The Master of Religious Education (MRE) program at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) is a prime example of how religious studies are pioneering new roads in the implementation and practice of both teaching and learning and also interfaith peace building.

I was born in the Netherlands, stereotypically known as the land of windmills, tulips, bicycles and cheese. Among intellectual types, the Netherlands is also known as the land of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, of Erasmus and Spinoza.

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The Doctor of Ministry degree program held its Winter Intensive in February. Students from the first DMin. class joined with the second DMin. class for their elective courses. It was a very special occasion for the historic first class because it was their final Intensive. This means that now this group is working hard to prepare their dissertation proposals. It seemed like just yesterday when they were coming to Barrytown for the very first class in UTS’ new doctoral program. Now they are able to see the finish line. And UTS will be celebrating the awarding of its very first doctoral degree.

The DMin. Program is comprised of just eight courses. But these eight courses are not only extremely relevant to anyone in any kind of ministry, but they are also personally satisfying and rewarding courses. Students begin by taking their first two core courses called the DMin. Seminars. The courses are Spiritual Formation and Integration and Theological and Ethical Perspectives of Religious Leadership. Students explore the question of spirituality and spiritual formation ultimately writing their spiritual autobiography in the first course, taught by Dr. Roderick McLean. In the second week, they explore ministerial and religious leadership in all of its tensions, challenges, and joys. Taught by Dr. Jacob David, students consider the various dilemmas that they face in their own ministries and how they can be resolved.

When students return for their second Intensive six months later, they can now choose between a Family and Religious Education Ministry course or a Peace & Justice course. These courses deal with topics such as spirituality and counseling in today’s family, intergenerational religious education and needs, cultural diversity and conflict resolution or human resource management and leadership needs in the postmodern church. Faculty for these courses include Dr. Roderick McLean, Dr. Kathy Winings, and Dr. Charles Phillips. Any one of these courses would be a great course to take so the students had a very difficult choice to make. Throughout each Intensive experience, the students are also taking a special course that prepares them for their dissertation project by focusing on one aspect of that final requirement from forming the question to preparing the bibliography, selecting the best method of research and finally putting together the proposal. UTS is fortunate in that it has four faculty members who are well-versed for these research courses including Dr. Andrew Wilson, Dr. Keisuke Noda, Dr. Charles Phillips and Dr. Michael Mickler. At this point, students are halfway through their program.

August sees them back in class and taking their remaining two core seminar courses where they examine the changing face of their congregation or community and what type of leadership is called for by our postmodern world. Of course, while these two courses are going on, a brand new DMin. cohort is being introduced to the power of their doctoral degree program through the first two core Seminar courses in another part of the campus. Finally, February comes again and with it, the final two courses. Once again, students have to choose. This time, they will be choosing between a course dealing with ministry among diverse lifestyles, or globalization and the family, or faith, the market and social justice or the challenges of interfaith dialogue and ministry. They will be dialoguing with Dr. Jacob David, Dr. Roderick McLean, Dr. Kathy Winings and Dr. Tom Selover.

So, the historic first class has now gone through this whole process and are hard at work preparing their dissertation proposals. This can be a daunting task and is sometimes the breakpoint for many doctoral students. But with the DMin. students, the advantage that they have is that their dissertations are grounded in their own ministries and focus on something that is real and relevant to the students. This compelling need then is what motivates most DMin. students to finish their dissertation projects. That, plus knowing that people they know will benefit from what they study and write about, is a powerful incentive. From discussions with this group of students, it looks like we will have a great variety of powerful topics being addressed.

It was truly a bittersweet moment when I met with the first class over dinner the night before they would all be returning to their homes and to their diverse ministries. Everyone was so happy to have arrived at this moment. Yet everyone was also a bit sad because they had formed a strong bond of friendship and family and now they would not be having these little two week retreats together anymore. However, they also returned to their studies that night knowing that they were part of something unique and historic and that this identity was something that they would share wherever they went.

Though their coursework may be ending, the DMin. Program has given them something far beyond simple coursework. It has taken each of them on a journey into the heart of their callings from God and has challenged them to do their jobs or vocations with greater skill and insight than ever before. Now that is a pretty good return on one’s investment – don’t you think?

Of course, the second cohort of students is now halfway through their doctoral program and looking forward to next year at the time when they too will be celebrating having passed this important milestone in their academic careers. For those of you who are considering the DMin. Program, don’t wait to call or write. Email us or call us right now so that you too will feel this same sense of accomplishment and joy at being “all that you can be” for God. There is a spot waiting for you in the new entering class this August. But the deadline is May 20th to get your application materials in to UTS. So hurry and call us today!

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