Central Conference Theological Education Commission Drafts Plan for $5 Million Fund

October 02, 2013

The Central Conference Theological Education Commission mapped out plans for use of the $5 million approved by General Conference 2012. Shown, from left, front row: Irene Kraft, Germany; Adriano Kilende, Portuguese interpreter; Connie Mella, Philippines; Roberto Ladio, Philippines; Kim Cape, GBHEM general secretary; Bishop John Innis, Liberia; Mrs. Irene Innis, Liberia; Bishop Gaspar Domingos, West Angola; Rena Yocom, GBHEM assistant general secretary and commission coordinator. Second row, from left: Bishop Patrick Streiff, Southern and Central Europe; Michael Ssenkendi, Uganda; Karina Lashley, French interpreter; Isabella Berger, French interpreter; Sergei Nikolaev, Eurasia; Douglass Lewis, United States; Bishop Christian Alsted, host bishop, Nordic and Baltic Area; Bishop Suda Devadhar, United States. Far back row, from left: John Nuessle, General Board of Global Ministries; and John Lesesne, GBHEM’s treasurer and chief financial officer.
By Vicki Brown*

A new commission that oversees use of the $5 million fund for theological education in the Central Conferences of The United Methodist Church plans to disburse grants totaling $1 million a year.
 
The Commission on Central Conference Theological Education, elected by the Council of Bishops, met in Copenhagen in August. Three of the participants from Africa who could not obtain visas met in Abijan, Côte d’Ivoíre, and linked to the European meeting by teleconference.
 
"The need to improve theological education to enhance servant leadership in the Central Conferences is an imperative,” said Bishop John Innis, who was elected chair of the new commission. Innis, the episcopal leader of the Liberia Annual Conference and president of the College of Bishops of the West Africa Central Conference, expressed gratitude to General Conference 2012 for approving the fund. “This will strengthen our drive in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
 
The Rev. Sergei Nikolaev, president and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at the Moscow Theological Seminary, said the growth of The United Methodist Church around the world requires the training of pastors and lay leaders with sound theological education in the Wesleyan tradition.
 
Nikolaev said the commission’s first meeting was productive for defining the criteria of distribution of funds and beginning to evaluate the needs of international theological education.
 
“I am excited about the possibilities that these funds open up – particularly, but not exclusively, for our sisters and brothers in The United Methodist Church in Africa,” Nikolaev said.  
 
The commission agreed that on an annual basis, half of the funds, or about $500,000 a year, would be distributed based on the number of episcopal areas in a conference. However, these grants are not guaranteed and will go to the best proposals. Regional screening committees will recommend which proposals receive funding.
 
Applicants can ask for grants in the categories approved by General Conference, which are:
  • Development of theological schools
  • Development of Courses of Study
  • Development of libraries and contextually developed resources
  • Scholarships and faculty development
  • Support for associations and networks of faculty and schools
  • Support for new and innovative approaches to theological education.
The commission agreed that 25 percent of the funds (about $250,000 a year) would be distributed based on the number of churches and active clergy. The delegates from Europe asked that their portion of those funds be distributed to the other Central Conferences because they believe the needs are greater in Africa and the Philippines.
 
Those funds will be distributed as follows: Africa Central Conference, 15 percent; Congo Central Conference 35 percent; West Africa Central Conference, 30 percent; Philippines, 20 percent.
 
The remaining $250,000 a year will be available for proposals that go beyond a conference. Examples would be proposals by language groups, production of contextual materials, or new and innovative proposals that might affect more than one region.
 
The Rev. Dr. Daniel Lunge, one of the participants in Abijan and a representative of theological education in the Congo, praised the use of the teleconference.
 
“This teleconference allowed the delegates who were not able to travel to Copenhagen for reasons beyond our control to actively participate in the meeting in the same way as those who were meeting in Denmark,” Lunge said.
 
The Rev. Rena Yocom, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s assistant general secretary for Clergy Formation and Theological Education, said the group worked in three languages in addition to using the teleconference.
 
“In spite of these differences and challenges, the commission emerged with a strong bond and unity of purpose to strengthen and equip the servants that God calls throughout the world,” Yocom said. 
 
The commission membership includes three from each Central Conference in the Philippines and Africa. Because the General Conference voted that the membership of the Commission should be “proportionate” according to membership numbers, Europe has one member from each of its three Central Conferences.
 
While General Conference approved the fund at $5 million, the money comes from the World Service Apportionment Fund. That fund is expected to pay out at 85 percent, which would mean the actual dollars would be reduced to $4.2 million, or about $1 million a year for each year of the 2013-2016 quadrennium.
 
The commission also agreed that priority would be given to those projects that build the capacity of an institution or ministry in an episcopal area, contextual resource development, innovative initiatives, and proposals that move toward sustainable theological education. Proposals will be accepted from theological institutions, Boards of Ordained Ministry, and organizations that are integrally related to United Methodism and theological education.
 
Any recipient of a grant will be required to give an update six months after the issuance of the funds. An annual report will be required and must include a demonstration of progress made toward achieving the aims of the original application, highlights with stories and photos, as well as information about difficulties and challenges. The commission also requires a report on what local or other funding is being used for the project, as well as projections for sustaining the project in the future.
 
Forms for grant requests will be posted on GBHEM’s website by the end of October, with an application deadline of Jan. 30, 2014. The screening and approval process will take place in February, and funds will be distributed in March.
 
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.