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Featured: Grants support theological education worldwide

Students at Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia explore their e-readers loaded with all the texts and reference books they will need for their seminary studies.


Students at Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia explore their e-readers loaded with all the texts and reference books they will need for their seminary studies.

The Rev. Rena Yocum


The Rev. Rena Yocum

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Grants support theological education worldwide


Christine Kumar
September/October 2014

Noah knows how to pitch a tent, build a fire and keep wild animals at bay while camping outdoors. He learned the skills as a child and now teaches teenagers how to survive and enjoy the outdoors. He also wants to inspire them to do well in school.

Noah is a youth minister and a student at Reutlingen School of Theology in Germany. A $25,000 grant to Reutlingen from the Central Conference Theological Education Fund enabled the school to develop a youth ministries' education program. Through it, Noah and others are enhancing their skills to make a difference in young people's lives as they serve in United Methodist congregations.

"Currently, five youth ministers are involved in the program that demands a very high commitment of the participants," says Michael Nausner, officer of international affairs at Reutlingen. "The young people are active in their respective congregations in Switzerland working with youth programs of various kinds, and they spend three days a week at Reutlingen School of Theology."

During their studies, they alternate between hands-on work with teenagers and academic studies, he says. "Their presence in the seminar rooms in Reutlingen oftentimes keeps the discussions grounded."

General Conference 2012 earmarked $5 million for the fund from the World Service Fund and authorized a commission, elected by the Council of Bishops, to oversee the use of the money.

In 2013, 57 grant requests for theological education in 11 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa received funding totaling more than $1 million, says the Rev. Rena Yocum, assistant general secretary for clergy formation and theological education at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The money goes toward training local pastors, developing curriculum and providing continuing education for clergy. The commission will disburse $1 million yearly through 2016 to grant recipients. A separate e-reader project is also supporting theological education in the central conferences.

Some of the largest grants are funding a solar electrification project at Banyam Theological Seminary in Nigeria and development challenge grants to provide resources for theological e-libraries throughout Africa.

The board of ordained ministry in the Western Angola Annual Conference is reviving facilities for training lay pastors. United Methodist Bible College of East Africa is training pastors and lay leaders for the East Africa and Burundi annual conferences.

Grants are also supporting the development of Portuguese e-readers for seminaries in Mozambique and Angola, women's center programs at the United Theological College in Zimbabwe and pastors' training in the Congo Central Conference through the Francophone Course of Study.

In Europe, the projects funded range from developing the third year of the Course of Study in Bulgaria to developing online classes at the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary and teaching them in Estonian, Russian and English to upgrading the library and website development at the Moscow Theological Seminary of The United Methodist Church.

A grant to Immanuel Bible School in the Philippines Central Conference is supporting the development of contextual theological education for indigenous Filipinos, while one to Union Theological Seminary in Manila will allow the continuing development of online learning and resources.

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the General Board of Discipleship have launched an e-reader project to enrich theological education in Africa. Faculty and students at Gbarnga School of Theology received 100 Kindle Readers to assist pastors in the making. Each e-reader is loaded with theological texts, reference books and other volumes students will need during their seminary years. The United Methodist Publishing House provided a significant number of titles at no cost as part its commitment to central conferences. Theological schools in several other countries have applied to be part of the project. Texts are being translated into French and Portuguese for uploading to the e-readers.

Christine Kumar is a freelance writer and administrator, Baltimore Metropolitan District, Baltimore-Washington Conference.