John Wesley College in Pretoria, South Africa, a Divinity School partner since 2000, will be replaced by a new institution—the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary—300 miles away at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg.
Construction of the new seminary is scheduled to begin this year. Plans call for the first-year class of 2009 to begin study in Pietermaritzburg. John Wesley College will cease intakes and graduate its last class in 2010.
The change reflects a new policy approved by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa that requires students spend three years at seminary, rather than the current one or two years. The extended residency will require additional accommodations and other facilities, says Peter Storey, Williams professor emeritus of Christian ministry and chair of planning for the new seminary. John Wesley’s old mission institution campus outside Pretoria is deteriorating and has limited space for expansion.
“As South Africans wrestle with crime and corruption, poverty and disease, we need a ‘second liberation,’ a moral and spiritual revolution led by unselfish, transformative leaders at all levels in our society,” says Storey. “Seth Mokitimi’s life and ministry model the qualities we will seek to form in the ministers we will train.”
Mokitimi’s election as president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in 1963 was a direct challenge to apartheid authorities, who had threatened to confiscate all M.C.S.A. property in ‘white areas’ if a black person were elected.
As a child, Mokitimi was a cattle-herder in the Lesotho mountains. He attended school on alternate days with his brother because they only had one set of school clothes between them. Offered secondary and tertiary education by the church, Mokitimi entered the ordained ministry and became one of Southern African Methodism’s most transformative preachers and educators.
Ivan Abrahams, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, said that it is his “hope and prayer that the values and example of Seth Mokitimi will become a living legacy in theological education, and that all ministers who must pass through the new seminary will do justice to the memory of this gallant, passionate, visionary servant-leader.”
The new seminary will join existing Catholic, Lutheran, Congregational and Evangelical communities, all linked with the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Religion and Theology. Storey described the School of Religion and Theology, which is known for theological formation rooted in Africa, as in tune with Methodist training goals.
“The presence of other seminaries creates synergies in shared faculty and library resources, and opportunities for cross-registration,” adds Storey. “A compromise between a fully ecumenical seminary and a denominational one, the location provides a strong united front in relation to the university.”
The campus will include a chapel, library, lecture theatres and offices built on land offered by Epworth School, a well-known Methodist institution near the university campus. Construction costs are estimated at $6.5 million. An $8.5 million residential village is also planned with cottages designed to house single students or families.
The Divinity School’s relationship with John Wesley College is expected to evolve as the new seminary develops.The chance to build a Methodist seminary as part of an ecumenical cluster of existing seminaries is rare, says Dean L. Gregory Jones, who met with Methodist leaders in Johannesburg last September. “This chance will not come again.”
For more information about Seth Mokitimi Seminary, e-mail Peter Storey.