Growing need for young leaders creates 'ecumenical leadership gap;'
Fund awards $1.5 million in 2008 fellowships, $16 million over decade
ATLANTA, June 2, 2008 - Congregations in most Christian denominations feel a growing need to attract and retain qualified young clergy to their pulpits. As a generation of Baby Boomer pastors prepares to retire, interest in congregational ministry is declining among students in North American theological schools. The result is an ecumenical leadership gap that requires investment and intervention to maintain quality and ward off mediocrity in the ministerial profession, according to program officers at The Fund for Theological Education (FTE), an Atlanta-based nonprofit.
FTE seeks to reverse a 20-year decline in the number of clergy under age 35 by attracting and supporting gifted college, seminary and doctoral students whose talents qualify them for any profession but whose passions draw them toward the mantle of ministry or theological scholarship. The Fund also aims to improve diversity on the faculties of North American theological schools.
"Some call Generation Y the most narcissistic generation in recent history, but that's not what we see," said Dr. Trace Haythorn, FTE president. "We see bellwether Millennials motivated by a passion for service, deep faith and a heightened interest in social issues. A new generation is stepping up to explore paths of ministry and theological scholarship-but they're redefining what that means for them and what they seek in the church and its role in society."
This month FTE awards more than $1.5 million in fellowships and support to 162 top students from 40 U.S. states and Canada-representing more than 30 denominations-to explore or prepare for vocations as pastoral ministers or as professors in the theological academy.
Over the past decade, the Fund has awarded $16 million in support to nearly 1,500 students, the majority of whom have pursued ordained ministry, a church-related vocation or a faculty post teaching religion and theology.
"This intervention demonstrates that young people answer the call if we offer them support," said Haythorn. "But we have to take support to scale to meet the need for the talented, diverse leadership congregations and campuses need."
FTE Ministry Program Fellowships are awarded to undergraduate students (college juniors and seniors); entering seminary students nominated by their congregations for awards to match church support; second-year Master of Divinity students who are nominated by their seminary president or dean; and recent college graduates who are participants in faith-based volunteer service and are pursuing a Master of Divinity degree.
FTE Doctoral Program Fellowships are awarded to outstanding doctoral students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups who aspire to teach and do research as faculty in theological schools. More than one-third of theological schools report they do not have a scholar of color on their faculties. FTE Doctoral and Dissertation Fellowships support talented African-American doctoral students; the Fund's North American Doctoral Fellowships assist African-American, Asian-American, Native American or Hispanic doctoral students. Both initiatives provide stipends for education-related expenses and networking support to accelerate completion of the doctoral degree and to obtain teaching positions.
The 2008 FTE Ministry and Doctoral Fellows will attend a national leadership conference, Next Generation Leaders: Voices and Vocations that Change the World, to be held June 8-15 at Emory University in Atlanta.
The Fund for Theological Education is a leading ecumenical advocate for excellence and diversity in Christian ministry and theological scholarship. Since 1954, FTE has awarded nearly 6,000 fellowships in partnership with others committed to the future of quality leadership for the church. For more information and to see a list of 2008 FTE fellowship recipients, visit www.thefund.org.
Contact: Kerry Traubert