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Two PhD Candidates Awarded Doctoral Fellowships from the Forum for Theological Exploration

April 23, 2015

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary PhD candidates, Rev. Nicholas Grier and Rev. Chan Thawng Lian, have been awarded doctoral fellowships from the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE), located in Decatur, Georgia. Grier and Lian are both PhD candidates in the field of pastoral theology, personality, and culture.

As an FTE Doctoral Fellow, Grier and Lian will each receive a stipend of $20,000 to support their studies. FTE’s doctoral initiatives foster diversity in the academy by accelerating the successful completion of PhD degrees among students of African, Latino/a, Asian and First Nations descent by providing them with financial support, a network of peers, a community of mentors and professional development opportunities.

“The quality of theological education in the 21st century will depend on the presence of theological educators who make a life of faith, church and the academy relevant to the increasingly diverse and complex world we live in,” said Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Matthew Wesley Williams. “FTE is proud to support these wise, faithful and courageous rising scholars.”

Rev. Nicholas Grier

“Pastoral theology and psychotherapy provide us with prophetic tools for interpreting culture, political life, and the ways we relate to ourselves and one another,” said Grier. “In a world negatively impacted by white supremacy, patriarchal idolatry, and other forms of oppression, we need fresh and relevant scholarship, teaching, preaching, clinical skills, and community leadership to lead positive change. As an FTE Doctoral Fellow, I look forward to utilizing the rich resources of pastoral theology and psychotherapy as a public scholar, activist, and leader in the community, academy, and clinical practice.”

Grier holds a master of divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical, a bachelor of music in music education from the Schwob School of Music, at Columbus State University, and a certificate in psychotherapy from The Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago. Grier is an ordained Baptist minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention and serves as associate staff minister at Third Baptist Church of Chicago. He is also a clinical fellow in psychotherapy at The Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago, and teaches as a small group facilitator for the course The Practice of Ministry at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

“I am honored to have been selected as an FTE Doctoral Fellow,” said Grier. “This is a great tribute to my family, faith community, academic mentors, and colleagues who have faithfully invested into my journey. Previous FTE Doctoral Fellows continue to have significant impact in the academy, church, and society, and I am thrilled to follow in these footsteps.”

Rev. Chan Thawng Lian

Upon hearing he had been chosen as an FTE fellow, Lian immediately thought of his parents who struggled to keep him enrolled in school in Myanmar while facing the realities of severe poverty. “This fellowship is an affirmation of my experience and academic hard work,” he reflected. “It is also a promise to the development of my profession as a Christian leader and theological educator. I am extremely thankful to FTE and the faculty and staff of Garrett-Evangelical for supporting me throughout my doctoral studies.”

Lian earned a bachelor of theology degree from Chin Christian College in Myanmar in 2000; a master of divinity degree from Myanmar Institute of Theology in 2005; and he completed clinical pastoral education at Pacific Health Ministry in Honolulu, HI in 2008, where he served as a resident chaplain. He currently serves as pastor at United Chin Christian Church, a Myanmar immigrant church, in Wheaton, Illinois with 240 members. Lian, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, also serves as the president of Mid-America Chin Christian Fellowship and is on the board of directors of Chin Baptist Churches USA.

Lian long dreamed of studying abroad in the United States. This dream came true after he met Dr. James Poling, emeritus professor of pastoral theology at Garrett-Evangelical, who introduced him to the seminary. Lian chose to apply based on the impressive credentials of the faculty and the seminary’s resources. “Garrett-Evangelical has excellent resources for research, strengthened by its relationship with Northwestern University and the Association of Chicago Theological Schools,” said Lian. In addition, the financial support made it possible for him to attend while the location allowed him to meet other international students and immigrants. “There are a number of Myanmar immigrant churches in Chicago, which meant that I could serve in ministry while earning my degree.”

The Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) is a leadership incubator that inspires young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities. Since their founding in 1954, FTE has provided resources, events, networks, grants and fellowships to cultivate tomorrow’s leaders, pastors and theological educators. To learn more, go to