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Imagining the Future of Theological Education: Episode 2

Podcast Episode 2


A conversation with Dr. Christian Scharen, Interim Pastor at St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, NY, and Dr. Gregory Smith, Vice President of Applied Research, Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today.

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A Conversation with Dr. Gregory Smith and Dr. Christian Scharen

A Conversation with Dr. Gregory Smith, Vice President of Applied Research, Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. and Dr. Christian Scharen, Interim Pastor at St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, NY

3 questions covered in this episode

  1. What does the data say about how Americans experience and practice religion?
  2. Given shifts in how people practice their faith, what are some opportunities and threats for theological institutions?
  3. Imagining the future of theological education in America, how is it likely to evolve?

Episode Summary

Moderators Rev. Dr. Deborah Mullen, Professor Emerita, Columbia Theological Seminary, and Rev. Dr. David Mellott, president of Christian Theological Seminary chat with Dr. Gregory Smith of Pew Research Center and Dr. Christian Scharen, Interim Pastor at St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, NY. While the times are changing when it comes to religion in America, theological education leaders and faculty are challenged to navigate a more diverse faith experience. Participants discuss not only what the data says about America’s religious landscape, but suggest some ways imagination and resources can come together to support the future of theological education in changing times.

Conversational Highlights:

2:50 – What does the data say about Americans and religion?

  • A Pew Research Centre study finds the percentage of U.S. adults identifying with the Christian religion has declined from 77% to 65%. At the same time, Americans who identify as “nothing in particular” has increased from 17% to 26%.

6:15 – How is the trend toward religious switching and religious hybridity influencing how people experience their faith?

  • Data shows that religious switching is extremely common, with one-third of U.S. adults identifying with a religious identity different from the one they were raised in.
  • A shift from attending traditional worship services to engaging in practices of meaning is changing how Americans experience religion.

10:18 – How is the degree of affiliation people have to religion shifting?

  • Among adults who identify with a particular domination, traditional affiliation measures such as attending worship services are relatively stable.
  • Among adults who identify as “nones”, there is a greater breadth of experiences when it comes to affiliating with a faith and/or finding meaning.
  • People are increasingly experiencing religion as a practice they cultivate rather than experiencing religion as something they are born into within a family.

16:03 – How is higher education responding to changes in how people experience and practice religion?

  • One innovation is a surge in master’s of arts programs beyond the traditional Masters of Divinity degree. Nearly 300 distinct master’s of arts degrees reflect the dynamic of people searching for meaning through varied practices.

18:45 – What do you see as opportunities and threats for institutions’ faculty, and boards leading theological education?

  • Institutions can embrace he practices – meditation, community service – that are becoming a bigger part of how people experience religion. More than one third of people who don’t attend religious services say it is because they practice their faith in a different way.
  • As people are increasingly distancing themselves from traditional religious institutions, there is a need to think about connecting with the community in new venues.

22:00 – How can theological education embrace the opportunities and crisis this moment presents?

  • When evaluating leadership, institutions need to look beyond the nostalgic commitment of appointing board members based on resources and affinity for the institution.
  • There is an opportunity to connect organizations equipped with resources but lacking imagination, with other groups that may bring new imagination but lack resources

28:39 – How do you imagine the future of theological education?

  • Despite the challenges, there are reasons for hope. Theological education institutions – including seminaries – can draw from traditions of strength and influence. Religious leaders are largely viewed as doing more good than harm and admired for ethical standards.
  • A challenge for leaders will be integrating the traditional seminary classroom with emerging contexts.

Episode 2 Transcript

Hosts: David M. Mellott & Deb Mullen
Guests: Dr. Christian Scharen & Dr. Greg Smith

David M. (00:01):

Welcome to “Imagining the Future of Theological Education” a conversation bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today.

This podcast series is coming to you from Christian Theological Seminary and with support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

I’m Dr. David Mellott, president of Christian Theological and my co-host is Dr. Deborah Mullen, Leadership Education Consultant and Professor Emerita at Columbia Theological Seminary.

In a series of conversations, Deb and I will be speaking with some of the folks who were part of our study group and other leaders who are informing the future of theological education. We’ll chat with faculty and seminary leadership as well as foundations and researchers exploring provocative questions related to scholarship, leadership and theological education.

And while our chat will span a vast range of topics, one singular thread will run through every episode – imagining what the future of theological education could and should look like.

So welcome to the conversation!

Deb M. (01:06):

Thank you, David. Friends, we’d like to give you a little background about how this podcast series came to be. First many, thanks for a grant from the Henry Luce foundation. In 2017 David and I began hosting a series of consultations across the country on the current and future direction for theological education. And it was actually during these conversations and research that became clear to us that while institutions face diverse issues, they share a common challenge to think strategically and imaginatively about the future. Even the landscape of theological education today. As the grant wrapped up we were inspired to widen the conversation in order to share insights we’ve gleaned with others involved in theological education and how our work has evolved.

David M. (01:57):

Our guests today are Dr. Christian Scharen, former vice-president of applied research and director of the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York city, and Dr. Greg Smith, Associate Director of research at Pew Research Center in Washington, D. C. His expertise is religion and public life. Today we’ll be exploring changes in religion and public life and the impact of those changes on theological education and church life from the vantage point of those who research and study innovation and institutions. Welcome Greg and Christian.

Christian S. (02:34):

Thank you.

Greg S. (02:34):

Thank you.

Deb M. (02:36):

So we’d like to start with around of questions, and because this is a conversation we can expect, and we hope that each of you will participate as you feel led to do so. This is kind of a general question, actually, for both of you since you’re sociologists so we’ll see who presses the button first. As sociologists who pay attention to religious life outside of theological institutions, what are you seeing that theological education needs to attend to? Are there innovations that deserve special attention, and maybe Greg, if you wouldn’t mind taking the lead on that one, and then we’ll go from there.

Greg S. (03:14):

Sure. As I think about this question, the first thing that comes to my mind is the changes that are underway in the American religious landscape, in the religious composition of the American public, and in the religious practices and habits of the American public. There are big changes underway. Perhaps most notably we can see very clearly in the data that the share of Americans who identify themselves as Christians is declining pretty rapidly. A decade ago, 77% of us adults describe themselves as Protestants or Catholics or members of other Christian groups. Over the last decade. That number has declined by 12 percentage points. In our most recent data, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians. And if we look specifically at Protestantism, we can see that the share of us adults who are Protestants has declined from 51%, a decade ago to 43% today. So the United States remains a majority Christian country. It remains a nation comprised mostly of believers, but the religious profile of the country is changing quite rapidly. Now of Christianity is declining as a share of the U S population as Christians are declining. It stands to reason that some other group must be growing. Who’s that? Well, it’s the people who say that they are not religious it’s people who describe themselves religiously as atheists or agnostics or the largest of them that are people who say that they are simply nothing in particular with respect to religion. They have no religious affiliation at all. The share of U.S. Adults who are religiously unaffiliated in that way grew from 17%, a decade ago to 26% today. So we’re now at a point where a quarter or more of the U S public are religiously unaffiliated, and that change is being driven in large part by generational replacement. It’s being driven by young people who are coming of age with far lower levels of attachment to religion than their parents and grandparents before. So when I think about the future of theological education, the future of seminary education, those are some of the societal trends that come immediately to my mind.

Deb M. (05:27):

Christian, do you have anything that you’d like to add to that? Yeah.

Christian S. (05:30):

Couple of points of interest that I think are broadly true and have implications for theological schools in their mission and strategies. One is that adjacency, you might say of people to religious others is maybe more pronounced now than it has ever been. And so that’s influencing whether or not one considers oneself religious it’s influencing people’s proximity to religious diversity, and it’s just a characteristic of our life as a country that we’re grappling more with. The dynamics of how people live spiritual lives or don’t live spiritual lives in relationship to the different ways that others are doing that, and I think one of the interesting social dynamics obviously has been the politicization of Islam since September 11th, especially, and with a particular distinctiveness during the current administration and the way in which it’s raised those questions of Islam and who gets into our country and who doesn’t. So that’s, I think, important because theological schools on the whole haven’t done very well in dealing with multi-faith issues. It’s tended to be an elective or a more marginal consideration, and that’s changing, and I think it’s changing at the right time because of the characteristics of the country. The other thing that’s interesting is that this growing number of religiously unaffiliated people really aren’t a group and a strict sense. They simply all answer the question the same way, but they’re actually like incredibly diverse. And so it’s interesting to dig down into who answers the question of religious affiliation in that way and one of the trends that goes back, oh, I don’t know, probably 30 years or more to some of the research that Robert with Noah Princeton did is on religious switching. And now you’re seeing even conversations about religious hybridity, people who claim parts of multiple spiritual traditions as a part of their meaning making. And I think that’s also something that’s complicated for theological schools, which have tended to be beholden in some way or another to particular denominational traditions and formation of leaders for those traditions. And so it’s a little bit at odds then with the nature of how people are experiencing spirituality in so far as they’re, like, going to yoga, or finding a meditation helpful, or mindfulness, or going to CrossFit and finding community there in their attention to their body and wellness. And so the dynamics around how people are piecing together, spiritual life, I think maybe emerging in the sixties and it’s alternative exploration of religious experience and really growing over these 50 years since the sixties as a major dynamic

Deb M. (08:28):

Before David asks his follow-up. I just want to note that this phenomenon of multi-religious education, interfaith education inter-religious education was very much on our mind, top of mind, in our study group and Christian was a part of that. And we actually spent time in California and it kind of shot through several of our sessions. You know, this concern or perception, that this is not low hanging fruit. This is something that theological education needs to grapple with. And I’m sure it will come up later, also in the podcast as we move along. Thank you. Both of you for those remarks.

Greg S. (09:06):

Yeah, just to reinforce a couple of things that Christian said that I found really striking. One is about religious switching. We know that religious switching in the United States is extremely common. If you treat Protestantism as a single group then we can see in the data that one third of us adults have a religious identity today that’s different than the religion in which they were raised. They were raised Catholic and now they’re Protestant, they were raised Protestant and now they’re religiously unaffiliated. They were raised outside of religion altogether and today they’re Christian. If you dig a little deeper and you divide Protestantism up into evangelical Protestantism and mainline Protestantism, and the historically black Protestant tradition, the number goes up. 42% of American adults have switched their religious identity. There’s something different today than in which they were raised. So you simply cannot assume that people’s religious identities and religious affiliations are fixed. It’s very common in American life for people to move in and out of religious groups from time to time.

David M. (10:14):

That’s a perfect segue for kind of, I have a kind of a couple of questions. One is, do you have data on sort of the degree of people’s affiliation? So I realize there’s switching going on, but, and you’ve talked about the fact that there are fewer people who associate with Christianity than there were 10 years ago, but I wonder, is there another layer down that sort of shows a more nuanced sense of their relationship? Maybe it’s through church attendance or through other things. And then what about other religions? Do we see an increase in affiliation in those other religions? I realize that the group of people who are not affiliated is probably the fastest growing group, but what about the other religious?

Greg S. (10:55):

Yeah, just a couple of points on that. Number one, you’re, you’re absolutely right. That being affiliated with a religious group, identifying with the religion only tells you a little bit about someone’s religious life. You might identify as Catholic or as Lutheran or, as Jewish. And that may or may not say something about your level of religious practice. What we see in the data is that among those people who identify with a religion, there’s a lot of stability in terms of their religious commitment, their religious engagement, the frequency with which they attend religious services for example. There are certainly gradations. We know, for example, that groups like evangelical Protestants, members of the historically black Protestant tradition, Mormons, members of the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints. They tend on average to be very religiously involved, very religiously committed, involved in their congregations, very committed in the way that they practice their faith. Religious nones, that’s N O N E S, the religiously unaffiliated at the other end of the spectrum, Christians’ Absolutely. Right. That’s a big and diverse group. Many of them are believers. One thing they have in common with each other though, is they do not go to religious services. They are firmly disconnected from religious organizations. And then you have other groups that are somewhere in between Catholics. For example, mainline Protestants, you can include Jewish Americans in this category, on average are less religiously committed maybe than evangelicals and others at the high end, but certainly more religious engaged than the religiously unaffiliated. When we look at members of faiths, other than Christianity in the United States, you’re absolutely right, those groups are growing, but they’re growing from a small base and they’re growing pretty gradually a decade ago, about 5% of American adults identified with non-Christian faiths. The largest of which is Judaism followed by Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and many other faiths. Today, that number stands at about 7%. That’s a statistically significant change. It’s significant growth, but it’s gradual and starting from a fairly small base.

David M. (13:05):

Christian, do you have any other things to add here? And I’m thinking particularly around the question around innovation, because I know that’s something that you have spent a lot of time studying, thinking about in terms of what’s happening in religious life, and even in the theological

Christian S. (13:20):

Institutions thinking particularly about this question of religiosity, like how drawn to religious practice people are. So, one thing that I find striking is, and I’ve particularly learned from the Canadian philosopher and social theorist, Charles Taylor, on this that given the growth of diverse alternatives in terms of spiritual life in our society today, it’s more common for people to approach spirituality or even more seriously, I guess, in terms of commitment to a religious organization through learning a practice. Rather than say, Charles Taylor uses the marker of the Protestant reformation in Europe 500 years ago, when it was much more common that people simply were born into a faith tradition and that was their identity and their family’s identity in almost a unreflective way. It just was what was. It was natural in that sense. And so now people are finding practices that are meaningful. They’re trying to figure, out in a pretty complex time of social life and even made more complex in this moment with the pandemic and with the uprising over racial justice and police accountability, and the economic crash that’s happened as a result of the pandemic. Like, those dynamics make it really challenging for people to make sense of the bigger questions about meaning of their life. And I think that’s an interesting dynamic. It’s an important dynamic for how innovation happens in theological schools, because they’ve tended to be built around assumptive religious belief that you belong to a particular tradition. And so then you go to a school of that tradition to be trained, to be a leader in that tradition and the instability, if you want to call it of people seeking for meaning. And they’re seeking for practices that are meaningful, which very often are disconnected from a particular religious tradition and its organizations, means that people may find their way to seminary because it offers something that relates to spiritual practice of one sort or another. And it’s sometimes very often in fact, related to concerns about social justice. And I think that’s true, especially on the sort of, if you want to call it, progressive side of faith practice, but I think it’s also true on the more conservative side of faith practice too, in terms of concern about poverty and wealth inequality and concerns about the environment. So one of the interesting things that I think has responding to that, and I would, I’m not sure I would call it innovation, but it’s certainly leaning in the direction of experimentation, is the multiplication of masters of arts programs at seminaries. There as many masters of arts programs as there are schools like distinct types of MAs. 200 and maybe close to 300 now, distinct MBA programs. And that multiplication of MBA programs, I think, is trying to respond to this dynamic of people, seeking spiritual meaning through a variety of kinds of practices and processes and ways of making sense of their life and schools wanting to respond to that searching outside of the traditional master of divinity track to train leaders for specific religious traditions and their organization’s needs. So I do see a relationship between some of the social dynamics of spirituality and the ways in which schools are experimenting with meeting those needs.

Deb M. (16:59):

I can hardly contain myself on this one because I think this opens up such a big trough for our conversation. One of my abiding concerns as a former Dean, 30 years of theological education, has to do with, and continues to be, faculty formation, faculty development, and what you’ve raised, Christian. It just kind of runs along at least two fault lines. A. Theological education was not built for this kind of life and religiosity and formation of the future. And integral to that is the faculties that theological institutions call out a very traditional programs that have not yet caught up with the kind of agility of Charles Taylor’s insights about religion, which you have laid on the table, you know, the important of practices. And so a traditional school that has had its bread and butter in the MDiv for a long time, and has been able to not pay much attention to the fact that the MDiv has been declining for at least 25 or 30 years. And then the proliferation of all these masters programs that have to do with practices that are outside of the tradition of theological education formation, intellectual development is all coming together at the same time, which is both that opportunity and that crisis. And I think it’s worthy of our having a couple of minutes, just to say a little bit about that

Christian S. (18:30):

For a podcast I have to say my head was nodding vigorously as Deb was talking.

David M. (18:35):

Yes. I think all of our heads were thank you. So this question is for both of you, and I realize you’re going to have very different vantage points as you think about it, but what do you see as opportunities and threats for institutions of theological education. Most schools that are trying to think strategically about the future are looking, that’s one of the questions they’re asking themselves, what are the threats and opportunities out there and how do they become particularly clear about those things so that they can decide about how they’re going to maybe respond to those?

Greg S. (19:07):

I have a couple of ideas, maybe thinking about opportunities, first, and following up on both Deb and Christian. Christian pointed out that the religiously unaffiliated is a very diverse set of people, and then pointed it to the importance of practices and Deb reinforced that. I think there’s a lot to that. We did a survey a couple of years ago where we asked people who attend religious services regularly, regular church goers. We asked them, “why do you go, what keeps you coming back? What do you get out?’ We also ask people who don’t attend religious services with any frequency, and that’s a growing group. Why they don’t go, what keeps you away? And, you know, some of them say that they’re just not a believer, although that’s a minority of that group, some of them cite logistical reasons or things they don’t like about particular congregations in their areas. But one of the most common answers, we got, more than a third of people who don’t attend religious services with any regularity, say it’s because they practice their faith in other ways. And that could mean a variety of things. It could mean meditation and yoga. It could mean being active in terms of helping those in need, serving their communities in various ways. It encompasses a lot of things, but it’s a very common thing that people tell us. And I think that’s an opportunity. It tells us that while the United States is growing less religious in a variety of ways as we measure it traditionally, that it’s also true that a lot of people who distanced themselves from religious organizations remain believers, they remain spiritual people. They remain people looking for to incorporate spirituality in their lives in a variety of ways. I think that’s one of the opportunities.

Greg S. (20:53):

One of the threats is that even if that’s true of large numbers of the religiously unaffiliated, that people are looking for spiritual meaning, there’s little doubt that people are increasingly distancing themselves from religious institutions. That’s definitely true of churches. I assume it would follow to seminaries. And one thing to realize about that is the generational component. It’s especially true of young people. So while there’s an openness on the part of many Americans, including those who distanced themselves from religion to various kinds of spirituality, the threat, the problem, the obstacle, I’m not exactly sure how you would reach them because they are divorced. They are disaffected from religious organizations of any kind.

Christian S. (21:38):

I think I want to frame my comments about threat more in light of potential ways of failing, which wouldn’t have to happen, but probably will. And failing, I mean, failing in terms of, like, actually innovating in ways that allow institutions to really accomplish their mission. So one way that that can happen, I think, is the danger of boards of directors who are appointed because they have resources and they love that school. And so their commitment often is what I would call a kind of nostalgic commitment for that institution and the role that it’s played historically, especially in relationship to particular churches or traditions of that denomination. And so I would call that a kind of, like, a lag effect on efforts at change because their desire often is a kind of conservative desire, not conservative politically, I mean, conservative institutionally. They want to conserve a historic institution and its place. Now, why is that a problem? I think one of the most exciting spaces of innovation and growth in theological education is not in the historic white institutions of mainline Protestantism for a lot of reasons, especially because that demographic, as Greg pointed out earlier, is shrinking substantially, but also because white people aren’t immigrating to the U. S. Like the numbers of new immigrants to the U S represent broadly demographics that are non-white, and so, like, one of the fastest growing demographics in the country is LatinX, and they tend to be very poorly resourced in terms of their access to theological education. And so I think institutions that do have a lot of money and are in a sense held to use that money on themselves and on the sort of development of their own institution, and I think historically those are white mainline Protestant schools that have a of money, then don’t think broadly about people of faith and the larger dynamics of theological education and creative ways where that money could be allocated as a resource for the whole system of church and faith leaders and theological education rather than simply for their institution themselves. So to me, that’s a failure of imagination and imagination that has a stance of as perhaps thinking God’s mission is loving the world. And, what would it mean to think about a theological school broadening its sense of responsibility, not just to its own institution, but to a wider network of people, of faith trying to live faithfully in this really complicated time. That said there’s an opportunity too, because there’s so much vitality going on in terms of spirituality and religious life and even institutional growth. It just depends on the place from which you’re looking, as you asked that question. And one of the beautiful things we did in our seminar was meet different places around the country and with different stakeholders in those places, representing the broad diversity of American religiosity. And we saw some incredibly exciting things happening. And unfortunately, because of the sort of lanes that theological schools are in traditionally, they don’t always know what’s happening other places. And so part of the question to me is how do we make connections between places that have resources, but may lack some imagination about it and places where so much creativity is going on, but they don’t have resources to build up those creative ideas that they have. Those kinds of new partnerships could really spark a whole new generation of development in theological education.

Deb M. (25:30):

If I can just jump in for a minute. I think Christian has just really articulated and capsulated for the whole study process that we were engaged in. Why we, I think I can say we who were called together to do this work started from a place of hope and certainly ended in a place of hope. We didn’t come to this project hand ringing, you know, despite all of the demographics that we were aware of many of which have been so well represented here by both Greg and Christian, but the challenge of turning that challenge or that’s thread into the opportunity is I think where we left off and certainly hope that these podcasts continue to generate conversation because, something is possible in closing that gap. We saw it too many times and oftentimes it’s as simple as the theological institution, that’s been around 200 years. That is desperately now trying to recruit these people from these communities that Christian is talking about. Kind of walking down the street and having a conversation with their neighbors. So I know it’s not that simple. I’ve been there, done this work for many, many years, but it almost is that simple.

David M. (26:48):

Yeah, I think I would…one of the things I would add to that is in some cases, schools can be easily attracted with the thought of having a national platform and attracting, you know, that we w we want people to come from all over the country to be with us, rather than thinking about how do we serve the city and the region where we are located and how do we understand that city and understand the people who live here. And regardless of, in some ways, of the demographics changing in terms of whether people are going to church more or less, or whether they’re affiliated with Christianity or not, the truth is, is that the questions that humans are facing at this moment in time and history are extraordinarily complex and deep, and Christianity does have a word to speak to that. I mean, we could be a conversation partner for those people, regardless of how they affiliate. Which means then that there’s plenty of mission, plenty of possibility for seminaries and other institutions of theological education to engage the public, regardless of the people’s affiliation

Deb M. (27:47):

And the power of what you just said, David, in some way, not to disregard nor to deny the potency of demographics, but in some way, what you just said opened a new window for me, which is, there is a depth of human experience that transcends all of these ways in which we are particularly balkanized as a community of the United States at this point in time, for all kinds of reasons that we don’t have time to go into at this point. But if this mission of theological education, as diverse as it is for theological institutions, if the mission of theological education is one of human flourishing, which I think has been identified here in various ways, then there is an exciting future, but the logical education

David M. (28:34):

That’s all right. So that might be a good segue into our next question, which is imagining the future of theological education. What would you like to see happen? Or maybe what could you imagine happening?

Christian S. (28:46):

Yeah, let me just throw out a couple of quick things and then see where the conversation takes us in our last minutes. First is, I think that seminaries, because of their historic character as places to go for books and learning, and people who’ve spent time studying and becoming wise, hopefully, about these questions and ways of asking questions, is a very valuable and attractive thing. I’m thinking of like increasingly well-known commentator on contemporary religiosity, especially from the perspective of nones. Casper ter Kuile, who went to Harvard divinity school because he had questions about life and he didn’t know where else you could go and ask those questions, and it transformed him to find all these people throughout the history of the church who had already been grappling with the questions he was asking. And all of a sudden he had conversation partners for these existential questions. He didn’t know what to do. So I think there’s a beautiful role in a society full of spiritual seekers for institutions that are in a sense holders of wisdom, traditions, and willing to welcome people into that process of exploration. But then if I flip that and say, I’m currently serving a innovative new church, start in Brooklyn, New York called St. Lydia’s dinner church, and boy, they had a heck of a time trying to find a pastor who was prepared to serve an innovative new church like that. And so it makes me think one of the future needs for theological education is a much deeper partnership between emerging contexts for a ministry as a part of the formation of diverse leaders and the seminaries themselves in their classrooms. Because in the studies that I’ve done with people in training for leadership, again and again, they say, and the Association for Theological School surveys show this as well, is those contexts of ministry, those everyday spaces of living life and finding meaning together are deeply formative and shape leaders and integrative ways and open up spaces for experiments and learning what it is to experiment. And I think anymore seminaries really can’t give all the content that is needed. They need to train people in learning and innovating and context partnership with contexts, diverse contexts really offer the best way for, for that to happen.

Greg S. (31:22):

Yeah, maybe just a couple of follow-up thoughts, thinking, especially again on the opportunities. One thing I think it’s important for religious leaders to keep in mind, including the leaders of religious educational institutions and seminaries is that despite the demographic changes, changes that are underway in the religious landscape, in many ways, religious leaders are operating from a position of strength and influence in the sense that most Americans admire religious institutions. Most Americans think religious institutions are an important force for good in American society. There are many more Americans who think that religious organizations, and I think people mostly have in mind, churches and other kinds of congregations, but could extend to seminaries as well. There are far more people who think religious organizations help to bring people together than there are, who think they serve to push people apart. There are way more people who think religious institutions serve to strengthen morality in society than there are, who think they harm morality. There’s way more people who think religious institutions do more good than harm in American life then there are who think they do more harm than good. And when we ask people their opinions of morality and ethical standards of various kinds of institutions and various kinds of people, religious leaders get high marks, most people admire religious leaders, including their own clergy for their ethical standards. So I do think it’s worth bearing in mind that the people that seminaries are training to become religious leaders are starting from a position of strength. In that sense, they are widely looked to as sources of morality and as forces for good in America,

Deb M. (33:08):

Lest we not yield to the temptation of ending on a very positive note. I think that kind of encouragement is a Clarion call for many of our listeners at this point in time when it’s very difficult sometimes to see the vista beyond the fog and the smog. But to know that there’s still this deep desire within this human community for human flourishing, that really does continue to find respect and reverence and hope in our religious institutions, including our theological seminaries are our schools and affiliations is very encouraging, but also to hear as I think we’ve been encouraged. And certainly what we experienced in our study group is that the schools have an opportunity to really expand their horizons and understanding the kind of partnerships that they could engage in as the schools continue to try to help people in society make meaning for where they live, for their region, and for the world that so desperately needs people who are able to bring people together rather than to continue to make more of divisions then is there. It’s hard to end this conversation, but we must because we have made a covenant with you, Greg and Christian, for your time. But let’s say that we have every confidence that you have added in measurably to a wealth of conversation that will continue through these podcasts. And that will go on both in the mission of Christian theological seminary, but more widely in theological education. And so we want to say, thank you. I need to say to my co-host David, you have a last word before I do the thanks.

Greg S. (35:04):

I’ll just add my word of gratitude. Thank you so much, Christian. And Greg, it’s just been a delight talking with you so exciting. I want more. I look forward to more conversations.

Deb M. (35:15):

That’s right. We hope whoever make those kinds of opportunities possible are listening. Thank you.

Greg S. (35:21):

Thank you for having us. Maybe one day we can all meet in person and continue the conversation.

Deb M. (35:26):

Fingers crossed. We hope that will happen. This is not an ending simply of a study project, but the beginning of another conversation we’ll have a whole other future. Thank you, Dr. Scharen and Dr Smith for joining us today. Um, and you’ve given us a lot to think about as we all face the future of theological education. And as we’ve said in so many ways, this conversation is by no means over it is not an ending, but opens the window or the door, whatever the metaphor is for what comes next. And we’re grateful that there will be more episodes in this series and to our listeners. We hope that you’ll check them out. Thank you for listening.