Nigerian prelate wins peace prize as country faces election chaos

By staff writers
April 22, 2007

The honorary head of the Methodist Church of Nigeria is the latest recipient of the World Methodist (WMC) Peace Award, in honour of his longstanding work for reconciliation, inter-church relations and peacebuilding between Christians and Muslims.

HE Sunday Mbang will be honoured during a ceremony on 24 April 2007 at the Methodist Cathedral of Unity in Abuja, Nigeria. He will be presented the award by the Rev John Barrett, chair of the WMC. The council named Mbang as the peace award recipient in 2006, but the presentation was delayed.

Nigerian president, Matthew Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, is due to represent the country at the event. But his attendance may now be uncertain due to the chaos in his country.

Violence and widespread disruption have marred the current Nigerian presidential and parliamentary elections with many of the 120,000 polling stations failing to open for hours and polling was extended in many places beyond the official closing time.

There have been a number of reported killings, thefts of ballot boxes and an attempt to blow up the election headquarters.

Established in 1976, the World Methodist Peace Award recognizes courage, creativity and consistency in a person or group's efforts to be a peacemaker, seek justice and reconciliation in the name of Jesus Christ and in order to effect positive changes in society.

Previous recipients - both religious and non-religious - include former US President Jimmy Carter, UN. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, President Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia and Casamira Rodriguez of Bolivia.

"Sunday Mbang, the son of a pastor, has always had a concern, vision and commitment to see a new future," said the Rev George Freeman, the council's executive director.

The Methodist Church of Nigeria grew out of British Methodism. But conflict emerged after the church became autonomous. According to Freeman, some practices that were adopted resulted in a dramatic departure from the church order that the people had known.

When Mbang became prelate in 1984, the Nigerian church was severely divided over the sweeping changes made by his predecessor toward a more Eastern direction in its liturgy, worship practices and church leadership roles.

From the time of his installation, Mbang set aside the symbols of those changes to work toward reconciliation, and his example spread to other countries, says Freeman.

Within two months, reconciliation teams were formed through the World Methodist Council to meet with leaders in two other nations where major conflicts threatened church unity.

Mbang forged relationships with other church bodies in Nigeria and throughout Africa and formed friendships that strengthened Christian witness throughout the country.

"His leadership has enabled Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to live together in peace," Freeman said. "He has been outspoken against corruption in government and has been a leader in movements that seek to avoid civil strife. The Nigerian government awarded him the Commander of the Order of Niger award, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the government."

Mbang received his doctorate in Old Testament studies from Harvard University. He served on the World Methodist Council executive committee from 1982 to 1991. In 1991, he became a member of the council's presidium and was elected vice-chairman of the council in 1996 and chairman in 2001.

As chair, he led the council through its initial phase of self-study and was a strong impetus to the council's adoption of statements on 'Unity and Sexuality' and 'Wesleyan Witness in Islamic Cultures.'

He represented World Methodism at the 2003 Day of Prayer for Peace in the World under the leadership of the late Pope John Paul II, and led a delegation to meet with Pope Benedict XVI on the progress of 40 years of dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council.

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