On Saturday, February 25th, several members of the Virginia Conference attended a reception and dinner at the Baltimore-Washington Conference headquarters to greet the President of the Moscow Seminary, Rev Dr Sergei Nikolaev. Attending from the Virginia Conference were Rev. Seungsoo “RJ” Jun, Associate Director of Serving Ministries of the Virginia Conference, Mr. John Meeuwissen, Chair of the Missional Ministries Board of the Virginia Conference, Rev. David Hindman, retired Elder of the Virginia Conference, and Walt and Sharon Surratt, lay members of Luray United Methodist Church of the Virginia Conference.
Left to right: Sharon and Walt Surratt from Luray United Methodist Church of the Virginia Conference, Rev Dr Sergei Nikolaev President of the Moscow Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore Washington Conference, Rev Seungsoo ‘RJ’ Sun, Mr. John Meeuwissen, and Rev David Hindman of the Virginia Conference
Rev Nikolaev greeted us warmly and thanked us for being present for his remarks. He noted that Methodism in Russia is continuing to thrive and grow despite the situation between Russia and Ukraine and despite difficulties within Russia. He explained that the Seminary exists to enable the education of Russian speaking pastors for Methodist churches in Russia and for the education of others in Belarus and Ukraine in the Methodist denomination. Rev Nikolaev was named President of the Seminary in 2008 and remains in that position today.
He explained that students of the Seminary have four, two-week intensive periods of instruction each year, each week being devoted to a single course, eight hours per day during the five-day week. While they encourage students to participate in person, this was impossible during the worst of the Covid epidemic. During that period all coursework was done online using Zoom. Now, about 40 percent of the students continue to use online access while the majority of students have returned to classroom instruction.
Something that is unique about the situation in Russia, and that might be unknown to many Americans, is that the Russian territory spans 9 time zones. It takes 9 hours to fly from Vladivostok in the far east to Moscow, the same it would take to fly from Moscow to New York. Of course, it takes days to travel this distance by train. Because of this the Seminary has created satellite campuses both in Central Asia, splitting the time between Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Almaty, Kazakhstan, and in the Far East in Vladivostok. At present the satellite in Central Asia operates two, two-week intensives and the satellite in Vladivostok operates by demand.
An important focus of a seminarian’s education is the development of accountability groups among students, males with males and females with females. Separation by gender is deemed essential to facilitate the most degree of openness and transparency. These groups are fashioned after John Wesley’s bands and classes which were designed to help one another progress in their spiritual journey to the goal of perfection, an ideal to which all Christians should strive. The goal is that seminarians form these groups and bonds while they are in their seminary cohort and then create their own, new groups in their local ministries after their three-year course of study. After three years together these groups will continue to divide and create still more small groups in order to grow in discipleship and community.
During the Q&A period, Sergei noted that it costs $5,000 per year for each student to attend the Seminary. This fee includes tuition, housing, and transportation expenses. To put this in context, the average annual salary in Stavropol, Russia (population is about 500,000) is about $6,000 per year. It is less for state employees, like teachers, nurses and others (sounds familiar). The point is that annual tuition for a seminarian consumes almost the annual wage of individuals in places like Stavropol. In addition, seminary students will go without wages for nearly two full months in order to attend seminary, so it becomes a significant financial hardship for one to follow a call to ordained ministry.
The seminary strives to make every effort for student to succeed. They have found that physical presence is more conducive to a fuller seminary experience and that students who attend in person tend to do better that those who opt for online instruction. But for some students, there is no possibility to make the trip to Moscow or to one of the satellite locations.
The Moscow Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church was founded in 1995 and has graduated over 200 students since its inception. The Virginia Conference was among the early supporters for establishing the Moscow Theological Seminary. If you wish to support the work of the Moscow Theological Seminary, please donate to Advance #12174A Moscow Seminary. Contributions can be made by check or online.