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Methodist Church of Southern Africa to build seminary

The Rev. Peter Storey, former bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, talks about the challenges facing his country and the scheduled opening of a new seminary in 2009. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
Feb. 12, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is working to open a Methodist seminary that will develop leaders to transform the church and the nation of South Africa.

"Leadership is the gift and skill of moving other people into transformative action in the world," said the Rev. Peter Storey, former bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

During a Feb. 4 presentation sponsored by the Upper Room, a ministry of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, Storey talked about the challenges faced by his country––poverty, pandemic diseases, crime, corruption, racism, education crises and environmental degradation.

He also spoke about how the Methodist Church––from 18th century England through the missionary movement of the 19th century and then the anti-apartheid work of the 20th century––has instilled Christian character in individuals and transformed societies by working for justice.

"I think that most people have almost given up on whether this world can be changed or whether things can be different," he said. "The politicians promise us that every election, and somehow it never comes up to expectation.

“We are deeply troubled that we do not seem to have the same caliber of clergy that we used to have.”
–The Rev. Peter Storey

"My own feeling is that we as Wesleyans have a clue because (change) happened through the movement that was born out of John Wesley's and Charles Wesley's lives. The clue is you move into people's lives and you invite them out into society and have a William Wilberforce as a result."

Wilberforce, a religious member of British Parliament, was a social reformer who helped to abolish the British slave trade and whose work helped pass the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

"That is … the kind of spiritual leader that I hope that we can shape and who we need so desperately, which Africa needs in particular," said Storey. "In fact, we all need that kind of leadership." 

Birthing a new seminary

Storey is chairman of the project to open the new seminary, which is scheduled to enroll its first 35 students next January. The seminary will provide candidates for the ministry with three years of residential, spiritual and academic training and internships––instead of the current six years of on-the-job training.

The seminary will be named in honor of the late Rev. Seth Mokitimi, who "models the kind of minister the seminary seeks to produce," said Storey.

In 1964, Mokitimi became the first black person elected to lead a major denomination in South Africa. He was one of the church's most renowned preachers and educators, and Storey said he had a powerful influence on the life of South African leader Nelson Mandela. "He was called the brown bomber like Joe Louis because when he arrived to preach, things happened," Storey said. "People were knocked out by the Gospel."

The new seminary is to be located within the Pietermaritzburg Cluster, a center of ecumenical theological institutions including the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, near Durban.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa was started in 1836 by British Methodists and became autonomous in 1883. It is made up of six countries in Southern Africa, and 2.5 million people claim a religious affiliation with the denomination.

Clergy leadership needed

Although South Africa has a proud heritage of seminary education, the seminaries of numerous churches have struggled because of decisions made 20 years ago that emphasized on-the-job training over a residential seminary experience. Many students bypassed a seminary education and collected their degrees by correspondence. As a result, the church is working to fill a void in its clergy leadership.

"We are deeply troubled that we do not seem to have the same caliber of clergy that we used to have," Storey said.

Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and other officials explored the issue and proposed a new seminary for South Africa.

The new seminary "is not about bricks and mortar" but about developing life-changing spiritual leaders to transform the church and the nation of South Africa, Storey said.

Transformational pastors, he said, have qualities that include a spiritual life nourished by Christ; personal conduct that is above reproach; accountability to colleagues and the church; ability to interpret Scripture faithfully and preach spiritual liberation effectively; and a passion to work for justice, reconciliation and unity of all people.

Storey said about R$14.5 million has been raised toward the R$99 million needed for the seminary structure and infrastructure. The seminary is seeking gifts and matching funds from international friends of the church to endow faculty and staff positions.

For more information, contact Storey by e-mail at pstorey@telkomsa.net.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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