Many of the top graduate students and theology professors from two Wesleyan Holiness denominations, the Free Methodist Church – USA and the Wesleyan Church, met Sept. 18–19 at the Free Methodist World Ministries Center in Indianapolis for the Graduate Student Theological Seminar (GSTS).
GSTS began after Free Methodist scholar Frank Thompson had a conversation with Asbury Theological Seminary’s George Turner at General Conference 1964 and asked Turner “to lead the Free Methodist Church to do something … for graduate students in theology and biblical studies, who were feeling alienated and alone in the universities and graduate seminaries where they were preparing for further Christian service,” according to Thompson’s account of the seminar’s history (fmchr.ch/wesgsts). “Dr. Turner and I talked about a gathering between the graduate students and denominational leaders. They would talk. The atmosphere would be non-judgmental.”
The first GSTS took place that fall in Nyack, New York. The next year, participants proposed opening the seminar to other denominations, according to Thompson’s account. Wesleyan theologian Melvin Dieter attended in 1969 and suggested the Wesleyan Church co-sponsor the event.
This year’s seminar began the evening of Sept. 18 with dinner and a presentation by Delia Nüesch-Olver, the Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. Nüesch-Olver focused on missiology, which she said is “an integrated discipline bringing together faith and practice, intellectual understanding and spiritual life, secular scholarship and theology.”
She discussed “the myriad of intersections” in which people find themselves.
“My whole live has been lived in places of intersection,” said Nüesch-Olver, who was born into a Swiss family in Argentina.
In introducing her, Bishop David Kendall cited Nüesch-Olver’s past work as a pastor, church planter and Seattle Pacific University professor. He noted Nüesch-Olver’s recent report that Free Methodist membership in Latin America now surpasses FM membership in the United States.
“She has the gifts and the passion and the experience to reach out to Latin people wherever they may be found,” Kendall said. “We’re grateful to the Lord and celebrate the significant role that Dr. Delia has played in the growth and expansion of His church.”
The following day featured presentations from two Free Methodist graduate students, Gregory Coates and Christopher O’Brien, and one Wesleyan graduate student, Holland Prior.
Coates, an ordained elder and Garrett-Evangelical Theology Seminary doctoral student, shared “Before American Methodists Became American: Methodist Countercultural Witness During the Revolutionary Era.” Unlike Reformed pastors who backed the American Revolution, Coates noted that early American Methodists “were longing for Zion, not America. They were longing for a transcendent kingdom, inclusive of all, and this kingdom demanded their undivided allegiance.”
O’Brien, a Fuller Theological Seminary doctoral student, spoke about “Reading Scripture With Wesley’s Analogy of Faith: A Proposal for a Wesleyan Theological Hermeneutic of Scripture.” According to O’Brien, “A Wesleyan theological reading of Scripture goes beyond the creed and embraces the analogy of faith as its hermeneutical lens for reading the biblical text.”
Holland Prior, an ordained minister pursuing a master’s degree in creative nonfiction at the University of New Hampshire, shared about “The Least of These” and experiences in Cambodia that led her to see the church as “a body completely devoted to serving and spreading shalom among the vulnerable, weak, and disenfranchised.”
The event concluded with Jason Morriss, the Free Methodist director of ministerial development and credentialing, leading the members of the two Wesleyan Holiness denominations in John Wesley’s covenant service.