On Friday, October 17, UTS New York City hosted “An Evening with the Dean,” welcoming formally its new Dean, Rev. Dr. Lonnie McLeod, Jr. Over 100 people crowded the first floor ballroom, including Mr. Julio Medina, Executive Director of Exodus Transitional Community, New York, Dr. Luonne Rouse, Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Methodist Church in Harlem, Dr. Odell Davis, Pastor of Timothy Baptist Church in Brooklyn, Dr. Ron Brown, UTS adjunct professor, Rev. Michael Jenkins, President of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) America, Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, III, and Bishop Ki Hoon Kim, President and Executive Director of the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLA), Imam Umar Abdul Jalil, Assistant Commissioner of Ministerial and Volunteer Services for the New York City Department of Corrections, Rev. Levy Daugherty, publisher of The Kingmaker magazine, Dr. Frank Kaufmann, Executive Director of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace, Mr. Alan Inman, Director of UPF New York, and many more. The most special guest, however, was Mrs. Jacqueline McLeod, Director of Fund Development at the YWCA of Bergen County, New Jersey, and the honoree’s wife, whom Dr. McLeod credited for showing him his true and eternal value.

Brother Walter Beach, President of Amer-I-Can, Inc., and Apostle Carolyn Younger-Nolan of Mountaintop Ministries shared the emcee duties, keeping the program light, bright and exciting. After a rousing welcome from Rev. Leander Hardaway, Recruitment Director for the seminary, and an opening prayer from Rev. Rouse, we heard a stirring poem from Min. William Shoates, Triedstone Baptists Church, Bronx and a “salute in song” from the “Sisters for Peace,” including Rev. Juanita Pierre-Louis and the seminary’s own Registrar, Davetta Morgan-Ogunlola.

Walter Beach introduced the UTS President, Dr. Tyler Hendricks, comparing him to Branch Rickey, who broke the major league baseball color line by hiring Jackie Robinson. The comparison is apt in that Rickey didn’t hire Robinson because he was black, to make a social statement, but because he recognized quality, and Robinson was a great athlete. So too, the seminary didn’t appoint Dr. McLeod, who was hired in 2004 as Ecumenical Development Director, to the Deanship to make a social statement, but because the school recognizes quality, and Dr. McLeod is a great leader. Dr. Hendricks expressed his personal respect and friendship for Dr. McLeod, emphasizing his ability to see beyond the moment and maintain positive relationships with the complex of stakeholders in the seminary’s future.

This was followed by a stirring address from Rev. Jenkins, calling Dr. McLeod to take the seminary beyond acceptance to “shake up the world,” and promised his support in partnership with such a revolutionary vision. He said that the world will be saved not by intellect but by love, and that we are called by Christ not to conform to this world but to the Word of God.

Rev. Jenkins was followed by several testimonies from UTS students. Rev. Bruce Grodner, the FFWPU representative in New York, testified sincerely to the benefit he received from the class that he took at the Extension, on pastoral counseling. Sis. Brenda Frazer, 1st Vice-President of the NAACP in Astoria, called UTS to be known for the great preachers it produces. Rev. Damon Cabbagestalk, extolled the “unification liberation theology” he encountered at UTS, which is beyond the level of race, nation and religion. Brother Teak Laron shared his heart as a man climbing his way out of a difficult course through the support of Dr. McLeod and UTS. These led to comments from Mr. Julio Medina, who praised Dr. McLeod for his “non-judgmental” leadership that has helped guide 5,000 people into productive lives coming out of the correctional system over the past five years.

Archbishop Stallings, speaking on behalf of the ACLC, called the appointment of Dr. McLeod an example of the “vox populi,” the voice of the people being heard. He said that the point is not who set up the seminary, but what vision that person had in mind for the sake of the Kingdom on Earth. He noted the various denominations of the professors and students as a substantial model for others to emulate. Rev. Daugherty followed with a call for the alumni of the Extension to work together ecumenically to influence the culture and nation. He then offered some gospel music that got everyone on their feet, a rousing rendition of “Let It Rain.”

Dr. McLeod took the stage with his wife, to whom he said he owed it all, as his wife, sister, friend and companion. He talked of the financial challenges they had as a family when he was in seminary, and how his faith in God and his own hard work led to success. He outlined a vision for the seminary, based on the realization that God is not a noun; God is a verb. One’s denomination or religious ritual should not be a stopping place, but a way forward to a better world. He expressed his resolve to make UTS substantially an interfaith seminary, teaching “skills necessary for people of diverse faiths to live in peace, justice and equality.” He spoke of the emerging field education internships in Jerusalem and in the UN community, as well as the formation of a chaplaincy track for Islamic students. He called himself a “post-denominational Christian… so don’t label me as anything but a child of God, struggling to make this world a better place than I found it.” Referring back to his personal experience as a seminarian, and the fine cadre of professors at the seminary, he called the students to “invest in yourself” through greater financial commitment to their UTS education.

Kudos to Rev. Hardaway, Ms. Morgan-Ogunlola and all who assisted with the refreshments and technical support, for creating an uplifting evening with the Dean.

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