Posted by Kurt Lorenz on
Monday, June 07, 2010
By Mark S. Markuly, PhD, Dean, School of Theology and Ministry One of the first things you learn in an art class is the technique of drawing with “perspective.” Perspective is a technique for creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. Part of the trick to this technique is learning to draw lines that begin in parallel in the foreground of an image but converge in the background creating the illusion of both depth and distance. Perspective shows the relationship in a drawing between objects in the foreground and the background as they would appear to the eye in the real world. An artistic work with perspective is a more accurate rendering of reality in all its length, breadth, depth and beauty.
For the past two years, faculty and staff, with the help of advisory boards and friends of the school, have been working to see “STM in perspective.” The school’s preparation for its once in ten-year re-accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) has driven this process of reflection, seeking a more accurate understanding of the length, breadth, depth and beauty of the fruit of the school’s labors. ATS is North America’s primary accrediting body for theological schools and seminaries, and many of the denominations partnering in STM require such accreditation for students seeking ordination. Accreditation associations are essential in education. They keep critical, reflective thinking at the heart of the faculty and the curriculum by testing assumptions and questioning practices that may diminish student learning. During the two-year preparation period prior to the ATS visitation in April of this year, we have spent a great deal of time reflecting on STM and its mission, and have scrutinized virtually every dimension of the school’s operation, from curriculum design, implementation and assessment, to organizational structure and long-term fiscal viability.
The ATS visitation team evaluated STM against the best practices of other accredited institutions, allowing us to see our school in the broader perspective of North American theological education. STM will become a better school because of this accreditation process, and the data collected and analyzed for ATS will now inform a strategic planning process over the next year. Our accrediting association gave us a perspective on STM in the here and now. Our strategic plan will give the school a perspective on the future of STM, and will guide us in the coming decade as we continue to build our national and international reputation.
The School of Theology and Ministry’s strategic directions for the next decade will have to respond to profound forces at play in the world, forces reshaping human relationships, impacting individual and social expectations of life, re-defining human responsibility for the environment, and changing the role of religion in society. Over the past two years, STM faculty and staff have tried to discern which of these many forces are the most significant for effective theological education in the Pacific Northwest. During our long conversations and analyses of data, four critical “needs” in the region have continued to rise from the many competing “signs of the times.” STM has already begun to respond to these needs, but the strategic plan will sharpen the goals and objectives of this response, as well as exploring other denominational and regional needs.
The first need is the growing request throughout North America during the past two decades for quality theological education and ministry preparation in regions underserved by seminaries and theological schools. This need includes the increasing number of people whose lives are too complicated, busy or deficient in financial resources to study theology in the old-fashioned educational delivery system of attending classes each week on a brick-and-mortar campus. To respond to this need, STM has installed a high definition videoconferencing classroom. We now have students in Alaska participating in regularly scheduled STM courses through the blessing of cyberspace, and the future will certainly have more students participating in courses. STM is already in the process of exploring the feasibility of creating distance education campuses at select areas of the Pacific Northwest.
A second need arising continually from the ATS study has been the growing number of people in our historic traditions who are feeling called to “ministry in the world” rather than to a more traditional vocation as an ecclesial leader. These people, many of them in their 20s and 30s, who are experiencing a different kind of call than the past few generations seek to change the world, but from within the non-profit sector or various professions, such as health care, law, business or education. While STM’s primary mission will remain preparing people for ministry in church and church-affiliated ministries, the school has already created a degree for this new need – the Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership (MATL). The school will have its first MATL graduates this June. The MATL is also attracting people who are defining themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
These spiritually-oriented people who are “believers but not belongers” ask many of the deep questions of meaning that preoccupy those of us from historic traditions, but they also ask other kinds of questions. Their presence in STM classes will create new kinds of spiritual and theological conversations, resulting in our STM curriculum becoming even more relevant for this moment in history.
A third need appearing frequently in our data gathering and analysis for ATS has been the rapidly shrinking world in which we live, and Christianity’s need to break out of any last vestiges of provincialism in order to embrace fully a complex world getting smaller by the day. The globalization of STM is already well on its way, with its first installment of the decision years ago to emphasize multiculturalism. But, more is coming. The strategic plan will call the school to think through the details of providing space in the student body for more international students. Because multiculturalism is so closely linked to religious worldviews, STM has also just completed a study funded by the Shemanski Foundation that began a conversation on how the school’s ecumenical curriculum could integrate the knowledge and skills necessary for Protestant, Anglican, Unitarian and Catholic STM students to engage in substantive interreligious dialogue and collaboration. In addition to these globalizing efforts, the Hunthausen videoconferencing classroom will allow STM students to engage some of the best scholars from around the world by bringing those scholars into our classrooms through cyberspace. Increasingly, STM students will engage their religious tradition, and others, in the context of the global reality of Christianity.
A fourth need consistently showing itself at STM during the ATS study has been the need to respond to humanity’s growing consciousness of the environment and what our modern society does to support or damage this fragile eco-system. The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is just one of the more recent situations prompting a new urgency to recognize the earth as our home and a place needing our protection. STM has had a long history in wrestling with eco-spiritual and eco-justice issues, but it seems the signs of the times call for a more intentional effort. Last year, STM sponsored the Institute for Ecology, Theology, Spirituality and Justice, which featured a host of courses and a keynote by Dr. Brian Swimme, a leading international eco-theological voice. In the summer of 2010, STM will co-host an academic conference, Teaching Toward Eco-Justice: Where Sustainability and Social Justice Meet in Theological Education. Graduate level professors will meet at this conference and discuss the challenges of teaching eco-justice and how teachers can overcome those challenges.
Distance education, bringing ministerial skills and consciousness to the professions, globalization and interreligious dialogue, and building on STM’s pioneering tradition in eco-justice are four needs that inform an STM drawn in future perspective. But, these four dimensions of the future are at this point only outlines. They contain a deeper mystery of how God will use this unique institution in the future to meet the needs of the churches in the Pacific Northwest, and increasingly the needs of a troubled nation and world.
STM has had the hand of the Spirit on the school from the beginning. As we enter a phase of strategic planning, let us join in prayer together for the school. Let us ask for the wisdom to see STM in the broadest possible perspective – from God’s perspective. If we can discern this perspective, then STM is assured of being as grace-filled in its future as it has been in its past and present. ~ Mark S. Markuly, Ph.D.
No one has commented.
All comments must be approved before they will appear on this page.
STM Gets Perspective on the Future By Mark S. Markuly, PhD, Dean, School of Theology and Ministry One of the first things you learn in an art class is the technique of drawing with “perspective.” Perspective is a technique
Posted by Kurt Lorenz at 06/07/2010 10:00:27 AM |
Nondiscrimination Policy | Diversity Statement
RSS | Contact | Careers | Public Safety