By: Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim
May 01, 2013
The Fund for Theological Education (FTE) is at a new juncture in which it is looking at its past and reexamining itself so it can move forward. FTE is not alone as many theological seminaries, institutions, and organizations are also facing decision points rising from our changing society, its problems, and needs. At this crossroad, FTE, which has existed for the past fifty-nine years to support individuals exploring and pursuing theological education and ministry, is reexamining its goals, projects, events and purpose to see how best it can serve in the years to come.
For the past years, FTE has graciously supported faithful leadership for the church and academy. It has primarily accomplished this work as a fellowships-granting organization. But now that the church is in transition and there are major shifts in demographics and cultural trends, FTE is pausing to reexamine itself as it looks to move forward.
“This very diverse Advisory Team brainstormed, shared, and discussed fascinating ideas of ways the FTE can go forth to best serve theological education.”
FTE is now self- reflecting to discern how to be responsive to many changes. As a result, FTE has put most of its fellowship programs on hold. It is reaching out to different constituents to see how it can best serve theological education. It desires to support the work of theological education in changing times so theological education can be most applicable and operative today.
An important response to change is that FTE is spending time building relationships, renewing relationships, and listening to diverse educational and ministerial partners. These steps are in hopes of promoting a new generation of leaders for an increasingly diverse church. As the church changes, theological education must also change.
As part of its reexamination, FTE has formed its first Advisory Team of fourteen invited members from various FTE constituencies. This Advisory Team includes FTE Fellows (Doctoral/North American, Undergraduate, Congregational, Volunteers Exploring Vocation or Ministry), Alumni of Transition into Ministry program, and partners through the Volunteers Exploring Vocation (VEV) program or as Calling Congregations grant recipients. The Advisory Team will be a part of FTE life through 2015. The Advisory team includes people who are diverse in ethnicity, gender, education, ministry, social position. I am one of them.
The Advisory Team met April 25-26, 2013 for a day at the Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center in Chicago. We were asked to give honest feedback based on our own experiences in ministry, teaching, and theological education. We met as a group and then divided into smaller groups to explore what FTE can do to best serve, improve, and encourage theological education. We were asked to share what we felt was important to us, the way theological education may be going, and what we felt FTE can do to make the most impact as it seeks to move forward.
This very diverse Advisory Team brainstormed, shared, and discussed fascinating ideas of ways the FTE can go forth to best serve theological education. These were presented to the FTE staff. Since I am personally immersed in a seminary setting, it was refreshing to hear some of the important trends and trajectories of where theological education is happening and will occur outside the seminary. It was also interesting to hear the different forms of ministry and various ways people, ordained or non-ordained, are engaging in theological leadership roles within the church, faith organizations, and religious groups.
As I participated in this first FTE Advisory meeting, I was encouraged to see so much enthusiasm about the present and future modes of theological education. Members of the Advisory team all spoke with passion, excitement, and strong commitment to theological education. By the end of the meeting, the fruitful work of the Advisory team in conjunction with the FTE staff brought hope to many of us who are deeply invested in theological education. As we engaged in open dialogue from our personal theological perspectives, we began to ignite each other’s hopes, visions, and understandings of theological education. As we shared, discussed, and heard each other’s opinions, we were able to listen with mutual respect, openness, and eagerness.
My deep conviction and hope is that FTE will spring forward in a positive and courageous direction as it engages with this Advisory Team as well as many other agencies, groups, churches, organizations, seminaries and Divinity Schools. I hope that the Fund for Theological Education will continue to reexamine and re-envision a new future for theological education which will be effective, engaging, and imaginative.