Romans One Eleven, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Uganda (RPCU) and theological education.

From its inception, part of the Trust’s raison d’etre has been to share the pentecostal experience of the life and work of the Holy Spirit in a reformed context and this has been gladly received by the churches with which it was in relationship – not least by their leaders.

In practice, this meant that church leaders conferences were a priority and an important part of its work from the very beginning in the 1990s. The Trust also helped Peterson Sozi to start the Reformed Theological College in Kampala in 1993 and John Hall taught there a couple of years later. Theological education, therefore, has been an important part of the Trust’s work from the very beginning.

Nyamiyaga SLC
Nyamiyaga SLC

It was not, therefore, a great surprise when the young RPCU denomination asked for help in training its pastors. Almost as soon as the Trust’s links with the RPCU were formalised the need for training pastors was clearly perceived both by those travelling from the UK and by the existing leaders of the Church itself. In April 2002, a visiting team from the UK were told by the leadership of the RPCU that their – the RPCU’s – greatest priority for the future work of the Trust was the “theological training for all our lay-pastors”.

The United Reformed Church in the UK had long had a policy in which students were sponsored for a short course in the Council for World Mission College in Selly Oak, Birmingham (this provision was later transferred to Westminster College, Cambridge) and the Trust’s good relationship with the secretary for international Church relations within the URC allowed us to nominate pastors from both Uganda and Zambia to come as part of that programme.

This same, good relationship then allowed us to develop a joint programme for training pastors in Uganda. It was recognised that the same money would train a lot more people if used in Uganda itself. The URC made a four year financial commitment (this was extended to 8 years later) and in 2003 there were eleven (11) pastors training in local Bible Colleges in Uganda.

It was the Director of the Trust’s involvement in all of this that led to a new strategy in 2004. A God-given vision led to a plan to build dual purpose churches / training centres in areas well away from Kampala (the capital) so that monies available could train a lot more people and, at the same time, not take working pastors out of their churches for long periods of time.

P1010849 - Kibaale-Ssanje SLC and church
Kibaale-Ssanje SLC and church

The first centre was developed in Kibaale-Ssanje, a small village near the Tanzanian border in the much under-developed area of Rakai in southern Uganda. It was planned to open in April 2005 and in fact the first 2-year, trial course began on time but on a building site.

It had already been determined that a form of theological education by extension would be the best provision to make. We set up a system in which students came into a community college environment for 2 weeks every two months. By doing this we hoped to get something of the best of both worlds. They had the experience of a spiritual community with a strong emphasis on formation as well as lectures and course work set and tested for the intervening weeks – an emphasis on education. This meant that working pastors were only away from their churches for 12 weekends in the year. We called the centre a Spiritual Life Centre rather than a Bible College in order to emphasise the formation aspect alongside the educational one.

Nine working pastors who had had no formal theological education started a 2-year course in 2005 and a 10th joined part way through the course. Nearly all the courses were written and delivered by visitors from England.

IMG_1296 Wanyange
Wanyange Spiritual Life Centre

This first course was successful in parts. As a vehicle for formation it was successful for all those participating but as an academic exercise it was very successful for 5 of the students, moderately successful for 3 others and a failure for the remaining 2. Some students simply could not work well enough in English to reach the necessary academic standard. In addition to this fact, we were aware that the next stage in the process involved training local teachers so that the Church in Uganda ceased to be dependent on UK visitors. It was, therefore, recognised that the teaching would be best done – by far – in local languages.

It then took two years (rather longer than expected) to translate 11 modules into Luganda and Runyankore and so to prepare a one-year pre-ordination course taught by leaders within the RPCU. By then we had 4 Spiritual Life Centres ready for use and since 2009 courses have been taught in both languages in 4 centres in Uganda. These are in Kibaale-Ssanje (Rakai District), Wanyange (Jinja), Nyamiyaga (Mbarara) and Bugoye (Kasese) or Karokajenga (Kyenjojo) in the west. These centres were deliberately developed in different parts of the country – not in the capital – to help rural areas as well as scattered urban centres. In 2009/10 we had 40 students in training, all teaching being done by local leaders with the occasional visitor from the UK giving added input.

Graduation at Nyamiyaga SLC
Graduation at Nyamiyaga SLC

In reality, it proved impossible for the RPCU to take complete financial responsibility for the courses being run so that, following the withdrawal of the URC funding, the Trust has continued to support courses, teachers and graduations roughly every two years up to the present day.

The course is a very basic theological course offering an overall understanding of the Bible, some pastoral and ministry skills and a little bit of doctrine. It was and is a “starter” and leaders often go on to do further studies in one of the many institutions within Uganda. The teaching notes for the course may be found on this website in English, Luganda and Runyankore.

This has been one of the major works that God has called the Trust to do and continues to meet a considerable need and, also, be a great blessing to the churches in Uganda.

Rev’d Dr John Hall
January 2016