From Risk to Renewal

As the new year begins, risk seems firmly situated in the lexicon of the “Great Recession.” Who hears or uses the word without remembering the reckless excesses of Wall Street with its Bernie Madoffs and their Ponzi schemes, or the helter-skelter race to profits that drove the sub-prime lending scandal?

And that’s a shame. Because risk—with its potential for failure or success—is also a prerequisite for creativity, innovation, reconciliation, and renewal.

This issue of Divinity explores the implications—for individuals and for the Divinity School—of faith-based risks taken in service to the church and the world.

“It may be that the economic meltdown of the last year was a gift to us,” says Dean L. Gregory Jones, “because it presented challenges that compelled us to take risks that will help us get ahead of the curve.”

For the Divinity School, staying ahead of the curve involves strategic expansion at a time when many institutions are scaling back. Planning for the new fiscal realities at Duke has involved a cross-section of faculty and staff volunteers who began meeting last spring. Their charge? To brainstorm creative solutions to filling a projected $1.6 million budget hole, solutions that would be consistent with the school’s historic service to the church, the academy, and the world. In the interview that follows, Dean Jones discusses why a new model of theological education is important, not just for the next three years, but further into the future.

In the following stories, you’ll meet Angelina Atyam, a Ugandan midwife and mother who became an international advocate for human rights after rebels with the Lord’s Resistance Army abducted her 14-year-old daughter; pastor Mike Solberg D’86, who used a sabbatical to swim the English Channel and help build a school in Angola; and three pastors, each young and female, whose ministries defy ecclesial limitations. The journey to renewal, they suggest, begins with a firm step toward risk. — Elisabeth Stagg, Editor

Editor’s Note:  February 2010 — Duke University announced shortly after publication of the winter edition of Divinity that Dean L. Gregory Jones has been named senior university advisor for international strategy at Duke effective March 1 and will step down as dean at the end of the spring semester. Professor Richard Hays will complete the two remaining years of Jones’s term.  Read the full story »

State of the School


The following interview was adapted from an Oct. 29, 2009, conversation between Dean L. Gregory Jones and David Crabtree, a broadcast journalist with WRAL television in Raleigh, N.C., and a special student at the Divinity School.

Q Your 2009 state of the school report noted that even as the economy has shown signs of recovery, income from the school’s endowment has declined and likely won’t return to previous levels for some time. Regarding the church, you pointed out that some denominations are considering dropping the M.Div. as a requirement for ordination. Given these realities, what are the most significant challenges this divinity school is facing?

What the economic meltdown of the last year did is to accelerate issues that we would have had to face anyway. It really hasn’t been a process of just responding to economic challenges, though those are very real.

The deeper issues are the ways in which the needs of the church and the academy are changing. The Divinity School has long had a commitment to serving the church and preparing people for leadership in the church, in the academy, and in the world. The challenge is to understand as deeply as we can how those needs are presenting now and how we can build on our strength and address our weaknesses.

If it was a question of tightening our belts to deal with the budget challenges, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it very effectively. We wouldn’t only be cutting fat; we’d be cutting muscle, and probably starting a spiral downward.

Story continues >>
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