One of the major difficulties I've had to deal with this year is the prospect of going to College next year. For those who haven't being following the various blog posts, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa has changed their training programme as from 2010. All those who candidate for the ministry from this year onwards will be spending three years full-time at the new Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary, followed by two years in Circuit, after which probationers will then prepare for ordination.
And until a month or so, it was a virtual certainty that this year's Phase Ones - the last group on the "old" system - would be going to SMMS next year as well. Not an absolute certainty, mind you - such decisions are subject to approval by Conference, which takes place in September. This has caused me major frustration, since I need to make certain decisions regarding my family, sale of my house, place James in a school, and so on.
I had written a letter to EMMU, the body that governs the training of ministers within the MCSA, but by the time Synod came around, I had not yet received a reply. To the consternation of many at Synod, who believe that "Phase Ones should be seen and not heard", I stood up on the floor of Synod and expressed my concerns to the Bishop and all present. To his credit, the Bishop gave me an undertaking to address our concerns as Phase Ones.
And address them he most certainly did, embarking on a "blitzkrieg" starting with a meeting with us two weeks ago, and followed by a series of meetings with certain individuals (myself included) thereafter. He has also engaged extensively with the "powers that be" at EMMU. These communications gave us hope that perhaps, for various reasons, we might remain stationed in Circuit rather than having to go to SMMS.
My own Circuit was extremely encouraged by this news - the demise of the Phase One programme would have left my Superintendent as the only minister in our Circuit next year. There were also concerned that with him retiring at the end of 2010, the new minister would be faced with a similar "man alone" situation until the first graduates from SMMS started filtering back into Circuits in 2012.
The dilemma is this: While our Bishop is doing his level best to motivate our particular cases to EMMU, the decision as to whether we are to go to SMMS or remain in Circuit rests with EMMU. Of course, the final decision is that of Conference, but unless something drastic happens, EMMU's decision is likely to be ratified.
There are of course many advantages to me remaining in Circuit, particularly if it happens to be in Uitenhage. Firstly, it will make my family situation easier, for I will have a manse instead of a flat. Secondly, I will continue to receive a stipend (which seminarians don't get) - a distinct advantage when one has bills to pay! Thirdly, I have always maintained that 40 is not an ideal age to go and be a full-time college student - at this stage of my life, I want to get as much "real" experience of being a minister as possible.
On the other hand, there are also advantages to going to SMMS, not least the opportunity for academic advancement. Being full-time means that I could conceivably emerge from seminary with a Masters degree in theology to add to the Masters I already have in financial management. This would be the ideal platform from which to enter PhD studies, and I have this dream to do something radical and groundbreaking around the theology and practice of stewardship within the Church. Having a Masters in both disciplines would put me in a unique position to tackle this type of research from both angles, and produce a thesis that would not only contribute to the body of knowledge, but actually be implementable in practice as well.
Now I'm not saying that this is not possible doing it part-time - after all, I have managed to complete three degrees and put a serious dent into a fourth studying in this fashion. Doiung it part-time just takes a little longer, and juggling one's responsibilities is that much more difficult.
So right now I'm feeling like a teenager with a flower in his hand, picking out the petals one by one. But in this case, instead of seeking the love of a lady, I'm going "College ... or Circuit ... or College ... or Circuit ...". Most of all, I want to be in God's will, whatever that may be.
Thanks for your prayers - please continue to hold me up.
A time to count our losses - This year has been a year like no other! We have gone through highs and lows - and then more highs and more lows. The roller-coaster ride has been hectic...
17 hours ago