With increasing faculty and student diversity, Yale Divinity School is developing a Black Church Studies program to prepare students for ministry in predominantly African-American churches.
Spearheaded by William Mathis, director of the program and pastor of the Springs of Life-Giving Water Church in New Haven, the colloquia-based program will provide students with the theological guidance and practical training necessary to lead black churches, incorporating lessons ranging from how to balance a budget to how to meet ordination requirements. Although a committee of faculty, alumni and students is still in the process of establishing the specifics of the program, Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling told the News that the general structure will resemble those of already established programs, like the Methodist Studies Certificate program.
Students in the Methodist Studies program take classes necessary for ordination, attend program-specific colloquia and receive support from both affiliated faculty and local clergymen. Upon graduation, these students receive a certificate signifying their completion of the program along with their diploma.
“The mission of [Yale Divinity School] is to train religious leaders,” Mathis said. “With this new diversity comes a responsibility that we provide diverse theological training that … makes the students of [the Div School] better prepared leaders for the global community.”
The timeline for the program’s implementation is not finalized, but Mathis said he envisions hosting the program’s first colloquium sometime this semester to connect students with local black clergy. By the end of the year, he hopes to have developed something more structured so that those graduating in the upcoming school year have the ability to receive a certificate confirming participation in the program.
In an interview with the News, Mathis stressed the relevancy of the Black Church Studies program given issues arising from the current political climate.
“The black church has historically been one of the leading organizations that has brought about justice and equality not just for black people but for people in general,” Mathis said. “Yale Divinity has positioned itself to develop and train leaders who will be able to combat these issues.”
According to Sterling, the establishment of the Black Church Studies program — which Mathis hopes will become a certificate program as well — is a direct result of the Div School’s success in recruiting faculty, staff and students from underrepresented races and ethnicities, with African-Americans comprising the largest minority group within the Div School’s student body.
Throughout the past few years, the Div School has prioritized increasing faculty, student and curricula diversity. In 2015, the Div School applied for funding under the $50 million University-wide initiative to increase faculty diversity. And the school has surpassed its goal to enroll a student population composed of 25 percent underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities for the past three years, according to Sterling: Nearly 30 percent of domestic students in this year’s incoming class are students of color.