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Praxis Education for Ministry in Urban Contexts: A Pedagogical & Programmatic Review of Wesley Theological Seminary’s Urban Fellows Program

I. Foundations in the Philosophy of Experiential Education

At the center of every educational endeavor is the desire to facilitate learning, but how do people learn? The way one chooses to answer this question lays the cornerstone for the formation of a philosophy of education. For the Urban Fellows program, this philosophy is grounded in the concept of “Experiential Education.” At its most basic, experiential education is a philosophy that emphasizes experience as the primary medium through which learning occurs. As simplistic and obvious as this definition may seem, higher education has often been plagued with critiques concerning the impractical nature of an education based primarily on lecture, theory, reading, and writing. It is not uncommon for seminaries to face the same critique when it comes to preparing pastors for their ministries. Add to this the complicated dimensions of ministry in urban settings and traditional seminary education can feel irrelevant. It is within this context that a philosophy of experiential education provides the foundations from which to re-imagine urban ministry training. While there are many ways of explain experiential education, Christian Itin’s definition is one of the most appropriate and comprehensive for understanding what the Urban Fellows program seeks to do.

Experiential education is a holistic philosophy, in which carefully chosen experiences supported by reflection, critical analysis, and synthesis are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results, through actively posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, constructing meaning, and integrating previously developed knowledge. Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, politically, spiritually, and physically in an uncertain environment where the learned may experience success, failure, adventure, and risk taking. The learning usually involves interaction between learners, learner and educator, and learner and environment. It challenges the learner to explore issues of values, relationship, diversity, inclusion, and community.1

This definition embodies everything the Urban Fellows program seeks to accomplish for students seeking to answer a call in urban ministry. There are a great number of scholars who have contributed to this field, including Carl Rogers, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Myles Horton, and Paulo Freire. Out of this list, I want to concentrate on Dewey and Freire for their holistic contributions and the explicit ways in which the program draws from their thought.

John Dewey’s work in education is commonly known as “progressive education” and is recognized by many as the founding father of the experiential education movement in the United States. His short text, Experience and Education, has served as a cornerstone for the theoretical conceptualization of experiential education. Dewey viewed education as both an individual and a social process. This led Dewey to the conclusion that schools ought to become social institutions that formed students to become fully capable participants in a democratic society. The role of the educator is to progressively organize content with appropriate experiences that create both a personal sense of openness and societal access to future experiences that culminate in contributions to the common good. Dewey’s educational philosophy is based on two key principles: continuity and interaction.2 Continuity assumes that every experience a person has will influence his/her future and that each experience builds upon the other in an unbroken chain. Interaction assumes that each new experience is processed in relationship to past experiences. Together, continuity and interaction suggest what each student learns is wholly dependent on the experiences they have had. Past experiences shape lived values and determine our present attitudes. It is therefore imperative for the educator to draw upon past experience as means of creating learning and to provide new positive experiences to continue pushing growth forward. Adversely, to ignore experience and delegate learning to purely conceptual content or theory essentially amounts to the rejection of learning from life itself.

Paulo Freire’s work has been given the title of “critical pedagogy.” If pedagogy can be defined as the study of teaching and learning, then critical pedagogy implies a critical analysis of who, how, and why teaching and learning occurs. Through the lens of critical pedagogy, issues of power and control are addressed to reveal how education is linked with historical context and political agendas. Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed has become a staple in understanding experiential education as a means of deconstructing the colonial frames that dominated educational practice in order to reconstruct critical consciousness and liberation. Like Dewey, Freire sees traditional methods of teaching based in lecture and the “banking” of knowledge dehumanizing, effectively placing students in the position of oppressed and teachers as oppressors. Instead, Freire advocates for “praxis education,” informed action coupled with critical reflection that allows students the dignity of freedom and thought. For Freire, praxis is defined as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”3 It is a process that involves aligning our actions in intentional and critical ways with the realities of the context in order to make change. In order to achieve real praxis, Freire submits the use dialogic methods of education that incorporate equal involvement in action and sharing of thoughts in dialogue. Dialogic models emphasize cooperation, unity, organization and cultural synthesis in contrast to anti-dialogics emphasizing manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of domination through methods of dividing and conquering. Throughout Freire’s philosophy of education is an urgent concern for the oppressed and the shaping of learning models that create freedom against oppression.

Dewey and Freire’s educational philosophies can be understood as the inspirational heartbeat of the Urban Fellows program. While neither scholar is explicitly connected with the seminary’s mission to train pastors nor the church’s priorities for making disciples, both show a Christ-like concern for formation of the whole person. This holds especially true in respect to forming persons committed to participatory democracy and social justice, two concepts that have become vital to ministry in urban settings. Dewey’s theoretical framework of experience is a model that encourages theological education to honor God’s active presence and shaping in all of the student’s experiences of life, taking them into account as key pieces of learning and growth in a way traditional education models ignore. Freire’s critical pedagogy provides a methodology for holding academic institutions, who are traditionally tied to privilege, accountable to teaching and learning in ways that factor in the lives and experiences of the “least of these.” These frames are central to the Urban Fellows experiment.

II. Experiential Learning and Spiritual/Theological Formation

Experiential education is a philosophy that is meant to facilitate experiential learning in students, the transformation of experience into awareness and knowledge that can be applied to future action. But how does such learning take place? David Kolb is becoming an oft cited name in present conversation around experiential learning. Kolb’s most foundational contribution is his “experiential learning cycle,” a conceptual framework for understanding exactly how people learn through experience. However, it is not enough for the seminary to understand how one learns; it is also vital to understand how the spirit is formed. To this end, religious educator, Thomas Groome’s concept of “shared Christian praxis” is another experiential learning process that takes into account theological elements of Christian tradition and mission. This section reviews Kolb’s “learning cycle” alongside Groome’s “shared Christian praxis” as a means of better understanding how the Urban Fellows program is intended to facilitate both academic learning and spiritual formation.

In David Kolb’s seminal work, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, he presents a model for understanding how experiential learning takes place. The model serves both as a guide to identifying different student learning styles as well as a developmental cycle displaying how each style integrates experiences with knowledge (the processing continuum) and abstract thinking with emotional reflection (the perception continuum). The holistic experiential learning curriculum should involve work that helps students complete multiple rounds of the cycle. The work can begin at any point of the cycle so long as follow up exercises and discussions work through the other areas. From Kolb’s perspective, only when the cycle is complete can a student fully comprehend what has been learned.

Fig. 1, David Kolb's Experiential Learning Model, from Donald Clark, “Kolb's Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Model,” Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition. https://nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leader.html (Accessed May 2, 2013).
Fig. 1, David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model, from Donald Clark, “Kolb’s Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Model,” Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition. http://nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leader.html (Accessed May 2, 2013).

Kolb’s learning cycle is tremendously helpful for curriculum design as it gives instructors a means of categorizing and arranging assignments and activities. In the context of the Urban Fellows program, students are expected to actively experiment through the design and implementation of urban ministry projects that address an issue of concern, such as homeless youth.

Kolb’s learning cycle is reflected in the following Urban Fellows initiative. In the Fall of 2010, the Urban Fellows began the process of building a “No Child Left Outside” network of faith communities in support of DC General, a shelter for homeless families. The first step was a collaborative summit with various stakeholders in the community held on the topic to gauge interest and explore ways to collaborate. Based on Kolb’s model, this active work of doing naturally created concrete experiences with both positive and negative feelings and outcomes. These feelings and outcomes laid the groundwork for reflective observation and evaluation of the work completed in preparation for the work to come. This took place in the classroom where the Fellows reviewed their own experiences from the summit while considering other models of ministry that addressed the same issue in other contexts. This reflective processing gave way to lessons in abstract conceptualization including theological reflection on the nature of God’s work in the city and principles of application about the nature of urban ministry. Utilizing these lessons, the Fellows charted next steps for expanding the ministry through new action steps, reactivating the learning cycle for another round that ought to build upon the last. All together, Kolb’s learning cycle presents a process of learning that is cyclical in nature instead of linear, viewing growth through more of a centripetal model describing a self-produced momentum than a direct upward launch.

While Kolb’s model helps explain how students learn through the program’s experiential structure, it does not take into account more holistic concerns of spiritual formation, theological reflection, or Christian mission. Thomas Groome’s “shared Christian praxis” model addresses these topics. According to Groome, “‘shared Christian praxis’ is a participative and dialogical pedagogy in which people reflect critically on their own historical agency in time and place and on their sociocultural reality, have access together to Christian Story/Vision, and personally appropriate it in community with the creative intent of renewed praxis in Christian faith toward God’s reign for all creation.”4

Groome calls this form of praxis “shared” and “Christian” because it moves beyond just engagement with social-cultural context, as traditional praxis education prescribes.  Groome expects the process to take place between members of the Christian community in relationship to one another as well as with the greater Christian story and its vision. This process of forming synthesis between Christian tradition, community concern, and social-cultural context through dialogic processes echoes the theories of both Dewey and Friere. Drawing on Christian story expands Dewey’s conception of continuality to encompass over two thousand years of Christian history to inform what is being learned. The model’s emphasis facilitating learning for action through dialogic engagement with social-cultural context has its roots directly tied to Freire’s own concept of praxis education. Groome believes “shared Christian praxis” is facilitated through five movements:5

Movement 1: Naming/expressing “present action”
Movement 2: Critical reflection on present action
Movement 3: Making accessible Christian Story and Vision
Movement 4: Dialectical hermeneutics to appropriate Story/Vision to participants’ stories and visions
Movement 5: Decision/response for lived Christian faith.

Groome’s movements create a new layer of processing within Kolb’s learning cycle. While movements one & two roughly mirror Kolb’s process and perception continuums for learning through action/reflection, Groome’s third movement introduces a third party: Christian tradition. One example of how Groome’s third movement is used in the Fellows Seminar is the time set aside at the beginning of each seminar for devotional study, led by a student to bring Scripture in touch with the work being done. By making accessible the story and vision of the Christian Tradition, Groome expects Christians to deepen their learning by appropriating what was first processed through individual action and reflection in dialogic tension with the collective lessons of the church’s story and vision (fourth movement). The “dialectic hermeneutic” Groome posits as the means by which Christians process their learning has its foundations in Hegelian thought, where opposing ideas are synthesized through process of negation and negotiation. Groome states, “There are three aspects to a dialectical moment: one of affirming, giving assent, or accepting; an aspect of questioning and possibly of refusing or negating; and a ‘moving beyond’ that subsumes the first two moments in a new realization of ‘being.’”6 Yet unlike Hegel, who emphasized the conflicting nature of dialectic, Groome reframes the conversation as dialogue, an intentional movement toward building a greater peace. In the fifth movement, new insights emergent from the dialectic process are put back into action with the social-cultural context around the community, producing a deeper and more engaged Christian life both individually and communally.

To understand Groome’s “shared Christian praxis” movements in the context of the Urban Fellows program, let’s return to the case study example of the “No Child Left Outside” campaign organized by fellows mentioned earlier. In the NCLO 2012 Final Report, Groome’s movements are present from naming of present action through an articulated mission statement all the way through to the dialogic process of situating Christian story and vision in relation to work in the distinct social-cultural context of faith communities and the DC General Family Shelter. The following chart places quotes from the report in relationship with Groome’s movements of “shared Christian praxis” to show how the cycle was exhibited in the work of Urban Fellows in collaboration with faith communities.

Movement 1: Naming Present Action “The focus of the campaign has been to organize the assets of Washington-area faith communities in support of the unique needs of homeless children and their families.”
Movement 2: Reflection on Present Action “Our research into best practices and success stories has identified a number of ways in which the faith community is well positioned to make a contribution to the welfare of homeless children and their families. In this paper we will highlight three of these unique contributions. First, among the “Ten Essentials” that ought to be a part of any effort to combat homelessness, outlined by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the faith community is well-suited to the task of at least seven of them, including: emergency prevention; outreach; services; and access to housing.”
Movement 3: Accessing Christian Story & Vision “As leaders within the church, we have the opportunity and responsibility to shape our work with homeless children and their families in light of the Christian narrative. We see this call consistently across the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus say, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs (19:14)…” In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required (12:48)… Finally, in the Gospel of John, we hear that Jesus “came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly (10:10).””
Movement 4: Dialectic Synthesis of Christian Story/Vision with Participant Story/Vision “As followers of Christ we are called to more than working for the survival of others, rather we seek to enable abundant life. Children ought not go hungry, but they also ought to have access to quality education, to safe and affordable housing, and to healthcare. Our communities of faith must provide a prophetic voice in partnership with those who often have their voice silenced, not just for the survival of these children, but so that they might succeed and have life abundantly.”
Movement 5: Responses for Lived Christian Faith “First, it is essential that communities of faith connect with and listen to the families who are living at DCGH, as well as the other family shelters in the District… The faith community must add its voice to that of the larger fair housing advocacy community working to help end homelessness in the District.”

Within the report, articulation of present action is done through a campaign mission statement and reflection on that action is evident from the level of research conducted both in the immediate context (via interviews and sidewalk surveys surrounding the shelter) as well as review of government policy and reports on homelessness and affordable housing conducted by local non-profits. The student report then pivots into dialogue with Christian story and vision by accessing Scripture from the Gospels and appropriates their implications to current work, giving shape to recommendations for future actions. If one reads the full NCLO report in detail, the number of congregations, non-profits, and students involved in the work representing truly shared process.

III. The Relational Nature of Student, Teacher, Context, and Content

While Kolb offers a well-researched model for how individuals learn through experience, a philosophy of experiential education must account for more than the individual learner. Groome expands the learning cycle to the community level, factoring in Christian tradition and theological reflection of the community. However, neither model provides a compelling frame for understanding classic relationships within educational contexts. James Davis provides a simple framework for the successful education endeavor involving the interaction for four key components: the student, the teacher, the setting, and the subject.7 When one thinks in terms of pedagogy and curriculum design, these four components are defined based on the foundational questions of education. What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the student? What is the relationship between the two? What subject matter is to be taught and what is to be ignored? Where should learning occur physically? What is the nature of the subject matter being taught? This section explores these questions by applying Christian Itin’s “Diamond Model” of experiential education to the Urban Fellows context.

In the traditional classroom, teachers carry the active role of distributing knowledge while students carry the passive role of reception. The relationship between the teacher and student is rigidly hierarchical. Power is placed solely in the hands of the instructor in the form of setting learning objectives, selection of content, designing assignments, and grading outcomes. Students must accept instructor objectives and content, complete assignments based on instructor expectations, and accept whatever evaluation is handed them. Moreover, traditional models of education assume learning is most actively happening in the classroom and its extensions, including reading of content and application through writing or other exercises. In addition, subject matter is often viewed as the acquiring of abstract knowledge often void of contextual considerations. Such a view prioritizes objectivity without regard to social, cultural, or historical factor that may influence perception and understanding. This view also ignores two other key areas of learning: that of skills (practice) and attitudes (character). If experiential education philosophies reject most of these assumptions, how does it answer them?

Christian Itin takes James’ four key areas of education and arranges them through the lens of experiential education. Within Itin’s Diamond Model, both the student and the teacher sit along an equal plain, denoting a transactive relationship where knowledge is no longer “banked” from teacher to student, but is instead created through collaborative engagement through shared experience. In Itin’s model, concrete experience is made up of two distinct areas: the learning environment and the subject matter. Both the student and the teacher share knowledge of the subject at hand and seek to apply it to a living context. The dialogic relationship between content and context can be understood as informed action; a vital part of the praxis model of education. However, action alone is not enough for learning to occur. Dewey himself states, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Itin’s model highlights how both student and teacher must personally process their experienced action through critical reflection in a pattern similar to Kolb’s learning cycle: reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and application for new action within the content and context of learning where teaching and learning take place.

Fig. 2, Christian Itin's Diamond Model of Experiential Education, from Itin, “Reasserting the Philosophy of Experiential Education as a Vehicle for Change in the 21st century,” 95.
Fig. 2, Christian Itin’s Diamond Model of Experiential Education, from Itin, “Reasserting the Philosophy of Experiential Education as a Vehicle for Change in the 21st century,” 95

How does is this framework intended to be realized in the Urban Fellows program? From the start, the Urban Fellows experiment sought to expand conceptions of theological education by emphasizing the importance of context, the learning environment. Curricular considerations moved far beyond student, subject matter, and teacher. Itin states, “The educational process does more than take place within a setting; it interacts and transacts with numerous environmental aspects. The environment would include not only the setting… but also the larger socio-political-economic systems, the multiple students in the class, and any other system which impacts the teacher-learning process.”8 For the Urban Fellows, the city itself is the learning environment complete with all of its systems. In the face of such complexity, a sense of shared learning between teacher and student is vital. While the teacher may play the role of facilitator and content expert in areas of research or theological education, they are by no means qualified to address every issue the city presents. Within the Urban Fellows, students come from a wide range of disciplines including journalism, intercultural training, medical doctors, public health, and non-profit work. Each student’s expertise is vital in seeking to comprehend the dynamics of the city. In Itin’s Diamond Model students and teachers share the same concrete experiences based on common subject matter and learning environment, but process them independently based on their own expertise and background. If both teachers and students do the diligent work of praxis, their collective action and reflection can produce both theological depth and innovative practice.

To illustrate this Diamond Model at work within the program, the preliminary research process conducted by the Urban Fellows in its first four years will be used as an example. Within the program, key methods of research for community engagement include appreciative inquiry and asset-based community mapping. Faculty introduced these methodologies the first year of the program as the subject matter to be learned in more traditional classroom patterns. Students read texts about the methodologies and proceeded to practice it within various learning environments: first with one another in the classroom and then outwards into the city through interviews with clergy of various faith communities within a one mile radius of the target area around Mt. Vernon Square. Students worked together to form the survey instrument, identified churches in the community to visit, met with clergy to conduct the surveys, and wrote narratives reviewing each church’s assets. With the completion of each year’s survey work (the action), students and teachers reflected together through the writing of a comprehensive report with attention given to areas of strength and weakness so that adjustments to research instruments and teaching processes could be made to better exhibit the principles of the methodology in the next year.

For example, the first year of the program saw research conducted with congregations, non-profits, and neighborhood associations. Due to the difficulty of processing data from different kinds of organizations, the second year focused exclusively on faith communities. In the second year, a sidewalk survey process was added to physically map assets in the neighborhood by identifying congregations because first year students voiced a lack of personal understanding of the space. By the third year, the rising ratio of third and second year students to first year students allowed mentorship relationships to emerge where more experienced students showed new students how interviews and sidewalk surveys were to be conducted. In addition, course instructors decided to invite guest speakers into the class to teach the methodology from different angles to show how other groups used the same methods. Collective reflection on this new pattern for learning the research methodology led to new ideas for the fourth year, where formal class sessions were completely organized and taught by third year students. This not only presented the methodology through peer learning, but also the fruits of that methodology in action through various long term class projects like the NCLO Campaign and the Beloved Community Project in Gaithersburg.

Through each year, the subject matter remained the same: appreciative inquiry and asset-based community mapping methodologies for research. However, how students learned and taught this content changed based on collective reflection of teachers and students together, weighing strengths and weaknesses in hopes of improving in the next year. In addition, the learning environment in the classroom changed depending on number of students in the program and levels of experience. The learning environment of the urban context around Mt. Vernon Square was also large enough to provide new congregations to interview and neighborhoods to map each year. This process was, by no means, easy.  Without the explicit structuring of faculty leadership, students often felt frustration and aimlessness. Yet it was this frustration paired with self-efficacy and passion that led to fruitful reflection. Ultimately, teacher/student reflection in relationship with one another and changing social-cultural contexts did produce different teaching/learning strategies for deepening understanding of the methods in a manner similar to dynamics subscribed by Itin’s Diamond Model.

IV. Re-conceptualization of Seminar Learning Objectives

The goal of the Urban Fellows program is to train seminary students in a new type of educational process, utilizing frames of “Education,” “Collaboration,” and “Research” in an experiential praxis model for urban ministry based on intentional action and critical reflection. The founding faculty of this program anchored this vision on key eight learning objectives:

Learning Objectives
1. Articulate an understanding of urban ministry contexts
2. Engage in theological reflection on urban ministry practice and leadership
3. Participate in community organizing with the poor, congregations, governmental agencies, and social agencies
4. Mobilize for advocacy on justice issues affecting the poor
5. Analyze underlying root causes of urban problems such as public education, homelessness, crime and violence, and health care disparities
6. Do participatory action research
7. Work collaboratively and develop coalitions of congregations and agencies
8. Utilize their learning from experienced urban pastors

Based upon the models of experiential and praxis education, I conceptualize these objectives within a more holistic framework for the program’s desired educational process, moving students from developing skill sets for contextual learning and theological reflection to action in research that produces collaboration, organization, and mobilization for positive social change. In theory, students should move along the continuum as they progress through their three years of study. With this understanding, course objectives can be renumbered to reflect a more chronological understanding of their intended development. In addition, these different objectives play off one another in their own internal cycles/clusters of action and reflection.

Fig. 3, A Conceptual Model of Urban Praxis Education
Fig. 3, A Conceptual Model of Urban Praxis Education

This newly designed conceptual model reorganizes seminar learning objectives with the first four clustered around the reflection process and the latter four around the action process in a cycle that is meant to illustrate the praxis nature of the program. In addition, the triangular base behind this cycle contains the program’s three core principles of education, research, and collaboration. While these principles can be incorporated within all the learning objectives, the model roughly visualizes relational emphasis between objectives and principles. For example, objectives 1-4 emphasize theological education to varying degrees while objectives 3-6 place emphasis on research as a means of learning and action. Notice objectives 3 and 4 overlap in their principle focus. This is intentional to show how the process is transitional and incremental in nature, involving multiple angles of curricular attention. The visualization allows observers to consider and articulate different ways these three core principles ought to be embodied in each objective, allowing creativity in the curricular design of assignments and course activities.

V. Looking to the Future: Forming a “Community of Practice”

I conclude with one last theoretical framework which I believe best embodies all the Urban Fellows Program can be when looking into the future. Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave’s “Communities of Practice” (CoP) is presented here as a frame for exploring how the Urban Fellows Program can facilitate a deeper and more authentic sense of learning and collaboration between students, faculty, and community. A CoP is defined as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”9 Deceivingly simplistic, Wenger and Lave articulated this concept through ethnographic study of apprenticeship relationships in different cultures, identifying the shared traits that made all of these communities successful in learning and working together. These three traits are a shared domain, a shared community, and a shared practice.10 A shared domain is defined as a specific interest or concern that binds the group together because all group members care about the issue at hand. For Urban Fellows, that domain is theological education for urban ministry. From an educational standpoint, the domain is the content. A shared community is the network of relationships from which members learn from one another, it is the learning community defined earlier where people communicate and connect regularly to learn together. Lastly, a shared practice implies this group’s domain of interest and relational network are tied to action. Along with that action is a “shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems- in short, a shared practice.”11 Only when all three elements are joined does one have a CoP.

Joyce Yukawa takes the work of Wenger and Lave and organizes it into a learning model providing an awareness of creative tensions and layers of engagement, imagination, and alignment toward a learning outcome.12 This conceptual framework is worth utilizing as a compass for the program’s future thinking about curriculum and learning objectives. At the center of the diagram is the ultimate learning outcome. In the case of the Urban Fellows program, that ultimate outcome is the bringing forth the Kingdom of God and the Beloved Community. To achieve this outcome, the Urban Fellows must develop discourse and practice to engage the practice environment (the city) as well as leadership skills and shared meanings for practicing community (the church). The creative tensions of the practice environment (1 & 2) are the praxis process required for missional ministry in urban contexts: negotiating meaning and practice through engagement and imagination. Likewise, creative tensions for community formation (3 & 4) are the praxis process needed to build up the church: negotiating expertise, identity, and leadership. Within the process of engagement, imagination, and alignment that circle the primary learning objective are notes of Groome’s shared Christian praxis where concrete practice is aligned with the Christian story and vision in community through dialectic synthesis.

Fig. 4, Urban Fellows experiential learning model
Fig. 4, Urban Fellows experiential learning model

This article connects the objectives and structure of the Urban Fellows program with a foundational experiential education models from the past and present to display the firm pedagogical foundations from which it is being built. As an experiment in theological education, there is still much to evaluate and strengthen. Nonetheless, the frameworks highlighted here provide both context and direction for mindful growth.


1 Christian Itin, “Reasserting the Philosophy of Experiential Education as a Vehicle for Change in the 21st Century,” Journal of Experiential Education 22, No 2 (1999): 93.
2 John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1997).
3 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1974), 33.
4 Thomas Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education & Pastoral Ministry (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1991), 135.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid., 101.
7 Itin, “Reasserting the Philosophy of Experiential Education as a Vehicle for Change in the 21st century,” 95.
8 Ibid.
9 Etienne Wenger, “Communities of Practice: a Brief Introduction,” http://www.ewenger.com/theory/2006 (Accessed March 22, 2013).
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Joyce Yukawa, “Communities of Practice,” http://www.jyukawa.com/main/cop (Accessed March 25, 2013).

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