Matt Hufman’s analysis of research about Gen Z, mental health, and spirituality noted that the stigma about mental health does in fact exist, but mostly among older adults; Gen Z is quite comfortable talking about mental health. As an academic administrator and a pastor of a suburban church, I wrestle with how theological institutions and faith communities can shatter this silence and mediate the trust issues that prohibit disclosure and real ministry from being fostered. Springtide Research Institute’s The State of Religion & Young People 2021: Navigating Uncertainty, suggests that the Church and trusted leaders who display integrity and transparency, who honor the ways young people address ambiguities, and who understand and accommodate their wrestling, yield great benefit. The academy and church must collaboratively re-imagine ways to engage Gen Z.
I have observed the effects of mandated social distance, which created isolation that countered the interests in, or need for, relationality and community. Social distancing coupled with social media that publicly body shames, are shadows upon mental health. As Harry Emerson Fosdick’s pastoral preaching begged of the preacher-pastor to consider the pew as a couch where individuals receive care and theological reflection, the Church must acknowledge mental health as a real issue that Gen Z is comfortable confessing.
Theological institutions are respondents to socio-cultural and ecclesiastical clashes that affect life and inform emerging theologies. Theological education’s most urgent question is crisis-centered. There is a crisis in the lack of trust younger people have with authorities of the faith and specific to mental health. Behavioral Sciences, and Intergenerational Bridging, and Constructive Theology, and Christian Ethics must merge and create discussion and course offerings that will assist the seminarian in developing a discipline that makes discourse among younger people and older faith leaders easier. Perhaps the talk will lead to greater transparency and trust among members of Gen Z and the Church.
Rev. Dr. Gregory M. Howard
Dean, Shaw University Divinity School
There’s much that resonated in Doug Strong’s “Reflections of a Founding Dean,” although in my case not as the first dean of a newly forming seminary but as the first dean of a formerly freestanding seminary newly embedding in a university of our denomination. While my position description is focused on visionary leadership, much of my time is consumed with the daily details of management.
Relationship-building and clear communication across campus are essential. There are aspects of seminary that are simply different from undergraduate and even other graduate programs. It takes time, work, and trust to communicate that a seminary’s needs differ from the rest of the university – not as an assertion of superiority or privilege, but rather a reality of our distinct mission.
Unlike Strong, one of my initial challenges was convincing an existing donor base that we still needed its support. Trinity’s joining Capital University was viewed by some as a hostile takeover, while others assumed that the university was a rich relative who was now paying all our bills for us. Neither is true.
The strongest resonance between my experience and Strong’s is a hopeful one: responding to an unexpected call to use my unique gifts and experience in a new way, for the sake of the church. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Kit Kleinhans
Dean, Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University
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