Modern day life is now often filled with words and phrases that reflect the culture and society we live in. Words or phrases such as “multi-task,” “entrepreneurial” and “cutting edge” are as common in everyday speech as a weather forecaster calling for snow in Buffalo in December.
The Rev. Bruce Kirkland and his wife, Bishop Ebony Kirkland (UTS ’05, D.Min.’10)
It should come as no surprise then when these same words crop up in a casual discussion between seminary students and professors or people involved in some form of religious study or activity.
Although easily overlooked - or merely dismissed - in a society more often centered on riches and fame, people of faith are just as focused on getting their message out using the same tools and technologies as the secular world. They also combine the concepts of faith and business acumen to come up with new ways of attracting newcomers to their communities, with the image of the poor, country preacher as outdated - and as hard to find - as the corner phone booth.
Two people on the “cutting edge” of this type of Christianity are the Rev. Bruce Kirkland and his wife, Bishop Ebony Kirkland (UTS ’05, D.Min.’10). Together they practice their beliefs and promote their business from their home in Queens, New York. Rev. Kirkland and Bishop Kirkland combine the skills they’ve learned from their time as market researchers with their academic pursuits at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) in Manhattan.
What the D.Min. program did was help me frame out what it is I’m doing right now. In the D.Min. program you have to have a project… make it a project that you will later on be able to do in the community, and also something that will be useful to society."Bishop Ebony Kirkland (UTS ’05, D.Min.’10)
“We have a marketing research business that we did for several years,” explained Rev. Kirkland,. “We came out of that business arena and into the pastoral arena with those kind of skill sets.”
Bishop Kirkland is one of growing number of non-Unificationists who are earning degrees at UTS. She received her Masters in Religious Education in 2005 and her Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) in 2010 from UTS.
“My experience is that UTS is a great school with really awesome professors,” said Bishop Kirkland. “Dr. (Michael) Mickler, Dr. (Andrew) Wilson, Dr. (Keisuke) Noda - all three of them - and also Dr. (Ron) Brown, Dr. (Jacob) David, Dr. (Luonne) Rousse. All of them, second to none.
“There are some obstacles to overcome and some negativity, but if those things could be overcome UTS would be an awesome interfaith seminary.”
At the request of Dr. Kathy Winings, Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Rev. Bruce Kirkland, also a non-Unificationist, taught a course at UTS in the fall of 2016 entitled, “Brand Management,” combining his skills as a minister and businessman in his class presentations.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” said Rev. Kirkland. “UTS has a great vision that they want to meld religious studies with entrepreneurial kinds of skills. We have an ongoing relationship with the people here at UTS, with the staff, with President (Hugh) Spurgin and Dr. Winings and we want to lend a hand if we can.”
Dr. Winings, who is also the D.Min. program director, was instrumental in helping Bishop Kirkland define her D.Min. thesis and put the concepts into practice.
“I just basically told her to choose something that would be responsible and practical,” said Dr. Winings, “and something that would be of use in the community and have lasting value. I didn’t really do that much, it was her advisor, Dr. (Jacob) David, that really helped her.”
It was from this seemingly simple piece of advice that a seed was planted, and from there Bishop Kirkland got the inspiration to start the WorldWide Association of Small Churches and Houses of Worship, an interdenominational organization that now boasts over 3,600 members throughout the world, including Christians, Muslims and Jews.
“What the D.Min. program did was help me frame out what it is I’m doing right now,” explained Bishop Kirkland. “When you’re in the D.Min. program you have to have a project… make it a project that you will later on be able to do in the community, and also something that will be useful to society.
“I was a pastor then, and a pastor in a small church. I knew the needs of the small church, and I knew the deficits of the small church and where they were lacking, and where the pain is in a small church.
“So, I focused on small churches and my project became the Worldwide Association of Small Churches, and my project now has materialized. That’s what I’m doing now, and I want to thank UTS for that because it was certainly instrumental in helping make that happen.”