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Theological education expands in Eastern Europe

 


Theological education expands in Eastern Europe

March 3, 2004

A UMNS Report By Pamela Crosby*

The United Methodist Church has invested $2 million in funding theological education in European countries in the past four years, establishing faculty and developing education resources for two church-related seminaries.

Since the fall of communism in the early 1990s, United Methodists have placed a priority on strengthening and developing congregations and church leaders in former Soviet Bloc countries of Eastern and Central Europe.

The 2000 General Conference, the denomination's top assembly, approved a resolution from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education to reinforce theological schools and expand ministerial programs in the region. The assembly approved a $3 million program for the 2000-04 period to support theological education in the United Methodist conferences in the region. With these resources, the Fund for Theological Education in Post-Communist Europe was established.

The United Methodist Church in post-communist Europe has continued to grow, establish new churches, and reach youth and young adults with the gospel, despite limited funding and in the face of conflict and war. The need for trained pastoral clergy leadership is urgent, the General Conference delegates stated in the approved resolution.

Nearly $2 million has been funded for United Methodist theological seminaries and training institutions that are responsible for ordained and lay-preaching ministries. The remaining funds will be distributed this year.

Funding for theological education has allowed the United Methodist Church to provide faculty and develop resources for education for two seminaries - the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary and the Baltic Theological Seminary - and training institutions in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Hungary.

In early February, an eight-member task force representing the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry met with church leaders in Tallinn, Estonia, to complete quadrennial assignments and receive updates about the Fund for Theological Education in Post-Communist Europe.

"It is amazing what has been done with a limited amount of money," said the Rev. Mary Ann Moman, head of the board's Division of Ordained Ministry. "The result is much greater than the cost."

One of the most provocative responses to this support is the "graduate-level training for pastors from the Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - and in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Yugoslavia and Serbia," explained the Rev. Robert Kohler, a staff member in the Division of Ordained Ministry. He said pastors received seminary service and diaconal training through centers and institutions for children, youth and adults. The training enabled them to return to their countries to serve not only as pastors but as leaders who will develop social service institutions.

The task force also examined other needs, such as training lay leaders, providing technical assistance and developing educational leaders, and it explored the potential for cooperation across borders.

Goals for the fund also include developing and translating literature in various cultures and languages.

"The development of literature in the native languages is essential for the development of ministry," said Bishop Heinrich Bolleter of the church's Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area. "If we have the support of the students, we will have a future."

Considering the future of the worldwide church, the task force will connect its findings with the board's proposed Global Education Fund, which will be considered by the 2004 General Conference. The assembly meets April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.

Continuing needs for education in post-communist Europe include:

· Making basic Methodist curriculum available over the Internet in multiple languages.

· Preparing for the 2004 General Conference, including making a report to central conference delegates in Bratislava.

· Completing the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary, which serves the Baltic states. Currently, 167 students are enrolled (60 in full-time studies) in training for ordained ministry, religious education, chaplaincy and deacon ministries;

· Maintaining connections among theological institutions through such means as Web casts and meetings of the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools in Europe.

· Financing the translation of distance-learning courses, Methodist and theological literature, and language training for smaller countries.

· Sponsoring the training program in Graz-Waiern, Austria, for the Balkan United Methodist churches that are too small to operate independent institutions.

More information is available by contacting Robert Kohler, (615) 340-7388 or bkohler@gbhem.org.

*Crosby is a staff member of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Office of Interpretation in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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