BISHOP Richard Aryee has not hidden his disdain for the actions taken by the two bishops and four other pastors who have resigned from the Lighthouse Chapel International (now known as the United Denominations Originating from the Lighthouse Group of Churches (UD-OLGC).
The six former full-time ministers of the gospel have sued the church for “abuse and exploitation” they suffered when they laid down their promising career paths and took up a calling in full-time christian ministry. Among their grievances is their claim that the church failed to pay their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) contributions while they worked around the world to build churches, preach the gospel and raise funds for the church.
The sextet did not even mention their tier-two pension contributions, which is also mandatory per Section 63 of the National Pensions Act.
The pastors say the failure of the church to pay their pension contribution is not due to the lack of funds. Bishop Oko Mensah was in charge of a popular Saturday dawn prayer clinic for seven years. It is not the main church service but under his stewardship, he says the dawn prayer meeting generated between GH₵18,000 to GH₵25,000 every Saturday. On a monthly basis, it fetched GH₵100,000. On one particular Saturday, the prayer clinic held a thanksgiving service and raised more than GH₵50,000.
Bishop Oko Mensah says these fund-raising prowess of the prayer clinic meetings put a smile on the face of a top administrator, Bishop EAT Sackey, who once commented, “we can build the Qadesh (a cathedral at Bortianor) with the prayer clinic offering.”
But despite this, the pastors say their pension contributions were neglected, and they have also petitioned SSNIT to investigate.
Since The Fourth Estate published the story in the three-part series—“Darkness in a lighthouse”—social media platforms of pastors and worshipers of the Lighthouse Chapel have reacted with disapproval.
They rebuked the former employees for “biting the hand that once fed them.” Their social media platforms have been buzzing with loyalty to the presiding bishop, Dag Heward-Mills, who has explained the loyalty doctrine in nine books.
Photo: The doctrine of Loyalty and Disloyalty is taught extensively and conscientiously using the nine books authored by the founder. The books are the staple theological diet of students of the church’s Anagkazo Bible and Ministry Training Center, (ABMTC).
Bishop Richard Aryee, who heads the United Kingdom branch of Lighthouse Chapel International, has posted videos of the resigned bishops, when they praised the Presiding Bishop, Dag Heward-Mills, years ago. He asked his followers to share.
He also posted messages hash-tagged #IStandAgainstDisloyalty and #IStandWithBishopDag.
Some members of the church have described the six as “greedy people” who made money their motivation, instead of embracing the sacrifices that come with full-time ministry.
But it appears the condition of service of “loyal” pastors such as Bishop Richard Aryee is not the same as those pastors who are being asked to focus on heavenly rewards instead of worldly possessions.
The Fourth Estate has sighted documents of the Lighthouse Chapel International that show that, in 2016, the church paid Bishop Richard Aryee an ex-gratia of £300,000 (GH¢2,430,000 as of March 2021.)
The entire social security contribution of Rev. Seth Duncan, a former pastor, who worked for 10 years is an estimated GHS135.
The Lighthouse Chapel International branch in the UK is registered with the Charities Commission for England and Wales. The commission is an independent department that seeks to regulate “charities in England and Wales, to ensure that the public can support charities with confidence.”
Churches in the UK are required to register with the Charities Commission for England and Wales and also submit audited accounts to the commission, which are then published on its website, register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk.
For Lighthouse Chapel International, the charity is registered as number 1110619, and is run by three trustees—Clement Opoku Amaning, Jude Ekow Baiden and Edmund Ansa-Asamoah.
The Fourth Estate has obtained a financial report, published on the UK’s charity commission’s website titled, “Report of the trustees and audited financial statements for the year ended 31st August, 2016 for The Lighthouse Chapel International.”
The report states that the church raised more than £1.31million in voluntary contributions, and spent £875,435 as the “cost of generating voluntary income.”
The main disbursements made, apart from the ex-gratia, were in support of the construction of churches in Dadieso and Hohoe and the construction of the Anagkazo Bible School project in Ghana. Monies were also sent for church construction in Swaziland and Kingston, Jamaica.
The £300,000 ex-gratia paid to Bishop Richard Aryee is the highest expenditure item for 2016, more than twice the next biggest item—the contribution to Anagkazo Bible school project of £125,001.
It is also the biggest donation item from the Lighthouse church in the UK from 2016 to the last audited report submitted in 2019. The sum is also more than the entire annual staff cost in any given year, according to the reports published on the website.
In the report, the church explains the reason for the payment of the ex-gratia. It says:
“During the year under review, the Trustees having made an application to the Charity Commission resolved to make an ex-gratia payment of 300,000 to Minister Richard Aryee. The payment made to him in his capacity as a Minister to support to support him in his ministry. The payment reflects the contribution he has made to the successful operations and growth of the church since he founded it in 1993.”
Bishop Richard Aryee is not on retirement. He is still serving in the church as the leader of Muster Seed Chapel International. The Fourth Estate has reached him for a comment but all messages and calls have not been responded to.
Back here in Ghana, the church has been battling allegations of neglect of its ministers and employees in court and also at SSNIT.
The pastors who have resigned and sued the Lighthouse say the exploitation by the church took different forms: a “deceptive” policy of “Become Who You Can Become”; undue pressure to raise funds, which turned them into beggars; and psychological effects of their ordeals, including suicide attempts.
Bishop Larry Odonkor, whose social security was not paid for 14 out of his nearly 19 years of full-time ministry, signed a missionary consent form to pledge his life to “a life of poverty”. But he insists even if he signed a document to be poor, he did not sign a document to be cheated.
The six have been roundly condemned by some members of the church as well as pastors and bishops.
Bishop Larry Odonkor is one of the pastors at the receiving end of social media condemnation. Some past videos of him praising Bishop Dag Heward-Mills have been widely shared. A loyalist, Bishop Richard Aryee has made several of such posts on his Facebook page.
In one of them, his face thunders a wild, wide smile. He stretches his arms aloft, as wide as a cross. And standing ahead of him is the man whose cause he has also made his cross—Dag Heward-Mills.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story shall not be republished or broadcast, in part or in full, in any form or shape without the express permission of the Editor-in-Chief.
You can reach the writer of this story, Edwin Appiah, via email at [email protected] You can follow him on @edwinologyLB
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