Technology & Ministry

Already creatively employing many of the latest technological advances to expand options for ministerial students and to deliver educational resources across the wider community of Friends, Earlham School of Religion now needs to build endowment as ongoing support for these groundbreaking programs.

This proposal seeks $1,500,000 to endow the Technology and Ministry Initiative at Earlham School of Religion. The endowment will meet these critical needs:

  • A solid financial basis to support technology costs associated with the school’s distance education program, ESR Access.
  • Funds for expanding the Digital Quaker Collection.
  • Support for ESR Publications.
  • Ongoing support for technological exploration befitting ESR’s leadership role and mission.

A donor who funds this endowment in full will have the option of naming the program.

A mere fifteen years ago, most American households did not include a personal computer. Today some research estimates that in 70 percent of our country’s homes, people are clicking away at computer keyboards. In every business and industry, the use of technology has burgeoned. Earlham School of Religion—thanks to philanthropic help and to its own resourcefulness—is finding more and more ways to bring technology into the service of Friends.

In 1998 many graduate seminaries received grants from the Lilly Endowment, specifically supporting Information Technology for Theological Teaching. ESR, one of those early beneficiaries of Lilly’s visionary philanthropy, immediately began to explore technology’s usefulness in preparing persons for ministry.

With its initial grant, ESR dreamed of replacing the outdated computer systems used by faculty. The school’s people envisioned professors exploring new teaching technologies, and classrooms wired to accommodate new teaching styles. We turned these visions into reality—and also accomplished much, much more. The same year we received the grant, 1998, ESR conducted a national consultation with Friends to receive input as the school prepared for its next generation of ministry. That consultation, which yielded widely and deeply, also generated this emphatic request: Give us greater accessibility to ESR’s educational resources.

In response we began to refine our vision for ways the school can assert leadership in providing Friends with both education and service. ESR soon launched several exciting new endeavors:

Redefining the Classroom: ESR Access

The request for accessibility prompted the creation of a distance learning program, known as ESR Access. This program, redrawing the boundaries of the classroom, enables students from around the world to prepare for ministry and earn graduate degrees without relocating to Richmond, Indiana.

Befriending technological advances, the school designed pedagogically appropriate classes and promptly offered them via the Internet. Currently ESR Access combines Internet courses with two-week courses in Richmond, creating degree-earning curricula for both the Master of Divinity and the Master of Arts. With this combination we have extended the school’s service to Friends and also have attracted additional students by easing several previous difficulties:

  • ESR has become much more family-friendly. Many of today’s seminarians are older than typical graduate students, and they must consider family responsibilities. Often the prospect of relocating a working spouse or school-aged children hinders the decision to enter seminary. Through ESR Access, Earlham School of Religion spares families the challenges of relocation, while continuing to increase the school’s overall enrollment.
  • Students may continue in their current ministries. Some prospective students, understandably, are already involved in ministry, which their relocation to Richmond would curtail. ESR Access, delivering courses directly to the home, allows that ministry to continue without interruption. Meetings, churches, and other ministry settings benefit from our distance learning students’ personal and professional growth.
  • Students grow within the context of their ministry setting. Inevitably, education changes people. Rather than leaving their ministry setting, immersing themselves in educational preparation elsewhere, and then facing the challenge of re-integration, ESR Access students remain anchored in their place of service while undergoing gradual growth and change. Neither the student nor the setting experiences a jarring transition.

ESR Access has proved to be an effective means of educating persons for ministry and has attracted students from across the U.S. as well as from Europe and Africa. In five short years, our online student enrollment has grown to fifty students, currently representing 50 percent of ESR’s total student body. Through the prudent use of technology, Earlham School of Religion has honored its mission by extending the reach—and the draw—of its educational programs.

Reclaiming the Wisdom of Rare Texts: the Digital Quaker Collection

Early Friends, sharing the Gospel and speaking to that of God in every person, often became prolific writers. Their epistles, journals, and tracts contain rich wisdom regarding  Friends’ spiritual insights. Unfortunately, most of these 17th- and 18th-century works are now out of print, available only in the archives of a few college libraries. This reduced availability carries a regrettable consequence: Friends in general lose contact with important witnesses to the way members of our tradition understand the life of faith.

Responding to this condition, ESR sought—and won—a grant of $150,000 from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to create a digital database of historic Quaker writings. Over 60,000 pages from 500 works are now available online in a free, searchable database ( Writings from familiar names such as George Fox and Caroline Stephens, as well as from lesser-known writers such as Dorothy White and Abel Bond, are now easy to access and to read. The website draws several hundred visits each month and has received favorable review:

The Earlham School of Religion, a graduate theological school for the Society of Friends (Quakers), has provided access to a wealth of journals, letters, and monographs at this site. The selected documents detail Quaker theology, spirituality, history, and practice since the inception of the religion in the mid-17th century.

Earlham’s purpose in providing access to these texts is to support Quaker scholarship for its distance education students and to provide a resource for local congregations. The resulting collection from a variety of Quaker authors consists of over 500 volumes considered to be in the public domain. Prominent Quaker figures such as George Fox and William Penn are well represented, but the collection also includes numerous authors of lesser prominence.

Each text was scanned and encoded in XML, which allows the scholar to view individual volumes in their original format with original spelling. Additionally, texts are available in a plain-text format. Users can browse the collection by author or title, but the real value stems from the availability of outstanding search capabilities. Scholars are able to search using Boolean or proximity operators, the index, and biblical references. Each search can be limited by place of publication, date, author, or gender of author. This major contribution to Quaker scholarship is a must for all levels of researchers.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers. –R. Watts, University of South Carolina—Aiken

In undertaking this project, ESR has performed a large and loving service to Friends in particular as well as to students, researchers, and history enthusiasts in general. Many additional documents are waiting to be added to the Digital Quaker Collection. With further funding, the school can continue this valuable, far-reaching work.

Stewarding the Written Word: ESR Publications

Technology has changed forever the world of publishing. With the proliferation of electronic texts, publishers are facing greater challenges to their own profitability; their choice of which manuscripts to accept or reject may become a question of economics rather than of quality.  There’s also good news, however: technology has made possible Print-On-Demand publishing, and ESR staff members have the skills to take advantage of it. The school can now serve its constituents by providing books of interest and value to Friends—and without tying up large amounts of capital in book inventory.

To date, ESR has released three titles:

Twenty-First Century Penn (2004). ESR alumnus Paul Buckley offers in modern English translation five important texts of William Penn, along with extensive footnotes that help illuminate Penn’s meaning.

Where the Wind Blows (2005). Why do some Quaker groups thrive, while others dwindle? Jay Marshall delivers details and insights from an ESR study of vitality among nine Friends meetings and churches.

The Quaker Bible Reader (2006). In this collection of essays edited by Stephen Angell and Paul Buckley, thirteen Friends describe how they read and use the Bible as a resource for their faith.

Through this fledgling, cost-effective publishing effort—putting affordable resources into the hands of our constituents—Earlham School of Religion pursues yet another innovative means of serving as an educational force and a source of renewal to Friends.

Learning and Leading Among Friends: Technological Advances

Distance education, the digital database, electronic publishing: thanks to supportive gifts, all of these projects are reaching out to engage both Friends and friends worldwide. They’re also reinforcing ESR’s role as a leader within the Association of Theological Schools.

The quality and extent of our distance education program alone sets Earlham School of Religion apart; the website of ATS—whose membership includes 252 Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox graduate schools of theology—lists relatively few accredited distance programs. Anecdotal feedback tells us the same story. Messages of gratitude and respect come to us from many prospective students, such as the one who recently wrote these words: “ I learned of your school through another pastor in our Bowling Green, Kentucky, district. It has been a joy to learn of our ESR Access ways at Earlham. I suspect you’re the national leader at making M. Div. degrees workable for busy pastors and professionals.”

As video and audio formats become increasingly accessible, ESR is furthering that leadership by investigating distinctive ways of employing today’s high-speed technology. Many large institutions, using internet video transmission, now “broadcast” lectures to students in different physical locations. ESR, however, “intends to be a community of dialogue, where important theological and ministry matters are considered in the light of Christ”—a mission that recently has led us to examine, for instance, the potential of video conferencing. Through this technology two people (or members of a small group), whether separated by a room or even by a continent, can engage in a private “video phone call.” Face-to-face interaction, a cornerstone of ESR’s programs and pedagogy, remains a constant in our plans for technological advancement.

All such planning—along with the thorough exploration that precedes it, and the implementation that follows—requires people, time, and support. And the outcome of such investment enables exactly what Earlham School of Religion does best: vital, transformative education.

The Point: Technology for Ministry

These days, most fund raising includes more than a nod to technology-related needs. Expensive equipment rapidly becomes dated; institutions and organizations feel pressure to “keep up,” to appear as savvy as their competitors and constituents. Earlham School of Religion acts—and asks—from a somewhat different motive.

Our Endowed Technology and Ministry Initiative contains a distinctive word: ministry. For the sake of ministry, ESR was founded; for the needs of ministry, we solicit assistance. Our carefully planned partnerships with technology, each stoutly anchored in the school’s mission, support our founding goal of offering leadership, resources, and renewal among the larger body of Friends. Throughout the designing of these programs, ever aware of our constituents, we’ve continued to ask ourselves not only How can technology serve Friends? and How can technology serve our school’s mission? but also How well are we meeting real needs of individual people?

Funding dedicated to this initiative goes directly into sustaining the already successful programs described above. For all of them, the need is daily and ongoing. At Earlham School of Religion, we are working every day for one main purpose: to help people live in faith. And from our own faith, we know that some people will be moved to help us.

Queries for Consideration

These queries are provided to help you prayerfully consider whether this major gift proposal is a priority for you as you steward your resources.

  1. Do you think Friends stand to benefit by using technology in appropriate ways?
  2. Can you envision the value to Friends as ESR expands the boundaries of its classroom and community through distance education, workshops, and printed materials?
  3. Do you have the means to help Earlham School of Religion build an endowment to support the Endowed Technology and Ministry Initiative at ESR?
  4. What level of gift are you able to make to manifest this vision for ESR’s Technology and Ministry Initiative?
  • Full funding of $1,500,000 by gift, pledge, or irrevocable estate gift?
  • Partial but major gift of $100,000 to $1,000,000 by gift, pledge, or irrevocable estate gift?
  • Supporting gift of $10,000 to $99,000 by gift or pledge?

Contact Jay Marshall, Dean, at Earlham School of Religion to discuss your interest in this project.

765-983-1689 • 800-432-1377 •