Union alumni enter a wide variety of vocations after leaving seminary, from ordained ministry to law to non-profit leadership. We sat down with two recent graduates, Kate Newell ’17 and Dylan Doyle-Burke ’15 to hear about their new company, The Faith Space.
Tell us about The Faith Space.
Kate: We’re a leadership development organization. We target leaders—that could be anyone, anywhere, any discipline, any background. Union taught us world transformation, so we wanted to target people in positions of power and shift the current dynamics. We do one-on-one coaching, organizational consulting, host a podcast, and we have a membership model as well.
Dylan: Our thought was, what if we took the seminary experience, especially the Union experience of real, transformational questions, and brought it into more secular spaces? What if we ask questions about meaning and leadership using the language we gathered from Union and our ministry, and brought it into other spaces. We do some work with politicians, some work with people in tech, and in the business sector. People are really hungry for those questions of meaning—thinking about how mindfulness and intention can make them better in their leadership role.
What do you think it is about the model of seminary education that fosters transformation?
Kate: It gets to the root of what’s really going on, and that’s a huge component of what we do with coaching at The Faith Space. A lot of other coaches are just putting band-aids on symptoms and relationships. We’re asking deeper questions, drawing from the units of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) we’ve taken. So, part of it is a chaplaincy lens—listening to the emotional content, what is really being said but not said, and asking questions that touch the soul of a person instead of just goal-driven questions.
Dylan: If you look at what’s happening in the world, people are looking for a more holistic model. Especially folks in tech: they’re burning out, and asking “Why are we doing this?” So, for example, Google was hiring people in-house to do this kind of deeper transformational work but there’s something they seemed to be missing. I think about what Dr. Cone said in ST103 [Intro to Systematic Theology] about calling: “Every minister only has one sermon in them, they just use different language for it every time.” So, we try to get our clients to think about what pulls people, at their center, ask questions that dig through distractions to get to the core of their work.
Kate: We focus on ethical leadership development. That’s a crisis in our world right now: We can’t trust our leaders. And no one can trust their ethics. So, our main focus is getting leaders in alignment with their ethics. We tell leaders, “You say this thing, but your actions are completely different. How can these separate aspects come together?” Society is really sick right now, it’s hard to make ethical choices—we make 15 unethical ones just to get out of bed each morning. We want to focus on the personal and the systemic at the same time.
What’s keeping people from becoming ethical leaders?
Dylan: What I’ve seen in church systems I’ve worked in—where people have been far from ethical—it was the system itself. So, in a church context, it might be a minister who’s engaged in sexual misconduct, perhaps forty years ago, but that poison just stays in the system unless you have someone who comes in who is really values-based and understands how previous leadership impacts a whole system. And when you’re working in a capitalist system— which has so many intrinsic issues—stacking the deck to maximize profit, at its core, is unsustainable. We believe capitalism needs to shift, but understand that we’re living in a capitalist society, so from a harm-reduction model, we look at how leadership can make things more sustainable.
Kate: It’s why I focus on the questions we ask, not answers that we give. It’s about rethinking power dynamics, rethinking relationships, rethinking conflict resolution.
So how does membership in the Faith Space work?
Kate: You get to listen to our podcast, we send out a “Tools of Resiliency” newsletter once a month, we have webinars about ethical leadership. You can read more about all the perks you get from membership at thefaithspace.org.
Dylan: One of our basic premises is, the way that Church used to work and how people found religion, is no longer the place where they’re finding meaning. And so, what we’re trying to do is adapt to that awareness through a model of spiritual entrepreneurship. It’s a burgeoning field, and we’re trying to plug into it in the most ethical and values-based way possible. There is a real need out there—the same need there’s always been—for people to find meaning, but it’s looking different and it’s going to keep evolving. That’s one of the things we gained from Union, an understanding that religion is always changing and doesn’t look the same for every generation.
Kate: We focus a lot on spiritual-but-not-religious millennials, which is how most of the people we know and work with identify.
How did your Union experience fuel this work?
Dylan: The thing I learned most at Union is to interrogate everything, no matter what. But, especially, to interrogate myself, my calling, and my identity. So I think that, myself, working in ministry, academia and coaching, in each of those spaces I take a different role. And for me, I find it increasingly important to go back to my Union teachings and ask, “Who am I in this moment? What does my whiteness have to do with how I interact with the world? What does my maleness have to do?” Even in this business partnership, Union really helped us and gave us a ton of language around what it means for Kate to be the female CEO, but for some people to turn to me and ask me questions first—as the male in the partnership.
Kate: Being a female CEO has been transformational. It’s something I did not expect when I signed up to get an M.Div. from Union, and I often laugh in reflection. Union provided me, as a woman, with the tools to take up space and use my voice in a different way. Being a CEO is something that I would have never done before. I’m bold, I’m powerful, and I own my power in a different kind of way, and that helps me do my job.
Dylan: Another thing I want to highlight from Union is that we understand what we’re doing as God’s work. We understand what we are doing as ministry, even though having M.Div.’s is not the most important thing to our coaching clients. They don’t care as much, they want to know who else we’ve worked with, but it’s important for how we phrase our questions. We are ministry-oriented, even if that’s not always how we’re branding ourselves.
How did you connect to make this program?
Kate: We only took one class together at Union. But we met here in the Colorado state capitol testifying for a bill on comprehensive sex education.
Dylan: We ran into each other when we were going to testify. One of the reasons we made this partnership is that we both missed what Union brought to us. Talking about the people we studied with, that was our first reconnection to each other, and created a foundational level of trust. That context has allowed us to bring our relationship to the next level, and it wouldn’t have happened without Union.
Kate: The people who come to Union—a band of misfits and rebels who don’t fit in anywhere else—are the way-showers of the world. And that’s what brought us together, and what informs the work we want to do. This is an auspicious time, a crucial moment in history, and we want to meet it in ways that haven’t been done before. Leadership, evolution, and empowerment is liberating work.