With its upcoming African American Church Studies program – offering both a degree specialization and certificate track – Wesley Theological Seminary draws on one of its unique strengths.
“This is one of the few places where you’ll find African American faculty in the five core disciplines,” Dean Asa Lee said. “A lot of schools have black church programs, but they’re not likely to have lead faculty in the areas of biblical studies, pastoral care, theology, church history and preaching and worship.”
Lee is designing the program with the help of his fellow faculty members. “Our goal is to provide a social, historical and theological grounding in a foundational American Protestant institution,” he said.
The black church is a uniquely American phenomenon, he said. “It has deep and complex theological and social roots. This is a program that will give students a rich grounding in that history and in how it’s lived out today.”
For students in one of Wesley’s degree programs, a degree specialization will enhance and complement their studies. Those outside of a degree program can work toward a Certificate in African American Church Studies.
“The certificate program is designed for lay persons, clergy persons or just folks interested in studying the black church,” Lee said. “And, along the way, you get a taste of what it’s like to be in seminary.”
Offered in sessions on six Saturdays over a six-month period, the program is designed for the professional with a busy schedule. “You’re committing to be here once a month,” Lee said. “On each of those days you’ll have three classes – a plenary session and then two break-out sessions.”
The program also counts as four Continuing Education Units (CEUs), required by many professions. “Of course, you could also transfer those CEUs to Wesley credits, if you were inspired to make that step to being in seminary,” Lee said, adding that certificate programs are a great way to “get your feet wet.”
Whether on the certificate or degree track, participants will become intimately acquainted with texts produced by the black church. “There are spirituals, visual arts, poetry, the blues,” Lee said. “We’ll explore the entire gamut of what’s known as black art forms. Most of those art forms have their roots as sacred texts in the black church.”
Saturday sessions will mirror the core theological disciplines. “We’ll look at the history of social prophetic witness, at practical theological perspectives,” Lee said. “We’ll look at how we work with people and communities shaped by trauma. We’ll understand black theology as a theological underpinning to the ministry of the church, to African American biblical interpretation, to preaching and worship and to the arts.”
Throughout the process, students will gain the skills necessary to meet the needs of African American communities of all kinds. “This is part of Wesley’s long standing mission,” Lee said. “We’re here to equip our students to serve.”
For further information on African American Church Studies, contact the Admissions Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.