NEW YORK (GBGM) - The mission agency of The United Methodist Church is assisting the Methodist Church of Peru in establishing a new theological seminary to serve the Andean area of South America.

Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries approved a grant of $104,000 from the income of a designated fund (not from the general budget) for the Wesleyan Theological Seminary and Center for Methodist Studies in Lima. Additional funds are coming from other sources in Latin America and around the world, including the Wesley Heritage Foundation of North Carolina.

When operational, the new seminary will serve a geographical area larger than Peru and will have centers in a variety of places. While the school will have a headquarters facility, there will not be one campus so much as a network of educational opportunities strategically located to serve various cultures and populations.

Methodism put down roots in Peru more than 130 years ago, although the autonomous church there remains relatively small. Comunidad B¡blico Teológica of Lima, the only seminary there that served the Methodist community, closed in 1998, a casualty of social and economic crises.

While attempting to continue theological training through special courses, only five people have been ordained to full elder's orders in the past decade.

"The General Board of Global Ministries is honored to be a part of the development of a theological seminary in the Andean region," said the Rev. Jorge Domingues, a mission board executive who works with leadership development. "The need is so acute and the training of pastors is of critical importance to the accomplishment of God's mission in the world."

The Methodist Church of Peru includes a variety of ethnic and linguistic groups, including Quechua and Amayra speakers, who live in the highlands.

"The seminary in Lima will include a strong focus on theological education and formation in the Andean region," according to a report on the project. "This would incorporate Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Chile. This region has an identity that differs from the western countries of South America, such as Brazil and Argentina, which have closer historical ties to Europe."

The new seminary will be intentionally ecumenical. "The Methodist Church of Peru believes that God is calling her at this time in history to an obedient response of educating and forming persons for Christian ministry," stated the project report.

The grant for the Peruvian seminary is part of an emphasis on leadership development, one of four current areas of focus of The United Methodist Church.

A meeting of the seminary-planning partners will take place in mid-October in Lima. The United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is involved in the planning.