A renovated kindergarten building houses the Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary and the United Methodist Centre in Moscow. -- UMNS picture.
STORY AND PICTURE
BY SUE CALVIN
MOSCOW -- Compared to the city's
opulent, historic Orthodox cathedrals and monasteries, the new
Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary may appear unassuming.
On the contrary, the seminary symbolises the United Methodist Church's commitment and vision for the spiritual renewal of the former Soviet Union.
More than 100 pastors, students and visitors recently attended a day-long dedication event in Moscow, organised by seminary President Tobias Dietze. At the opening worship service in the Edwards Chapel, the seminary choir led the congregation in praise, and Presiding Bishop Hans Vaxby described the dedication as "a day of joy and hope".
Bishop Vaxby thanked God "for every person who gave a dollar or prayed for a minute for the Russian seminary and the Russian people. When God is behind something, it will happen. Our calling is to share the graceful message of Jesus Christ to a nation needing to hear".
The day also marked the installation of the first Russian professor, the Rev Sergei Nikolaev, to the Ruediger and Garlinde Minor Chair. In accepting his new responsibility, the Rev Nikolaev emphasised "Christian love as central to the evangelistic task". Funded by the Foundation for Evangelism, the chair also honours the tradition of evangelist E. Stanley Jones.
The seminary's dedication climaxed a 14-year journey encumbered by governmental regulations and unreliable contractors but guided by faith, vision and prayer.
In 1991, Bishop Ruediger Minor, then leader of the church's Eurasia Area, told the Council of Bishops about the immediate need for leadership training and theological education for Russians. Trained people were needed to serve the churches springing up in the country of 150 million people and spanning 11 time zones.
The appeal led to consultations among representatives of church-wide agencies and seminary representatives from the Iliff School of Theology with Bishop Minor, pastors and other Russian leaders.
The first classes began in 1995 in two cramped, rented classrooms that served as the seminary until February 2005. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries provided a US$750,000 (S$1.24-million) grant to buy a former kindergarten building. The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry provided US$250,000 to begin renovation.
The Russia United Methodist Theological Seminary Advisory Committee raised US$2.7 million. In addition, the Foundation for Evangelism has established a US$1-million endowment fund for the Bishop Ruediger and Garlinde Minor Professorship.
Meanwhile, the task of preparing indigenous leadership for Russian United Methodist churches progressed uninterrupted.
In just more than a decade, 110 churches with a total of about 5,000 members have been established. To date, 77 students have graduated from the seminary. Of those, 55 have an appointment. Thirty-four are ordained elders, and the others are probationers. There are 10 resident students and about 40 students in the distance-learning programme. -- United Methodist News Service.
Sue Calvin is a freelance writer in Denver, the United States.