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Theological foundation finds a new home in Bricktown

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The Rev. Paul Kirbas, senior pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, stands in the new home of the Graduate Theological Foundation in Bricktown. [Carla Hinton/The Oklahoman]
The Rev. Paul Kirbas, senior pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, stands in the new home of the Graduate Theological Foundation in Bricktown. [Carla Hinton/The Oklahoman]

Religious scholars are making their way to Oklahoma City to participate in continuing education programs offered by a religious organization that has found a home in Bricktown.

The Graduate Theological Foundation recently opened in the Bricktown Central Office Complex at 116 E Sheridan.

The Rev. Paul Kirbas, the foundation's chairman of the board and senior pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, said the faith community is invited to attend an open house set for Thursday at the foundation's new office. Kirbas said the foundation moved to the Bricktown location in November 2018 and now occupies three suites there. His wife, the Rev. Jennifer Kirbas, currently serves as the foundation's interim director.

Paul Kirbas said the nonprofit foundation was formed in 1962 with Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis Spellman as the founding patron. Kirbas said Spellman was the archbishop of New York when the organization was formed as a community of religious scholars from around the world working together to offer educational programs for pastors and Christian counselors from around the world.

"It was born out of Vatican II when the Catholic Church wanted to build relationships with Protestants," he said.

Kirbas said he participated in one of the foundation's study programs in 2000, and he's been a faculty member since that time. He said the foundation has more than 3,000 alumni, 500 current students and more than 50 faculty members. The typical foundation student is about 53 years old and a ministry professional in the middle of their career, he added.

Kirbas said most of the foundation's students reach out to the foundation because of its challenging curriculum, which is known for being interfaith, multicultural and international.

Courses are provided through E-tutorials that connect the student and a professor for one-on-one dialogue each week. The organization also offers residential seminars that bring scholars to the foundation for a period of time. Kirbas said some groups study together through the foundation's cohort study program. The study group may gather for classes at the foundation office or elsewhere. A cohort study group is currently studying together in Cuba, Kirbas said.

Kirbas said the foundation's administrative office is in South Bend, Indiana, and he and other leaders with the nonprofit were looking for a central location that would offer visiting scholars a variety of places for meals and hotels. The administrative office in Indiana will remain open for a while longer but the foundation eventually will have all of its offices in Oklahoma City, he said.

"People will have access to the whole city from this spot. We purposely chose this spot," he said.

The foundation's new home includes several offices, a library with mostly Christian theology books but also books on Islam and Judaism; a conference room and a lecture hall with a big screen.

"This will provide new opportunities," Kirbas said. "Our vision is that this will become a resource for the entire community, particularly the religious community."

Kirbas said invitations to Thursday's open house were sent to various community leaders and the event also is open to the general public. He and his wife will be on hand to greet visitors who attend the open house, along with the foundation's president and staff from the Indiana administrative office.

People who attend the open house will have an opportunity to learn more about the foundation's work and what it will mean for Oklahoma City; learn about about planned "Lunch and Learn" programs that will be offered by the foundation and the Kirbas Institute, a nonprofit organization founded by Kirbas; and find out more about the new "Faith and Animal Rights" certificate that the foundation will be offering in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States and the Oxford Centre for Animal Rights at Oxford University.

GOING ON

Graduate Theological Foundation open house

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday.

Where: 116 E Sheridan, suites 202, 207 and 208.

Information: 800-423-5983; www.gtfeducation.org.

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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