Report from the Association for Theological Field Education Consultation

Greetings from Williamsburg, Virginia, across the street from the campus of William and Mary, and this year’s home of the biennial consultation of the Association for Theological Field Education (ATFE). ATFE is the professional association for those at colleges, universities, and seminaries who coordinate students’ field ed — or, by other names, “practica,” “internships,” “placements,” etc. I’m here because part of my position at Concordia includes directing Faith and Leadership Practicum experiences for our students. It’s my first meeting, so I’m off to attend seminars in a few minutes. For now, though, a few quick newbie reflections.

  • ATFE members, on the whole, are extremely cordial and open. I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks and felt welcomed as a first-timer.
  • It’s great to connect with an organization of great (Christian) religious diversity — Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and more make up the consultation participants
  • By its nature, I’m told ATFE membership has a high rate of turnover. There is a large contingent of people here for the first or second time. Many of us began our positions in the last year or so.
  • Related to the above, I’m heartened to hear that most of the ATFE members with whom I’ve spoken have taken winding, rather than direct, paths to their positions as field educators. There’s no one way to become a field educator. Members have backgrounds as academics, counselors, pastors, teachers, administrators, and farmers.
  • Many claim their work (and this guild) squarely within the discipline of practical theology.
  • There seems to be an intentional push for ATFE members to publish in academic journals more often. Relevant journals include a wide variety such as Journal of Belief and Values, Pastoral Psychology, Christian Century, and Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 
  • Speaking of scholarship, Kwok Pui Lan delivered yesterday’s keynote address, “From Pastors to Possibilities….Religious Leadership for 2040.” Fantastic!
  • As far as I can tell, I’m the only ATFE member tweeting from an unprotected account. This strikes me as a real miss to increase the value of the conference. I’d love to connect, reflect, and respond to conferees on Twitter and follow a hashtag. Does it suggest ATFE members are “out of touch” with current ministry practices? I won’t say, but it feels like a blind-spot to me.
  • Williamsburg is a fun town, though I seem to have naturally reverted to my childhood “ma’am” and “sir.” Amazing what a few oak trees can do to a southerner.
  • I’m definitely a minority here as a field educator from a college, rather than graduate school. I’ve still found the consultation quite helpful, but I wonder if college and university field ed folks ever get together.

Well, I need to get back to the proceedings. More later, perhaps.

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