Sunday Coffie Mbang
Sunday Coffie Mbang was the fourth indigenous leader of the Methodist Church Nigeria.
Methodist Church Nigeria
Mbang was born in Idua-Eket in the present Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria on August 26, 1936. His father, Coffie Eka-Mbang, was a pastor of the Qua Iboe Church, and his mother was Judith Udo-Ekpo. Both descended from the royal family. His father and paternal grandfather Ekanem Udo Itak, descended from a royal family so rooted in the Eket royal lineage that they always produced the traditional ruler of the Idua-Eket clan. Judith Sunday's mother was a princess, a member of the royal family of Ikot Eyo.
Biographers attribute the manner in which his parents married to a divine act. Although both were of royal blood, they came from different parts of the Ibibio community and by tradition were not expected to marry each other. Reportedly, in Ikot Eyo, his mother's clan, women were allowed to become paramount rulers and were therefore forbidden from marrying anyone outside of the clan. His father, Coffie Eka-Mbang, was an Eket man and therefore an outsider. In spite of this tradition, Judith and Eka-Mbang came together as man and wife.
Eka-Mbang died in 1957 when his son Mbang was just twenty-one years old but he had made a lasting impression on the life of his son. He was a strong disciplinarian, uncompromising on spiritual matters. He used his pastoral gifts to train his many children in the ways of the Lord because he was determined to establish a Christian home amidst the paganism of his society. His father's exemplary lifestyle, his commitment to Christian ideals and church ministry, and the general Christian atmosphere in the family helped to sharpen Mbang's focus in life; it developed and nurtured his call to the ministry and supported him throughout his years of service to God.
Between 1941 and 1950, for his primary education Mbang attended the Effoi Group School, Eket; Saint Michael's School, Aba; Salvation Army School, Akai-Eket; and the Government School, Eket. He studied at the Methodist Boys High School (MBHS), Oron, for his secondary education where he obtained the West African School Certificate in 1956. In 1957, he entered the Methodist Higher Elementary College, Uzuakoli, for a two-year study program to obtain the Teachers' Grade Two certificate. He qualified as a teacher in 1958.
At the Salvation Army School, he was so impressed with the school band that he joined and learned to play all the instruments. By the time he moved over to Government School, Eket in the sixth year, he had acquired so much proficiency in music that he became the leader of the school band. At MBHS he was involved in the activities of the school religious groups and voluntary organizations. He was a member of the Student Christian Movement (SCM), the Scripture Union (SU), the Boy Scouts, and the Young Farmers' Club. Subsequently, he became a squad leader in the Boy Scouts, then Scout master in 1955. In 1958, he became the president of the SCM. He was also a good athlete and won many prizes for the school during inter-house sports competitions.
After he finished his training as a teacher at Uzuakoli, he returned to his alma mater, the Methodist Boys High School, Oron, where he taught for three fruitful and eventful years. During this time he felt the call to be ordained into church ministry. In preparation for this, he did his theological training between 1962 and 1964 at Trinity College, Umuahia. In 1964, after he obtained his Ministerial Theological Training Certificate, he was qualified to serve as a Methodist minister. For the next three years, he undertook his practical work and served as a minister-in-training at the Methodist Church, Ete, in Egwanga. He also taught briefly in 1968 at Edoho Memorial School, Eket.
In 1966, he was admitted to the Bachelors of Arts program at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. However, his study was disrupted by the Nigerian civil war and he was forced to transfer to the University of Ibadan in 1968. He graduated with a B.A. Hons. in Religious Studies in 1971. At the University of Ibadan, Mbang came in contact with Professor Bolaji Idowu, head of the Department of Religious Studies, who had a tremendous influence on him. He became his academic mentor and was his predecessor as head of the Methodist Church Nigeria.
Mbang agreed with Idowu on most issues. Two interwoven issues helped to bring the two of them closer together. First Professor Idowu gave Mbang the assignment of taking on the leadership of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) which was then in a critical state and needed revitalizing. Mbang naturally took on the challenge like a religious duty. He worked conscientiously to rebuild the movement with tremendous success--to Idowu's delight. Another issue that endeared him to the professor was his handling of an unfortunate incident at the university while he was president of the SCM. During a student riot in February 1971, Kunle Adepeju, an SCM member, was killed. Adepeju was a student in his final year of agricultural studies and, incidentally, his parents' only child. The responsibility of breaking the news to the family thereby fell on Mbang's shoulders. Mbang took a delegation of seven to visit the parent of the deceased and deliver the tragic news. The Adepeju family was devastated. At first the news seemed so incredible that they didn't believe it and Mbang, as team leader, had to persuade the family to accept the irreparable loss. He went back several times to offer his condolences and pray for the bereaved family. Professor Idowu was so pleased with the way Mbang handled these challenges that when he became Patriarch of the Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN) almost a decade later, he didn't hesitate to pick Mbang as his chaplain.
After graduating from the University of Ibadan, Mbang returned to MBHS, Oron, as chaplain and tutor but spent only one year there. As a result of his performance on the first degree, the University of Ibadan offered him a postgraduate study scholarship for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel where he studied from 1972 to 1974. His studies were again disrupted by the Yom Kippur war in Israel and he had to transfer to the Harvard University of Cambridge in Massachusetts, U.S.A., where he graduated with a Master of Theology (Th.M). He spent three years in the Doctor of Theology program in Old Testament. He returned to Nigeria in March 1978 and was engaged as a lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan. However he only worked there for eighteen months before being appointed into the bishopric.
Mbang married Miss Enobong Essien, a teacher at Maria Gorreti Secondary School, Ikot-Ekpene, on December 16, 1978. The marriage was blessed with three boys: Iniabasi Abisoye, Idorenyin Segun, and Nyakno Samuel Mbang. Mbang and his wife took their parental responsibilities before God seriously and gave their children a Christian education. Just like his father, Mbang taught his children to put God above everything else by being a good example to them and admonishing them to stand firm on the promises of Scripture.
Mbang enjoyed a happy married life and his wife was a worthy companion in the work of the ministry. She was active in the MCN and led several important women's groups. She was the national president of the Women's Fellowship and active in the Mother's Union and Prayer Band. She also served as matron to many church organizations.
Calling and Ministry
Mbang's call came in a quiet, progressive way. Keturah Mbang, his elder sister, believes that as a little boy Sunday showed signs that he would follow their father in the ministry. For example, he always went to church and was usually very quiet during the service. He listened to sermons intently, gazing at the preacher with piercing eyes, his mind seeming to focus on every syllable of every word. His spiritual hunger prompted him to ply his parents with questions about Jesus, salvation, and other spiritual matters. As he grew up, it was easier for him to do the things of God and to follow the light of grace in which he was nurtured as a child. That helped him a great deal to understand what God wanted him to do.
He first became aware of his divine calling in 1957. As he watched his father on his death bed, it suddenly dawned on him that his father did not complete his ministry assignment on earth. Deep in his soul something told him that he needed to finish his father's work since, out of all his siblings, he was the closest to his father's ministry. This thought settled in his heart. However after his father's death, Mbang went back to his studies at the Methodist College, Uzuakoli, and did his best to forget this experience. He later admitted that he had not taken it very seriously at that time, but when he returned to his place of assignment, the thought of going into the ministry started to haunt him.
Mbang had what appears to be a second call to the ministry at a conference of the Student Christian Movement at Ngwa High School, Aba, in 1960.The urge to preach the Word suddenly came over him and stayed with him during the entire conference. Along with this came a deep persistent desire for theological education. So urgent was his desire that he sent an application from that conference straight to the Methodist Synod that was being held at that same time at Uzuakoli, even though this was contrary to standard procedure. Normally the one seeking an appointment into the ministry first had to apply through the local church (the Society) to the Synod. After obtaining the church's recommendation, one could then go on to obtain the form. Fortunately, Mbang's letter arrived at the Synod on time and was delivered to the secretary who ordered it to be read at the meeting. To the amazement of all, the Synod immediately approved his appointment into the ministry, contrary to the rules of the church. For what appeared to be a formality, his local church chairperson was then directed to pass the letter through the normal channels. This miraculous manner by which he was appointed to the ministry and eventually was admitted to Trinity College of Theology, Umuahia, for his training only help to authenticate his call to the divine service. Mbang later described the experience thus: "For me those things are very important because a kind of supernatural force pushed me into the ministry … that power pushed me and I discovered that from that point on, everything I did to go into the ministry was smooth sailing. This is the area of my call that I believe is good for people to hear." Although his family was opposed to his decision Mbang stood firm in following what he felt was God's will for his life.
After his commissioning and dedication in 1964, he was posted first to Kaduna and then to Yaba in Lagos. He had been in Yaba for four months when he was transferred to Ikot-Abasi where he was put in charge of thirty-seven churches. The work was quite taxing but he did his best to excel. After the regular probation period, he could not be ordained because of the outbreak of the civil war in eastern Nigeria. However, when he came to the University of Ibadan, a special ordination service was organized for him at the Methodist Church, Agbeni, Ibadan. After his ordination, Mbang committed himself more fully to the service of God and to his educational pursuits. According to him, receiving salvation is one thing; dedicating one's life to God is the beginning of a new productive life in Christ.
Mbang spent only eighteen months at the University of Ibadan before he was appointed into the bishopric. In August 1979, he was elected bishop of Tinubu by the conference of the church. Shortly thereafter, the Patriarch of the church, Professor Bolaji Idowu, appointed him his chaplain--a newly created function within the Methodist Church at the time. Upon being consecrated, Mbang re-dedicated his life to God, pledging to follow him wherever he led, whatever the cost. He prayed for a regeneration of his spirit and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit upon his life and ministry. There was a new fire to his zeal and a new purpose to his mission. He devoted himself exclusively to the church and to the welfare of the Patriarch who taught him many things. He was a very effective bishop and chaplain, and served the Patriarch well. Idowu respected him and virtually left the administration of the church in his hands. Mbang often represented the Patriarch at international meetings and acted as church ambassador in the handling of many delicate negotiations. Mbang became well acquainted with the problems of the church and acquired valuable experience which contributed to his success when the mantle of the church's leadership later fell upon him.
Leader of the Methodist Church Nigeria
In August of 1984, Mbang was elected the second Patriarch of the Methodist Church Nigeria and was installed on Sunday, January 20, 1985. His rise to this position opened a new chapter in the history of the church. When he assumed office, he announced that the three points of his administration's agenda were "Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Revival."
At the time Mbang became Patriarch, the MCN had broken into two factions--one led by the president, the other by the Patriarch. Consequently, Mbang used every opportunity during his tenure as prelate to preach Christian unity and peace: he held consultations, numerous assemblies and dialogues, and even passed certain amendments in the church's constitution with the aim of resolving the conflict. Eventually, on March 4, 1990, the two factions within the MCN re-united in a "Reunification Service" held at Hoare's Memorial Methodist Church, Yaba, Nigeria. Thereafter, all the disagreements in states outside Lagos were promptly settled. Thus the conflict which had torn the church apart for fourteen years was healed.
As the spiritual father of the church for over two decades, Mbang provided strong leadership at the most trying moment of its history. He dealt skillfully with the warring factions in the church and brought about total reconciliation. The most important legacy of his tenure as prelate of the MCN was the renewed unity of the church.
In fact, the reconciliation in Nigeria became a model used by Methodist Churches in other parts of the world. Joe Hale, one time Secretary General of the World Methodist Council, observed that, at the time, there were divisions among Methodists in several parts of the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Africa. Consequently, the World Methodist Council sent in a delegation to study the peacemaking process in the MCN and used it as a model for achieving peace in such distant places as the Island of Fiji, the Caribbean Islands, and South Africa.
During his tenure, Mbang focused his attention on ministries to youth and women, outreach programs, and evangelism. He started a "Department of Evangelism" to give new energy to evangelism efforts, and created a campground for revivals. He established a welfare program for church workers through the provision of medical and health institutions. He instituted gratuities, insurance and pension plans, merit awards, welfare packages, housing plans for ministers, and approved allowances for widows. In the area of theological education, the teaching and training of Methodist ministers improved considerably under his strategic planning program. The Wesley University of Science and Technology, Ondo, was his brain child. He also gave scholarships on behalf of the church to indigent students at all levels of education. The number of churches and dioceses grew tremendously, as well as the number of clerical personnel--archbishops, bishops, presbyters, priests, deacons, and deaconesses. In the area of economic development, he initiated and contributed to the success of certain economic endeavors for the church. Prominent among these are the Methodist Church Nigeria Tailoring Factory Plc., and the Methodist Church Nigeria Properties and Investment, Ltd. The Printing Press also took firm root under his leadership.
Contributions to National Development
Mbang emerged as the head of the MCN at a most difficult time in national polity when the country was controlled by a military dictatorship and suffered political instability. However, as the prelate of the Methodist Church and national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) at this turbulent period, Mbang never hesitated to speak up against tyranny and oppression. He spoke his mind on crucial issues relating to the nation's development such as politics and elections, corruption, immorality, nepotism, ethnicity, cultism, education, AIDS, and drug abuse. He identified with peasants in their struggle for a better Nigeria and remained unwavering in his crusade against inequality, using every opportunity to pray for the nation.
He played a significant role in Nigeria's Inter-Religious Council (NIIREC), a government body responsible for the promotion of inter-faith dialogue and cooperation within the nation. For a time he was co-chair of NIIREC with the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido. As chairman of CAN, he represented the voice of the Christian community in Nigeria at the time. This notwithstanding, he still appreciated the value and benefit of other religions. He believed that religious leaders must demonstrate in practical ways that their beliefs did not prevent them from promoting harmonious relationships between them and people of other religions. Mbang maintained cordial and a peaceful relationships with people of other faiths, especially Muslims. This made an impact on inter-religious relationship within the nation and contributed to the search for a peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. As a prominent Nigerian religious leader, he contributed to the building of the National Ecumenical Centre in Abuja.
In 1981 Mbang was the ministerial delegate to the British Methodist Conference at Norwich and a council member at the World Methodist Assembly in Honolulu, U.S.A. From 1982 to 1991, he was a member of the executive committee of the World Methodist Council; he served as one of its presidents for five years, from 1991 to 1996. Five years later, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he was elected vice-chairman of the council's executive committee. In July 2001, at the 18th World Methodist Conference held in Brighton, UK, he became chair of the World Methodist Council.
Mbang retired from the services of the MCN in July 2006, at the age of seventy, after many years of service, the last twenty-one as prelate of the church. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, who had personally known Mbang for a long time, had followed his career with admiration. He described Mbang as an exemplary human being who was used by God. Honest, compassionate, and humble, Mbang was a godly leader who worked tirelessly for peace, justice, and human dignity--an open minded man of God who sought to bring reconciliation both in the church and beyond.
Michael Leke Ogunewu
Osayomi O., and Babalola O. O., His Eminence Sunday Coffie Mbang, Footprints of a Pelican, Lagos: Asaba Communications Ltd., 2006.
Familusi, M. M., Methodism in Nigeria, (1842-1992), NPS Educational Publishers Ltd., 1992.
Methodist News, No. 3, 2006.
This article, received in 2009, was researched and written by Dr. Michael Leke Ogunewu under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.