Grants boost theological education in central conferences

As United Methodist central conferences continue to flourish with growing numbers, the need for pastoral training has increased significantly.

In response to the need for money for training, the Commission on Central Conference Theological Education Fund recently awarded another $1 million in grants to fund theological education and pastoral training in Africa, the Philippines and Europe. According to 2013 membership numbers reported by the General Council on Finance and Administration, there are about 5.1 million United Methodists in the conferences outside the U.S.

The commission met in Harare, Zimbabwe, Jan. 5-8, and approved funding to theological institutions, boards of ordained ministry and agencies training United Methodist pastors.

“The goal of this commission is to equip the pastor to fulfill the mandate of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” said Liberian Bishop John Innis, who is chair of the commission.

The 2012 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative assembly, approved the creation of a Central Conference Theological Education Fund and a commission to oversee it. A budget of US $5 million was approved for the 2013-16 quadrennium.

The commission distributes the funds approved by the 2012 General Conference at least annually. Each episcopal area has a say in how the grants are awarded. The commission is composed of representatives from central conferences, boards of ordained ministry, the Council of Bishops, theological institutions and United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry staff.

Those requesting funds apply online through Higher Education and Ministry before the commission meeting. During the meeting, members break into central conference groups to screen all proposals from their region. Regional meetings evaluate proposals following set policies and guidelines. They recommend proposals that meet the criteria to receive funds and reject projects not in line with policies.

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The Rev. Kim Cape, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, speaks at the Central Conference Theological Education Commission meeting. Photo by Priscilla Muzerengwa, UMNS. 

Needs outpace funds

The commission received more requests than they could fund, with most requests allocated less than the proposed budgets.

“The need for theological education is greater than the financial resources available,” said the Rev. Michael Ssekandi from Uganda. “Out of 10 recommended proposals from Africa Central Conference, only one received what it requested. The rest had to be cut to less than half of their request.”

The Rev. Kim Cape, top executive of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, expressed appreciation for the commission’s spirit as it reviewed requests and granted funding. “This has given transparency and effectiveness of allocation of funds to the areas of need,” she said. “We hope to receive more funds in the next quadrennium.”

The Council of Bishops established an endowment fund to supplement theological funding from General Conference. That fund is in the early stages, but the goal is to establish sustainable, long-term support for theological education, similar to the Central Conference Pension Initiative for retired clergy.

“We hope to raise $25 million, and we are searching for donors across the world to join the effort,” said Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area and endowment fund chair. “This fund will continue for generations of future clergy.”

The commission’s distributions were based on the number of episcopal areas in each central conference. The five central conferences that received grants are Africa, Congo, West Africa, Philippine and Europe.

The funds have helped thousands of men and women in central conferences to be effective pastors and community leaders who witness to Christ’s love and serve as peace givers in their congregations and communities.

Cape emphasized the importance of equipping pastors so that they can make a difference in the world. “Pastors cannot give what they do not have,” she said. “Hence, the need for relevant tools.”

From solar electricity to e-readers

Banyam Theological Seminary in Nigeria received funds for solar electricity. The project coordinator, the Rev. John Pena Auta, reported that this has improved the learning culture in the school and prevented snake bites to the staff and students on the campus at night because the light scares the snakes away.

“I used to read for only one or two hours at night, but now, with 24-hours solar energy, I can read as long as I wish,” said Pastor Wala Zubairu, a student at the seminary. “My semester grade was ‘B’ but after the installation of the solar system, my grade has been up. … I became an ‘A’ grader.”

Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area used the funds to develop young clergy and build an e-academy with United Methodist courses. “The e-academy has blended well with trainings from other universities, and it gives strong connections among the pastors,” said Streiff.

The Rev. Connie Semy Mella from the Philippines Central Conference explained that they trained and equipped pastors to about the four focus areas of the church.

The funds went toward developing online courses, purchasing computers, assisting radio ministry anchored by student pastors, furnishing scholarships for continuing education and providing e-readers with theological texts to student pastors in areas where printed material is scarce.

The Zimbabwe deputy administrative assistant to the bishop, the Rev. Vienna Mutezo, appreciated receiving funds to develop the women’s department at the United Theological College. “This will go a long way,” she said. “We believe if you develop a woman, you would have developed the whole nation.”

Trained pastors who lead vibrant, life-transforming congregations determine the church’s future. The commission hopes that the 2016 General Conference will provide more grant funds.

Muzerengwa is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5470.

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