|Peru seminary program to serve Andean region|
Members of the Peru Theological Education Commission
tour a computer lab at Colegio America in Callao, Peru, site of the new
Seminario Teológico Wesleyano.
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Peru Theological Education Commission.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Dec. 5, 2008
A new theological program based in Lima, Peru, will provide pastoral training for Methodists in the Andean region of Latin America.
The program, which will include a seminary and a Center for Wesley
Studies, was conceived by the Wesley Heritage Foundation of North
Carolina and the Methodist Church of Peru, with support from The United
Methodist Church. Classes are expected to begin in August or September
of 2009, according to the Rev. Mark Wethington, the foundation’s
The seminary is the response to the Peruvian church’s desire for a
stronger theological program, he said. Involvement from the United
Methodist boards of Global Ministries and Higher Education and Ministry
helped expand the vision to include Methodists in the Andean region.
Andean Methodist leaders are working with United Methodists and representatives of other Methodist denominations in Latin America
and elsewhere on this program, said the Rev. Edgar Avitia, an executive
with the Board of Global Ministries. Church leaders in the region are
from Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and emerging churches in Venezuela
and Colombia. Also involved are representatives of the Methodist
Seminary in Brazil and, on an informal basis, Korean Methodists.
While Methodist theological students do attend ecumenical seminaries,
Avitia explained that the denomination has "a challenge in the whole
region in regards to … Methodist studies and pastoral training."
The Board of Global Ministries is particularly interested in mission
training for pastors at a grassroots level. He noted that the new
theological program touches on all aspects of The United Methodist
Church’s four areas of ministry focus—leadership development,
congregational development, health care and poverty.
Plans move forward
Plans for the Seminario Teológico Wesleyano moved forward during an Oct. 22-25 consultation of the Peru Theological Education Commission at Colegio America, a Methodist-owned school in the Lima suburb of Callao, where the seminary will be based.
The program received a major financial boost when directors of Global
Ministries approved a $104,000 grant in October. The grant came from
the Olive B. O'Conner Fund, a mission fund managed by the agency and
started years ago in honor of the Rev. L. Elbert and Lois Wethington,
now retired and in their mid-80s, who were missionaries in the Philippines
Elbert Wethington guided the Wesley Heritage Project—the Spanish
translation, publication and distribution of all works of Methodist
founder John Wesley. He retired as the foundation’s first president in
2005, and Mark Wethington is his son.
The Rev. Edgar Avitia
"In a lot of the Latin American Methodist churches, Methodists have
lost their identity," Mark Wethington told United Methodist News
Service. "They have become more generic as Christians." The foundation’s
goal over the years "has been helping churches in Latin America to
reclaim that identity."
The Board of Higher Education and Ministry contributed $30,000 to the foundation to assist with the seminary’s initial costs.
"The development of the seminary in Peru is central to the delivery
of theological education in the region," said the Rev. Mary Ann Moman,
who leads the Division of Ordained Ministry for that agency. "Building a
community of scholarship and practice will provide needed leadership
for the Methodist churches in Latin America."
A major problem is lack of ordained pastors, Avitia pointed out. Venezuela, for example, has no ordained pastors, while Peru
only has 12 ordained elders and 150 lay pastors. In Bolivia, only 15 of
70 pastors are ordained. "There’s a great need for credentialing in the
region," he said.
The Rev. Saul Espino, an executive with the Board of Higher Education
and Ministry and participant in the October consultation, agreed. "Most
of these countries are lacking in pastoral leadership," he said. "The
establishment of a seminary would be a wonderful thing."
Ties to Peru
Wethington has long ties to the Methodist Church of Peru. About 20
year ago, while serving as a pastor and teaching part-time at Duke University, he helped the North Carolina Conference establish a mission covenant with the Methodists in Peru. At the time, the church there was small, had few funds and had lost some of its key leadership, he said.
"Many pastors and leaders need a Wesleyan and Methodist education—not just a workshop but a deep study of Wesley."
– Johnny Llerena"They haven’t had a
seminary in the Lima area for a little over 10 years," he added. "For
that reason, they haven’t had many pastors to be trained or ordained for
leadership in the church."
Students attending the new seminary will have access to a library,
computer lab and "state-of-the-art" classrooms at Colegio America.
Serving primary through high school grades, the school’s regular student
body is largely composed of middle- and upper-class Roman Catholics and
Protestants, Wethington said.
A Peruvian Methodist pastor, Johnny Llerena, who is on
staff at the school, produced a brochure about the seminary. Rebeca
Luza-Salazar, also a Colegio America staff member and a Christian
educator with the Methodist Church of Peru, is chairwoman of the Peru
Theological Education Commission.
Llerena noted that since the closing of its seminary, Comunidad
Bíblica Teológica, the Peruvian church has only three regional programs
of theological education "with some problems" regarding quality and
"A good level for theological education means—for me—a systematic
education in a formal institution with educational approved standards,
conducive to the obtaining of a professional degree under national laws,
with a curriculum adapted to the Peruvian and Latin American reality
and with an academic staff with high education," he wrote in an e-e-mail
Llerena believes that theology is reflected in the church’s pastoral
action, guiding Christians "in the walk towards the kingdom of God."
Because of the world’s changeable realities, "our pastors-theologians
have to be well prepared to understand the word of God and communicate
it to the church," he added.
It’s also important to avoid "fundamentalist and sectarian positions"
that are in opposition to a Methodist identity, according to Llerena.
"Many pastors and leaders need a Wesleyan and Methodist education—not
just a workshop but a deep study of Wesley," he said.
"At this time, comprehension of Wesley is just from one perspective,
but not holistic, not integral," Llerena said. "Seminario Teológico
Wesleyano will be a center for a serious study about Wesleyan theology.
That is what we need."
A curriculum design for the seminary is under way. "We’re beginning
to recruit faculty," Wethington reported. "All classes will be held
within that facility, late afternoon and into the evening." The schedule
is designed to accommodate both the regular school hours and the fact
that many seminary students will be working earlier in the day. "It fits
a pattern of life that’s conducive to Latin America," he said.
Because it is not quite full time, the seminary course of studies
will run for five years, including an internship, at a cost of about
$3,800 a year. The Wesley Heritage Foundation has established a
scholarship fund for seminary students that allows for contributions and
even the "adoption" of a particular student. "They (donors) can follow
that student and build a relationship with that student through the
course of the studies," he said.
At the Center for Wesley Studies, some of the seminary faculty will
focus on writing and research and will encourage the more advanced
students "to do higher education beyond seminary."
Miramar Methodist Church in Lima
has offered part of its building for a 32-bed dormitory to house
seminary students living outside the city. Wethington is lining up U.S.
work teams for the dormitory project, who will begin to make renovations
at the church in January. The church’s location is especially
convenient. "It’s on a direct bus line—about a 30-cent ride from there
to the school," he explained.
More information about the seminary project and the scholarship fund can be found online at www.wesleyheritagefoundation.org.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audio: The Rev. Edgar Avitia
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Wesley Heritage Foundation
Board of Global Ministries
Board of Higher Education and Ministry