Christian Schools Build “Consortium” for Hispanic Theological Education | News & Reporting – ChristianityToday.com | Team Cansler

Three Christian colleges in Southern California are working together to provide a broad path of theological education for Hispanic students. Azusa Pacific University (APU), Life Pacific University (LPU) and the Latin American Bible Institute (LABI) have received $5 million from the Lilly Endowment Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative to develop a joint Spanish-language curriculum that focused on Hispanic theology and Latino supports students entering ministry.

“Receiving this from the Lilly Foundation gives us five years to help create these systems,” said Robert Duke, Azusa Deputy Provost. “In five years, I think we’ve created some kind of theological consortium here in Southern California around Hispanic theology and Spanish-language pastoral education in a way that we might not have done without the seed capital.”

The program will include coaching for Hispanic students and pastors, according to organizers, and will address issues of accessibility and affordability. According to 2021 Census data, nearly half of residents in Los Angeles County, California, are Hispanic or Latino, but only 14 percent of those over 25 have a bachelor’s degree — 20 points behind the general population.

Each of the three institutions offers different degrees as part of the program, including bachelor’s, master’s, MDiv, and DMin degrees. The colleges will also develop non-credit, coaching and bivocational curricula for Hispanic students.

The Lilly Endowment, a philanthropic foundation working for religion, education and community development (and which has donated money to Christianity Today), created the Pathway for Tomorrow initiative “to help theological schools build their capacity for preparation and support to strengthen and maintain pastoral leaders for Christian churches,” says its website.

The initiative has awarded grants ranging from $39,000 to nearly $8 million to 355 colleges across the United States and Canada. Azusa was one of 16 institutions to receive a grant in the third and largest round of funding. The school received $4,999,904 to be shared with LPU and LABI. According to Duke, the proposal’s lead author, the partnership is somewhat unusual for higher education, but it’s also a key selling point. The schools have promised to work together to give prospective students more flexibility across the region.

The program is currently in the process of hiring a director who will oversee the fellowship and coordinate between the three institutions.

Christopher Coble, vice president of the Foundation for Religion, said he’s seen more theological schools pursuing strategic partnerships, like the one the three LA schools are forming to serve Hispanic students.

“Many theological schools believe their future path depends on their ability to form strategic partnerships with other schools and church bodies,” he said. “These grants will help seminaries develop innovative and collaborative approaches to theological education that we believe will strengthen their efforts to prepare and nurture excellent leaders for Christian communities in the future.”

This innovation — from a new curriculum that is native in Spanish and not translated to a collaborative agreement that allows students to have a seamless transition — is critical to strengthening efforts to prepare Christian leaders for ministry, Coble said.

“Theological schools play an essential role in ensuring that Christian congregations have a steady stream of well-prepared leaders to lead their ministries,” he said.

Since 1980, more Christians have spoken Spanish than any other language, CT reported last month. According to the World Christian Database, more than 413 million Christians are native speakers of Spanish, compared to 250 million with English.

American-born Latinos tend to favor English worship more than Latino immigrants, but Spanish remains a large part of many Hispanic churches.

“Spanish is our mother tongue and the core of our roots. Spanish is the second [spoken] language in this country,” Jorge Ramos, a pastor in Hickory, North Carolina, told CT. Ramos, a native of Cuba, leads a small church that primarily serves first-generation Hispanics.

“The truth is that for the foreseeable future there will continue to be immigration of people who only speak Spanish,” he said. “And if we want to reach them, we have to be there for them.”

This idea is the basis for much of the planned program of the three colleges. Spanish-language theological education will not only be a more accessible option for many Hispanic students, but also a much-needed support for the spiritual needs of many Spanish-speaking communities in the United States.

In developing the program, the three schools focused on the importance of cultural context, said Daniel Ruarte, vice president of academic affairs at LPU and an APU alumnus.

“The contextualization is so important because Hispanic church leadership in the US is very different than in Latin America, Europe or other areas,” Ruarte said. “There is a strong desire among Hispanic students to learn and grow theologically. There just haven’t been any programs that have tackled this properly.”

Hispanic and black Americans are the least likely to be enrolled in college or have a bachelor’s degree, according to a Pew Research Center report released last month. At the same time, Latinos make up a growing proportion of all students enrolled in postsecondary institutions—an increase from 4 percent of all postsecondary students in 1980 to 20 percent in 2020.

APU, LPU, and LABI are all currently Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). They, like nearly 600 other HSI-designated schools, offer expanded resources for Hispanic students, who make up at least a quarter of full-time equivalent enrollments.

The three colleges have previously shared faculty and event resources, but the scholarship represents an opportunity to dream bigger, Duke said.

“A lot of it is using these next five years to re-imagine what theological education can be like when people work together,” he said.

Organizers hope other schools in other cities can emulate the program by forming consortia and adopting the curriculum or developing their own. Finally, there are other major cities with large congregations of Spanish-speaking Christians.

“I really hope this leads to a much broader discussion,” Duke said. “What can we create here that can be transferred to the other areas in their context?”

Although the three schools have been planning this project for several years, after receiving $5 million, the work has only really begun. The core question of partnership still requires lived answers: How can we better serve our Hispanic community?

“We started dreaming and became ambitious,” said Ruarte. “Now we must do it.”

Leave a Comment