Debretsion Mariam in London and Stories of Two Sides about the Same Trouble

March 31, 2013

March 2013
by T.Goshu

Thanks to ESAT Journalists’ efforts from London, I watched the discussion with both those who had been involved in the process of the “amendment of the by-law of the Church’s administrative and managerial affairs” on the one hand, and the three ‘clergymen’ ( priest Abate ,deacon Mengesha and Leyou) who represented the opposite views on the other hand. I have to say that it was with sincere interest and due attention that I listened to what they had to say.

Here is my comment:

1. I do not have much to say about the “drafting committee” members who showed up on ESAT before the appearance of

Debretsion Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church in London

Debretsion Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Church in London

the three ‘clergymen’.

This is because what they explained on the question of what, why, and how they had been trying to do was clear and issue focused. As I tried to watch and understand carefully, I did not find their explanation and reasoning messing with that or this group, and these or those personalities.  It was mainly focused on the problem and the unnecessary consequence it caused. I found those individuals very professional and quite knowledgeable about the issue they were trying to deal with. I want to make myself clear here that I am not talking about what went wrong and who did what which is of course beyond my judgment. I am not either trying to advocate the “committee members” because what they explained about the situation tells me about the whole story, or because I found them blameless. Absolutely not! What I want to once again stress is that the way they presented and explained the troubling situation the Church is facing was issue focused, not subjective and not out of context. And whatever they might have difficulties with the problem they had been dealing with, their ability in substantiating the problem and the hurdle they had to face make a lot of sense. The way they presented themselves in a very gentle manner was impressive and sincerely appreciable.

2. It has been mentioned by the host of the program called “Tikuret” that it was not easy to hear the other side of the story (clergymen). And I want to say that it will not be inappropriate to express my observation in this regard that not making oneself available to a media that informs the public about issues of public concern is not a sign of strength ,but a serious sign of weakness if not a serious lack of self-confidence. Well, the excuse not to do so may or may not because of some sort of ulterior motives that I do not want to speculate.  I heard priest Abate Gobena in his introductory statement of response saying, “Although we do not believe that the problem would be solved through media, we say thanks and we are ready to explain about the situation.” Well, it was and is a very common knowledge that one of the main purposes of a genuine media is to inform the public about the issue they concern, not proposing solutions.  I do not think priest Abate could miss this very common understanding or knowledge. And if this is a very clear case, I do not know why he wanted to begin his response with that kind of “ironic” expression. I once again want to say that I am not saying he was implying that or this kind of intention. What I am trying to say is that using that kind of expression about what was and is not the role of media in proper at the very beginning of one’s statement does not sound genuine at all.

This said, let me express my brief observation about some of the points made by the three clergymen (Priest Abate and deacon Gebiru Mengesha and deacon liyou ) and the way they presented themselves.

I sincerely believe that it is relevant to quote writer Charles Kimball (When Religion Becomes lethal (2011), a book deals with an age-old and serious problem of the mix between religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) and politics when he says, “We live in a dangerous world in which many people –including many religious people think and talk in terms of “us “and “them.” When he forwards the solution he believes in, he says, “In our religiously diverse and interdependent neighborhoods, nations, and world community; educational dialogue facilitate the much needed final step in the engagement where “we all “are talking with each other about “all of us.” I am sorry to say but I have to say that what I have observed from those three clergymen of Debretsion Mariam Church is very far from this highly desirable way of thinking and behaving. Let me jot down why I am saying this as follows:

The first thing that all the three shared, as Author Kimball says was strongly characterized by the attitude of blaming the other side and defending themselves (their side) with every possible mechanism.  That is where they lost their senses of focusing on the issue and presenting their side of the story in a rational, tolerant, humble and constructive manner. And that is why I said the above quoted expressions are powerfully relevant to bring into this specific case.

Although priest Abate, tried to control his emotion and look like well –composed and matured compared with how the two deacons did, he basically shared the highly emotional and very unnecessarily aggressive attitude of the two deacons as far as the content of their explanation and argument is concerned.

All the three have never tried to admit that as any human being, they and their side could make mistakes that contributed to the aggravation of the problem. They rather tried hard to show how the 15 and their sympathizers caused a serious disgrace to the sanctity of the mass (qedassie) and related ceremonies.  Priest Abate admitted that those 15 were dismembered from the Church services in proper including “ENTRANCE NOT ALLOEWD!” by the decision of five out of nine members of the “Sebeka Gubae Astedader.” And what was the worst thing with this decision was that those four who were absent were representatives of the innocent members /followers of the Church and those five ones who passed the decision were clergymen and a representative of the Sunday school or singers (mezemeran). I am sorry to say but I have to say that I do not think this is the process to be taken as fair and right let alone to claim that it was led by the Holy Spirit. This comment of mine sounds harsh. But, that is what it is! And as a member/follower of the EOTC, I firmly believe calling something as it is and seeking for a genuine corrective measure is the very gist of being Christian. It is only when we try to pretend that all is fine while all is in trouble that we become victims of vicious circle and cause a serious harm to the innocent followers of the Church, and sadly enough harm to the religion itself.

When the three were asked why they didn’t want to take the issues which they couldn’t resolve to the general assembly (all members of the Church) and let everybody have his or her own say and see if that could help, they out- rightly dismissed the notion of public participation by saying that as the issue is spiritual affair, it has nothing to do with the people. I do not know why discussing about the administrative by-law of the Church should be a religious taboo unless we try to unnecessarily mystify it so that it serves some sort of self-interest in the name of the sacredness of  certain religious dogmas and doctrines . I do not think this specific case (problem) of the London Debretsion Mariam Church is mysterious enough to the people themselves leave alone any professional person who has a relevant and relatively better knowledge about it.

Priest Abate tried to make this case much more mysterious /mystified when he said that “those “drafting committee members “can be experts in their own fields but not in this religious matter.” True, they cannot be. But not in this very particular common case the Church is experiencing very unnecessarily. Yes, I am sorry to say but I have to say that it is this kind attitude and tradition from many of our religious people that keeps the innocent followers of the Church religiously illiterate in the real sense of the term. I do not know how we can move forward in this 21st century if we try to keep people’s involvement /participation away from these kinds of very common issues (how to administrate or manage a church) in the name of religious (spiritual) sanctity/secret.

The arguments by the two deacons about the participation of the followers /members of the Church to my understanding is very clumsy and offending .They tried to justify the reason why they do not believe people should have their own say on this problem by saying that their participation is limited to serve the Church by being members of very common service rendering ad hoc and permanent committees /subcommittees. I do not know why and where this kind of arrogance can go with true religious values and humbleness, especially in this 21st century. I agree with the deacons that there are limitations in every organizational duties and responsibilities let alone in a religious institution like ours. But, I have to say that undermining and avoiding the people from issues that directly concern them does not make sense, and I do not think that was the very gist of the teachings of Jesus Christ unless we try to stretch every verse of the Holy Bible so that it justifies our ulterior motives. Is this harsh? Yes, it sounds! But, that is how I believe it should be!

Let me raise another serious question with all due respect. All the three clergypersons vehemently complained about the very unfortunate interruption of the mass service (Qedassie) caused by the disturbance from the very frustrated members /followers of the Church. I agree with them that if there were unnecessary and ugly exchange of words, that has to be vehemently condemned and seriously regretted. But, I do not think we need to over exaggerate it over and over again instead of helping the dust settle and making a constructive way to move forward. Let me pose my question which I want to know in this regard. What would be the answer for a question that might be posed by those who are blamed for the disturbance, which might go like this: “How those clergymen and their sympathizers who had had a great deal of contribution to the worsening of the situation claim themselves as genuine messengers to offer a heart-felt mass service and to bless his flesh and blood in His name?” Is this not a legitimate challenge? I strongly believe it is! I am well aware that so many fellowmen /believers may repeat what we are told at every preaching that we should not worry about the sin of others including the clergies /priests as sin is for self. Well, I understand that under a given context.  But, I do not think I should keep quiet and get blessed by someone who messes with certain serious mistakes but blame others.  Absolutely not! And I do not think this has something to do with committing a sin or being religiously unethical.

Let me sum up my comment with the question of “what is the way to move forward? “This was posed by the host of “Tikuret.” All the three arrived at a very troubling one –sided conclusion /solution because of their self-defensive and offensive premises and arguments. They sounded very authoritative when they said that the Church will remain closed until everybody understands what Christianity means and deeply regret about what happened. Well, generally this is a good and desirable thing to be done. To my observation, the problem with this general statement is that when they said everybody, they sounded that it won’t include them. As they did throughout their explanations/arguments, they did not indicate their courage to admit that they had contribution to the problem in one way or another, and their willingness to be part of the solution not as blameless but part of the problem too. I do not think the mentality and behavior of making oneself free of blame and a messenger of God to forgive others especially in this particular case holds water leave alone bringing about a real sense of love and peace.

So, the best way to move forward that works both in religious and secular world is to put oneself in an honest, rational, truthful, and mutually responsible and respectful manner, not in a position of give or receive attitude!

8 Responses to Debretsion Mariam in London and Stories of Two Sides about the Same Trouble

  1. Ewent Hagere

    April 3, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Yelma, whilst you are largely right about your analysis,you were wrong to dismiss the committee as lazy who were unable to work with in the system. Which system? the system that the head priest block them from participating. pls be fair.

    This whole thing is the making of the head priest.

  2. Ewent Hagere

    April 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    The righter has captured my feelings. I must admit during the interview, I felt he was letting them off lightly especially when kes Abate came out with some ridiculous claims what the word “incorporated” means. He said it is a Latin word that meant body and the only body is that of Christ and something to that effect. Surely, Kes Abate is not serious but I realise how emotive and sensitive the whole issue is and the interviewer was easy going on them knowingly.

    Now, I do not believe they do not understand what the issue is. They do very well. But, there is a disturbing level of arrogance and stubbornness which came from authoritarian attitude stemmed from insatiable desire to power as oppose to caring for the church or its Dogma and cannon as they claim.

    It is this arrogance that pushed committee members and their supporters to the limit that terrible Sunday. For several months before hand, they were ridiculed and insulted by kesawes (including the so called Sunday school or should I call them Sunday tools) as they are well trained to disrupt and create chaos in the church whenever the idea of discussion on the issue of administration was about to take place on Sundays- as agreed by both parties beforehand.

    It was clear in the end that Girma had no intention of discussing the issue. Sorry, I am not going to refer to that man as Abba anymore. I have lost all humanly respect for him because of his despicable behaviour which I would come further down.

    I have noticed the systematic sabotage of meetings by the named priest and no one could do anything about it- at which stage it was clear to me that the entire situation was reflective of the Ethiopian Psyche and Religion. Hopefully, I will live long enough to write a book about it one day.

    My observation for now is , how is it that a man who was so humble not so long ago, mix and mingle in the community many served him as his personal chauffeurs, cleaners, friends and many more out of pure love came to be so full of himself and arrogant that he cannot even see the damage he is doing to the community never mind the church.

    I put the blame squarely on the community. We pay such undue respect to priests in our culture. We hide their sins; we entertain their arrogance and worldly needs. We do as they say. In this particular case, there is many things going on I would not reveal for legal reason but things like mediation for example; women who sought his help in relation break downs are subjected to ungodly and unfair judgement by this chauvinist priest and yet, no one, I mean no one confronts his bad behaviour, but everybody whispers and gossips about it everywhere! We do not stand up to their wrong doings. Of course when you are put to such level of highness, how else can one behave other than contempt?

    Secondly, we the society have amazing relationship with religion not with god. That is, the vast majority of us are slaves to what the clergy demand of us in terms of what it means to be a Christian. So, instead of finding our path with god, we are subjected to so many dos and don’ts that are irrelevant and frankly have got nothing to do with being a Christian.

    There are no mechanisms to file or report wrong doings. In fact if any one open their mouth to talk about what a given priest has done, he or she is immediately dismissed and hushed to shut up as it is a sin to speak what a priest has done none less than by those who are friends and family.

    One has to visit the several you tube sites cleverly setup by the supporters of priest Girma. However one would be subjected to endless daft advice and ridiculous view that no one can question the church. There is also a wide and strong belief that a priest is directly chosen by god and respected by god hence no one is eligible to question them. It is religious oppression that we so willingly shackle ourselves with that our problem is. The clergies know this mentality of believers full well and exploit it to the maximum especially when challenged by some “daring” individuals.

    Thirdly, Diaspora life is a real equaliser. What I mean is, some of those who feel they are the gate keepers of the church would never pass by the door of the people they are insulting never mind talk the way they do had we been in our land. People, who were well brought up, educated and served their country in the highest of offices in the past, today are being insulted and abused by young men and women who came here at the back of a lorry- All in full view of Kes Girma he would not even request the customary “tew” when people are being rude. He just stands there and watches his disciples being offensive.
    When the abusers came to England, it was the same people who are being accused of all sorts of deeds today that open the church door and welcomed them in. Who would have thought this class and creed difference would end up creating such uproar.

    Which leads me to my conclusion; it is therefore, this collection of societal differences in upbringing, educational back ground and class position that has created an obstacle to addressing the issue or finding a way of solving it in an amicable way. This also provides the ammunition to Kes Girma by which he fights his fellow Christians shamelessly.

    This will make or break us as a community in England. It is not because of the value of the church as a building (£6 million) but the principle of it all. The clergy cannot exclude the congregation from the decision making process of the church using unfounded and untrue argument. Allowing them to do so will mean, even in a Diaspora we cannot stand up for our right.

    The notion of church having its own rule is well and good but who is to say church rule is above investigation? We can learn from the Catholic Church and its historical position of denial and hushing crimes but eventually, it is people, the congregation and victims through the court of law that forces the church to admit wrong doings. Similarly, we should not be embarrassed or feel we violated the house of god when questioning. In doing so, those who serve in the house of god will be forced to realise that they are accountable for their actions. Also, the integrity of the church would not be brought to disrepute if these mechanisms are in place. So, those who buried their ostrich head in the sand better wake up and realise that the Genie is out and there is no going back to bullying and intimidation to assert individual power.

  3. asrat

    April 3, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Well analized but the argument here as well should not be subjective as you claim it was on the case of the receivers of this critic.As to the media we can take our own attitude but it is totally sad. we complain about the media at home. but here the media were worth than the police state Ethiopia. If someone says ‘fire’ ‘fire the media propagates like hell without analizing. in the diaspora case ‘woyane’ is feared as ‘fire’ in London city.
    for the rest company is dead even in uk. so what the heck except real stupidity. let’s back up and think. don’t further divide us than the one we have found ourselves in.i.e. we can not talk to eachother without thinking twice. so who is responsible? still woyane? I doubt it in my case if not totally. let us look ourselves before we throw mud on the other side.

  4. Meseret Dubale

    April 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    My heart goes with the Debre Tsion Mariam members. Eventually I know they will win. As for some of the Kahnats who are deliberately confusing members, I say your time is up, pack up and go.Their motive is clear. Taking the property for personal gains. May God and our Holy Mother Mercy save this church from devils in disguise Amen!!!!!!

  5. Wey Gize

    April 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I take off my hat in respect for the writer. You are really some one who has been gutted by the reaction of those idiot diacons like I do. I think we donot need to do background check to know who they are? The name of one of the diacons sounds from the North according to Woyane ethinic politics. I donot feel regreted to say that because they are ONES who introduced this nasty ethinic politics with in the most innocent nation on earth,Ethiopia. So he must be felted ashamed of their ethinic politics and yet again he is their in London to spy our people on abroad in the periphery of Orthodox-Church.

    Gratefully we are living in a country where the rule of law is respected and secured. If they are determined to ignore rational inquest of innocent followers. We can take things to the court and we will challenge them on court to make the voices of our people heard and we will show them the church belongs to us not to Woyanes.

  6. Melkam Enasib

    April 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    A very objective observation and substantive article on the issue/interviews given by both parties. In a nutshell, my understanding is that the committee members basically argue that any points of disagreements on the by-laws and the registration of the church as a Charitable company Limited by Guarantee should be presented to the general assembly of the church members and let members (including the Kahnats) vote on the disagreements. In their views these are issues of administration and management and do not in anyway violate or contravene the “kenona” or kalawadi. . The “kalawadi” is flexible in terms of determining the by-law of local churches/congregation as appropriate. And that is why the London Debretsion is registered with the Charity Commission and has its Trust Deeds, and fulfil the law of the land , requirements not mentioned in the Kalawadi.
    The kahnats unnecessarily and repeatedly mention that the “Kalawadi” with violated and disregarded. I do not think this was the case. They are either trying to deliberately confuse innocent members, or they did not grasp what the committee members were repeatedly saying and arguing for.
    Yes, Kess Abate was right in saying that the church is registered with the Charity Commission as a Trust, and no need to re-register as a company or change the by-laws. Nevertheless, I think the Kahnats should realise that registering the church as a Charitable Company limited by guarantee is also an option for the members to discuss the “prons” and “cons” and decide one way or the other. The Kahnats should not misinterpret (such as the silly argument and Kes Abate’s definition of incorporation has no substance and relevance to the issue and was out of context).
    The Kahnats are also mixing up “the religious doctrine and dogma” with the “church administration and management” in order to (deliberately or otherwise) confuse members. In the interviews time and time again the committee members have explained that the “Rekik Denb” never dealt with the dogma or religious affair, but only on the management of the church.
    I agree with the writer that we expect honesty, trustworthiness , magnanimity, etc… especially from our church leaders at this particular season of Lent.

  7. Ethiopian

    April 1, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I agree !