Dion's random ramblings

Friday, October 05, 2007

A life unreflected is not worth living - Plato

Last night the students and staff of John Wesley College took time to recognise the gift that God has blessed us with, the gift of Christian community. Dr Jennifer Slater (OP) gave a magnificent address to the leaving students about the relationship between Theology, Spirituality, and Ministry. I shall edit it and upload it over the weekend. It was Jenny who reminded us of the nexus where Theology (head), spirituality (heart) and ministry (hands) meet - they meet in the theological, spiritual, ministerial, discipline of reflection. When the scholar, the minister, the believer, takes time to reflect upon the world, upon God's desire and will for the world, and what role one can play in that great will and plan, then theology, spirituality, and ministry meet one another. The moment we neglect the discipline of regular reflection we will start to see the impact upon all these spheres of our life.

Truly "A life unreflected is not worth living" (Plato).

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in very good hands! This year's group of students have shown remarkable commitment to their formation for ministry! They have approached their spirituality, studies, and skills development with an attitude of openness and seriousness. I am certain that among this group will be many of the most significant leaders our denomination will see in the next generation! I has been a joy to share in this lives of these people, and I wish them well as they move back into Churches in the coming months.

Here's a cross post to Wessel Bentley's blog. The text and photos comes from his page.

Class of 2007

Tonight we celebrated the journey of the 2007 students at John Wesley College Kilnerton. I like what I do, but I love being on campus, engaging with students on theological issues. It is always a good feeling to look back and to remember the bewildered eyes, but now to see ministers and theologians who can think, act and preach with confidence. A big thank you to the class of 2007 for your commitment, love and hard work. To the full-time staff at JWC, your loyalty and dedication to ministerial formation is already seen in the ministries of those who have journeyed in this place - as Dion says, the most hallowed of theological institutions.

Class of 2007:

Front Row (L to R)

Joan Jackson (PhD), Larry van der Walt (MTh), Sox Leleki (MTh), Gavin
Taylor (Bishop - DMin), Ruth Jonas (EMMU - MTh), Dion Forster (Dean -
PhD), Neville Richardson (Principal - PhD), Madika Sibeko (EMMU -
MTh), Wessel Bentley (PhD), Morapedi Diutlwileng(MTh), James Massey
(MSc), Marina Malan (MTh)

Second Rown (L to R)

Motshedisi Makhudu, Nomakula Sodo, Kedibone Mofokeng, Vuyelwa
Cimela, Vuyelwa Sebolao (Vice Chair SRC), Luvuyo Sifo (Chair SRC),
Zola Zide, Fundile Mjwacu, Mziwoxolo Mkabeni, Thembeka Mkabeni,
Dipolelo Tlale

Third Row (L to R)

Mashna Sasman, Pius Ntlangulela, Tshegofatso Mokgosi,
Nkululeko Kapiyana, Claude Kimpinde (Treasurer SRC), Jacob
Mokhutso, Barrington Southwood, Christian Mokone, Bongani
Mquqo, Vuyo Ngwenyana

Last Row (L to R)

Phathisiwe Mthi, Siyakudumisa Mbuyazwe, Ryan Killian, Godfey Baqwa,
Thembile Klaas, Phezile Koekoe, Andile Sinandile, Nomathemba Mnanzana

From left to right: Wessel and Dion.

I have also uploaded some photos from my camera. Simply follow the link for photographs from the 2007 JWC Valedictory.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Last class... Leavers Service... Some courses... Some leave... A new year!

Today I taught my last class for 2007 (well, I will still have some sessions and presentations before the year is done - see below) - but this was my last 'formal' class for the year.

This is just a quick reminder to all our Methodist colleagues that we have approximately 250 Probationer ministers writing exams over the next three weeks. Then, I am always praying for the UNISA and University of Pretoria students I have taught this year (a further 250 Ethics 1 students from UNISA, and about 50 New Testament students from UP). Please pray for all of these people! For clergy examinations are seldom about getting a qualification, rather exams are about learning how best to serve God and God's people (well, at least I hope that is what it is about)!

Next year a brand new batch of bright, gifted, and committed students will arrive to be shaped for ministry. [Boy, I am so optimistic tonight! Perhaps it's because I got my car back from the garage, they had to replace the onboard computer on my 1 year old Polo TDi... The car has been nothing but problems since I bought it. Anyway, it seems to be going fine now! Heck, I say that we should all just drive Orange Vespa's!]

Between now and when we close just before Christmas we (the Unit) will be training lay leaders (Circuit and Society stewards), Bible Women, Evangelists, Superintendents, District Supervisors of Studies, preparing for new students coming into Phase 1, helping students who are transitioning from Phase 1 to Phase 2, and Phase 2 to Phase 3, writing materials, designing courses, and of course taking a few days leave (Megie, Courts, Liam, and I will be going to stay with our friends Graham and Lauren Power at Thiesens Island in Knysna between the 18th and 27th of December. I can't wait!) Then, the cycle of the year starts again. It is quite satisfying in many ways.

Tomorrow evening is our College Valedictory service and leavers' dinner (Wessel will be there in his brand new Doctoral gown!) Rev Dr Jenny Slater (the Dean of Students from the Catholic Seminary, St John Viarney in Pretoria) will be the guest speaker. I will try to record her talk and post it here.

Thanks to my students, you are truly great colleagues! You have made this year so memorable and blessed. You are a gift to the Church, each one of you!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Theological Society of South Africa

For those who are budding theologians, and those who have already blossomed, the Theological Society of South Africa (this is the South African society for professional theologians, much like the board of chartered accountants is for accountants, in South Africa) will be meeting at our humble seminary from Wednesday to Friday next week. One can be nominated to membership of the society once you have a Masters degree in Theology, and then once a member, one is expected to conduct research and present it at future gatherings.

The theme for this year's conference is:

Saints, martyrs and ancestors: Theological reflections on prophetic witness

Clearly, this is a very topical issue for consideration among African theologians! I am very proud to say that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is extremely well represented on the program. And, that we have four scholars from our faculty at John Wesley College presenting papers (Dr Joan Jackson (formerly Millard)- who teaches Church history, Dr Neville Richardson -our principal and lecturer in theological ethics and Wesley studies, the ALMOST Dr Wessel Bentley (his doctorate is in, being marked as we breath!) - who teaches Systematic Theology, and yours truly, uQira Mfundisi uDokotela Dion Forster - lecturer in Systematic Theology and New Testament).

I have included, for anyone who is interested, the program with the list of sessions, and a document that contains the abstracts for each of the papers that will be presented. I, personally, cannot wait to hear Wessel, Neville, Joan, and of course Klaus Nurnberger (on Richard Dawkins' God delusion).

TSSA07 Final Programme.doc


Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The cycle of another year! John Wesley College Graduation 2007, with gratitude and thanks.

One of the great comforts of life is that it moves in cycles. My year is metered and regulated by the various functions and activities that occupy my energy, creativity, and time. Most of these relate to my work as the Dean of John Wesley College, the Seminary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

Today was another moment to reflect, give thanks, and remember, the years that have passed since I have been in this responsible post. Please check below for a copy of the little article that I wrote for the EMMU website about this year's graduation (that has the facts, these are the feelings).

Last night I drove my newly painted (Old) Vespa up the hill to our College Chapel to check that everything was in order for the Graduation today. I am in that glorious stone Chapel daily (each morning from 7.30 to 8.30 we have a worship service with our students - it is predominantly worship in the African idiom with drums, a bell, a beat, and almost entirely in the vernacular). However, last night as I entered that same Chapel I was overcome by an entirely different emotion.... I can only describe it as a feeling extreme humility, unworthiness, and gratitude. I entered the Chapel just as the sun was setting, it is truly a magnificent space in just the right light (built in 1927 with large stones and a fantastic stained glass window and polished red floor). I walked in and saw how our students, my colleagues, had meticulously prepared every aspect of the Chapel for the graduation service. It was pristine, everything in its place, the air still filled with the smell of wood polish! And then the feeling I spoke of earlier came upon me, I knelt at the rail, where I kneel every Tuesday morning for the weekly Eucharistic service, and I gave thanks to God! How thankful I am that I have survived another year to be at the Graduation again. How thankful I am for all the growth and incredible experiences I have had in the last 4 years. How thankful I am to the Methodist Church of Southern Africa for entrusting me with this awesome responsibility of training her ministers (a task for which I am ill equipped, and certainly not worthy). How thankful I am for my loving wife, my darling daughter, and my healthy son. How thankful I am for the vain things, like my education, and the silly things, like my Vespa!

How thankful I am indeed! How undeserving, yet grateful that God should shower me with such grace and blessing. I don't understand the privilege I have been given. I often struggle with the responsibility and pressure (those who read Greek will understand when I speak of it as thlipsis more than just pressure), but that too is a gift of God's grace; keeping me reliant on God and the people among whom I have been placed. I am thankful!

I prayed for a while until it was completely dark, and then I climbed onto my Vespa (pushed it down the road because it still doesn't start! I'm thankful for the exercise that gives me!) and enjoyed the evening air as I rode home on a beautiful summer evening in Africa to be with my family. Last night I rested well. Today I celebrated. I am at peace today, and once again I am thankful.

Here is the article about the Graduation from the EMMU website (these are the facts..... Well, sort of):

The Campus of John Wesley College, the seminary of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, has been abuzz with activity for the last number of days. The reason for this heightened activity was all of the preparations that needed to be made for the College's annual Graduation ceremony that was held this morning (Saturday 10 March, 2007).

(Click on a photograph to enlarge it) The photograph above shows a few of the Bible Women who were graduating with Certificates in Theology, having completed their Certificate studies over a period of two years. Below is a picture of some of the Evangelists who had completed the same course.

In total 22 Bible Women and Evangelists received their qualifications from the Reverend Jacob Freemantle, the Warden of the Order of Bible Women and Evangelists in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Together with these Graduates, a number of awards were given to student ministers for outstanding achievement in their studies in 2006. These included:

  • Rev Chris Mokone - Best results at John Wesley College in 2006
  • Rev Jacob Mokhutso - Best first year student at John Wesley College in 2006
  • Rev Jenny Sprong - Best Progress towards Ordination
  • Rev Michael Lambatjeen - Best student for the ministry outside the borders of South Africa
  • Rev Phatisiwe Mthi - best progress from a student at John Wesley College in 2006
  • Rev Ryan Killian - Best minister in Phase 1 training in 2006
  • Rev Ndikhokele Mtshiselwa - Best honours (post graduate) student at John Wesley College in 2006
A number of senior dignitaries from the Methodist Church of Southern Africa were in attendance.

From Left to Right
Row 1: Rev Professor Neville Richardson (Director of EMMU and Principal of John Wesley College), Rev Vido Nyobole (Connexional Secretary of the MCSA), Rev Dr Gavin Taylor (Bishop of the Limpopo District of the MCSA)
Row 2: Rev Luvuyo Sifo (Chairman of the John Wesley College Student Council in 2007), Rev Sifiso Khuzwayo (Lecturer in Christian Proclamation and Homiletics at John Wesley College), Dr Joan Jackson (Lecturer in Church History at John Wesley College), Rev Dr Dion Forster (Dean John Wesley College).
Row 3: (center) Rev Jacob Freemantle (Warden of the Order of Bible Women and Evangelists), Rev Ruth Jonas (coordinator of training for Lay ministries in the MCSA), Rev M Molale (District Supervisor of Studies for the Central District of the MCSA).
Row 4: Rev Madika Sibeko (coordinator of training for Ordained ministries in the MCSA), Mrs Liz McDougal (English lecturer at John Wesley College), Mrs Audrey Zinde (Zulu lecturer at John Wesley College). Not pictured here, who were also in attendance at the celebration, are Bishop Paul Verryn (Bishop of the Central District), and Rev Sox Leleki (African Church History lecturer at John Wesley College).

The students of John Wesley College need to be thanked and acknowledged for their hard work and superb preparation for this celebration! Thanks also goes to Professor Richardson for his inspiring address on the need for sacrificial and dedicated Christian witnesses (from the Greek word martures - out of which developed the concept of the Christian martyr). It was truly challenging! An MP3 audio copy of the address is available upon request from Dr Dion Forster.

It was a truly wonderful day of celebration and thanksgiving for years of commitment and work by the students.

To view the full set of 50 photographs from the Graduation ceremony please go to the EMMU flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7347784@N08/sets/72157594580272085/

(Dion Forster, John Wesley College, 10 March 2007)

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Right of admission reserved!?

Yesterday I spent the morning doing a workshop with the clergy and leaders of the churches in the Magalies Circuit. It was wonderful to be at Rev Stuart Bosch's fantastic church in Sinoville. I was so impressed by the warm reception, and more so by the openness of this group to consider how they could share the Gospel more faithfully with their communities (not just 'keep the gospel' for the members of their church).

The workshop was based upon the liturgy and powerful stories in Kevin Light's wonderful little book (Light, K & Rogers, F 2004. Right of admission reserved? Cape Town. Methodist Publishing house).

The primary question was, "whose shoes do you see in your church during the week?" You see, shoes don't lie. They not only tell us about the persons who wear them (i.e., are they young, old, men, women, poor, rich, conservative, flamboyant etc.), but they also tell us who comes to our church and who doesn't. Look at the shoes of most Methodist Churches and you'll see that they normally represent one particular sector of that population... They will tell you a lot about that Church - perhaps they will be mostly male shoes, or maybe only adult shoes, perhaps there will only be highly polished black leather shoes from a particular uniformed organisation etc.

Here are the resources if you would like to run the morning of reflection with your church or small group. It does not require any preaching, just the reading of the liturgy and the reading of the three reflections punctuated with songs, then some time in personal reflection and discussion in groups.

I noticed a few typos in both the liturgy and the questions. I will fix them when I get a chance. Please feel free to distribute and use this material wherever you would like. And please, change and adapt it as much as you would like. Can I just ask that you reference Kevin's book when doing so?

I would love to hear some feedback from you if you do use or adapt the materials.

Just like his dad, a nice double chin and chubby cheeks!

Now, some news on little Liam. He was weighed again on Thursday, and now weighs 2.2kg's! So he is becoming a big boy now! He also had his vaccinations this week (two injections and some drops), which have left him a little out of sorts. However, it is all necessary! We are still waiting for our Medical Aid to give their approval for him to have the MRI scan so that we can assess what, and where, the damage from the brain hemorrhage is.

Megie is doing so well with him, although I think as only mothers could know, she is exhausted from waking to feed every 2 hours! Courtney is loving her brother and has been an incredible help to Megie and I.

As for me, I am at the end of two of the busiest weeks of the year! We finished our Orientation with the new students (see the picture below) on Friday afternoon, which meant that I was in class, chapel, or with the students from 7am to 5pm each day and then needed to do my other work after that (preparing sermons, workshops, preparing lectures, dealing with staff and student concerns, catching up on correspondence, and all the other management and administration requirements). I am pleased that we will start with our regular lectures from this coming week. However, we also now begin with screening new candidates for the ministry, which means that between now and easter we will travel to every one of the 12 geographical districts of Southern Africa where the Methodist Church has membership. It is always an honour to be part of those discerning committees, listening to people articulate and share their call, asking a few pointed questions, and helping them to find a path through which to express their unique gifts and abilities. So, I'll be racking up the frequent flyer miles (well, that should be the kulula, mango, and 1Time points...)

This is a picture of our new students, the staff, and the Bishop of the district in which the seminary is located, the Revd Dr Gavin Taylor, Dr Richardson is to his right, and that's me on the extreme right (wearing my favourite jacket!). This photo was taken outside of our chapel. Please excuse the angle of the photograph... My camera was perched on a chair (one day I'll get a tripod). PS. you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, January 28, 2007

our baby, my back, my blog, and other business...

Wessel reminded me that I had not updated my blog in over a week. Indeed, that is true!

If there is one sure fire way to stop people returning to your blog, it is not updating regularly. So, to all the regular readers, sorry!

Firstly, little Liam is doing great! He has finally started picking up weight close to what he ought to. As mentioned in an earlier post, since Liam came home he has been struggling to pick up weight within the range that is required of him (he should be gaining about 150grams a week). In his first week home he picked up only 40 odd grams, and then 80 in the second week. However, this week he picked up 130 grams! So, he is getting there. The even better news is that he went to have his eyes tested on Friday. Most premature babies (well over 80%) have some problems with their eyes. Most commonly they get detached retina's due to the fact that they are on such high doses of oxygen whilst in the ICU. However, when Liam had his eyes tested this week the optometrist simply said that he is a miracle child. Of course we know that, and we praise God for him! Indeed, the fact that he was on oxygen for 6 and some weeks, and that he had the brain hemorrhage should have left him with some damage. But, praise God, he has perfect eyesight!! Please will you join us in thanking God for this?

January is always a busy time for me. We have our huge department of education meetings, we also have the connexional January seminar where all of our student ministers (over 200) come together for a week's training (hey Gus, it was great to see you, and Juan, your Ordination is such a joy!!! Thank you very much for honouring me by asking me to be one of your Presbyters... I promise, I won't wear the red robes!) It would seem that any such meeting comes with great stress. In the last week I slept less than 4-5 hours each night, and did not have a single moment all day where I was not busy with someone, teaching, answering questions, praying, listening, or having to communicate some element of discipline because of lack of performance.

For the last two years I have had a reminder set in my Palm diary. It goes off every Monday morning at 6.45am (we start chapel at 7.30am each day, so this just reminds me before I get to see the students from about 7am onwards). The reminder reads:

"Be joyful in hope, faithful in prayer, and patient in affliction" (Romans 12:12)

This certainly was a worthwhile reminder! So, as I grappled with Bishops, agonised over students, and did all that was required I held onto these encouraging words.

Of course, stress has a consequence... My back seems to have picked up the majority of the stress... I have not been able to lie down or carry too much weight. So, please do pray that it gets better.

This week I have to orientate all the new students who are arriving at John Wesley College. For many of them this is the start of a new and exciting journey towards full time ministry, for others it is a further step on that journey. Please would pray for them as they undertake this step and discover all that is expected of them? Would you also please pray for me and all our College staff as we do what is required to help them faithfully answer God's call?

In between these activities I need to continue with my research for the Theological Society meetings, and for the Oxford institute at which I will present a paper in August this year (my abstract was received and I have been accepted as a member of the Oxford institute).

Of course I hope to do a few of the trips between the College and the two universities on my Vespa! That is sure to bring some further joy and relaxation.

So, I hope to update the blog with more news and ideas! Thanks for checking in!

Labels: , , , , ,