PC(USA) pastor helps shepherd Latine doctoral students through their studies on their way to serving God
May 22, 2023 by Mike Ferguson
For the Rev. Joanne Rodríguez, executive director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary, “en conjunto,” or “on the whole” describes the way HTI helps Latine scholars through their doctoral studies and into the academy or wherever it is that God is calling them.
That holistic approach is clearly working: 92% of HTI’s doctoral students complete their studies, and they spend an average of 5½ years crossing the finish line. “We’ve helped 165 Latinos and Latinas finish their degrees, and now they’re serving in many different ways,” Rodríguez said last week during “Leading Theologically,” which is hosted by the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty of the Presbyterian Foundation. Hear their 31-minute conversation here or here.
The Hispanic Theological Initiative is a consortium of 23 doctoral degree-granting institutions that supports Latine students of religion and theology with programming, fellowship and networking funds. “One thing HTI prides itself on is we are ecumenical, multi-ethnic and interdisciplinary,” Rodríguez said. “We serve in all these contexts and we’ve been able to do it without a lot of conflict because we respect and honor all this diversity. It’s complex, and it’s not easy for us to manage all of that.”
“I think [HTI’s model] has a lot to teach the church academy, the nonprofit world and other places people are engaging in ministry and life and leadership,” Hinson-Hasty said.
“There are cultural understandings that only people who have lived them can bring to the larger body,” Rodríguez said. “If you’re going to go into ministry and you get called to a church where some of the members are Latine and you have no idea how to serve that community, how well did your seminary education serve you? HTI supports those scholars who would have the knowledge and the pedigree to be able to serve those institutions and bring knowledge of our very diverse cultures to those contexts.”
“You want that Latine educator,” Rodríguez said, “because that person can educate your whole student body and the people you work with. The more diverse education we can provide individuals, the better off they are to serve a more diverse world.”
The 23 institutions that comprise the HTI consortium pay a membership fee that allows HTI to help them navigate their coursework. With that 92% completion rate, “it’s an investment the school makes and they’re almost guaranteed that students are going to finish,” Rodríguez said.
In addition, HTI gathers blogs and podcasts for the public square on its Open Plaza webpage, which offers theologians, other scholars and poets in six different fields and avenue to reach a wide audience. Most of the material is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
“You have been at this for decades, and you embody the cultivation of theological leaders and the bringing together of these networks to do that,” Hinson-Hasty told Rodríguez. “You’re such a gift to so many. We’re grateful for who you are and what you’re about.”
Asked to send viewers on their way with a blessing, Rodríguez offered these words: “Love what you do, learn from what you do and listen to what you do. God will bless it, so be blessed and be the light you have been called to be.”
View previous episodes of “Leading Theologically” here or here.