Founded by Pastor Hwang Sang Ho in 1996 as a ministry of the Presbyterian Church of Moscow, the Korean Pastor's School offers classes two days a week to allow its students to carry on regular ministry while they are attending. The three-year program is designed for those already active in ministry who would like further theological education. The program seems to be focused more on conveying information than honing students' academic skills. This is understandable as most of the students are middle aged and in the midst of fulltime ministry already. It would seem that the faculty is sensitive to this fact and does its best not to overburden students with work. Responses vary as to the spiritual and social atmosphere at the Pastor's School. The sense of community was not rated very highly by graduates. There are several possible explanations for this. The school has only been in existence a few years. Also, the fact that students are already members of other communities and only come together twice a week for classes could explain a weak sense of community.
Students' Discomfort with Reformed Doctrine
Professors at the Pastor's School are reportedly qualified and competent. Graduates rate the quality of their teachers very highly. They are said to be vocal about their doctrinal views and unhesitant to promote them in class. This is evidently frustrating for some. Though few graduates describe their professors as intolerant of contrary views, many agree that during their education they were under pressure to accept the doctrinal positions of the school. Nonetheless, graduate Mikhail Ivanovich Chekalin, pastor of Moscow's Good News Church, said he and most graduates still have a great deal of respect for their teachers. Several said Pastor Hwang, especially, was "a very good man" and had been an inspiration.
Despite the fact that its declared denomination is "Evangelical Christian" and its doctrinal orientation is "Reformed," the Pastor's School falls, in the minds of a good many of those interviewed, into the mildly "heretical" category of "Calvinist." As was already mentioned, the pressure to accept the doctrinal orientation of the faculty and staff is an acute sore point for some and a mild frustration for most. Some graduates go so far as to say that it seems the main focus of the program is not simply to equip pastors for ministry but to convert pastors to Presbyterian ministry.
A School Best-Known for Its Stipend
Classes are held in a building owned by the Korean Presbyterian Church of Moscow near subway stop Akademicheskaya. As most of the students are from Moscow, housing is not provided. However, a stipend, or what the administration prefers to call "church support," is also given "according to need." The rumored and controversial "$100 per week" complicates the reputation of the Pastor's School. The exact sum was not confirmed by the administration, though it was implied that the amount varied as to need. Nonetheless, in the minds of most, $100 per week is evidently the distinctive characteristic of the school. What was intended as a compensation has reportedly become an incentive. Most graduates agree that their primary reason for attending the school was the stipend. Though they were glad to receive the education, it was secondary. The fact that classes are only held twice a week made the situation ideal. With the stipend, pastors were free to perform their ministerial duties fulltime; they were not obliged to work to support their families for an entire three years.
This evidently has affected the general attitude of not only the students, but outsiders as well. The entire situation seems to have turned into a conundrum. The fact that students go to school to get paid and not educated has adversely colored the education itself. The value of the education pales in comparison to the value of the stipend and consequently the education has been discredited in the minds of everyone outside of the arrangement, and even by many on the inside. Whether this has occurred with good cause, or simply as a result of misunderstanding, is unclear.
Nicholas Holovaty, who grew up in Moscow, is a classics major in his third year at Notre Dame University, South Bend, IN.
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© 2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report