The Candler Foundry Makes Theological Education Accessible for All

August 27, 2020

RyanBonfiglio-Horizontal1.jpgWhen Candler’s public theological education (PTE) initiative launched in spring 2019, its inaugural director and Assistant Professor in the Practice of Old Testament Ryan Bonfiglio had a lot of ideas for how to connect theological education with the community beyond Candler and Emory University. Eighteen months later, those plans have come together to form The Candler Foundry.

Register for a Sept. 23 webinar to learn more about how to connect with The Candler Foundry.

candler-foundry-golden.jpgAlong with Candler Foundry program coordinator Chrystal Golden 20T, Bonfiglio has fleshed out a variety of opportunities for broader audiences to explore theology, reflect deeply, and engage issues that matter to their communities.

“We see theological education not just as professional training for future clergy, but as an act of discipleship for all who strive to deepen their faith,” Bonfiglio says.

“Our goal is to make the type of learning that happens at seminaries accessible and engaging for those who likely will never go to seminary – lawyers and accountants, activists and social workers, Sunday School teachers and youth volunteers, regular church attenders and those just curious about faith.”

Offerings already well underway include short and full-length semester courses taught by Candler faculty, videos and discussion guides to spark conversation in groups or one-on-one, and regular Facebook Live panel discussions with Candler faculty, students, and alumni connecting theology with current issues in the world.

“Taking theological education to churches and communities involves more than just changing where we offer classes,” Bonfiglio says. “It involves reimagining who our audience is, how we deliver our content, and what questions we ask.”

That audience can range from an individual searching for more information by themselves, or a congregation looking for a fresh way to deepen their faith. One way The Candler Foundry connects with churches is by partnering to host Courses in the Community, often tackling a subject that the particular congregation is passionate about. Recent courses have addressed criminal justice systems in America, sectarianism and racial violence, and the Bible and poverty.

Says Program Coordinator Chrystal Golden, “In a world full of struggle and strife because of unexamined theological beliefs, I believe that everyone should have access to theological education. By daring to explore what we believe and why, we are faithful. After all, Jesus asked a lot of questions, and his questions often led his followers to new insights and revelation.”

Unpacking those new insights is key to The Candler Foundry’s work, Bonfiglio says, and how participants connect their faith with what’s going on locally, nationally, and globally. “In all of our offerings, we emphasize the ‘So what?’ questions. These sorts of questions push to the forefront what’s at stake in exploring a given topic for specific communities and the various ministries of the church.”

Here are ways to get involved through The Candler Foundry:

  • Courses in the Community: Taught by Candler faculty, these Short Courses (3-6 weeks) and Master Classes (10-14 weeks) connect biblical and theological reflection to issues that matter to your congregation and community. Pick from a selection of available courses or consult with The Candler Foundry on the design of a course that’s right for your context. Read more about Courses in the Community.
  • TheoEd Talks: A faith-based speaker series that features leading thinkers in the church and the academy giving the talk of their lives in 20 minutes or less. Speakers at past TheoEd Talks events have included Austin Channing Brown, Jonathan Merritt, Mike McHargue, Hillary McBride, Wil Gafney, Shane Claiborne, Diana Butler Bass, Pete Enns, and more, including Candler faculty. Each talk is available to view online and comes with a discussion guide designed for use in Sunday School classes, small groups, or Bible studies.
  • Candler in Conversation: A biweekly webinar series that brings together Candler faculty, staff, alumni, and students to engage in conversations about faith, theology, and public life. Watch live on The Candler Foundry Facebook page, or listen to replays on the website or by subscribing to the Candler in Conversation podcast.
  • Foundry Resources: Visit The Candler Foundry Resources page to get free access to recordings of special lectures on campus and other public events. There you’ll also find Foundry Highlights, short teaching lessons that aim to distill major lectures at Candler into a visually rich, easily shareable format. Click here to watch the Foundry Highlight of Father Bryan Massingale’s 2019 Howard Thurman Lecture.
  • Faith and Leadership Foundations: Launching in the fall of 2021, this program is designed for congregants, teachers, lay ministers, pastors, community organizers, and other individuals looking to grow spiritually and professionally through structured, cohort-based learning. Participants select from multiple tracks consisting of four six-week long courses and are eligible to earn a professional certificate and up to eight Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

“Whether through our Courses in the Community program, our Candler in Conversation webinars, or other initiatives, there’s room for everyone’s questions,” Golden says. “And when we have the courage to ask those questions out loud, everyone has the opportunity to learn and to share with someone else.”