Lisa and I recently attended the annual meeting of REA, “an association of professors, practitioners, and researchers in religious education.” The topic of the 2013 meeting was “Coming Out Religiously: Religion, the Public Sphere, and Religious Identity Formation.” We presented a paper on the CMT’s work fostering communities of digital practice among faith formation ministers and seminarians.
Although Lisa gracefully walks the tightrope between professor/researcher and practitioner (“I’m an accidental academic,” she said to kick off our talk), I identify pretty squarely in the latter category. And at this conference, that put me very much in the minority. Statistics from the business meeting at the end of the conference confirmed that this trend has held pretty steady for at least four or five years.
I came away grateful for the feedback on our work and glad to have met some very smart colleagues (including the folks behind the interfaith learning initiative RavelUnravel, which we’ll have more to say about soon).
But I wasn’t entirely convinced of the value of the conference for a non-academically-aspiring faith formation minister in a congregation. “We need more workshops,” one colleague said frankly. (Workshops at REA are intended to “engage participants around a small set of issues or questions and provide constructive practical suggestions for addressing those issues.” The other breakout sessions are research interest groups and colloquies, both more academically focused.)
Another idea to consider, it seems to me, would be to pair researchers and practitioners in sessions designed to foster conversation between these two perspectives.
The mission of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching emphasizes the dissemination of research-based models and practices for religious education. “There is knowledge and wisdom here that the people we serve could use,” I kept thinking at the event. And in retrospect, I think the practitioners we speak to and correspond with every day have a lot to offer to the professors and researchers there.
Do any of you readers have experience with REA or other academic communities studying spiritual and religious formation? What have you learned from them? What would you like to learn from them? What might they learn from you? How might the CMT facilitate that kind of learning?
One very concrete idea we had was to become practitioner-minded curators of REA’s signature scholarly publication, Religious Education. Each month we’d choose a couple articles from the journal and summarize their findings with everyday applications and best practices in mind.
Please share your ideas in the comments. We look forward to serving you better and are committed to a bridge-building ministry of conversation and idea sharing among everyone who thinks carefully about teaching and learning in faith settings.