Seminaries are struggling with the swelling number of religiously unaffiliated young Americans, with some of them retooling their programs to cater to this population. In Trust (Autumn), a magazine on seminary education, reports that reactions of seminary leaders to the polls showing the rising tide of “nones” has run the gamut from “I told you so,” to a “call to arms.” Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says that the data serves as a “great clarification” that the “nones” and loosely affiliated Americans are non-believers and comprise the mission field that the church should be serving. “In general, most seminaries either have not responded to the growing number of “nones” or have renewed their commitment to train ministers to re-affiliate the non-affiliated,” writes Heidi Schlumpf. She adds that neither approach recognizes the cultural shifts that have caused the growth of “nones” and have caused them to challenge conventional religious institutions and authorities.
The article focuses on the interdenominational Seattle School of Theology and Psychology as a model of innovation in engaging the non-affiliated in seminary education. Located in the “geographic Ground Zero” of the non-affiliated population, the school reports that half of its students check the “none” box on demographic informational forms. The Seattle school has reached out to the unaffiliated with curriculum changes that draw connections between spirituality and everyday life. “Their former master’s in Christian leadership is now a master’s in theology and culture and a recently added certificate program is called ‘Leadership in the New Parish,’ reports Schlumpf.
The concept of the “new parish” is based on the church being inclusive and hospitable to non-affiliated. The school has embraced the idea that seminary education is not only about training masters of divinity students for the institutional church, but also those who don’t feel a formal religious vocation. Across town, the School of Theology and Ministry at the Jesuit Seattle University has made similar curriculum shifts to attract the unaffiliated, including programs in “transforming spirituality” and “transformational leadership.”
(In Trust, http://www.intrust.org/Magazine/Latest-Issue)