Theological Education and General Conference 2012

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wendydeichmann

Theological Education and General Conference 2012

A Message from President Dr. Wendy J. Deichmann

Now less than two weeks away, the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, will feature numerous proposals, some with significant implications for United Methodist theological education.  As the president of one of the thirteen United Methodist theological schools in the United States who lives and works in the world of theological education, I want to offer my own views regarding three of the areas of legislation that have been proposed.

  1. Proposals about UM Seminaries in the US: The Book of Discipline is clear about the purpose of UM schools of theology: “preparing persons for leadership in the ministry of The UMC, . . . leading in the ongoing reflection on Wesleyan theology; and . . . assisting the church in fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world . . . for the sake of the worldwide mission of the church.”  Furthermore, “all candidates for ordination as deacon or elder in The UMC are strongly encouraged to attend UM schools of theology since these schools share . . . in the work of preparing persons for ordination and leadership in The UMC.” (BOD Par. 1422.1. and 2.).  This is what our theological schools in the US (those listed in the BOD) are specifically charged to do and no other schools are in a position to do these things as well, provided that our own schools remain committed to the mission and directives of The United Methodist Church.  Just as each of our schools is required by our accreditors to correlate everything we do to our institutional mission, the General Conference should hold our seminaries accountable to our stated purpose in relationship to The United Methodist Church and support us in meeting this purpose for the sake of our shared mission.   None of our theological schools should be singled out for better or worse apart from its commitment and capacity to fulfill this purpose.

  2. Proposals about the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF):  The 13 UM theological schools need the full support of The UMC to fulfill their Disciplinary charge (see #1 above).  The 13 UM theological schools in the United States need more support, not less, in order to serve The UMC at their optimal potential.  While non-UM schools may welcome the prospect of financial support from The UMC either directly or through the tuition dollars of UM students, and while they may enjoy having UM students populate their enrollment and then fundraising rosters, only UM theological schools possess a fundamental commitment to the mission and connectional ministry of The UMC.   This is not to detract from the importance of non-UM schools within the larger Church or to reflect negatively upon the quality of education they provide within the framework of their own respective, denominational traditions.  Some non-UM schools, upon request and approval, have served The UMC well in many respects in regions not readily served by UM theological schools.  However, the UMC need for theological education in remote areas is now being well-served by accredited, non-geographically limited, United Methodist-oriented online and hybrid programs offered by at least two UM seminaries (United and Iliff) with more to come.  This eliminates the previous need for The UMC to depend upon geographically convenient, non-UM schools for the education of candidates for UM ministry.  Annual Conference Boards of Ordained ministry may now reinforce the BOD encouragement to all candidates for ordination to attend UM schools of theology and support them practically in doing so.  It is finally practicable for The UMC, just like other denominations that care about their heritage and ethos, to expect UM candidates for ordination to complete, at the least, one-third of their degree at a UM theological school.  To increase UM funding for non-UM schools by increasing the portion of MEF that follows students to non-UM schools is counter-productive to the purposes of MEF and UM institutions and undercuts the connectional fabric and strength of The UMC for fulfillment of its mission in the world.  If any are concerned about the nature of education at any UM school, this is the issue we should address together, rather than simply sending more hard-earned, designated United Methodist dollars over to non-UM institutions.

  3. Proposals about funding for International Theological Education:  At the very least we must create a means to match for central and mission conference theological education the funding that United Methodists provide for the UM theological schools and UM students in the US.  Let us set a goal for funding international theological education that equals what we are already doing for the AUMTS schools and let us work together to reach it.  We should not seek to accomplish this worthy goal by taking away from what has been dedicated for candidates for ministry in the US—too many UM students in the US are over-burdened with educational debt to an extent that cripples their ministries and well-being.  What prevents us from creating a new and ambitious fundraising mechanism for all UM theological education?  Where is our faith while God has all the money in the world to accomplish God’s purposes?  We should bring our best strategies and fundraisers together and do right by our UM candidates for ministry across the globe.  I include myself among those willing to help.  Organizations, businesses and individuals raise colossal amounts of money regularly for lesser causes.  Certainly following God’s lead, we can function from a theology of abundance and generosity rather than fear and scarcity.  

Finally, there are several petitions coming forward to revise the structure of the church and the flow of the resources to which United Methodists have been entrusted.  True Methodists and Pietists have always been about reform.  “Reform the nation, especially the church, and spread scriptural holiness over these lands!”  Most everyone knows this was the mission mantra of the Methodists all the while their movement was growing rapidly.  To be successful, reform must closely follow and support the organization’s mission and values, and honor the prevenient work God is already doing among leaders faithful to this mission.  

I pray that the strength, wisdom and hope of God in Jesus Christ will bless and guide all delegates and members of The United Methodist Church as we embark upon General Conference 2012.  I look forward to seeing many alumni/ae and friends from across the UM connection at this historic event, and to working with you to implement the decisions that will soon be made, God helping us!

Wendy J. Deichmann, President
United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio, USA