2013 Convenant Cluster Consultation - Texas Lutheran University

Approximately 25 people from institutions and organizations in regions 4, 5 & 6 of the ELCA gathered at Texas Lutheran University under the theme, “Intercultural Education for the Sake of the Gospel: What can we do?” Dr. Judith Lynn Dikes-Hoffmann from TLU was invited to give a presentation on the changing demographics in the US, and the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Dean of Esperanza College at Eastern University in Pennsylvania was invited to do three presentations on the changing face of theological education in the US, given the changes that have taken place and that will take place in the coming decades.

We opened with worship on Thursday afternoon. Greetings from the president and campus pastor at TLU were followed by introductions of the participants, including the roles they fill, the places they come from, and the number of years they have been involved in the Covenant Cluster Network. There was an introduction to the history and purposes of the Covenant Cluster and how that relates to the Covenant Cluster Network. There was also an introduction to the Open Space process that we would use on Friday to explore topics of interest to the participants.

Dr. Dikes-Hoffmann then gave us a one-hour overview of the changing demographics of the US. A PowerPoint file that she used can be downloaded HERE. While most of us are aware of the projections that there will be a Latino majority within the next few decades, Dr. Dikes-Hoffmann went on to describe the effects of that change on the Lutheran church and on institutions of higher education in particular. In particular, we are losing the younger generations of Latinos in high school and college. They often are provided a substandard primary education, which means they don’t score well on college entrance exams; in addition, they come from poor families that cannot afford to send their children to college. ...Not to mention expecting that they could afford four more years to attend seminary. Judy’s question to the group fit well with our theme: what can we do as a church?

  On Friday and Saturday, the Rev. Dr. Conde-Frazier gave three presentations that followed up on Dr. Dikes-Hoffmann’s presentation. Using stories, scripture and cold, hard facts, she explored the challenges we face today and in the coming decades. The Lutheran church (and the communities in which we are historically situated) are in decline. The areas of the country where we are under-represented and the ethnic groups that are not often found in our congregations are growing rapidly. The ways that we have trained leaders in the past will not work for long. Her question to us is: How can we teach differently in this context of difference?

The Rev. Dr. Conde-Frazier spoke out of her experiences of founding a church in a poor community in New London, Connecticut, and of retooling college education for first and second generation immigrants at Esperanza College. For instance (and this is only one of many examples of retooling that she supplied), Esperanza has developed the ability to provide a college education for students while incurring no more than $12,000 in student loans.

She also told us about the work she and others had been involved in through the ATS to develop AETH (La Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana). The AETH has developed a continuum that spans from Bible Institutes to M.Div. programs (see www.aeth.org). The process includes a set of standards for the excellence of their curriculums and who it is that teaches in their curriculums, and it provides theological education in ways outside of a normal B.A > M.Div. program.

We then spent Friday afternoon in Open Space Conversations, small group discussions with topics suggested by various presenters.

On Saturday morning, at her third presentation, the Rev. Dr. Conde-Frazier suggested that the group might be dodging the critical issues raised in the earlier presentations in our Open Space conversations. The issues are real and urgent, she said, and demand our full attention.

We closed with a discussion of next year’s consultation. The desire of those who were present is to move next year’s event to Grand View University (Des Moines, Iowa) but to keep the topic focused on interculturality and its impact on theological education. It is possible that we will invite the Rev. Dr. Conde-Frazier back again to keep the pressure applied on us.


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