Theology Schools and Faith-Based Groups Launch Technology-Driven Innovation Hub and Fellowship


Theology Schools and Faith-Based Groups Launch Technology-Driven Innovation Hub and Fellowship

Despite a surge of technology over the past decades – especially during the pandemic – faith institutions have struggled to put new tools into practice and accommodate people’s changing lives. This initiative will unlock new opportunities to bring faith groups into the 21st Century.

The logo for tidal technology innovation and digital lab.

New York – Today, a group of faith and social justice organizations rolled out applications for the new Technology, Innovation, and Digital Engagement Lab (TIDEL) Leadership Fellows Program. TIDEL, a Union Theological Seminary-based collaborative center funded by the Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, offers a transformative space for faith-based groups and organizations to come together to think creatively and collectively about technology, human-centered design, and innovation. 

The fellowship welcomes applicants from groups and organizations committed to promoting thriving faith communities – including religious organizations, congregations, education institutions, and mentoring networks. Applicants can come from a range of backgrounds, including teachers, program facilitators, clergy, chaplains, community organizers, social entrepreneurs, and social justice advocates, and a wide range of experience with technology. It is not limited to those affiliated with the founding partners, and the hybrid nature of the program makes it possible for fellows to be located throughout the United States and Canada.

In pairs of two, fellows will explore how they can use technology to help their organizations grow and sustain their memberships, promote engagement, and expand their impact. For example, a team of fellows working on a project for a congregation might explore how to craft hybrid faith services that better accommodate the needs of the community. Leadership Fellows from a faith-based nonprofit focused on combating poverty might develop more accessible educational resources for low-income people. 

“Especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has exploded in recent years. While faith groups have taken some steps to employ new tools, they largely haven’t had the time, resources, or know-how to use them to their fullest potential. Simultaneously, Americans’ interest in traditional faith institutions has waned,” said Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, one of the schools leading the initiative. “TIDEL will help faith-oriented organizations adapt to a quickly-changing environment. They’ll have a unique opportunity to learn about new technology, uncover new ways to utilize it in their operations, and lead technology-driven innovation efforts. With this know-how, they’ll be able to create services that better address the needs of today’s communities and bolster their organizations’ impact.”

“Faith organizations hold enormous potential to change the world for the better. They simply haven’t had the technological prowess to capitalize on all of this burgeoning potential. We are excited to equip them with the knowledge and tools to advance their missions,” said Dr. Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes, director of the TIDEL Leadership Fellows Program. 

The 18-month fellowship program includes mentoring by leading experts in the field, a design thinking curriculum, virtual and in-person convenings, and financial support for pilot projects. All fellows will receive a $7500 stipend for their participation in the program. TIDEL partners include Union Theological Seminary (UTS), Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (CRCDS), New York Theological Seminary (NYTS), the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, and the RISE Together Mentorship Network (RISE). 

“We are thrilled to be a part of this initiative. We are excited to welcome this cohort of leaders to this program, use new technology and innovation to build capacity, and advocate for justice together,” said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. 

“In recent years, faith organizations have faced an array of challenges. But by embracing technology and combining our resources, we can overcome those obstacles and thrive. We are excited to see how program participants grow, innovate, and chart the future of faith,” said Rev. Dr. LaKeesha Walrond, president of the New York Theological Seminary.

“Our country has responded to change differently over the past few years. It’s been difficult for many organizations – including faith groups – to keep up. Fortunately, with TIDEL, faith groups will have an exciting opportunity to maximize the power of technology as an investment in their organization’s mission,” said Rev. Dr. Angela D. Sims, president of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

“Technology can open doors. It allows organizations to reach new audiences, accommodate different needs, and build stronger connections. I am confident that participants will come out of the fellowship with new ideas and tools to make their organizations stronger,” said Rev. Dr. Lisa Rhodes, executive director of the RISE Together Mentorship Network for Women of Color Ministry Leaders. 

About Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary (UTS), founded in 1836 in New York City, is a globally recognized seminary and graduate school of theology where faith and scholarship meet to reimagine the work of justice. A beacon for social justice and progressive change, Union Theological Seminary is led by a diverse group of theologians and activist leaders. Drawing on both Christian traditions and the insights of other faiths, the institution is focused on educating leaders who can address critical issues like racial equity, criminal justice reform, income inequality, and protecting the environment. Union is led by Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, the 16th President and the first woman to head the 187-year-old seminary.

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