A biblical studies program that would have taken at least seven years to complete locally can now be finished in two years.
For the past four years, Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, 514 S. Seventh St., has been offering courses on DVDs every fall of lectures presented at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas.
Local residents, who enrolled in the classes to enrich their study of the Bible, also had the option to take tests and receive credit for each course from Sunset.
The option is still available, but now the church is offering students who want to earn certification in biblical studies the opportunity to attend school full time.
With classes being held at the church, Sunset International Bible Institute - Pennsylvania will train students to become preachers, prepare them for missions or teach them to lead various ministries, such as working with youth, families or women.
Classes begin Monday at the new Bible school with live video teleconferencing from SIBI's Lubbock, Texas, site. Instruction is held from 10:20 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays with a half day of classes on Fridays. Students are able to interact with the instructor as well as the students at the Lubbock site. Term papers and exams are handled through the Internet and email.
A new school
Name: Sunset International Bible Institute - Pennsylvania
Where: Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, 514 S. Seventh St.
What: Two-year program in biblical studies
Cost: Tuition free, but student pays for books and fees
For more information: Visit www.preachnortheast.com.
Jerry Stumpf, minister at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ, said to sponsor the school has been a dream of his.
"I went to a school similiar to Sunset [the former White Ferry Road School of Biblical Studies in Monroe, La.] I always wanted to have a school for training preachers," he said.
Stumpf said the idea for the long-distance learning center began about six years ago as part of the church's plan for three outreach programs it launched in 2008: The Recovery Ministry for people with addictions, a campus ministry at Penn State Altoona and its evening classes with SIBI.
He said the full-time school is the second phase of providing biblical studies in the area and was organized by church members Shaun Jester, Bob Mountain and himself.
The fledging institute is beginning with one student, but Stumpf said about four or five others have expressed interest in the school.
"I am very optimistic that we will get more students here," he said.
Recruiting students for the Pennsylvania-based satellite is Terry Clyde, administrator for SIBI - Pennsylvania and a graduate of SIBI - Texas.
Clyde, who worked in the field of nuclear medicine for 20 years before switching careers, met Stumpf while he was still a student at Sunset. He said when the church asked him to be its administrator, it appealed to him.
"Overall the fit seemed good and I still feel that way," he said.
Clyde said he left his career in nuclear medicine because grants for research were reduced and the technology was changing. He said he would have had to go back to school for more training and made the decision to go to SIBI instead.
Clyde said while SIBI has few schools in the United States, it has about 90 worldwide with classes taught in the native languages of the people. It's history dates back to 1962.
The school charges no tuition but a $80 administrative fee is required each term in addition to purchasing books and materials, Clyde said. The school is not accredited but has been issued a letter of authorization to grant degrees by the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board at the Lubbock, Texas, site.
According to the SIBI-Texas website, the school does not seek accreditation "because of requirements regarding curriculum, faculty and students which would change the nature of our program and dilute the strength of our biblical training."
Housing is being offered to full-time students in a four-bedroom home in Altoona.
Classes run for an eight- week term with a new cycle beginning in October.
For more information about the school, visit www.preachnortheast.com.
For those interested in the weekly evening course, the church will offer "The Scheme of Redemption" taught by SIBI instructor Ed Wharton for 12 weeks from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays beginning Sept. 4.