As the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) reaches its 40th year, faculty and staff are preparing for an unprecedented, three-day event to mark this milestone. That includes graduation of undergraduate as well as graduate students, a reception, a thinkers’ conference for alumni on Sunday and Monday, a documentary slide show, and an open discussion with President Hugh Spurgin– all at the Barrytown campus where the Founder began the school in September 1975.

A visitor to the chapel of the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) in Barrytown today will open the door, and the first thing that hits him or her will be the light. His or her eyes will be drawn to shafts of light streaming down from 16 brand new, double-paned, tinted, argon-gas filled, segmented windows.

An interreligious seminary is a community that is “uncomfortable” but “enriching,” where people “build trust by shared experiences.” This was the message Mr. John Gehring (UTS '84) shared with the UTS community on Tuesday in his talk entitled, “Making Friends from Other Faiths: Lessons from the Religious Youth Service.” Mr. Gehring drew from his more than thirty years of hands-on experience working with young people in multi-religious settings doing service projects in over 40 countries.

Mr. Gehring stated that among his closest friends are people of other faiths, and that his interreligious network is a substantial foundation in numerous countries for the ministry of the Seminary Founders, Rev. and Mrs. Moon. Thus he cautioned against a spiritual “arrogance” that assumes “we have it” and need to “impose” what we have on the other. He said such an attitude fails to appreciate people who come from a rich religious tradition of their own, who teach from thousands of years of conversation and practice. He noted that people of all faiths want to give to others what is of most value to themselves. The wise person, the peacebuilder, is able to value what is important to others, to be patient and listen.

He drew from the analogy of a New York subway. There one is shoulder to shoulder with people from all the world’s religions, yet no one gains from that encounter because all focus on their own newspaper and circle of friends. He encouraged the UTS community not to follow that example, but to be a family, sharing common goals, values and “sweating together” through service.

Thus, Mr. Gehring emphasized the importance of “relational skills” and “dialogue” as “essential” and stressed that UTS is where students learn those essentials and “inherit” the richness in other traditions, in the process becoming more deeply rooted in one’s own religious tradition. The goal at UTS for students of all religions, he suggested, should be to become a better person.

Mr. Gehring, who identifies himself as both a Christian and a Unificationist, presented a broad definition of Unificationist identity, based on four recent affirmations in Unificationist Marriage Blessings: God is the center of my life, I will be faithful to my spouse, I will raise children of purity, and I will support people of other religions. He suggested that Unificationist practices, such as morning devotional readings, include not only teachings of Rev. Moon, but also teachings from the world’s religious traditions.

Mr. Gehring was the Director of the Religious Youth Service (RYS) for over twenty years and is currently the International Director of the Interreligious Peace Sports Festival, under the banner of the Universal Peace Federation. He taught the Divine Principle Practicum and co-directed Field Education at UTS, 1994-97.

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