As usual, Kwok Pui-lan has it right. She recently posted some comments in light of her keynote address “From Pasts to Possibilities: Religious Leadership in 2040,” presented to the Association of Theological Field Education (ATFE) during their recent conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. She focuses on the year 2040 because that is the year that, according to projections, the United States will no longer have a racial or ethnic majority.
Her main point: “What if we see theological field education not as apprenticeship, but more like a laboratory—a place to try out and test new things?”
Theological education needs fieldwork, and those field sites cannot be churches only, but must also include non-traditional field sites. My favorite example that Kwok mentions of a non-traditional field site: national parks. This all strikes a harmonious chord with me personally. I include fieldwork assignments in all of my classes, and I am continually working to open up fieldwork possibilities to include greater variety and diversity as well as greater relevance to the unique needs and interests of the students.
Experimental fieldwork in theological education is necessary if we are to prepare students for the kind of participatory leadership roles called for in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.