The Association of Theological Schools has awarded Bethany a $5,000 grant as part of its Christian Hospitality and Pastoral Practicesin a Multifaith Society project. The funds will support Bethany faculty in exploring the nature of ministry in multifaith contexts and in the practical application of these findings to student course work.
"As a faculty, we've wondered how to educate people for Christian ministry in multifaith settings, and this grant lets us explore this question in an intentional, disciplined way," said Russell Haitch, associate professor of Christian education and writer of the grant proposal. Anticipated outcomes of the study, scheduled for spring 2012, include better teaching and learning on pastoral practices in multifaith contexts, greater clarity about key concepts of Bethany's mission, and stronger collegiate relations and collaborative scholarship.
One influence that led to the writing of the proposal was the Seminary's new mission statement, emphasizing education for "ministering, proclaiming, and living out God's shalom and Christ's peace." Bethany faculty have expressed a desire to examine how this language, in conjunction with the Brethren peace tradition, should inform the preparation of ministry students for the variety of multifaith contexts that exist in society today.
A second factor was Haitch's personal interest in interfaith dialogue, stemming partly from Bethany's 2008 Presidential Forum on "Hearing Scriptures of Peace," which brought together speakers and scholars from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Haitch also appreciates the work of the Scriptural Reasoning Society, a group of scholars from the Abrahamic traditions. "Their approach is not a big-tent philosophy which searches for some elusive lowest common denominator, but a dialogue which strives for what they call 'higher quality differences.' The goal is not consensus but friendship and better understanding," he said.
Two practical ministry settings will serve as test contexts for the study: hospital ministry and hospitality in cross-cultural experiences, the multifaith contexts that Bethany students are most likely to encounter. A number of students participate in clinical pastoral education in health care settings, and all degree-seeking students are required to participate in a cross-cultural experience.
"We are excited to be one of the few seminaries selected by the Association of Theological Schools to receive this grant," said Steve Schweitzer, academic dean. "It will provide an excellent opportunity for Bethany faculty to engage in conversations on a topic that affects many of our graduates and has practical implications for those in congregational settings. This type of forward thinking will only make our educational programs stronger."
Six faculty members will participate in the study through a series of meetings and assigned readings. Jewish scholar Dr. Peter
Ochs from the University of Virginia and Muslim scholar Dr. A. Rashied Omar from the University of Notre Dame, both of whom have professional connections with Haitch, have been invited to share their faith and intercultural perspectives.