The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan has received a leadership development grant from Trinity Wall Street for an initiative entitled, Beyond These Walls: Theological Education for All. The purpose of the grant is to meet the growing need in communities of faith for well-formed leaders with practical skills for engaging a changing world.
The Rev. Canon Lydia Kelsey Bucklin, who serves as the diocesan liaison to this initiative said, “To be invited into a partnership with this emerging collective of prophetic theologians and church leaders is a blessing to our diocese, which has, in our DNA a commitment to recognizing the gifts of all and the need for accessible, quality theological education and formation.”
In mid-2020, a group of 8 female- and non-binary- identified professors from 5 denominations gathered to ask, “What would theological education look like if it were de-colonized, de-commodified, trauma-informed, fallibility-embracing, and justice-centered?” From their conversations, Beyond These Walls (BTW) was fashioned.
Beyond These Walls is the collaborative project of this team of educators, together with the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan and The Hive (www.thehiveapiary.com). The collective is developing as-yet-unimagined forms of theological education to resource emerging leaders in diverse contexts for which the current model of seminary education has insufficient answers, and from which many emerging leaders have been left out.
BTW recognizes the need for innovation in leadership formation to address the needs of faith communities and honor the gifts already present in populations who have been traditionally marginalized. It centers the pedagogy of women of color, who have been organizing along similar lines. It utilizes strengths-based models of assessment that identifies leadership competencies and will develop leadership education and formation models in various contexts outside the walls of traditional seminaries and parish ministry.
Beyond These Walls is itself a racially and culturally diverse, women-led collective, unique in the landscape of theological education. In addition, BTW is uniquely positioned to provide leadership training in this context because it will collectively bring wide-ranging expertise to the formational environment.
Accomplished theological educators lead BTW and represent Black, White, African, Latinx, Indigenous, and Korean backgrounds. “We are straight and LGBTQ and teach in urban, suburban, and rural contexts, across the spectrum of traditional theological disciplines. We are academically trained artists, activists, administrators, church leaders, and theological educators,” said Rev. Adriene Thorne, of The First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn.
Thorne continued, “We undertake this work with the conviction that historically marginalized communities have enormous and untapped wisdom that will be transformational to the church and the world. When both lay and ordained leaders are resourced and empowered to live out the transforming love of Christ in effective, adaptive, and faith-filled ways, we will be helping to shape a future in which the Church is freed to do more of its prophetic, justice-focused and meaning-making work in the world.”
The following members currently comprise the collective of Beyond These Walls:
The Rev. Dr. April Stace, General Theological Seminary; The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan
The Rev. Dr. Carla Roland Guzman, General Theological Seminary; The Episcopal Diocese of New York
Dr. Oluwatomisin Oredein, Brite Divinity School; Black Church Studies Program
The Rev. Dr. Jee Hei Park, Seminary of the Southwest; Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
The Rev. Dr. Hillary Raining, General Theological Seminary; The Hive; Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania
Dr. Lea Schweitz, Nature120; Yorkfield Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Adriene Thorne, The First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn
The Rev. Dr. Lisa Weaver, Columbia Theological Seminary; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
The Rev. Canon Lydia Kelsey Bucklin, Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan