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Communities of Learning and Formation


Communities of Learning and Formation: a new model for contextual learning in field education

Bexley Seabury Seminary is now offering an enriched, low-residency, and highly contextual Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree program. In this new program, contextual learning and formation for ministerial leadership is emphasized

… at the curricular level,

by incorporating elements of Bexley Seabury’s Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program in Congregational Development. MDiv students will:

  • take three Congregational Leadership and Development courses (9 credits) alongside experienced practitioners from diverse congregational contexts. Learning about family and congregational systems theory – as well as principles, strategies, and best practices for community organizing, asset-based community development, and non-profit management – will equip students with the theoretical and practical tools that will make them effective leaders in their own congregational contexts.
  • have the opportunity to participate in a travel seminar, such as Learning from London: Mission and Evangelism in the 21st Students will experience congregational development strategies at work in global Anglican and multi-cultural contexts.

… at the course level,

by including among the goals, and in the pedagogy in all courses, opportunities for students to connect their academic learning in scripture, theology, ethics, church history, and practical theology with their experience in their own local, cultural, and congregational contexts.

… and in the seminary’s unique approach to field education,

by establishing field sites that have agreed to participate as Communities of Learning and Formation (CLFs). Our MDiv students, most of whom will live at a distance from Chicago, will have a two-year field education experience, developed in and with congregations in students’ own local contexts, under the direction of our Director of Formation and Contextual Learning. Each student’s contextual learning program will be shaped by the charism of his or her own place of ministry. Participants in the CLF core groups created by these congregations will then have an opportunity to shape each other into a committed cohort of teachers and learners that will include the seminary student, supervising clergy, and the people with whom they minister. At every step, students will be challenged to connect the content of their academic work with insights and reflections drawn from their internship experience.

An overarching goal of Bexley Seabury’s enriched MDiv program, and of the field education component in particular, is to foster the education and formation of continually context-aware, reflective, and responsive ministry practitioners, beginning on Day One of their time in seminary

Communities of Learning and Formation: a new model for contextual learning in field education

Graph for Communities of Learning and FormationA central and defining feature of the new Bexley Seabury MDiv curriculum is the establishment of an alternative model of integrative field education that is based on the participation of local Communities of Learning and Formation (CLFs). This model marks a departure from the more traditional model that typically includes didactics in a field education seminar, a semester or two of internship at a field site, and pedagogy aimed at helping students to integrate theory and practice in conversation with seminary colleagues and professors in the seminary setting. By contrast, the CLF model situates field education in the student’s local congregational context over the course of the students’ seminary career. The integration of academic knowledge and practical ministerial skills takes place in the congregation, rather than exclusively in the classroom, and in conversation with a core group of CLF members.

By involving student interns in interactions, relationships, and conversations with the laity, staff, and clergy participants in the CLFs, students will also have an opportunity to experience the reality of collaborative community life and communication while also building skills in preaching, teaching, and administration. As opposed to classroom discussion of theoretical and hypothetical models of leadership – or even analysis of case studies “from the field” – the study of congregational life through the actual experience of it will foster students’ appreciation of how a particular community functions as a complex, living entity with its own systemic dynamics, story, and tradition.

CLFs are intended to affirm and nurture the organic and contextual theology that lives at the local and regional level in order to help all participants to understand better what it means to live into the reign of God. We believe that the historic clerical model of theological leadership, study and seminary cultivated expertise perpetuates a paradigm of the minister as the sole expert in the faith community. To the extent that formation is individually based and contextually indifferent, so too will be the ministry and mode of leadership that follows. Bexley Seabury challenges this prevailing mindset. Under the CLF model, collaborative teaching and learning will take place in, with, and for the student’s local congregation.

Facilitated by visiting members of the Bexley Seabury faculty, members of a CLF Core Group will collaborate with the student to learn about and to practice various methods of theological reflection; to learn to identify missional goals and objectives, to develop strategies for implementation, and to assess mission effectiveness. The CLF Core Group will become equipped and empowered to use tools that are essential for service as a forming community, as well as for their own communities’ growth and development. The benefits of this model are thus reciprocal.