Mary Jacobs of the United Methodist Reporter has written a wonderful feature article on the John Wesley Fellows, a group ofdoctoral students funded by an organization called A Foundation for Theological Education (or AFTE). AFTE funds a number of fellows each year who are members of the United Methodist Church and committed to the renewal of the church through theological education. The fellows are diverse in terms of background and academic interest, but they all share a core commitment to the Wesleyan tradition.
AFTE has been funding fellows in doctoral study since the late 1970s. Its website gives a list of the dozens and dozens of scholars who have benefited from the John Wesley fellowships, and many of them are among the top scholars in the United Methodist Church.
The article caught my attention for a very particular reason: I am a John Wesley fellow myself! I was funded from 2007 to 2011 by AFTE, and it was through the generosity of the fellowship program that I was able to finance a large portion of my doctoral student at Duke Divinity School. The people I met through AFTE — both other scholars and donors to the program — are some of the most genuine, committed people I’ve encountered in my professional life. My wife and I will be forever grateful for the assistance and encouragement that being a part of the AFTE family afforded us.
One of the things that I think AFTE has got exactly right is that the Wesleyan renewal of the church is a long-term project that involves the patient but persistent reinvigoration of theological education at the seminary level. Funding doctoral students through academic training that takes years (and doesn’t even take into account the difficult process of finding an teaching post) requires a great deal of faith and perseverance, and it is a testament to the good people who fund the John Wesley fellowships through AFTE that they’ve been at it for so long.
Check out the article. It’s really well done. Oh, and if you are a member of the UMC who is thinking about doctoral study (and who is a committed Wesleyan), then look up AFTE. It could be one of the best decisions you ever make.