|Bishop’s work team gives hope to Russian seminary |
Oct. 20, 2005
|A UMNS photo by the Rev. Greg Cox
The Rev. Eric Park cuts tiles for Bishop Tom Bickerton to lay on the seminary floor.
By Jackie Campbell*
MOSCOW (UMNS) — Bishop Tom Bickerton spent a lot of time on his knees
recently — laying tile on the third floor of the new Russia United
Methodist Seminary building.
Bickerton, who leads the United Methodist Church’s Pittsburgh Area,
organized the first Volunteers In Mission team hosted by the seminary.
The seminary’s staff and students expressed amazement and gratitude that
volunteers, including a bishop of the church, would travel so far and
work so hard to help them.
“You give us hope,” said Valentina Ignatova, a first-year student who
travels two hours one way to get to classes at the seminary.
“You even bleed for us,” said Andrei Kuznetsov, a second-year student,
who noticed bandages on Bickerton’s fingers, which were cut on sharp
edges of tiles he had laid.
Bickerton had been disturbed to learn that funding cuts made by the 2004
General Conference were jeopardizing efforts to educate pastors for the
emerging church in Russia. In June, he put out a call for volunteers to
go to Moscow and finish renovations, so that students and visiting
professors would have housing.
The seminary, which had operated since 1995 in two cramped rented
classrooms, moved last February into a former kindergarten building
purchased with a $750,000 grant from the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries. The churchwide Board of Higher Education and Ministry
gave $250,000 to begin renovations.
The cut in funding and escalating costs halted work on the living space,
but when completed, the living quarters are expected to reduce
operating costs considerably.
The seminary currently spends $800 a month to rent a two-room apartment
for visiting professors and also rents apartments for students to share
for $700 to $800 a month. The highest-paid pastor’s salary is $350 a
month. Because of the high price of housing in Moscow, the units are
some distance from the seminary and require travel through areas where
safety is a concern at night. Two students were hospitalized recently
after being beaten and stabbed in separate incidents.
Bickerton sees the seminary as key to spiritual renewal in the former
Soviet Union, which he calls “an unbelievable 21st century mission
In a little more than 10 years, 100 United Methodist churches with a
total of about 5,000 members have been established in Russia. Of the 77
students who have graduated from the seminary, 55 are serving an
appointment. One of the first graduates, the Rev. Sergei Nikolaev was
installed Sept. 10 in the Ruediger and Gerlinde Minor Chair as an E.
Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism.
|A UMNS photo by the Rev. Greg Cox
Bishop Tom Bickerton (wearing cap) shares a moment with students at the seminary.
Nickolaev noted that the seminary “is not only about providing
theological information for students, it’s about forming them in a
Christian way of living. The majority didn’t grow up with a Christian
Bickerton and a team of 30 volunteers from the Western Pennsylvania and
West Virginia annual (regional) conferences traveled to Russia for two
weeks of work Sept. 20-Oct. 4. Nineteen of the group members were
assigned to the seminary, and the others worked at a government-run
Volunteerism is not common in Russia, a nation where individuals struggle just to survive day to day, Nikolaev said.
To those skeptical about volunteer workers, seminary President Tobias
Dietze said, “They worked like ants. Each had a task, and they worked
from morning until night.”
The Rev. Scott Gallagher, pastor of Fredericktown and Denbo United
Methodist churches in Western Pennsylvania’s Washington District, acted
as project manager/foreman, along with Steve Fedosik of Christ Community
United Methodist Church in Butler, Pa. Gallagher and Fedosik both have
They divided the seminary group into teams — door hangers, spacklers,
sanders, painters, etc. — and managed the flow of work. The team lived
in the work area, resting in sleeping bags on the concrete floors.
Bickerton and the Rev. Eric Park, pastor of Central Highlands United
Methodist Church in Elizabeth, Pa., formed the nucleus of the tile team,
laying a ceramic tile floor the entire length of the building from the
visiting professor’s apartment into two large social/study rooms at the
The team took few breaks but paused to participate in another first for
the seminary, a live webcast Oct. 1. Bickerton, backed by a choir of
team members, used a webcam and the seminary’s new DSL Internet
connection to fulfill a commitment to speak to the Connellsville
District United Methodist Women meeting in Uniontown, Pa.
After two weeks’ work, the seminary work team had removed debris, hung
doors on all rooms, installed tile, patched and painted walls in the
apartment, eight student rooms and social rooms, and prepared the
“You left very good results after you, and now there is a team from
Virginia to follow up,” Eurasia Area Bishop Hans Vaxby wrote in an
e-mail to the Rev. John Flower, chairman of the Western Pennsylvania
Conference’s Russia Initiative. “It is a small team, but my wife worked
with them two days, and this week persons from my staff and from the
Central (United Methodist) Church (which is housed in the seminary
building) will join them.”
“What happened during our two weeks had much more to do with the
relationships that were built, rather than the work that was completed,”
Bickerton said. “Orphans found their smiles. Seminary students found
hope. We found Christ at work through us and around us.
“We blessed these people with our presence. They blessed us with their
fresh faith and deep-seated commitment,” he added. “We came home far
different than we left. They were blessed, but we were transformed.”
*Campbell is a staff writer for the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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