Call for Proposals: “Living Theology: Reclaiming the Pastor as Theologian”

I am hosting a conference at my church in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, for UCC clergy, sponsored by the UCC’s 2030 Clergy Network and the UCC’s Local Church Ministries.  Jeff Robbins will be our guest facilitator.  The idea will be to have a new writer’s group emerge from this confernece for future gatherings and publications.  Please distribute to those that you know who might be interested?  (The Altizer quote with which I open is from the afterword for my forthcoming book, Too Good to Be True, more information on that will come soon…)

Description / Rationale:  Theologian Thomas Altizer asks the progressive church, “Is a Jonathan Edwards possible in the church today?” This question is especially stunning, provocative, and condemning for mainline churches, especially the United Church of Christ, who claims Edwards as one of our own.  In the UCC, we may ask:  Where are our theological voices today?  Who validates or invalidates them?  Who promotes them?  Who is their audience?  Do they reflect the “ground” of the church?

Ironically, The UCC @ 50, the official publication of denomination’s golden anniversary, while proclaiming that “theology is alive” in the United Church of Christ, omits our most enduring and broadly influential theologian, Paul Tillich, from its overview of our theological history—is the absence of Tillich indicative of a lack of focus or lack of knowledge of our own recent history and traditions?  Is theology or theological practice possible today in the United Church of Christ?  Do we think of ourselves as too diverse to have a unified theology that theology has now become marginalized or even forbidden? If “theology is alive” in the UCC, who are our theologians? Who publishes them? Who is their audience?

The 2030 Theological Summit will gather young UCC clergy to discuss this question around the theme, Living Theology: Reclaiming the Pastor as Theologian.  With rising suspicion of theology by the public, in churches, and in universities and seminaries; the decline of social standing of the clergyperson in the community; and with a growing suspicion of public intellectualism and of clergy and theologians in particular, this Summit seeks to begin new conversations about reclaiming our UCC traditions of the pastor as public theologian.

Returning to Altizer’s question—“Is a Jonathan Edwards possible in the church today?”—we will seek to re-establish the role of the pastor as the public theologian as a distinctly UCC way of thinking theologically.

Goals:  The goal of this gathering will be to set the stage for a new generation of pastor-theologians working within UCC settings, paradigms, and theological traditions.  If successful, future gatherings and projects will continue, perhaps under the leadership of a new organization of volunteers.

Who:  The Summit will be open to all authorized ministers (licensed, ordained, or commissioned) with UCC standing; seminarians seeking authorized ministry in the UCC; and UCC-affiliated lay academics who broadly define themselves as under the age of 40.  We want to give voice to new, under-represented, emerging, or marginalized voices within the UCC.  Participants may attend without presenting a paper.  Registration information will follow; child care will be available (and paid by the Summit) by request.

Date, Setting, and Sponsors:  The 2030 Theological Summit will be an event held on Friday, September 13, at Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, and is funded by grants from the UCC 2030 Network and the Local Church Ministries of the UCC.

Facilitation:  The Summit is being organized by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Rodkey (Pastor of St. Paul’s, Dallastown, PA, and adjunct professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary and Penn State York), with special facilitation by Dr. Jeffrey Robbins, chair of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College.

Call for Proposals:  We are seeking proposals from authorized ministers with UCC standing who are roughly under the age of 40, to reflect on the theological “office” or public intellectual task of the ministry today.  We suggest that for most clergy considering a proposal, a praxis-theory-praxis methodology of “fundamental pastoral theology”: begin with a pastoral problem, or pastoral experience, offer a theological reflection, and return to the experience with renewed insight, new questions, or even practical solutions or an agenda.  Draw on distinctly UCC traditions, resources, and identities; mine our traditions to locate your theological perspectives (Mercersburg, process, feminist, queer, “ECOT,” radical, Black, liberation, etc.).

In your proposals, communicate succinctly, speak honestly, and think radically: avoid didactic tones, D.Min.-style “failed experiments,” and provide proper citations of others’ work as necessary. Avoid broad appeals to “denominational diversity” or slick attempts to defy historically established categories or traditions.  As an authorized clergyperson, speak with authority and as an exegete of scripture, tradition, and your own experiences.  We have arranged for all participants who wish to purchase the entire set of Living Theological Heritage in a searchable, USB  format may get it at a 25% discount from UCC Resources (1-800-537-3394).  To get the discount, please mention the 2030 Theological Summit.

Proposal submission:  Proposals will be evaluated on merit, creativity, relevance, and overall quality.  If individuals submit similar proposals, the proposals may be accepted contingent upon collaboration with other participants.  Please also include a brief statement about your professional affiliation (church, employer, etc.) and standing in a UCC conference. Final papers will be 3,500-5,500 words in length.  Please submit your proposals of 250 words or less to cdrodkey at yahoo dot com by July 1, 2013.

Pre-event:  On Thursday evening, September 12, we will gather for informal conversation with Dr. Jeff Robbins to discuss relevant chapters from his book, In Search of a Non-Dogmatic Theology.  Information on this book and the pre-event will be forthcoming.

5 thoughts on “Call for Proposals: “Living Theology: Reclaiming the Pastor as Theologian”

  1. This is the topic of last two chapters of my book, The Synaptic Gospel. ;)

    And: There are folks working on serious work in the field of religious education. RE, however, is a field taken less and less seriously by seminaries as there are fewer professionals and fewer clergy working in religious education. The publishing world has really been changing in this area as well.

    One shift has been to relabel what was once “christian education” to be “faith formation,” to indicate a more encompassing, multi-, pan-, or inter-generational perspective of theological and faith practices. I sit on my UCC Conference’s committee on Faith Formation, for example, and the change of name away from “Christian Education” was intentional to include lifespan education and appropriate education along the spectrum of “faith stages” of Fowler’s famous study. Religious educ

    And also, my colleague Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, is on national staff of the United church of Christ and is working seriously in this area. Her professional page with the UCC is and the link to her large study on the subject is . It’s pretty UCC specific but it gives an indication of the major shifts happening here and how they are impacting congregations and denominational settings. I was invited to be part of the conversations at the UCC national offices last fall to discuss this report. The report is pretty readable and it is backed up by sophisticaed theological worldviews. My sense is that churches on the whole are reluctant to change in this area because they are against change in general and that mainline clergy have no vocabulary to really engage the world of christian education or faith formation practices.

  2. thanks, I’ll take a look. Clearly seminary education is in need of a total overhaul that would break down the silos of disciplines and incorporate theology directly into the various practices like bible study, preaching, spiritual formation, counseling,etc. It was a grave error to follow liberal arts higher ed. in teaching this way and also in teaching ‘about’ rather than teaching ‘how’, but yes until ministers have the institutional backing (political&financial) to bring about the needed changes in the daily workings of churches there is no purpose in setting seminarians up to fail by teaching them what their future flocks will just veto.
    sorry to hear about Otto he was a funny and passionate man who brought his teachings to life in his person.

  3. Yes. I have said this elsewhere but the state of the church is so weakened that for the most part I think the church as a whole is either fervent in desire to collapse or thirsty for change–whether the church as a whole is willing to do what it needs to do to transform from the inside out is another question, one that I think folks like Peter Rollins and others are trying to do, even if it is from an expatriate position.

  4. my sense is that ‘church’ as we (and the older folks who are the majority of the folks in the pews and on church boards) knew it was very dependent on fairly stable communities that really don’t exist in this day and age of life in the USA (but is all too open to purpose-driven/sprawl-friendly sales models), haven’t seen anything from Rollins and co. that suggests that they have overcome the kinds of tyranny of the means that come to define organizations over time (that is for organizations with the means to sustain themselves over time) and or that they are really doing a better job of helping people to develop the kinds of disciplines/relationships that can really reshape (or cultivate/bricolage) their habits/biases but I hope that they can do better over time.

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