YDS adopts new mission statement embracing commitment to social justice

Yale Divinity School has adopted a new mission statement that supersedes the 20-year-old statement from April 1991.  The new statement is shorter, and among the noteworthy changes are references to YDS’s “commitment to social justice” and to engagement in a “global, multi-faith context.”

Written in conjunction with the School’s ongoing self-study process mandated by the Association of Theological Schools, the new statement was approved unanimously by the faculty at its March 1 meeting.  Chairing the “Purpose, Planning and Evaluation Task Force” composed of faculty, students, and staff that drafted the mission statement was Nora Tubbs Tisdale, the Clement-Muehl Professor of Homiletics.

“This new statement re-emphasizes our enduring commitment to ‘foster the knowledge and love of God’ and to train leaders for church and world, while also acknowledging that the world and church in which we do so continue to change,” said Tisdale.  “It also lifts up and highlights some of those distinguishing characteristics—such as a strong commitment to diversity and social justice, engagement with music and the arts, and a vibrant community life that make YDS the unique and wonderful place that it is.”

The statement, in its entirety, says:

“Yale Divinity School has an enduring commitment to foster the knowledge and love of God through scholarly engagement with Christian traditions in a global, multi-faith context.  Participating in the vibrant life of Yale University, the Divinity School is uniquely positioned to train leaders for church and society given its ecumenical and international character, engagement with music and the arts, and commitment to social justice.  Rigorous scholarly inquiry, corporate worship and spiritual formation, and practical engagement in a variety of ministries enable students to develop their knowledge and skills in a community that welcomes and affirms human diversity.

“The Divinity School pursues its mission of training students for service in church and world through three principal activities:  (1) it prepares people for lay and ordained Christian ministries; (2) it shares with the Graduate School in educating scholars and teachers for theological schools and departments of religious studies; (3) it equips people preparing for public service or other careers to understand more fully the theological dimensions of their vocations.”

Dean Harold Attridge observed, “The new mission statement reaffirms fundamental commitments of Yale Divinity School to our critical engagement with the traditions of Christian churches. It reaffirms our commitment to educate creative leaders for the churches, for academe, and for a variety of other professional involvements.

“We have added to those commitments a recognition that our task of preparing such leaders must take into account the complex global context, with its challenging tapestry of interfaith relations.  It also recognizes that the traditions with which we are engaged involve a strong commitment to social justice.  The statement will be a focal point for our continued reflection on our future in the current long range planning process.”

The mission statement sets forth the overarching principles that guide day-to-day spiritual and academic life at Yale Divinity School.  It is printed annually in the Yale Divinity School Bulletin and in the self-study document prepared about every decade as part of the accreditation process through the Association of Theological Schools.  The statement plays an important role in the admissions process and also in recruitment of potential faculty members.  Frequently, it is part of the grant application process to foundations.

Emilie Townes, associate dean of academic affairs at YDS, observed, “The new mission statement is a wonderful model for the way that tradition can inform an institution.  It preserves the part of our heritage that will continue serve us well in this day and age and it expresses our aspirations for who we must be as we prepare students for vital, informed, and faithful ministries for the twenty-first century.”

Commenting on the process, Tisdale said, ““We solicited input from a variety of people in the YDS community--including faculty, students, staff, and alumni/ae--in giving shape to the new mission statement, and that process definitely strengthened it. We also tried to walk a balance between stating clearly and fairly who we are, while also acknowledging who we aspire to become.” 

Martin Copenhaver ’80 M.Div., who attended one session of the Task Force during the drafting process to offer his observations, said, “The new mission statement reaffirms the unique place YDS occupies in the theological landscape—university affiliated, ecumenical, academically rigorous, combined with what I call ‘a heart for the church.’  The statement also recognizes that this mission is being carried out in an increasingly global and multi-faith context.  So I am very grateful for this new mission statement.  It will serve YDS well as we engage the challenges of this time.”

Copenhaver is senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church (UCC), in Wellesley, MA, and a member of the YDS Board of Advisors.

Posted: 03/07/2011