Alt*Div is...

In 2016 a group of artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and community organizers came together to build a community-centered, self-directed alternative to divinity school.

It's an alternative in several ways. First, it's been formed at the grassroots and is not tied to one institution. Second, it's for the religiously nonaffiliated, the devout, as well as those who draw from multiple wisdom traditions. Third, it's up to us, and the outside communities and mentors we bring together, to plan what our learning looks like, to hold ourselves accountable to doing it, and to harvest the lessons learned and celebrate milestones with others. 

Through all this, we're uncovering a rich learning landscape for the people, communities, and institutions interested in re-imagining spiritual formation in a changing world.

We're here because...

New generations of leaders need relevant learning communities.
Spiritual leadership, community building, and care are being done by a lot of people who aren't what you'd expect― they aren't rabbis, nuns, ministers, or yoga teachers.

As the nones on the rise phenomenon continues, many religiously unaffiliated individuals are creating new ways of community and meaning-making. These leaders are essentially ministers and chaplains by another name, but what does training for them look like?

We've got one foot in the ancient, and one in the emergent.
To build a healthy ecosystem of theological education in the 21st century, we need the wisdom of both traditional institutions and innovators at the edges. Alt*Div is seeding a learning exchange across these different communities.

Our world is in moral and spiritual crisis.
There is a deep rupture in American society, and it's not because of politics or ideology. We're more alone and less connected to what matters (and to each other) than ever. It's the root of our many accelerating crises―social, political, economic, ecological. But none of these divides will heal if we don't start with ourselves.

We need to build communities that can hold the weight of difference, the pain of oppression, and the depth of humanity―and we don't think there's a shortcut.

Authentic, human-rooted leadership will get us there; but we need to build a better leadership pipeline.

We have grown!

This summer, after much organizing and discernment, we have officially launched a second, amazing group, building on the lessons and culture of the first group, but also woven from the fabric of their own dreams, gifts, and leadership.

In July, 2017, both groups gathered in person at the beautiful Sanctuary Retreat Center in Maryland, for a week each* of intensive community building, spiritual formation, art making, sharing, and getting organized for a year of powerful, peer-supported learning in pursuit of our collective and personal liberation.

* the founding Alt*Div group has also made plans to continue into a second year and beyond.

Thank you for being on the journey with us!

There are many amazing folks who inquired this year who we were unfortunately not able to invite to join this community at our current size and capacity. We are already working hard to build the foundation and structures for welcoming and supporting more peer-led groups this year and beyond, and to offer more ways to walk with us, as well.

To learn more about the second group, and to be the first to hear about all the things as they happen, please join our newsletter below. You may also indicate your interest to be notified about particular ways of engaging with us this year:

The Hummingbirds

Our inaugural group, launched in New Mexico in August 2016, and still going, is:

Stephanie Ryan Johnstone

Composer, Sex Educator,
Queer Rights Lover-Fighter

Adam Horowitz

Chief Instigator, U.S. Department of Arts and Culture

Ashleigh Shepherd

Movement teacher, exploring what it means to be human through dance, yoga, and play. Student of children.

David Bronstein

Cultural healer through music and counseling. David's Open Master's Learning Plan.

Cole Parke

Tender-hearted organizer, activist, dreamer, and schemer, fighting for collective liberation and revolutionary grace.

Brittany Koteles

Soulful improviser & script-flipper, dabbling filmmaker, writer, host.

David Sievers

Exploring existential dread by way of climate activism, cycling, and dad jokes. 

Mildred Williams

Carrying forward the hopes and struggles of her ancestors.

Lily Padilla

Learner, Writer, Healer, Organizer.

Devin Karbowicz

Social psychologist turned community builder using art and play to connect strangers in novel ways.

Neha Misra

Artist, Poet, Social Entrepreneur connecting dots across inner and outer geographies. 

Marien Baerveldt

Social entrepreneur, learner, facilitator in meaning making and way finding, gardener. More.

Alan Webb

Co-founder and steward of the Open Master’s Community. More.

Mojdeh Rezaeipour

Artist, Writer, Storyteller. Instigator of Creative Communities. More.

Priya Parrotta

Writer, Singer, Lifelong Learner. More.

Veena Vasista

Scribe, Storyteller, Bridge, Mirror. Co-Creating Love, Beauty and Play.

Ruth Moir

Community Creator, Questioner, Kindness champion, Learner, Deep Listener & Belly Laugher. 

Riley Teahan

Designer, Director, and Producer, interested in the tactile and the ephemeral.

Sarah Jane Bradley

Co-founder, creative director, and steward of the Open Master's. Plays with design, words, songs, cities.

 

The Firebirds

Our second group launched in Maryland, USA in August 2017.

Check back soon for updates on the class!

Thinking of joining a future group?

If you're building a world in which:

"Community ministry" can look like many things...
The thread that seems to run through everything you do is a quest for human connection and belonging. You have worked hard to create ways for this to happen, and you are yearning to find ways to support your own learning and growth on this journey. Perhaps you have thought about actually going to divinity school, formal ministry, or counseling, but you are not sure these are the right paths for you.

Spiritual pluralism is a core value...
Many don't identify with just one spiritual home. Whether raised in multiple faiths, distanced from their own tradition, or drawn to the cracks between affiliations; alt*divvers view such non-traditional identities as a strength, not an add-on.

Pursuit of justice = spiritual leadership...
We live in a world built on intersecting systems of oppression. In order to build cultures of courage, care, and wholeness, we must see the direct relationship between spiritual formation and the pursuit of justice.

Practical learning is in the books and on the ground...
There are artists, entrepreneurs, and movement builders who are already doing work in the world. They are seeking to integrate that work fully into their learning journey, instead of adding isolated "coursework" on top.

...then Alt*Div might be for you.

What it looks like:

Before we ever meet, we use the tools of Open Master's to invite big questions and listening to our guiding why; why we are here, and what might be calling to us this year, and beyond. A series of welcome calls and peer mentoring in June and July introduce us to each other and help us hone in on our shared questions and hopes.

Before we ever meet, we use the tools of Open Master's to invite big questions and listening to our guiding why; why we are here, and what might be calling to us this year, and beyond. A series of welcome calls and peer mentoring in June and July introduce us to each other and help us hone in on our shared questions and hopes.

Participants launch the year with the support, celebration, and accountability of the group. Major touchstones throughout the year include monthly check-in "Family Calls", mentor circles, and affinity groups and projects around shared themes. In the first half of the year we focus on Foundations of our spiritual practices, community, and self-directed learning. In the second, we focus and dive deeper into the questions and areas of interest that have risen to the top.

Participants launch the year with the support, celebration, and accountability of the group. Major touchstones throughout the year include monthly check-in "Family Calls", mentor circles, and affinity groups and projects around shared themes. In the first half of the year we focus on Foundations of our spiritual practices, community, and self-directed learning. In the second, we focus and dive deeper into the questions and areas of interest that have risen to the top.

AUGUST: A one-week process of translating purpose to action; goals to plans. Because we recognize this community to be a major source of support and accountability, significant time is invested into the relationships, shared interests, and common values of the group.

AUGUST: A one-week process of translating purpose to action; goals to plans. Because we recognize this community to be a major source of support and accountability, significant time is invested into the relationships, shared interests, and common values of the group.

The end of the year is a "sending" into what's next: a ritual of transition more than an end. We do the work of harvesting our learnings as a gift to each other and the larger community, as an opportunity to show appreciation and acknowledgement, and as opportunity to welcome the next group(s).

The end of the year is a "sending" into what's next: a ritual of transition more than an end. We do the work of harvesting our learnings as a gift to each other and the larger community, as an opportunity to show appreciation and acknowledgement, and as opportunity to welcome the next group(s).

 

Our year together will be bookended by closing and opening summer gatherings, with optional, smaller, thematic, regional, or cross-cohort gatherings in between. 

Our journey in between will be sustained by a steady rhythm of learning built around:

Your LEARNING GOALS:

  • A personal learning plan you will craft with our help and that of the community, perhaps including...
  • Exploration of new (or old) spiritual practices
  • Individual or group projects
  • Reading of sacred texts
  • Solo journeys
  • Creative expressions of what you are learning to the public (through art, writing, and other means)

Our COMMUNITY:

  • Monthly “family calls"
  • Participation in affinity groups
  • Peer mentoring relationships throughout the year
  • Leadership, hosting, or organizing roles in the community itself (our community is led from within)
  • One-off offerings related to what we're learning (such as book discussions and skillsharing)
  • Building relationships with mentors and elders in our community and beyond

Who Is Responsible?

While The Open Master's provides a frame for people to adapt and build upon together, such as some organizing principles, resources, partnerships, and experience in self-directed learning; each person has the power to determine their own experience, as well as equity in what we create together and how we work, play, and make decisions.

All of the work of coordinating existing and future groups is organized and stewarded by small teams of members working together to care for what is needed, including a small core organizing body.

Interested?

If this all sounds like you, please indicate your interest to stay in the loop for future invitations to join Alt*Div or walk with us in other ways!

From forward-looking theologians on the margins, to the long-standing institutions who are building (and searching for) new models, to people who want a world with spiritually-grounded leaders―the future of theological education needs all of us.

You can help us connect the dots.

  1. Support our storytelling efforts, helping us both share our learnings and contribute to the conversation at large. Sponsor our Medium page, our end-of-year publication, or a public event in your area around a theme we're exploring.
  2. Sponsor current and future Alt*Div leaders by funding scholarships, travel support, and emergency support for basic needs, to offer this experience to all―regardless of means.
  3. Help us map the broader landscape of alternative theological education. Connect us with like-minded residences, trainings, or apprenticeships.
  4. Offer your support and mentorship to the group through a guest seminar, one-on-one time, or by sharing resources from syllabi to poetry.

 

This group represents, welcomes, and is intentionally woven together through what each of us carries and contributes from many different backgrounds and experiences. We do this with the hope of building something more beautiful and strong together than we would ever be able to create in silos of separation.

In order to do this, we do not just include many perspectives across race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, and, religion, but we intentionally weave together and build our community by:

  • Centering the voices, needs, and experiences of those who do not benefit from the privileges of Whiteness or cultural supremacy in other forms (such as Christian Supremacy). We are deeply committed to both dismantling and healing the wounds of these cultures of supremacy, in all of their manifestations, because we understand that all of our liberation is inextricably bound up with each others’. We acknowledge that we come from a world built on intersecting and overlapping systems of privileges and oppression, so we hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards of resisting replicating cultures and patterns of violence that exist in our wider culture (and therefore in ourselves) within our community.
     
  • Putting pluralism of religious and cultural traditions (including “none”) at our very heart. Many of us come from or have explored multiple faith traditions or sources of meaning making. At the same time we challenge ourselves to be sincere in our explorations, and conscious of appropriation and colonial tendencies while grasping for meaning from traditions outside our family and culture of origin.
     
  • Are not a gender-binary-conforming group. We are LGBTQ+, and LGBTQ+ welcoming.

Whatever our background, each person is invited to shape the way this group works, according to the gifts and wisdom they carry. We strive to always be learning and growing in our practice and understanding of how to create loving and healing spaces because we understand that our liberation is collective. 

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(a couple of times a year)