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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Note: This article was originally published on July 8th, 2015 with title: "Mid-Atlantic Alumni Gather in Maryland for Planning". This revised, and amplified version includes comments and reflections from alumni who participated in- and supported the event.

md alumni meeting july 2015UTS alumni meeting in Bowie, MD

God is not dead and neither are UTS Alumni, judging from a conference at the New Hope Family Church center in Bowie on June 27.  In fact, 25 alumni from Virginia and Maryland spent a half day to reconnect, brainstorm and discuss proposals on the future of the Unification Theological Seminary.

The Maryland conference was organized by an ad hoc group of 5 alumni: Jose Ferrete, Doug Burton, Dinshaw Dadachanji, Matt Goldberg, and Arthur Herstein.  Jose, Doug and Matt had attended the recent alumni gathering in Barrytown. The 5-hour conference which included a working lunch was moderated by Arthur Herstein, a graduate of the first class of 1977.

The purpose of the conference was two-fold: to re-vitalize our alumni fellowship in the DC Capital region, and to find real ways for alumni to provide much-needed support for UTS going forward. The meeting touched on several types of support that would be needed and welcome.

Dr. Hugh Spurgin, the UTS president, was on hand to brief the graduates about progress made to steer the 40-year-old seminary out of some choppy waters and to answer questions about ongoing plans. Robin Graham, UTS development director, reported on the conference of alumni at Barrytown on the day of commencement. At that meeting on May 23, Jose Ferrete and Matthew Goldberg expressed interest in the idea of setting up an ad hoc council of alumni in Maryland to raise consciousness about the UTS opportunity and to rally alumni.

As he exhorted alumni to spread the word about the UTS opportunity, Spurgin said, “We need to get the alumni to put the name of UTS out in the open.  We need to get more people to apply for the UTS degree.”

One participant pointed out that a religious education certificate that was earned before the Middle States Accreditation Board granted accreditation in the mid-1990s could get an accredited Master in Religious Education simply by paying UTS a registration fee of $110.  Some alumni may have to take one or two more courses and pay an additional fee of about $1,000.  Dorothy Hill, ’80, told alumni in May that her Master in Religious Education enabled her to teach in public schools for 20 years. A new UTS extension center in a Maryland suburb, is in the initial stages of development, Spurgin told the group.  He explained that the extension center might utilize the new Imani Temple being completed in Suitland, MD, as well as the facility of another Christian church, and would offer certificate courses in counseling for pastors and clergy doing therapeutic work.

md alumni meeting july 2015 2Fellow classmates (from left): Mr. Arthur Herstein, Dr. Hugh Spurgin, and Mrs. Pauline Eby, part of UTS class of 1977.The alumni heard how UTS curriculum has been refined in the last five years to focus on skills courses that pastors need. “UTS has greatly developed its ministry courses which prepare graduates to be pastors,” Spurgin said.

What will happen to the Barrytown campus since there is no student body using it long term? Spurgin answered this question by saying several proposals are on the table, including preparing the campus to become a heritage site for Unificationist pilgrims who will be coming to pay their respects at the pilgrimage sites of East Garden and the Belvedere Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Breakout sessions were held on four topics: 1.) formation of a proposed alumni council that will assist UTS in its current challenges and future growth;  2.) discussion of long-term development projects for the Barrytown campus; 3.) prospects for alumni to make common cause on shared social issues, such as strengthening marriage; and 4.) discussion of proposals to help shape the academic direction of UTS. (Summaries of the breakout sessions follow below).

At the New Hope Family Church worship service on Sunday, June 28, Spurgin was allowed to speak about plans for UTS, as he has done at other events.

“How many of you know why True Father came to the United States in 1972?” he asked the crowd. It was explained that True Father came to America to help in a spiritual way to elect a U.S. president who would fight communism. His other reason was to found a seminary so that Unification Church members could converse, as peers, with clergy and theologians of other faiths.

He went on say, “Many spouses of alumni have told me that they always wanted to go to the seminary and get their UTS degrees, but they couldn’t because of mission or family. But you know, for many of you who are empty nesters, now you can get the degree through the distance learning program.”

UTS Alumni Conference  June 27, 2015 Bowie, MD


Breakout Discussion - Formation of an Alumni Council
Attendees at this session: Jose Ferrete, Robin Graham, Sonoko Steinbronn and Matthew Goldberg

The group met to discuss the current UTS outreach to alumni. We appreciated the work Robin Graham has done over the years in tracking down the locations of church members who attended UTS at some point. The list he has now is over 1,000 names with e-mail addresses, if I understood correctly.

Jose advocated organizing a UTS alumni council in each area where a number of UTS grads can gather on a regular basis. Such local councils would have a mission to support outreach for UTS and to communicate ideas to the national level UTS board of directors. 


Breakout Discussion - Academic Direction for UTS
Attendees at this session: Dennis Duggan, Pauline Eby, William Selig, and Dinshaw Dadachanji

Also, Lorman Lykes and Robert Selle, who were unable to attend this session, submitted their ideas in writing. We began the session by reading their papers, and then we had our group discussion. A few days later, Dennis Duggan submitted some written reflections.

(A) Points made by Lorman Lykes:

  • To attract people to take courses at UTS (and thereby support UTS), the seminary should develop and offer courses that fill the needs of people in the community and world at large.
  • The Unification movement has been focusing on promoting the virtues of family life, corresponding to the goal of fulfilling God's second great blessing ("multiply"). It now needs to develop ways to show people how to attain God's first and third great blessings ("be fruitful" and "have dominion over the earth").
  • Courses on attaining the first great blessing: techniques such as yoga and meditation can help with spiritual awareness and growth and can help solve certain social problems.
  • Courses on attaining the third great blessing: ways to protect the environment, being good stewards of the earth, and solving problems related to inequalities in income and social standing.

(B) Points made by Robert Selle:

  • Proposals for UTS: (a) to offer courses in "principled social change"; (b) to have a new tagline/motto, "UTS: The Crucible of Principled Social Change"; (c) to have a vision statement such as: "Preparing faith leaders to work in America and around the world for principled and sustainable social change."
  • Possible new courses for UTS to offer:
    • Women's empowerment (women's role in peacemaking; sharing power with men; theology of God as mother)
    • Racial reconciliation (harnessing the Jacob-Esau dynamic; local efforts to build interracial understanding; "conscientizing" the white and Asian populations about race; Jesus' example)
    • Interfaith reconciliation (understanding Islam; dealing with anti-Semitism; going beyond doctrine)
    • Human trafficking (education outreach to communities vulnerable to human trafficking)
    • Homosexuality (developing a critique and counterproposal to the gay political agenda)
    • Community building (creating communities of love)
    • Other issues: prison reform, alleviating poverty / conscientizing the wealthy, pornography, euthanasia, capital punishment, abortion

(C) Points discussed by the group:

  • We need to be aware of the purpose of UTS. True Father's original vision for UTS was: (a) to train Unification members to interact as peers with other religious leaders; and (b) to serve as an interfaith seminary. UTS courses need to be shaped by its purpose and vision.
  • Importance and value of online courses (distance learning): many universities are offering online courses, some without a fee. Suggestions: (a) Develop courses that fulfill the needs of people. (b) UTS could offer some introductory course materials online without charge, as a way to interest people to take the full course for a fee. (c) We need to investigate how other universities utilize existing faculty and facilities for their online courses. [See Dennis Duggan's comments below.]
  • UTS alumni need to use their knowledge of the Principle (and True Parents' teachings in general) to write books and to develop courses on topics of interest to the general public—such as topics on self-development.
  • UTS would benefit by partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations.
  • We need to find out what the UTS Extension in Maryland is all about, and to see how we might coordinate our efforts with the Extension.
  • Questions: (a) Is the Barrytown facility necessary to fulfill the purpose of UTS? (b) Does the UTS website need improvement? (c) How do we find people interested in the type of education offered by UTS? (This question could be rephrased by asking how to develop courses that people would be interested in.) (d) How do we make UTS competitive with other seminaries?
  • There was also a discussion of ways to address homosexuality, an issue on Bob Selle's list. Some points made: (a) A person's true identity is as a child of God (and not as "gay" or "lesbian"), and therefore each person should be treated with respect. (b) We can expand and perfect our ability to love through marrying and loving someone of the opposite sex and by loving our children. (c) By having a healthy, loving relationship between a man and woman in marriage, we can reflect the wholeness of God's masculine and feminine nature.

(D) Some comments regarding online courses by Dennis Duggan:


Breakout Discussion - Formation of a Marriage Advocacy
Attendees: Doug Burton, Joe Taylor, Nancy Bulow and Nick Kernan

The group came to agreement that alumni can and should put their knowledge and professional skills into an effort to strengthen existing marriages and encourage co-habiting individuals to seek marriage.

Doug explained that the prevailing crisis threatening our economy and culture is decline of marriage. The media fury around same-sex marriage is partly a distraction from the larger issue of out-of-wedlock births and millions of fatherless kids. Doug explained that an interest group of New Hope members was forming to educate themselves about the problem of declining marriage and possible remedies.

Nick Kernan said he was intrigued by the prospect of working the marriage issue. Joe Taylor said he was glad that Doug had spoken to the group boldly and had challenged alumni to seek ways to change the larger society with the skills obtained at UTS.

Nancy Bulow reported that she and her husband were benefiting from the marriage-enrichment program under way at NHFC and said she wanted to help this issue get more attention.

Since the meeting, the group has decided to huddle for further discussion after church on Sunday at Melford Center.


Breakout Discussion – How to Use and Maintain the Barrytown Property
Attendees: John Dickson, Zena Ruf, Henri Schauffler and Arthur Herstein

In our discussion, we spoke of Father's vision for the seminary, especially the idea of raising leaders through UTS education. The consensus was that the Barrytown property and UTS were part of one vision, although it was possible to keep the vision even without having a full-time seminary on the grounds. Barrytown should be a place that promotes peace to be in alignment with Father's vision. Promoting the arts and culture, as well as developing a leadership training facility, would all be in alignment with the vision. We talked about the idea mentioned by Nora Spurgin to develop a healing center that could include both physical and spiritual healing.

We also discussed the potential for developing the Messina house as a historic upscale property.

Points made by John Dickson:

  • Stay true to Father’s heritage. Create a peace retreat and especially target Abel UN groups who can enjoy the peaceful nature of the property while conducting meetings, conferences and seminars. The UN is an example of a nearby large agency but all the NYC based corporations or agencies would be interested in a retreat center.  UN is most aligned, as its goal is also world peace.
  • Retreats can also be targeted to groups based on areas of interest such as The Hudson Valley, the Arts, Music, etc. Use the facilities for summer programs, writers’ seminar, poets, art programs, leadership, meditation, yoga etc.

Points made by Henri Schauffler:

  • Partner with Bridgeport University to start a small college with a specialized focus on the site. The focus could be anything at all, such as health, the arts, music, peace studies, etc.

Points made by Zena Ruf:

  • Resonated with Nora Spurgin’s idea of a health and meditation center and retreat. I would like to see us work with UB and develop the seminary as a residential campus, part of UB.  At the same time we probably need to find a way to make the basic $700,000 a year to support the property separate from developing it as a campus.

Points made by Arthur Herstein:

  • Create a multi-use facility that can combine an educational institution, conference center and residences. An emphasis on interfaith, the arts, etc. would bring the needed focus. An investment group can be formed to include members and non-members.  Build additional modern buildings as an adjunct to the existing landscape. A professional development company can be brought in to the mix. Whatever is done should have a high probability for profitability over the long term. But the underlying uses must all support the Founder’s vision and purpose. Unificationists should have first preference for jobs there.

Tony Ferrantello submitted a paper but was not able to attend. A brief summary of his ideas are presented below. Please contact Tony directly because his paper has many details and interrelated components that are not shown here:

Tony is proposing a multi-use approach that could include educational programs, residential housing for seniors and veterans, a focus on the historic nature of the property including Messina House, local community involvement, a vocational school and job incubation center, and other ideas including an arts center and health wellness center. All activities should be mindful of the calm and spiritual nature of the property and should include sustainable, ecologically sound practices in building and maintenance.


General reflections on the conference:

I think that local chapters or representatives need to know what courses, what certificates, what programs are being offered at UTS. Then, for example, I or another graduate could have a flyer placed in the VA church weekly bulletin.  I or another graduate could also have an announcement about UTS programs sent out in the weekly email.  If there was some kind of online course that was particularly relevant then the UTS graduate could promote this at Sunday Service announcements etc. If we can have more communication between the seminary and what is happening in our churches in the field, then we can communicate better with the local community. Zena Ruf

One useful idea that was presented was to print nicely framed duplicates of Father's calligraphy about UTS for fundraising and expanding UTS consciousness.  There is one in the faculty dining room. John Dickson

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