Outgoing SMMS President, Rev Prof Simangaliso Kumalo, has expressed gratitude to the Methodist people for having given him the opportunity to lead the institution.

Prof Kumalo was reflecting on his two-and-half year tenure at the helm of the seminary.

“I really appreciate that I was given the opportunity to lead SMMS. As one who has been involved with SMMS since its conception, it was quite humbling to be given an opportunity to make a contribution. It has been a good time of learning for me. I have learnt a lot in terms of understanding institutional leadership. I have received so many lessons that will see me into the future. I do hope that I have been able to make a contribution that will be long-lasting and that will see the institution move forward,” Prof Kumalo said.

He paid special tribute to some individuals, offices and organisations in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) whom he said offered him tremendous support.

“I am grateful to a number of people, too numerous to mention, who have been supportive of me and our work at SMMS. Particularly, I am grateful to the Presiding Bishop, Rev Zipho Siwa, for having supported me from the beginning by encouraging me to apply for the position and for walking alongside me continuously. I will forever be grateful to him. Many bishops were also behind us in an impressive way.

“I am also grateful to a number of leaders of departments and organisations of the church who were supportive of the institution. Some of them visited SMMS to donate money and groceries. I also celebrate a number of circuits especially from the Pietermaritzburg area which visited SMMS. The Natal West District has been phenomenal in its support for us. I am really grateful for the support given by Bishop William Dlamini. Our achievements could not have been possible had it not been for the hard-working SMMS staff. They have done tremendously well despite their over-extended work load. I am grateful to each and every one of them,” Prof Kumalo said.

Asked about some of his successes as President, Prof Kumalo said, the language of the church is not that of ‘success’ but of ‘faithfulness’.

He said, “I always believed that SMMS should be a world renowned institution of high academic standards. That meant it had to come out of its denominational cocoon. To that end, we hosted six international conferences that attracted scholars from all over the world. That in many ways profiled SMMS as an institution that is producing and disseminating knowledge at a higher level than at a very basic and limited denominational level where seminaries usually are at. If you go to institutions of theological education abroad, there are scholars who know SMMS and have been to SMMS.

“Secondly, I always encouraged SMMS academics to take research seriously and to participate in and present papers at academic conferences held at UKZN and other institutions. I must say that one of our achievements is that four of our academics became research fellows at UKZN and are producing and disseminating knowledge on behalf of UKZN and the benefits also trickle down to SMMS. It also means that our academics are respected in their respective fields.”

Hitherto, SMMS did not have a good name within the Methodist Church with all sorts of negative stories circulating about the institution. Prof Kumalo said one of his tasks was to repair that reputational damage.

He said, “There were always negative comments from Methodists in every issue of The Dimension about drunkenness, immorality, and many other vices at SMMS. Even SMMS graduates did not have a good story to tell about the institution, yet these are the people we would expect to be ambassadors who mobilise resources for the sustainability of the seminary.

“One of my earliest responsibilities was to go from synod to synod, from one district to another to talk about SMMS and invite people to buy into the story of SMMS and to develop pride and ownership of this great place of learning and formation. I also addressed conventions and other meetings of the Connexion as a representative of SMMS. These efforts have made SMMS to be appreciated and respected.

“The development of the communications office which continuously published promotional material, the newsletter, the annual report without fail, as well as updating our social media platforms and the website regularly, was an attempt to send out positive messages about SMMS and indeed these messages are reaching the Methodist people. Suddenly Methodists are positive about SMMS. Since then, we have not read even a single negative article about SMMS in The Dimension or anywhere else. That does not just happen by itself, it happens because work has been done to repair the damage to the SMMS brand.”

Prof Kumalo said one of his achievements was to introduce the distance learning programme which has taken high-quality theological education to the comfort of students’ homes.

“One of our achievements was to start the Higher Certificate in Christian Ministry (HCCM) programme. We felt there was a need to take theological education to the homes of those who want to study but cannot be physically present at SMMS. In the 2018 academic year, the programme has an enrollment of over 327 students spread across the Connexion. 25 students from the first intake of HCCM graduated this year.

“When I came to SMMS, the student enrolment was just about 86. Today we have 112 seminarians taking classes on a daily basis. All in all, SMMS has close to 500 registered students. We have also seen a growth in the number of highly qualified private students who resign from their jobs to come and study at SMMS,” he said.

In the area of resource mobilisation, one of the key performance areas of the President, Prof Kumalo said he is leaving SMMS in a much better financial position than he found it.

He said, “We have grown the resources that come to the seminary. We have grown the ‘Friends of SMMS’, people who give money to SMMS on a monthly basis. With the Project Legacy Builders, we were able to raise over R1.2 million within such a short space of time and bought a house for student accommodation.

“Previously, SMMS had never raised money for student bursaries. This year, for the first time in the history of the seminary, we have put aside a substantial amount of money that we have raised so that we can assist students with bursaries for meals.”

Prof Kumalo said one of his areas of emphasis was forging partnerships with other institutions of theological education as well as social justice organisations.

“Throughout my time at SMMS, I prioritised partnerships so as to mobilise support for the institution. We established new partnerships and strengthened existing ones. Apart from the partnership with institutions in the Pietermaritzburg Cluster of Theological institutions, we also connected with theological institutions overseas. There had been a partnership with the Duke Divinity School (US) but it had collapsed. And so we revived it. We also formalised and strengthened partnerships with the Perkins School of Theology, Vanderbilt and Emory universities. Emory University sends 2 of its Master of Divinity students to SMMS to do their practicals.

“Worth special mention is the partnership we developed with Wesley House of Cambridge University. Although there had been a relationship but it did not have direction. We strengthened it and interesting things are coming out of it. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is being worked on that will see two students from MCSA get full sponsorships to go to Wesley House to do their PhDs. We also agreed that any of our academics can be sponsored by Wesley House to go there on a sabbatical or on short term research projects. That is something worth celebrating.

“Over and above these, we also established strong partnerships with faith-based and philanthropic social justice agencies that have provided resources that have enabled us to introduce seminarians to some key social justice issues. The Other Foundation and the DT Hudson Trust have sponsored work in the areas of human sexuality and food security respectively. Through their generosity, we have empowered seminarians with skills on how to address such issues in their ministry. We also work closely with the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council,” Prof Kumalo said.

On the future of SMMS, he said, the seminary has to collaborate with other institutions, particularly public universities adding that on its own, it will not hold for long.

“The doors of collaboration have to be opened as wide as possible. The idea of SMMS being maintained and sustained by the Connexional plate is not futuristic. I am not convinced that the seminary will hold for long if it solely depends on the contributions of the church. It needs to link up with other institutions and public universities because these are better-resourced since they benefit from the public purse. Particularly, SMMS has to collaborate with UKZN and that will enable it to benefit from UKZN’s resources. This is not a new message. The reason it was built in Pietermaritzburg was so that it collaborates with UKZN. I believe that ultimately all seminarians should be registered with UKZN for their academic programmes while the seminary focuses on the formation programme,” he said.

Prof Kumalo said SMMS must also develop partnerships with other denominations to increase its student enrolment and share the costs of ministerial training.

He said, “We need to attract new students by forging partnerships with other denominations. One of our achievements is that we signed MOUs with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) and the United Methodist Church (UMC) who are training their students at SMMS. It is their institution of choice. It is in establishing these partnerships that we can share the ever-escalating costs of ministerial training. If we undermine these partnerships thinking that we can go it alone as SMMS, we will be making a huge mistake and we will not go anywhere. SMMS will collapse.”

As a parting shot, Prof Kumalo said, overally, he has achieved “incomplete success” and would be more than willing to make a contribution should he be called upon to do so.

“We have achieved things that still need to be taken forward by others to be brought to fruition. As for me, I did my best to be faithful to the dream and vision of those who conceived and built SMMS, people like Rev Ivan Abrahams, Prof Neville Richardson, Dr Simon Gqubule, Prof Peter Storey, Rev Ross Olivier, Dr Mvume Dandala and many others. I sought to be faithful to their dream and vision. I sought to be faithful to the dream and vision of the Methodist people. I sought to serve to the best of my ability to take the institution forward and will forever be grateful to God for the opportunity,” Prof Kumalo said.