- Theological Education
Focus on communication and diversity. Inspire leaders.
This current climate is one that challenges all faith groups and the organizations that work with them, no matter where one stands on the issues, to rethink what they do and how they do it. A look at the recent activities of some of the Portal affiliate groups offers an interesting perspective on the ways groups are responding to the challenges of the times.
The response was to focus on communication, inspiring community leaders, and engaging individuals and communities so that each participant feels like they have representation and a stake in the solutions. Many organizations are encouraging civil conversations between diverse groups. The hope seems to be that by listening and opening our hearts and minds we can change the world and enhance the transformative possibilities for everyone.
Aspiring to Change The World
Tom Gallagher, CEO of the Religion News Foundation and CEO & Publisher of Religion News Service said, "The Religion News Foundation has a focus on religious literacy, dialogue and understanding. Among other things, we regularly convene people of diverse backgrounds to discuss topics that further this mission. The Foundation's subsidiary, Religion News Service, an 83-year old, independent, not religiously-affiliate professional journalism organization, covers the religion, ethics, spirituality and culture beats—in digital, video and audio, and when we do this well, our storytelling educates our readers, and once educated, we hope this leads to understanding, tolerance, dialogue, and peace in communities all over the world. In our work, we aspire to change the world."
Connecting Leaders, News, and Possibilities
Amy L. Kardash, President of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools put it this way, "In our world today, it’s more important than ever that people are connected—to news, to people, to possibilities. The In Trust Center for Theological Schools has been making connections for more than 28 years. We connect leaders of theological schools to the resources they need to achieve their mission. Through our Resource Consulting program, we listen to presidents, deans, board chairs, and other stakeholders to understand their unique issues, opportunities, and challenges, and then we work with them to find resources (like consultants, organizations, articles, and websites) that address their needs and help them initiate solutions. Our webinars and quarterly magazine, In Trust, connect our members to experts in the field and peers who share insights and learnings. Our goal is to build and foster a community of learning and support among theological school leaders as they prepare future leaders who can transform churches and communities.”
On Having Civil Conversations
On Being has put together a Civil Conversations Project. "To your question of what we are offering communities and how we are bringing people together, our work is two-fold. We are in the process of building out our Civil Conversations Project (CCP) to the next level. We have created a standalone website which also includes a new resource anyone can download for free to start new kinds of conversations in their community, neighborhood, church or family: Better Conversations: A Starter Guide," said Krista Tippett, Executive Producer/Host, On Being and Curator of The Civil Conversations Project.
She added, "On Being is also partnering with the Northside Achievement Zone, a dynamic organization in one of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / Saint Paul) most disadvantaged neighborhoods to do an On Being Live Event this year, in an effort to raise awareness in the whole city that this is our city too and these are all of our children."
Engaging Representation and Educating Future Clergy
"The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) has worked for decades to provide a common ground for diverse religious constituencies with an interest in theological education. ATS cultivates connections by engaging representatives from all of the Christian families in North America in its work. It also requires schools to educate future pastors about community engagement, and that may be its most enduring effort to influence the care and character of community life," explained Daniel O. Aleshire, ATS Executive Director.
Scott Thumma, who co-leads Faith Communities Today with David Roozen stressed the importance of collaboration. "The Faith Communities Today effort is a collaborative group of researchers from many diverse religions. We have intentionally used our newsletter over the past few months to highlight research from different religious groups including the Seventh-day Adventists, the Megachurches, Episcopal, a comparison of Mainline groups and in the coming newsletter - the Orthodox Church in the US. We are also using our Facebook page to do the same—showing the diversity of religion in the US—and yet the common issues of appeal to young adults, challenges of growth, acceptance of the others, etc."
Thumma, who is also Dean of the Harford Seminary said, "In other ways the supporting organization of both these groups, Hartford Seminary, is more directly addressing the challenges of the day by hosting gatherings, participating in rallies, teaching about refugees and how churches can help, working with the governor's office to draft responses, and many other efforts to protect our students at the seminary—about 50% are Muslim."
Communication = Opportunities
The consensus seems to be that communication both talking or educating and listening to diverse members of the community has led to a sharing of talents and traditions in a way that brings growth and opportunities to improve the world we live in.