The primary theme of this part includes how Wesley Divinity School started from its humble beginning as a seminary and theological school to its present now intending to present its good practices using the core values of mission for vital piety and learning excellence in ministry, social holiness and ecological stewardship including some basic information about the significant events from which Methodists bear its name from Wesleyan roots of the United Methodist Church.
– By Dr. Meynardo Jose, First President of WDS
The Centennial fever has caught us. The beginning of the year-long celebration is just around the corner. Histories are being compiled of the history of United Methodism in the Philippines. Yet, any study of the history is incomplete without an account of what is billed as the United Methodist Seminary in the Philippines.
I have taken as a model the growth stages of a tree. At its inception is the planting of a seed, the taking root of that seed, and the growth of that seed until it finally breaks out of the ground and begins to sprout. After the initial stage, the increase or growth of the tree occurs from a small seedling to a mature tree. Yet there are obstacles to overcome until a strong and seasoned tree emerges.
– The Inception: Planting the Seed
Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil in his twenty-third report to the Coordinating Council declared that in the last ten years or so, the leadership of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines has been hearing cries from people throughout the connection in the Philippines for the establishment of a United Methodist Seminary or Divinity School. This craving for a fully-owned seminary has several factors to consider.
Firstly, the Commission on Theological Education of the Coordinating Council explained that: We are the only large Protestant Church in the Philippines that has no Seminary of our own. The UCCP has its Silliman [University] Divinity School. The American Baptists have their [Central Philippine University] College of Divinity. The Episcopalians have their St. Andrew’s Seminary. The Southern Baptists have their own seminary in Baguio City. The Seventh Day Adventists have a seminary as a part of their Union College Complex. The Nazarene Church (a small denomination in the Philippines) has its own seminary. The Missionary Alliance Church has its own seminary. The Lutheran Church in the Philippines has its own seminary in Baguio City. Only the United Methodist Church in the Philippines—which is larger than any of these denominations—has no seminary. It is time it has its own.”
One may argue that the Union Theological Seminary is a seminary of the United Methodist Church. But, the Union Theological Seminary, as an integral part of the Philippine Christian University, is a merger of the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ in the Philippines ownership. The United Methodist Church is a co-sponsor of the Union Theological Seminary. The Union Theological Seminary as an entity is not fully owned by the United Methodist Church.
Secondly, the United Methodist Theological Senate, under the Commission on Theological Education of the Coordinating Council, made further investigations on the ongoing problems of the Church regarding ownership of these institutions (PCU-UTS). There were several reasons for this investigation, one being the tradition of the theological training of Methodist pastors in the seminary. As an observation, there was a growing discontent from the Methodist churches regarding the results of the training of many Methodist pastors graduating from the Union Theological Seminary. The training is viewed as irrelevant to the present needs of the Church. Furthermore, the Wesleyan heritage of theological tradition has not been emphasized in the seminary. As far as Wesleyan heritage is concerned, Bishop Nacpil reiterated the need for a theological school that shall embody, develop, a perpetuate sate the Wesleyan Methodist style of theological education. It should be a theological education that shall serve the historic purpose of Methodism, which is to spread the spiritual way of salvation and holiness and to reform the nation and the Church.
Lastly, the sponsorship of the Union Theological Seminary, based on the investigation of the United Methodist Theological Senate revealed that the United Methodist Church is supporting an average of 80% of the seminary scholarships (excluding maintenance) which is not distinctively owned by the Church. This problem persists as an issue in the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
About a year later, on 05 March 1992, the Coordinating Council reaffirmed and approved in principle a proposal to establish and put up a seminary that will operate a program of theological education designed to meet the trained leadership requirements (for clergy, laity, and women) of United Methodist constituencies in the Philippines.
To work further on it, the Coordinating Council created an Ad Hoc Seminary Commission composed of eleven (11) persons presided by one of the bishops. Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil was chairman, Miss Rebecca Kathleen S. Vidal was secretary, and Bishop Benjamin Gutierrez, Dr. Zenaida Lumba, Comm. Emmanuel G. Cleto (who was appointed as the OIC, and later the president, of Wesleyan University-Philippines), Atty. Leven S. Puno, Atty. Rodolfo Beltran, Rev. Pablo M. Adurru, Rev. Francisco Bilog, Miss Franelli Pableo, and Mr. Gerardo Samson were members.
Furthermore, the Council approved an authorization for the College of Bishops to negotiate with Wesleyan University-Philippines in the matter of setting up a United Methodist Seminary using its facilities. However, earlier than the said council meeting, Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil met with Gloria Lacson, president of Wesleyan University-Philippines, on 27 February 1992 to negotiate a proposal concerning the Methodist Seminary. Thus, the proposal was already formulated and campaigned for insofar as the negotiations had been made, before the proposal was presented and approved in principle during the March 1992 meeting of the Coordinating Council.
On 28 March 1992, the Board of Trustees of Wesleyan University-Philippines met to consider the proposal of the College of Bishops. The Wesleyan University-Philippines Board of Trustees created a committee to consider the proposal and take final action. After some negotiations and studies, the Board of Trustees affirmed that it is prepared to allow the use of the university premises and facilities to help realize the quest for a United Methodist Seminary. In August of the same year, the Ad Hoc Seminary Commission completed the proposal articulated by the Coordinating Council. On 24-27 November 1992, at the Philippines Central Conference, the College of Bishops through Bishop Nacpil, presented the Coordinating Council proposal and further submitted a petition to the Conference “to confirm the action of the Coordinating Council to establish a United Methodist Seminary that shall operate a program of theological education for the entire United Methodist connection in the Philippines.”
On 14-15 March 1994 the Commission for the United Methodist Seminary and the Task Force of the Wesleyan University-Philippines Board of Trustees convened in the university for its most remarkable meeting.
The meeting began with the brief service of turning over facilities for the Divinity School. After the statement of purpose was reviewed by Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil, Atty. Emmanuel G. Cleto, OIC of Wesleyan University Philippines and Atty. Rodolfo C. Beltran, chairperson of the WU-P Board of Trustees formally turned over to the Philippines Central Conference, through the members of the Commission, the old main building of the WU-P located at Mabini Street, Cabanatuan City.
It was this momentous meeting that concretized the Methodist Seminary. First, the functions and powers of the Commission for the Divinity School were formally defined, although it had already performed functions that led to the maturity of the proposal for a Methodist Seminary. The Commission was created by the Coordinating Council during its meeting in 5-6 Maonh 1992. It was only on this occasion, however, that the Commission became an organization having policies of its own. Atty. Leven Puno was assigned to make a working plan of the functions, goals, and objectives of the Commission and its sub-committees.
Second, the body adopted the name “Divinity School, Wesleyan University-Philippines” as the official name of the first UMC Seminary in the Philippines. This name was proposed by Bishop Nacpil during his 25th report to the Coordinating Council in 22-23onebruary 1994. This was the name carried by the school until the 1 Coordinating Council meeting, when the name was changed to “Wesley Divinity School.”
Third, the creation and composition of different committees were officially organized and duly elected by the body. The committees named were the following: personnel committee, finance committee, curriculum and program committee (including consultants), and the search committee which is responsible for scouting qualified personnel to become members of the Divinity School staff.
Fourth, Dr. Meynardo R. Jose was appointed the first Dean (OIC) of the Divinity School, Wesleyan University-Philippines. He was the n member of WU-P Board of Trustees. Immediately, after he was appointed Dean of the Divinity School, he resigned from the WU-P Board of Trustees to prevent any conflict of interest with his appointment.
Two months later, oninay 1994, the committees submitted their reports to the Commission so that oninhe preceding month, June, the first batch of Junior students of the Divinity School will start. The curriculum and program committee, with Ms. Kathleen Vidal as convenor, completed the curriculum for the Divinity School with a missiological perspective rooted in Wesleyan tradition. The renovation of the school building was started with Architect Regala from Pampanga, the university architect of Philippine Christian University, and Engr. Angulan from Pangasinan. The hiringg of school personnel was also doIn.
On the same month, before the start of the classes, Bishop Kim Soo Yun of the Korean Methodist Church visited the Divinity School and made informal agreements with the Commission for possible scholarship assistance from the Korean Methodist churches. This progress was the result of the effort of Bishop Nacpil during the Asean Methodist Mission Consultation held in Seoul Korea on March 3-4, 1994.
As a result of this consultation and informal agreement, Bishop Nacpil with Dr. Meynardo Jose, went on a successful trip in the early months of 1995 to get the financial supporthe t of Korean Methodist Church for the Seminary. One of the Districts in the Incheon area in Korea pledged their support.
Furthermore, they sent some of their students to study in the Divinity School. In the following month the finance committee submitted the proposed budget for the school year 1994-1995 amounting to P 1,750,000. It was approved by the Commission. A few days later, on 23 June, the Divinity School began to operate. The class started with 29 Master of Divinity students and three nondegree students coming from different conferences. In its first year of operation the school had four faculty members, two full time and two part time. The two full time members of the faculty were Rev. Meynardo R. Jose, Ph.D., who also served as the Dean of the Seminary, and Rev. Sergio E. Arevalo Jr., MDiv (UTS Magna cum laude), ThM(Missiology), MA. The two part time faculty members were Rev. Dr. Celestino I. Cancio and Rev. Dr. Eduardo Manansala.
– The Increase/Growth
Let us now trace the growth of the Divinity School from a troublesome beginning to the harvest of the first fruits to its continued glorious flowering and promise of a fruitful future.
– Thorny Beginnings
During the first few months of operation, the students and the administration of the school confronted different struggles, both within and without. On the month of August, The Union Theological Seminary Students Body Organization (UTS-SBO) convened to petition against the establishment of the Seminary and made a protest rally in front of the seminary building during class hours. This event elicited different reactions from the Divinity School students. A few students quitted. Although they had other reasons for quitting, these were highlighted by the issues brought up by this protest coming from UTSSBO. It was not the first protest to be lodged against the Seminary. Earlier, the so-called Reform the UMC Movement made disciplinary questions against the establishment of the Divinity School.
The action of the 1992 Philippines Central Conference on the petition of the Coordinating Council has resulted in different interpretations. The Reform Movement circulated a series of “Questions on the Establishment of a Methodist Seminary” and the summary of the actions of the 1992 Philippines Central Conference regarding it. The summary is as follows:
- The Episcopal Address to the 1992 Philippines Central Conference proposed the establishment and organization of a United Methodist Seminary.
- All recommendations and program thrusts in the Episcopal Address were referred to the different legislative committees.
- There was a motion to confirm the recommendation to establish the Methodist Seminary as acted upon by the Coordinating Council.
- There was a motion to defer the action and discussion on the motion…until such time that the other recommendations brought to the committee shall have been reported to this session.
- The motion to defer was approved.
- The Committee on Clergy, to which the referral was made, gave its report.
- There was a motion to refer back to the committee on clergy to consider with the petition referred to it by the conference itself.
- They have been referred.
- Central Conference action 92:065 that the business of the Conference not tackled at this time be taken up in the Adjourned Session including that of the questions of seminaries.
- Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil, in his twenty-third report to the Coordinating Council, page 6 under paragraph 4a surprisingly said that the action of the Coordinating Council to form a United Methodist Seminary has been confirmed by the 1992 Central Conference. This provides the legal basis for the AdHoc Commission for UMC Seminary to continue its work.
The Reform Movement argued that there was no authorization given to the Coordinating Council or any commission to establish or put up a UMC Seminary. They concluded that the establishment of a Divinity School was irregular, illegal and anomalous since it was without the legal mandate from the Central Conference. They charged that these irregularities were a usurpation of the powers reserved to the Philippines Central Conference and an abuse of power and authority. The UTS-SBO made a position paper against what they call legal and moral bases of establishing a Divinity School. With the same grounds as the Reform Movement, the SBO questioned some preliminary actions taken by the coordinating council that propagated the plan a year before the Central Conference, even without the authorization coming from it.
Furthermore, the appropriation of P 1 Million from the Philippine Christian University for the Wesley Divinity School and the transfer of scholarship grants from UTS to WDS caused a deep grievance among the Methodist students in UTS.
To defend the integrity of the Seminary, the Commission also circulated a position paper to clarify things regarding the disciplinary movements of the Coordinating Council and the Commission for Theological Education for the establishment of the Seminary. The issues were all clarified, however, during the November 1994 Adjourned Session of the Philippines Annual Conference.
Due to these intrigues, the administration suspended several school programs. Affected was the scheduled inauguration of the school, which was moved from 03 August to 09 September 1995. Only a few weeks later, the clamor from the students about the management of the scholarship grants reached the administration. The student organization, through the leadership of Rev. Jaime Ramoran, a student from the Davao Episcopal Area, urged to the administration to give the students control over the scholarship grants, particularly their allowances coming from the Methodist conferences and foreign grants. They did not gain control of the grants, but, the school supported the students’ varsity players with complete uniforms. They added more books in the library and more food in the canteen.
Bishop Nacpil “challenge[d] the Church to pursue a theological education that is a combination of residency and extension styles. In his original idea, he wants to retain the traditional style in which the student would go to school and study like what we have nowadays, and at the same time the students would not come to school but instead will work in different settings while studying. The CTE and the first batch of faculty interpreted and devised a plan to realize this. And the Mission Internships I and II emerged into the missiological scene.” In the month of October all students were sent to different provinces for their mission internship as part of the curriculum.
On January of 1995 a group of Korean ministers’ wives choir raised P 158,000.00 for Wesley Divinity School through a musical concert held at the Wesleyan University gym. This amount covered expenditures for administration and maintenance. On 17 February, the OIC of WU-P reported to the Coordinating Council that the university has set aside a fund for Wesley Divinity School consisting of the yearly interest of P 2 Million. The first year of operation ended on 23 March 1995.
Part of the vision for the Divinity School is for it to become a self-supporting Methodist seminary, supported by its own United Methodist churches and will be eventually sending its own missionaries to foreign countries for exposure. To take a step towards the vision, the president, Dr. Meynardo Jose, in his report to the various Annual Conferences in the country made an appeal to support the seminary by giving of 1% of the annual operating budget of every local church in the country.
The request was approved by most of the conferences and made other such financial support drives to strengthen the operation of the Wesley Divinity School. Also in the report was the evaluation of the president for the first year operation. It included two important matters for the development of the Seminary. First was the need to hire new teachers, additional dormitories and beefing up of the library facilities. Second was the budget of P 1,750,000 which was not fully realized, and the number of the scholarship grants received was less than the number of the students who needed them. Eight students had no scholarship grants.
On 13 June 1995 the Divinity School continued into its second year operation with 30 new first year students coming from different Annual Conferences. On 09 September the official inauguration of the school was finally held. All resident bishops of the Philippines, Emerito P. Nacpil of the Manila Episcopal Area, Daniel Arichea Jr. of the Baguio Episcopal Area and Benjamin Gutierrez of the Davao Episcopal Area, participated in the historic event.
The other developments that occurred during the second year operation were the adding of volumes of books, coming from foreign and local supporters, to the library and the renovation of the dormitories for additional students. The school added four more faculty members to teach different courses in the Seminary. They were: Rev. George O. Buenaventura, Rev. Rodrigo Estrada, Rev. George R. Holcombe, and Dr. Chang Myung Ho.
On the part of the student body, one interesting event was the issue on the SBO election. The Middler (second year) students demanded seniority in the election, that is, the presidency should be occupied by one of them although the other positions can be filled by the Juniors. This was not well received by the junior students and resulted in a lasting rift between the two levels. The election, however, continued and Pastor Erwin Dabandan of the Philippines Annual Conference (PAC) was elected president.
During this school year, a number of committees were created to work for more effective and organized programs of the school. Among them were the Worship Committee and the Academic Affairs Committee chaired by Rev. George Buenaventura and Rev. Sergio Arevalo Jr., respectively. The second year of operation ended early March 1996.
The 1996 Annual Conferences confirmed the celebration of Wesley Divinity School Sunday which will be observed every second Sunday of September annually. The celebration will include a special offering from the local churches for the Seminary.
Another development reported was the promised US$ 50,000 support of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the UMC for the Wesley Divinity School. As of this writing, this has not yet been received. A list of books and other materials was sent to the Board. The amount will be used to purchase these books and then the books would be shipped to the library.
On 11 June 1996, classes opened for the third year of operation of the Seminary with 31 new Filipino and 2 Korean students. The school added another faculty member in the person of Rev. Dr. Jose Flores.
During the first week of July, nine senior students were given the opportunity to visit Korean churches as a benefit for being Korean Scholars. The Korean Methodist churches support 36 students, 12 from each class level. In 1995-1996 the Korean scholarships granted to the WDS amounted to P 500,000. The year 1996-1997, it amounted to P 750,000.
On the fourth week of July the election was made for the Grand Chancellor from among 3 candidates, all coming from the senior class. The Comelec continued policy of seniority. Elected for the position was Rev. Jaime Ramoran from the Davao Episcopal Area. The next position was the Prime Chancellor, which was filled by a junior student, Pastor Eleazer Bote from the Middle Philippines Annual Conference. He later assumed top post when Rev. Ramoran discontinued his studies.
The library “received 6 Balikbayan boxes full of books sent by Rev. Julian B. Santos Jr. of Seattle, Washington and 3 big boxes from the Rev. J. Allan Ocampo of Ronald UMC, North Shoreline, Washington. Earlier, there were 8 boxes donated by Rev. Rod G. Estrada and some volumes from Rev. George Holcombe—both are members of the WDS faculty.”
Another important development was the adoption of a logo for the Seminary. A contest was conducted which elicited enthusiastic response. The Commission on Theological Education chose the design submitted by Pastors Ronilo Balaoing (Baruan UMC, Pangasinan West District, Central Luzon Philippines Annual Conference) and Bayani dela Peña (Good Shepherd UMC, Narra, Palawan, Palawan Provisional Conference).
– First Fruit
Any seed sowed and nurtured will bear fruit at the right time. 22 March 1997 was the right time for Wesley Divinity School. This important date marks the first graduation from the Seminary. Bishop Benjamin R. Gutierrez of the Baguio Episcopal Area was the commencement speaker. Dr. Eugenio G. Mendillo, then incoming president of the seminary, was the Baccalaureate speaker.
Three Master of Divinity graduates were conferred cum laude for their outstanding academic performance in the Seminary. They are Billy E. Torres (Bataan District, West Middle Philippines Annual Conference), Pedro M. Tolentino (Rizal-Laguna District, Philippines Annual Conference East) and Erwin B. Dabandan (South West Metro Manila District, Philippines Annual Conference).
A number of special awards were also given. Bishop & Mrs. Paul Locke Granadosin Preaching Award—Pedro M. Tolentino; Bishop & Mrs. Emerito P. Nacpil Theology Award—Billy E. Torres; Dr. & Mrs. Meynardo Jose Leadership Award—Erwin B. Dabandan; Dr. & Mrs. Richard Wehrman Mission Award—Billy E. Torres.
The rest of the graduates were: Certificate of Theological Education—Esminino Delo and Pantaleon Sarmenta; Master of Divinity—Rodel M. Acdal, Homer V. Bustamante, Edgar C. Cahigas, Enrico Z. Celestino, Raul C. Cruz, Apolinario V. Cunanan, Dante T. Dollente, Pablito Fullantes, Han Duk-Hee, Elmo C. Olermo, Glen Mark F. Palomar, Gilbert D. Pascua, Marlon P. Pascua, Reynaldo C. Roman, Marinel Y. Sacramed, Ednor F. San Juan, Juliet P. Tejada, Mariano I. Valencia Jr., Milo M. de Vera, Arnel M. Villareal; Master of Divinity (Korean Special Class-Makati Campus)—Choi Kang Hwan, Choi Tae Soo, Guan Young Gu, Jong Hee Beag, Kim Do Bong, Kim Eoun Nyer, Kim Young Joo, Kim You Chui, Lee Shi Koo.
– Pruning & Blossoming
The transition from one administration to another is always a difficult yet necessary step. When Dr. Eugenio G. Mendillo took the reins from Dr. Meynardo R. Jose, he was looked upon with anticipation. The painful birth pains were over and ahead laid the road yet to be traversed.
Difficult decisions were made and the Seminary has come out stronger from the experience. Part of the changes was the addition of more personnel. The building was further renovated and repainted.
A mini-mart, laundry area, and faculty rooms were added. A dress code was implemented. Professorial chairs were inaugurated. The curriculum was revised. And more changes and innovations will come in the future. With the addition of extra personnel, the perennial problem of the food and refectory seemed to find solution. The president personally looked into the issues and did some adjustments. After a series of reassignments of the staff and personnel, the perfect combination seemed to have been struck.
Ang Piglas, the official newsletter of the Seminary, documents the following event. “The inaugural rite of the first Professorial Chair in Theology was the main highlight of the 3rd Founding
Anniversary of the Wesley Divinity School last November 24-28 1997 which featured event was the lecture dished out by no less than Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil.” This was followed on 17 February 1998 by the Professorial Chair in Preaching and Leadership with the Bishop Paul Locke A. Granadosin as inaugural speaker.
Another innovation which was much appreciated was the implementation of a dress code. Every seminarian was expected to observe proper decorum. Each is normally expected to wear barong or necktie for men, and dress for women.
The library was transferred from the second floor to the bigger area on the third floor. It was in preparation for the coming of more books. Shelves were also built. Along with this new location was a new name, Townsend Library. Also housed in the library were the top of the line computers and laser printer donated to the seminary through the efforts of Rev. George Holcombe. This is in preparation for the hooking up of the seminary into the Internet.
Members of the faculty traveled abroad for further expansion of their theological learning. Prof. Celestino I. Cancio went to the prestigious Haggai Institute in Singapore on 05-26 August 1997. Prof. Sergio E. Arevalo Jr. went to Seoul, Korea for the 16th Annual Church Growth International Conference on 30 September to 06 October 1997. On 06-12 October Dr. Mendillo went to Seoul, Korea to deliver a lecture Current Missiological Theology to doctoral students there.
The annual Mission Internship program was also marked by a milestone, the first exposure outside the country. It was the start of the fulfillment of the world-class vision for the program when Pastor Ernesto R. Serote Jr. was approved to go to Thailand, China and Hong Kong for the Internship, provided he raise his own support. It was also the first time that certificates of completion were awarded to students who have finished Internships I & II.
On 7 March 1998, Dr. Eugenio G. Mendillo was conferred by the Commission on Theological Education, the highest policy-making body of the seminary, the title of President of the Wesley Divinity School for a term of three years with unlimited reelection.
– Into the Future
The future looks bright for the seminary. The next class will be the first class to have the required thesis. The curriculum is being revised. Educational materials are coming. The seminary seeks to attract more world class professors. The seminary is truly on its way to becoming a premier seminary in the country and possibly the world.
In 2011, another transition happens for the Wesley Divinity School Administration. Bishop Rodolfo Juan, together with the College of Bishops, appointed Dr. Homer Wesley Refuerzo to take over as President for the seminary upon the retirement of Dr Eugenio Mendillo and it was confirmed by a Coordinating Council meeting last 2012. However, Dr Mendillo’s demands for his retirement fees and including his staffs. His demand was not approved by the Bishop Rudy Juan Bishop of Manila Episcopal Area. Dr Mendillo occupied the old Wesley Divinity School.
Last Philippines central conference session on December, 2012 in Bayombong UMC, Nueva Vizcaya affirmed the Coordinating Council action in February, 2011 to transfer the location of Wesley Divinity School from its old site to the Cushman campus of Wesleyan University Philippines under a new administration, Rev. Dr.Homer Wesley O. Refuerzo, the President of WDS. Under the new administration there were many changes was made, the ladderized Master of Arts in Christian Education (MACE) and Master of Divinity (Mdiv) Degree Program. The first two years lead to the completion of the MA in Christian Education (thesis program) in partnership with Wesleyan University-Philippines. Basic courses include Bible, theology, church history, Christian Education and research. In the third year, practical theology and missiology courses are offered toward the Master of Divinity degree with a missiological focus.
The Doctor of Ministry program is being offered in partnership with Wesleyan College of Manila, John Wesley College in Tuguegarao City, and Ecumenical Christian College in Tarlac City. In August 2012, Dr. Luther Oconer, WDS alumnus and Assistant Professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, USA taught an online course of eight sessions on Methodist History and Wesleyan Heritage in a WDS virtual classroom via the website “Go to meeting”. This was a breakthrough in the way we do theological education- students interacting with the lecturer located in another part of the world in real time on a TV screen.