CHICAGO -- While increasingly diverse neighborhoods rely on clergy skilled in knitting multicultural communities together, about one-third of accredited theological schools do not have a scholar of color on their faculties to shape and prepare future leaders. And with the next generation of African-American religious leadership being called to serve, more money and support are needed to help them succeed in doctoral studies and in the community.
A June leadership conference in Chicago will focus on these challenges, the changing landscape of the ministry and the diversity gap in teaching opportunities for African-American doctoral students.
African-American church leaders and theological educators will gather June 11 - 13 on Chicago's South Side to discuss their greatest opportunities and issues in the 21st century. "The old models of church and church leadership aren't going to work anymore," said the Rev. Paul Robeson Ford, a Chicago-area doctoral candidate and minister. "The church, and the way we lead it, has to change."
The conference will be held at Chicago Theological Seminary, which is serving as co-host with the Fund for Theological Education (FTE).
FTE, an ecumenical nonprofit organization, advocates for increased financial support and a stronger support system of mentors from the intersection of higher education, community and church for doctoral students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. It created its Doctoral Fellowship Program in 1998 to infuse excellence and diversity into the teaching of religion and theology. In the initiative's first 10 years, 402 fellowships were awarded; the student retention rate was 98 percent and 79 percent of those completing the program now teach in the academy.
Conference participants will explore key areas for which change is critical. For example, although African-Americans and Hispanics comprise nearly 40 percent of U.S. K-12 students, only a tiny fraction of them earn Ph.D.s. Congregations reflect these demographics, too, and have a critical need for well-educated, well-trained clergy who understand diverse communities.
The highlight of the conference is "African-American Religious Leadership and the Age of Obama," a community dialogue moderated by the Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton and co-hosted by FTE and the Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life at Chicago Theological Seminary. It will be held Friday, June 11 at 4:15 p.m. in the Chicago Theological Seminary Chapel, 5757 S. University Avenue in Hyde Park.
SOURCE The Fund for Theological Education