Beginning and growth

The Cherubim and Seraphim churches cover a variety of churches that traced their origin to the Aladura movement of the early twentieth century based in Lagos and led by Moses Orimolade (see Orimolade, Moses) and Christiana Abiodun Emanuel (nee Akinsowon) (see Akinsowon, Christiana Abiodun (Mrs Captain)). The churches’ strong emphasis on prophetism, dreams, spirit possession, and healing were significant. Likewise, the experience of Abiodun and other women who functioned as founders, visionaries, and healers created a favourable situation for women’s empowerment, and thus stimulated remarkable social and religious transformation in Nigeria.

The leader of the aladura or praying churches, Moses Orimolade was born about 1879 and baptized into the Anglican Church sometime in the 1890s. In 1919 he embarked on itinerant preaching in the interior of the country, and in July 1924 he arrived in the coastal city of Lagos. His activities centred on preaching against idolatry and praying for people with various needs.

In June 1925, a teenage girl, Abiodun Akinsowon went into a prolonged trance after witnessing an annual Roman Catholic carnival in Lagos. Confused about Abiodun’s state and unable to get help from the vicar of the Anglican Church, her guardians summoned Orimolade for help. After Orimolade had prayed, Abiodun regained consciousness, and then narrated her strange experiences in the angelic heavens. Abiodun joined Orimolade and both continued to pray for enquirers and people with various needs. An interdenominational group formed from these enquirers was named Egbe Serafu (the Seraphim Society) on 9 September 1925. Another vision some months later modified the name to Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S). While Orimolade was the leader of the group conducting prayers and effecting healing, Christiana assisted as the visioner and preacher.

Early in 1926, Orimolade organized some active members into a Praying Band to assist him in praying for people, and to visit homes to pray for people without collecting or accepting any fees. Within two years, the group had achieved considerable popularity partly because of its colourful anniversary processions and the wearing of white robes, which ultimately became its uniform.

The commitment of members to prayers and chastity, and their denunciation of idolatry won the admiration of ministers from the mainline Protestant churches, where most of the early members had come from. However, opposition from the Anglican Church in particular later arose as a result of the veneration of angels and the devotion to Orimolade.

Early spread in Lagos was through personal contacts with Orimolade or Christiana. In early 1927, Christiana and her supporters embarked on evangelistic tours, which took them to various towns and cities in southwestern Nigeria including Abeokuta, Ibadan, Ile-Ife, Ilesa, Ijebu-Ode, and Ondo, where C&S branches were established. In subsequent years, other groups of evangelists were sent to the interior to strengthen existing branches and to establish new ones. As the membership increased, the group became formalized, and by 1928 the leaders had severed their Anglican connections.

Secessions and proliferation of C&S

Prophetism and charisma have largely determined the leadership. Without any formal training for the ministry, numerous prophets emerged claiming different kinds of spiritual authority. The first schism occurred when supporters of both Orimolade and Abiodun magnified the personality differences and suspicion existing between the old and illiterate Orimolade and the young, beautiful, educated Abiodun. In March 1929, the split was formalized when Orimolade wrote Abiodun asking her to go independent so that a peaceful atmosphere could prevail. Abiodun named her group Cherubim and Seraphim Society, while Orimolade’s group was named the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim.

In 1930, Ezekiel Davies, the trusted leader of the Praying Band, broke away from Abiodun to establish the Praying Band of the Cherubim and Seraphim. In 1931, after C&S churches in seven important towns in the interior that were neutral to the crisis failed to bring about reconciliation in Lagos, they constituted themselves independently as the Western Conference of the Cherubim and Seraphim. Another secession occurred in 1932 when the Holy Flock of Christ seceded from the Praying Band, and shortly after Orimolade’s death in October 1933, there was a further split over succession disputes among his followers. Splintering continued and by 1934 six independent groups had emerged; by 1968 these had increased to fourteen in Lagos alone. There also existed hundreds of prophets establishing C&S churches unaffiliated to any group.

Doctrinal emphases and practices

Among the core doctrinal emphases is the belief in the mediatory power of angels. This is evident from the outset in the choice of the name Cherubim and Seraphim, angels that surround the throne of God. The society also chose four angels—Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael, rather than humans, as patrons. C&S further believes that individuals have guardian angels that provide them with spiritual assistance.

There is a strong belief in the existence of evil spiritual forces such as witches, wizards, and enemies who afflict people with illnesses and misfortunes. Hence, C&S’s obsession with spiritual power and healing to counteract the activities of these satanic agents. Healing is largely carried out through prayers, fasting or the use of ‘healing rituals’ such as bathing in streams or the symbolic use of water, candles, and palm fronds. The church prohibits consultation with traditional diviner-healers, but allows the use of Western medicine.

Visions and dreams are important because most prophets centred their call and activities on these phenomena. Dreams reflect African traditional belief about communication with the supernatural realm. Members attach meaning to dreams and regularly consult prophets for the interpretation of these. Those possessed by the Holy

Spirit can enter trance for several days during which they can have visionary experiences of past, present and future events.

Candles and incense feature in worship and they possess symbolic significance as representing divine power. The church premises are sacred places and shoes and menstruating women are excluded from such premises. Certain hilltops are also regarded as sacred, and it is common for prophets to hold special prayer sessions in these locations. Ecstatic spiritual experience, prolonged enthusiastic services full of singing and dancing, while reflecting the indigenous African pattern of worship, are also part of their Pentecostal features.


In an attempt at unifying all C&S factions in 1986 Captain Abiodun Emanuel, then the only living founder, was installed as the movement’s supreme head worldwide. Though the membership was predominantly Yoruba in the early years of the movement, Cherubim and Seraphim is now an international movement.

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