New class enters Yale Divinity School, with resurgence of M.Div. candidates

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

Call me “Granny.” I have five adorable grandchildren and I’m older than dirt.  I’ve been an English professor forever, published six books, modeled professionally, worked on Capitol Hill, owned a restaurant, won Senior Olympics gold medals, and belonged to prayer order and the Junior League.  My husband is an Episcopal priest. Entering student Leslie Williams ’11 S.T.M.

DinnerLeslie Williams is more than a little atypical when it comes to the new entering class of students at Yale Divinity School.  Most are far from becoming grandparents—the average age of the entering class in 2010 is 29, and 70 percent are 29 or younger.  And few step onto Sterling Divinity Quadrangle with a list of achievements that might cause one to wonder how it could all be possible.

Nonetheless, it is a challenge to leaf through the incoming student bios pamphlet without getting the sense that, despite differences of age and experience, the class is full of students with talents, aspirations, commitments, avocations, and humor that promise to enhance and challenge the faith community at YDS.

Interests range from the pulpit ministry, to ministries of social justice, to the intersection of art and religion, to revival of Korean Protestant churches and more—such as Sanskrit classical theater, the LDS Church and the Restoration Movement, Gospel music, organic gardening, ultramarathoning, at-risk children, the Cappadocian Fathers, sexuality and gender, German existentialism, ecology, filmmaking, African American culture. Click here to read about some of the entering students.

Herdt“I am pleased to welcome a very strong entering class to the Elm City this fall,” said Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Anna Ramirez.  “The entering M.Div. students bring a wide variety of backgrounds to YDS and remain our strongest degree while the M.A.R. and S.T.M. students prepare themselves for a future in the academy.

“As YDS continues to grow its international programs, I am especially excited to welcome our first Fulbright scholar, a Muslim woman from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.  YDS remains a vibrant and top theological school committed to preparing its graduates for global leadership.”

Most members of the new class arrived on campus in time to participate in YDS’s annual week-long introduction to life at YDS, Before the Fall Orientation, organized this year by Alex Peterson ’12 M.Div. and Josh Rodriguez ’12 M.Div.  Like every year, BTFO offered a full plate of activities, so full that the first session was “an orientation to an orientation.”

FacultyIntroductory small group meetings with returning students, tours of the campus, worship services, denominational breakout sessions, sessions on academics and spiritual formation, affinity group gatherings, dinners, a conversation on diversity, ice cream socials, and a panel on life after graduation were all part of the mix.  Click here to read a reflection about BTFO by Peterson.

Professor of Christian Ethics Jennifer Herdt, who joined the YDS faculty in July, delivered the Opening Convocation address in Marquand Chapel on the subject “The Circle of Courage.”

“Our capacity to see and know the good that demands our courage comes to us as a gift from others, ultimately as a gift of love from God which we return to God and pass along to one another,” said Herdt.  “This gift comes in many forms—in worship, in service, in study.  One of the key forms it takes is listening to one another in order to learn to see and attend to shapes of the good that are or have been beyond our experience, in being accompanied by others as we step outside of our comfort zones and lean out into what most threatens our sense of ourselves.”

She concluded, “Courage thus draws on the memory of the communities that formed us as it ventures forth in the formation of new communities.  So we trust and hope that living and working in this community governed by charity will assist us both faithfully to discern the good and courageously to defend it.”

One of the notable statistics on the entering class is that students pursuing the Master of Divinity program outnumber those enrolled in the Master of Arts in Religion,79-62.  As the core degree for persons seeking ordination, the M.Div. is fundamental to YDS’s essential mission of training students for Christian ministry.

New ClassBut in recent years the number of students in the M.A.R. program, which prepares students for careers in the academy and in other professions, has been gradually creeping up.  The entering class in 2009, in fact, had 66 M.A.R. enrollees compared to just 61 in the M.Div. program. 

The third YDS degree offering, the Master of Sacred Theology or S.T.M., is the smallest of the programs, with 10 students in the entering class in 2010.

Sixteen students come from outside the United States, from 11 different countries, including Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and Venezuela.

Of the 153 students in the entering class, 107 are between the ages of 21 and 29, and five are between 60 and 69.

Men outnumber women among new students, 81-72.