By Rev SEIK PITOI
THERE is an awaking among church denominations in this country to seek better ways to provide appropriate educational pathways for their clergy and members. This is so they can pursue higher qualifications that are commensurate with what is being offered overseas. As a result, we have witnessed a number of universities being opened across the nation.
While these institutions offer courses that are open to students from other denominations, it is naturally the wish of everyone to have their own university. The United Church is no exception.
It began as a seed thought in the mind of the former moderator, Rt Rev Sir Samson Lowa. He shared his thoughts quietly with some men who were close to him. Then, in October 2006, he formed a planning committee that met in Goroka and began to flesh out the ideas that were in his mind.
The committee comprised of Associate Professor Api Maha, Dr Gairo Onagi, Dr Rev William Longar, Nasain Maha, Rev AruaMorea, and Rev Neke Misina. Their aim was to create a higher educational framework that would move the church’s training institutions towards university status.
So was birthed UCCOHE – the United Church Office of Higher Education.
Under the umbrella of UCCOHE, the existing three main institutions that have been used over the years to train God’s people,were targeted for improvement in all aspects. Each began with a name change. These are:
- Rarongo STM – School of Theology and Mission, ENB,
- Malmaluan SSL – School of Skills Learning, ENB, and
- Gaulim SOE – School of Education, ENB.
Soon, the Tigibi SRHS, School of Rural Health Sciences in Tari, Hela Province, will be opened to bring the number of colleges\schools to four under UCCOHE.
Each of these institutions are being worked on to ensure that an educational pathway, beginning from certificate level all the way up to doctorate level, is being is being forged.
Respected United Church academics and professionals, such as Professor Isi Kevau, Dr Misty Baloiloi, and lawyer Philip Aeavawere invited to participate in their areas of expertise to help reach that goal.
With the first of the quartet, Rarongo STM is now moving into the PHD level,Dr Gairo Onagi has described it as becoming “a full based college.”
Currently, the original team line up has slightly changed. Sir Samson retired from ministry and stepped down as moderator. (He served a term at Rev Sione Kami Memorial Churchas senior minister until his departure early this year).
His successor, Moderator Rt Rev Bernard Siai, is supportive of the endeavour for university status and keeps a keen eye on the progress so far.
The Director at the time, Associate Professor Maha, stood down for a brief period, giving way to Rev Arua Morea to take the reins as director in 2015, until the present.
Among a myriad of things to do as director, Rev Arua has the challenge of bridging all United Church regional colleges, to be on par with the major college at Rarongo. He wants to ensure that each is functioning smoothly and operating at the level they are required to. However, he recently expressed his excitement at the changes taking place at Rarongo.
Nestled along ‘Atelex’ Bay in the North Coast area of Rabaul, this premier theological training institute of the United Churchhas trained students from all over PNG as well as the Pacific.
Currently it has a staff strength of nine faculty members, most of whom have Masters Degrees,serving under the leadership of the principal, Rev Garo Kilagi. But, with the inclusion of former Vice Chancellor of the University of Goroka, Dr Gairo Onagi to run the PHD program, a whole new era has dawned on the School of Theology and Mission (Rarongo).
For instance, a two-year diploma programme has now been set up for direct intakes at Grade 12 level, instead of the lengthy five year program. (For Grade 10s, their program will last for three years). After graduation, if a student shows promise, he will be invited to continue to do his degree, and onwards until PHD level – all at the same college! Moreover, the college is going ‘paperless’ by encouraging students to go online to do research in the college library and submit all assignments via tablets.
Another aspect of the program is the inclusion of the ‘preordination’ segment, meaning students can be ordained as ministers (with title of Reverend) within a year after graduation!
This aspect of the new program was highly criticised by long serving pastors when it was first mooted. Many felt it was improper to rush a young person, fresh out of school with barely any experience of the harsh reality of pastoral work, into ordination.
Most of these men laboured on the field for years as pastors before being qualified for ordination. However, that concern was brushed aside because of the need to have a younger, more versatileand properly qualified workforce to carry on the work.
This writer has had the double blessing of being trained at two major theological colleges in PNG. After resigning from work with the Department of Finance, I completed my theology degree at the interdenominational Christian Leaders Training College (CLTC), in Banz, Jiwaka in 2010. I then went to Rarongo to do my pre-ordination course.
That was where I met Rev Arua, my lecturer in Biblical Hebrew. Having done Hebrew many years ago and with my background ministry in Israel, plus in being able to speak a bit of conversational Hebrew, I naturally breezed through the course. However, I was greatly impressed by Rev Arua’s teaching. He has a keen eye for detail and would pick out students’ errors in writing and reading Hebrew.
The funny characters and the guttural sounds one has to make when pronouncing the words made many of my friends give up on the course, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Under his tutorship, I was soon able to read all of Genesis Chapter 1 in Hebrew!
So the mantle of UCCOHE is upon Rev Arua’s shoulders as the director. But with an excellent team around him, he believes it is a matter of time before full status is finally accorded to UCCOHE. As we wrapped up our discussion in the Assembly boardroom that day, his final thoughts were for the man whose dream it was in the first place for a university. He said:
“I look forward to the granting of the university status. It will come soon, but when it does, I know former moderator Rev Sir Lowa will be a very happy man indeed”.
On this year of Jubilee for the United Church, who knows, we may just reach that milestone!