Using Tech to Make Spiritual Connections

Drew Theological School’s Kate Ott teaching military chaplains how to reach ‘nones’ and ‘dones.’

January 2018 – How do you connect military chaplains with personnel who are disconnected to religion?

Such is the mission facing Drew Theological School Associate Professor Kate Ott, who’s part of a trio that will teach more than 1,000 Naval, Marine and Coast Guard chaplains how to deliver “meaningful ministry” to millennial personnel who are unaffiliated with religion (“nones”) or antagonistic toward it (“dones”).

The training was developed by the trio through FaithTrust Institute, a non-profit group that promotes multi-faith training and education. The curriculum will focus heavily on using technology and social media to engage millennials.

“It’s a challenge and an opportunity to invite people to think about the technology we use every day through the lens of our religious understanding and ethical values,” said Ott, a professor of Christian social ethics who has written extensively on the role of technology.

Ott is particularly well-suited for this role, according to Jane Fredricksen, executive director of FaithTrust. “She has a really unique ability to relate to students around this topic of social media and religious ministry,” said Fredricksen. “Her teaching skills and style are just fabulous. She is so creative.”

Ott has taught at the Theological School since 2011. She developed and tested the chaplaincy training curriculum—getting feedback from Navy brass and others—with the Rev. Dr. Kristen Leslie, professor of pastoral care and theology at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and retired Naval Chaplain W. Kyle Fauntleroy. In the next six months, the three will train chaplains and religious ministry teams at a dozen Navy, Coast Guard and Marine bases, including three outside the continental United States, in Japan, Italy and Hawaii.

Typically, young adults, like millennials and the emerging Generation Z, are less connected to organized religion than previous generations. Ministering to them, particularly in a military setting, requires new approaches. Technology is one way to maintain connections—to service members in remote locations along with family and friends—in ways that were unavailable in the past, Ott said.

“This age group uses social media for everything. They are digital natives,” explained Fredricksen. “When people are in crisis they are going to look to a chaplain who has the ability to connect with them. This training offers chaplains new tools in their work of ministry.”

Founded in 1977, FaithTrust provides faith leaders and advocates with the educational tools and knowledge they need to address the religious and cultural issues related to abuse and violence. For more information, please click here.

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