Thailand Theological Seminary as I first knew it in 1965 was a campus built around an imposing central building called either the Main Building or the Yellow Building ตึกหลวง or ตึกเหลือง . The building was constructed on a field in the Nong Seng village part of Chiang Mai Municipality across Kaewnawarat Road from the American Mission Hospital grounds. Both the seminary and the hospital, as well as Dara Academy for girls, were being moved from crowded locations along the Ping River. The cornerstone for the seminary was laid on 25 February 1914 by Mrs. Sophia Bradley McGilvary, wife of the late Rev. Dr. Daniel McGilvary who is credited with founding the evangelist training program that developed into a seminary for pastors and evangelists. At the time of its dedication in October 1915 it was the largest building of its type in Chiang Mai. Funds for the building were provided by the American Presbyterian Mission, which donated $3500 and Mrs. Louise Severance of Cleveland, Ohio who contributed $15,000. [$18,500 in 1915 is equivalent to $436,600 in 2015 funds or about 15 million Thai baht].
As I was introduced to the seminary, the 2 floors were divided, north and south. In the middle, on the ground floor behind the front doors was a reception area with dining area behind. Food preparation was done in a small building behind the dining area. Toilet buildings were there, too, used for storage since restrooms had been installed inside the main building. The ground floor to the north (to the left from the front door) was a hallway with the Rev. Prasert Intaphan’s office and the Rev. Francis Seely’s textbook project office. Beyond, were classrooms on the right and left. The ground floor to the south gave access to an academic office across from the seminary president’s office. Farther down the hall on the left were an apartment on the left and the chapel on the right. The second floor contained the library and study hall in the center with the women’s dorm to the left and offices and small classrooms on the right.
By 1965 the campus contained several residences and a wooden dorm for men. The oldest house was a small bungalow east of the seminary building that had been built for Ajan Prasert and then housed the Koyama family until their new home was finished. That’s where I lived until 1969. The west end of the campus had a wooden house in which Drs Harold and Harriet Hanson and their 3 boys lived, a concrete house for Dr. John and Betsy Guyer (with Janet and Jimmy), and 2 houses built by Taylor Potter in which Dick and Estelle Carlson and 5 children lived next door to a similar house built for the Rev. Dr. E. John Hamlin and “Khun Fran”.
The history of the seminary can be divided into 3 eras: pre-war, post-war, and Payap University. During the years before 1941 the seminary was an unofficial training center for church workers. During World War II when many Christian institutions were closed, the seminary building was used by the Japanese army as a hospital and morgue. This led to the tightly held conviction of students in later years that the seminary was haunted, and there were anecdotes to bolster that belief, despite protests to the contrary from the missionaries and somewhat weaker support from church leaders. Following the war, the seminary was rehabilitated and converted into the configuration I first remember. The Rev. Herbert Grether was assigned to re-open the pastoral training program as a full-fledged seminary. The Rev. Prasert Intaphan was his colleague in this endeavor.
By the time I arrived, Dr. Hamlin had been recruited to preside at the seminary, and he undertook a bold up-grading and expansion of programs. By 1965 there were 5 identifiable units of the seminary. Pastoral training was a 7-year Bachelor of Divinity degree program, unauthorized by the Thai Ministry of Education, but accredited by the Association of Theological Education of South East Asia. The Christian Service Training Center was a development of the Marburger Mission, with a separate campus in Pa Kluay Village next to McKean Leprosy Institute; the CSTC was designed to provide bi-vocational pastors with employable skills as well as a basic theological education so they could be self-sufficient in small rural churches unable to pay a living salary. The CSTC academic program had been brought into the seminary by 1965. A Department of Christian Education was developed to train specialists in Christian religious education. A Department of Church Music was established to help improve the music and worship of churches. This department was transferred into Payap College as the college was founded in 1974 and is today the College of Music of Payap University. Finally, there was a Lay Training Institute that provided a sequence of summer courses for lay leaders, supposedly elders in churches, but usually the participants were young people. The staff and faculty were international: Hamlins from the USA, Riemers and 2 other couples from Germany, Koyamas from Japan and the USA, Suells from England (just leaving as I arrived), Ajan Prakai Nontawasee, Kamol Arayaprateep and Rev. Pisanu Arkkapin from Thailand, Manickams from India, Pouws from Indonesia, as well as Jane Arp, Kellys, Carlsons and Judds from the USA.
There was a wide range of activities going on, including “field education” on weekends. Seminary students were all assigned to churches where they helped teach Sunday School, lead worship, conduct youth activities and sometimes serve as pastors in all but name. The churches around Chiang Mai counted on these seminary students, and the students benefitted from hands-on experience.
In 1974, when Payap College was opened it was expected that McCormick School of Nursing and Midwifery and the McGilvary Theological Seminary (the new name by then) would be pillars of the college. Dr. Hamlin had been working for more than a decade to get the seminary degree fully recognized and that was now possible. However, seminary alumni and leadership of the Church of Christ in Thailand were concerned that the government would exercise control over course content and mandate secularization of theological perspectives. In 1979 the CCT consented to let the undergraduate programs of the seminary be part of Payap. The seminary was then called the McGilvary Faculty of Theology (today it is the McGilvary College of Divinity). Its B.A. program was 4 years, with the Master of Divinity program an additional 3 years, as is standard around the world. The Thai government still does not officially endorse the M.Div. degree, but it is accredited by ATESEA as it has been. The CSTC program was phased out. The Christian Education program became a department of the seminary. And the Church Music program split into a separate department of church music for seminary students offering tutorials and a couple of credit courses, while a much larger program in music developed in the Faculty of Humanities and then became the Faculty of Music, now the College of Music.
In 1989 the old seminary building was torn down. The small street behind the seminary had been expanded into a 4 lane modern street placing the back door of the seminary almost in the street. Plaster and stucco needed replacement and the building was subject to termites. So on November 1, 1989, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the seminary programs, the old building was de-commissioned and the “foundation stone” for a new building was ceremoniously blessed.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.