What has the academy to do with congregational faith formation (and vice versa)?
What has the academy to do with congregational faith formation (and vice versa)?

Lisa speaks at REA

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.

Would you like to see a “Research Interest” column on Key Resources? What kinds of articles would you be eager to hear about? For reference, here’s the list from the current issue.

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.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and a panelist on the new Easter People podcast.

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  1. I quite like the idea of a “Research Interest” column on Key Resources. I enjoy reading research and exploring REA but I don’t have anyone who I can discuss and play with those ideas with who is more of a practitioner.

  2. I’ve let my REA subscription lapse, but enjoyed getting the journal. Most of the time the articles were too research-based and hard to apply to practical day-to-day ministry in a parish. I’ve kept hoping to attend an REA conference to hear some of the papers being presented, but they never seem to offer topics that address the reality of congregational life where the rubber hits the road. So, “yes” to the “Research Interest” column! Thanks for sharing your perspectives.

  3. I love the idea of curating pieces from the journal with pragmatic links, and would be happy to help you get an official space on the REA website to do so (it’s powered by wordpress). Let’s talk!

    1. Sounds great, Mary. I’m chatting with Mary Ellen Durante on Tuesday, in fact. Let’s see where that goes and be in touch?

      I imagine many of the journal authors themselves would also love a place to be able to share some more pragmatic links and other related material that doesn’t necessarily belong in the journal but is helpful to them and would be helpful to the REA audience (professors and practitioners alike).