University of Pretoria: UP signs MoU with Netherdutch Reformed Church to boost theological training in Faculty of Theology and Religion

University of Pretoria (UP) Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe and the Scribe of the General Synod Commission of the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa (NRCA), Reverend Willem Kok, recently renewed an institutional agreement to strengthen the existing relationship between the University and the church, during a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signing ceremony at UP’s Hatfield campus.

The institutional agreement, signed on 2 November 2021, aims to confirm a longstanding history of collaboration between UP and the NRCA. With the signing of this agreement, the University recommits to the facilitation of training of ministers of faith for the NRCA.

“Your partnership and support to the Faculty of Theology and Religion, and the University of Pretoria, is noted with appreciation and gratitude,” Prof Kupe said. “It is through partnerships of such kind that the Faculty has prospered and succeeded over the past hundred years and is today the leading Faculty of Theology and Religion in South Africa and Africa. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Faculty staff and church partners for making this possible. We look forward to continued partnership and faithful cooperation with the NRCA in the years to come.

“We also see the new agreement as a strengthening of ties between UP and the NRCA, and look forward to cooperation in training and research in future,” he added.

The NRCA is one of the founding members of what was then UP’s Faculty of Theology. The partnership between the two institutions dates back to 1917, when the Faculty of Theology was established as the first theological faculty in South Africa at the Transvaal University College Pretoria by the NRCA, and the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.

In 1938 the Faculty was joined by the Dutch Reformed Church as Section B of the Faculty, and the NRCA became Section A, and in 2000 the two sections of the Faculty merged to form a multi-ecclesial faculty.

As a result of this merger, it was decided that the commitment of the church partners to theological training has to be determined by agreements with the different church partners. This was done in the interest that the Faculty of Theology will continue to exist, as well as taking into consideration that the well-being of the Faculty of Theology depends on the harmonious collaboration between the University and church partners.

The agreement between UP and the NRCA was signed on 24 November 1999. Apart from the fact that the agreement clearly reflected the wish of the NRCA to have its theological students educated and trained at a university, the agreement stipulated the following:

The core task of the Faculty is the practice of theological scholarship from a reformed and ecumenical perspective, and in agreement with the strategic plan of the University;
education within the Faculty will comply with the National Qualifications Framework of the Department of Higher Education and Training;
the formal academic programmes of the Faculty are compiled from common and church-specific components, with a view to enabling students from the church partners to train for ordained ministry;
church-specific components have to be approved of by the Faculty Board and Senate;
the church will have five designated posts;
the University will financially support the journals of the Faculty, in this case the Hervormde Theological Studies; and
the agreement between UP and the church will be for a five-year period and is renewable.
Because of the latter stipulation, the agreement between the NRCA and UP was renewed in 2005 and in 2010. In both cases, the agreement stayed the same, except for one change in 2010, namely the deletion of the clause that stipulated the period of the agreement. The agreement became open-ended, with the possibility for both parties to terminate the agreement with a three-year notice.

“It is an honour to be here today on this memorable occasion, with the NRCA as the only partner that has maintained a continuous relationship with UP’s Faculty of Theology since its establishment in 1917,” said Dr Andre Ungerer, Chairperson of the NRCA. “The church remains convinced that academic training for its theology students at the University is preferable to training in the seminary, as students and young theologians come together and exchange influence and bring change to our church, which is invaluable and ensures that the church remains alert to development theology and critical thinking. NRCA wishes to contribute to the formation of a broad spectrum of theology students,” he added.

Professor Jerry Pillay, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Theology and Religion, said that the NRCA and other partner churches have consistently maintained that the best place to train students for the ministry is in a public university. “I can assure you that this is the best option, as we engage real-life issues and our Faculty also focuses on social transformation and making a positive difference in the world. We are grateful for the commitment expressed in this continued partnership with UP and the Faculty,” he said.

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