One of the important factors in the growth of Methodism both in the United States and abroad was its involvement in providing education to the masses. Starting in the 1820s, Methodist colleges and prep schools spread across the land in the United States, and education was a hallmark of the Methodist foreign mission endeavors that began around the same time. The chance to learn, to grow as people through that learning, and to improve one's lot in life through learning attracted many to Methodism in all places around the globe.
Moreover, education is one of the aspects of Methodism that has continued strong to this day. As a quick clink on "education" in the label cloud to the right will show, this blog has reported on a number of stories of contemporary Methodist educational endeavors. I'd like to share a few more today that show the continued commitment to and passion for education in the global UMC.
The first story is about the Central Conference Theological Education Grants, an initiative approved by General Conference 2012. Applications for those grants have been submitted, and 74 applications were submitted! Moreover, the applications were not all top-down initiatives, but rather came from a variety of places within the Central Conferences, including "theological institutions, Boards of Ordained Ministry, Bible colleges and pastors' schools." That United Methodists from the Central Conferences should have 74 (or more) ideas about how to improve and increase theological education may seem like an impressive number, but it should not surprise us, given the historic connection between United Methodism and education. It's unfortunate that GBHEM will not have enough money to fund all of these projects (funding decisions were made over a week ago but have not yet been announced), but it does give us a glimpse of the sorts of new ventures that are possible. Perhaps some of those new ways of delivering theological education can be used in the United States as well as Americans rethink theological education for a new generation and changed circumstances.
The second story involves a form of learning that's become common in the United States making it to other countries. Students at the Methodist University of Cote d'Ivoire are beginning to incorporate online and distance learning into their education. This new program involves not only collaborations between the Methodist University of Cote d'Ivoire and GBHEM, but between it and the Methodist University of Katanga. Online learning is another example that not all international partnerships in the UMC need involve the US. Moreover, one of the applications for the Central Conference Theological Education Grants mentioned above was to create distance learning programs for pastors in the Philippines, so the idea of Methodist online education is beginning to spread widely.
It will be exciting to see where these new educational initiatives will go and how they will keep the Methodist commitment to education alive into the future!