Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary
Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS), opened and was dedicated in September 2010, has a story to tell of vision and 'holy determination,' sometimes in the face of heavy odds. It is also a story of remarkable interventions reminding those working to birth it, that they were not alone.
In three brief years since the 22-person Planning Executive first met in September, 2007, an entirely new institution has been conceptualised and organised into being. While the campus was being designed, funds raised and construction firms engaged, two large apartment blocks in Pietermaritzburg were bought and turned into seminarian residences and temporary teaching facilities. By January, 2009, Seth Mokitimi was open for business with its first 33 seminarians. A month earlier, the ground was broken for the new campus to be built on a site bought from Epworth School.
Since then, these two parallel operations have demanded every ounce of energy, time and wisdom from, on the one hand, Dr Ross Olivier and his academic and administrative staff, and on the other Rev Prof Peter Storey, Mr Anthony Tibbit and the architects and contractors.
Storey, entrusted with overall responsibility for the SMMS project, says, 'Few things have been so rewarding as to see both buildings and people changing before our eyes. The new campus is in one donor's words, 'dramatic', and even more exciting is the daily growth in the lives of the seminarians.' He cites the appointment of Olivier as, 'one of MCSA's better moments, putting the best we have, to train the future we need.’
On the operational side, the arduous process of dovetailing SMMS's curriculum with that of SoRaT, so that seminarians could have a seamless progress between the institutions, has gone well, as has registration as a 'Private Institution of Higher Learning' and Public Benefit Organi-sation (the two are tied together).
Fund-raising has been tough in difficult times but an arduous effort criss-crossing the country has raised some R29m in gifts and pledges, with each rand matched by MCSA.
The magnificent new campus may still have to shake down, with builders putting final touches and landscapers still shaping the gardens, but it is daily attracting citizens of Pietermaritzburg interested in this latest landmark. They come curious and go away excited by the sheer breadth of the Seminary's vision of, 'Forming Transforming Leaders for Church and Nation'.
These words, formed in Storey's mind in 2007, have become more than a slogan: Olivier says that he takes them very seriously. 'I intend that we work with each of the words in that statement, and what they mean for us, ' he declares. Already SMMS is being challenged to stretch beyond the confines of MCSA clergy formation, with other denominations now exploring with Olivier whether their trainee ministers can also benefit from the excellent facilities and fine staffing at the Seminary. There is also growing interest in educational and other public service fields, in the moral and spiritual leadership training potential and conferencing facilities of SMMS.
The convictions of the Commission set up by the Presiding Bishop back in 2003, approved at the 2005 Conference and put in hand in 2007, have now taken concrete shape. Dr Greg Jones, United Methodist minister, former Dean of Duke University Divinity School and now one of the University's Vice-Presidents, was present as a consultant at the 'birthing' of SMMS in 2007 and spoke then of the confluence of remarkable opportunities: 'The chance to build a seminary virtually on the campus of a major University (UKZN), in walking distance of a School of Theology (SoRaT), as part of a cluster of existing seminaries, is almost unbelievable. This chance will not come again.' Dr Jones and his spouse travelled for the Opening and Dedication, and will see that in the last three years, the chance he spoke of has been grasped.