Weaver, who attended the conference. The last three days
of the Dec. 12-18 conference were held in Zing.
Bishop Peter D. Weaver
Initially contacted for this story, Dabale said to call back later, but attempts to reach him again were unsuccessful.
Dabale has said he is “seeking retirement for the good of his family,”
Weaver said. The bishop has 11 children and has “major responsibilities
relative to his family,” he said. “He believed he had done some
excellent work — which he has — in Nigeria, and he believes it’s a good
time for him to retire.”
Also at the Zing gathering were Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo, who served
as interim leader in the Nigeria Area, and Ethel Johnson of Columbus,
Ohio, who worked on reconciliation and mediation in the conference
during Dabale’s leave.
Ntambo is head of the denomination’s North Katanga Area in the
Democratic Republic of Congo. Johnson is a retired professor who served
at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio and Africa University, and
went to Nigeria at the request of Dabale, the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries and the Council of Bishops.
Bringing people together
During December, Ntambo and Weaver visited three major sections of the conference and had retreats with lay people and clergy.
“The spirit was good,” Weaver said. “There seemed to be a spirit of
eagerness to move forward into the future and to have reconciliation
where there has been some brokenness.
“There’s been a lot of work done to identify some of the concerns and to
address those concerns and to bring reconciliation,” he said. Ntambo
and Johnson listened to people around the conference in seeking to
understand and resolve the leadership issues.
Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo
Ntambo divided his time between his own episcopal area and Nigeria,
while Johnson was in Nigeria on a daily basis from June 24 to Dec. 18.
Johnson described the atmosphere in the Nigeria Conference as “hostility, hostility, hostility when I first arrived.”
“People were just not in conversation with each other, and I was asked
to go because I had been in the conference so many different times,” she
said. She had trained many of the people in the conference, “so I knew
them and they knew me.”
One group of people was unhappy with Bishop Dabale and some of his
actions, while other people felt he should not have been placed on
leave. “Our task was to try to bring the two groups together,” Johnson
She met with people in all 23 districts, heard their concerns and helped
them think about how they could move forward together. Bishop Ntambo
also brought people together by holding several retreats for pastors and
laity. At the end of the six months, people were beginning to talk to
one another, Johnson said.
“On the 18th, the last day of annual conference, there was a real
celebrative mood on the part of the people at the conference,” Johnson
said. “I’m not saying everyone was feeling that because some people
definitely did not want Bishop Dabale to return. There was a good
feeling, there seemed to be a good spirit of cooperation.”
A growing church
Dabale is the first and only bishop the United Methodist Church has had
in Nigeria. He was elected in 1992, after serving as general
superintendent for four years, Johnson said.
The church in Nigeria was a former Evangelical United Brethren
conference, but internal problems prevented it from participating in the
1968 merger of the Methodist and EUB denominations. It wasn’t until
1984 that the Nigerian church asked to become part of the United
Johnson helped the Nigerian church organize into a United Methodist
annual conference, spending six months in the country in 1985 and
returning every year for almost 10 years afterward. The Nigerian church
became a full annual conference in 1992.
The church has about 400,000 members, she noted. “It has really, really
grown, and this has primarily been due to Bishop Dabale’s leadership.”
The United Methodist Church is “known as the most forward-thinking and
forward-moving church in the country,” she said. The church works for
all people, regardless of their faith, and provides ministries such as
rural health, education and literacy programs.
Until two years ago, the Nigeria Area had one annual conference, but the
church has grown to such an extent that the West Africa Central
Conference agreed to the formation of two provisional annual conferences
in principle ? a preliminary step to getting full annual conference
status from the denomination’s General Conference, which would give the
area three conferences.
Committed to the future
The Board of Global Ministries, Council of Bishops and Ntambo will
continue to be supportive and involved in the Nigeria church, Weaver
said. Dabale, though, is in charge. “Bishop Dabale is the bishop there
and is committed to this effort of all of us to make sure the United
Methodist Church of Nigeria has a very healthy future.”
Weaver expressed appreciation for Dabale, Ntambo, Johnson and others for
their work in Nigeria. Other supporters included Bishop Gregory Palmer
of Iowa, whose conference has had a close relationship with Nigeria for
“I think everyone is committed to the future in a very positive way,”
Weaver said. “Now obviously, people still have some disagreements and
there ... are going to be some people who see things a little
differently, but they’re committed to being one in Christ and working
together for the future of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria.”
*Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.