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Church agencies renew distance-education alliance

The Revs. Jerome King Del Pino (left) and Larry Hollon affirm the partnership between the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and United Methodist Communications to support education and communication around the world. UMNS photos by Vicki Brown.

By Andrew J. Schleicher*
March 12, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. Cole Fowler reviews a report on the poor in a global church.

Two United Methodist agencies have renewed a partnership to develop distance-education systems across Africa using satellite and radio.

The top executives of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and United Methodist Communications symbolically re-signed an agreement to work together to address denominational focuses on leadership development, health, poverty and congregational development.

The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino and the Rev. Larry Hollon signed the agreement during the March 6-8 meeting of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The agencies initially entered the collaborative arrangement last August.

"The partnership between United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry is a model for how we partner, sharing skills and experience, streamlining finances and building sustainable expressions of ministry and mission," Hollon said.

The signing was part of a presentation by the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development. This fund is designed to create educational partnerships throughout the world to strengthen the role of the nearly 800 Methodist-affiliated academic and theological schools in 69 countries for leadership development.

The four-year, $4 million initiative will pay for technical assistance to Methodist-affiliated schools, colleges, universities and theological schools working to design programs to address local needs for clergy or lay leaders. The fund provides technical assistance, on-site mentoring and scholarship support. It initially launched as an unfunded mandate of the 2004 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.

"The grand vision is to be able to link (the schools) in terms of their commitment to leadership development for the sake of the church in the world and for the sake of individuals," Del Pino said, noting that project will connect with Methodists beyond the denominational structure.

The Board of Higher Education and Ministry brings to the table a worldwide structure of United Methodist-related schools and staff including Africa University in Zimbabwe, which will serve as the centerpiece of the distance-education communications infrastructure. United Methodist Communications is providing technical, marketing and media expertise.

According to Hollon, giving people the tools to find their voice, tell their stories and address the needs of their communities is "potentially liberating and empowering."

"This is an exciting, energizing partnership, and it’s exciting to consider the work as the church seeks to move into the 21st century, reclaiming the best of our heritage and seeking to apply it in new ways and through new tools," he said.

Partnering with Africa University

"We are happy to report to you that the Mozambique pilot project is a reality," announced Martin Dwomoh-Tweneboah, technology consultant for the board.

Africa University will start an online MBA course soon, and a distance-learning center is scheduled to open March 31 at the United Methodist episcopal office in Mozambique.

Distance-education centers are a priority for the partnering agencies. A radio tower is to be added to the Mozambique center, and the agencies are beginning preliminary research for a distance-learning center and a radio station in Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. The project is a joint effort of the board, Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil, Africa University and the conference. Research by the agencies and Africa University is also under way for a distance-education infrastructure to provide higher education access to people in Angola, Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Rev. Philip Amerson receives communion from fellow board member Stephanie Deckard during worship.

In an earlier presentation, James Salley, Africa University’s associate vice chancellor for development, told the board that a university goal is distance learning throughout Africa as well as in the United States. He thanked annual conferences that have conducted major campaigns to support the Africa University Fund.

"When giving to Africa University increases, the giving to other funds increases," Salley said. "We don’t take away from. We add to."

Executives in the Division of Ordained Ministry spoke on the merits of distance education.

The Rev. Robert Kohler, assistant chief executive in the Division of Ordained Ministry, said distance learning will provide new models to train local pastors who do not have a seminary degree. It also can help the church expand its leadership in areas that cannot support a new school.

The Rev. Mary Ann Moman, staff executive in the Division of Ordained Ministry, shared how some, including herself, resisted the move toward distance learning. "I am aware that I've got to get over it," she said. "It is no longer possible to get a seminary in every language group."

The board also reviewed three pending leadership changes in the Division of Ordained Ministry. While Moman will remain, Kohler and Patricia Barrett, who leads the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, are retiring this year. In addition, the Rev. Gwen Purushotham, director of Clergy Supervision and Accountability, will return to the New England Annual (regional) Conference to become senior pastor of Main Street United Methodist Church, Nashua, N.H.

Embracing campus ministry

Directors of the full board went on record "embracing campus ministry as integral to the United Methodist mission of higher education and continuing responsibility for this work with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry."

A seven-point "Plan for Revitalizing GBHEM work in Campus Ministry" was shared by the Division of Higher Education. The plan recognizes that "revitalizing the work of GBHEM in campus ministry requires a systemic change from the patterns and expectations of the past."

The plan aims to develop "a theological grounding for campus ministry" and become "the first place that campus ministers look for resources and answers to their questions."

In other business, the board:

  • Reviewed legislation for General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, and noted that at least six of its directors are candidates for the episcopacy;
  • Viewed a Black College Fund promotional video highlighting United Methodist-related Wiley College with clips from the movie "The Great Debaters" and its star Denzel Washington. Wiley College’s 1935 debate team is the subject of the movie. The board urged looking for "every creative opportunity" to share this video with members and guests at General Conference.

*Schleicher is a freelance writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.

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

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Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development

United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry

United Methodist Communications

Africa University

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