The Unification Theological Seminary graduated its 34th class this past Saturday, May 22, 2010 in front of an overflow crowd of family and friends. It was also the first graduation to be held at its New York City campus. The seminary's faculty members and members of its Board lead the procession with the Chair of the UTS Board of Trustees, Rev. In Jin Moon. This year, there were a total of 31 graduates from four different programs. These programs were the Certificate in Unification Leadership, the Master of Religious Education and Master of Divinity degree programs, and the Doctor of Ministry.
After introductions by the ceremony's MC, Dr. Andrew Wilson, professor of Scriptural Studies, Dr. Luonne Rouse, senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church in Harlem and adjunct faculty member, opened the afternoon's event with prayer. Ms. Davetta Morgan, UTS Admissions Director, then warmed the chapel with a heartfelt and stirring rendition of "The Lord's Prayer." The conferring of degrees took place immediately following the musical selection. This year, the list of graduates read like a mini-United Nations with students from Africa, India, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Palau, Korea, Japan, Europe, Eastern Europe, Turkey and the United States. This was also the second year in which UTS conferred the Doctor of Ministry degree with all three of the doctoral candidates coming from the second entering class of students and all three being women - a fact that was noted by Rev. Moon in her commencement address.
Dr. Tyler Hendricks then offered his congratulatory remarks to the graduates. He began by welcoming Dr. Richard Panzer, who would be installed later in the ceremony as the new President of UTS, noting that both of them had crossed paths as students at UTS and reminding the graduates to not forget each other because one never knows when your paths will cross again in the future. He encouraged the graduates to use the knowledge and skills they have gained while at UTS to make a difference in their communities and nation. His remarks were followed by those of the student representative Mrs. Estella Harris, a graduate from the MRE program, who further encouraged her fellow graduates to be proud of UTS and to not be afraid to let people know about the great educational experience that they received from the outstanding faculty at the Seminary.
The two student awards that are offered annually by UTS were then announced by Dr. Kathy Winings, UTS Academic Dean. The first award, the UTS Service Award, presented to the graduating student who best demonstrates the primary personal quality which lies at the heart of ministry-living for the sake of others, was given to Mr. Prosper wa Banza Kiluba from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second award given out was the UTS Outreach Award, presented to the graduating student who made the greatest achievement in either ecumenical or evangelical outreach. This award was given to Mrs. Gail Richardson from Brooklyn, New York.
Before Rev. Moon offered the Commencement Address, Mr. Raoul Joseph provided a vocal offering of Elton John's "The Circle of Life," which moved everyone to tears with its power and grace. The stage was then set for the Commencement Address.
After congratulating the Class of 2010, Rev. In Jin Moon, Chair of the UTS Board of Trustees and President and CEO of HSA-UWC America, spoke of some of her early memories while visiting the Seminary with her father, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and of the courage and foresight it took for her father to create such an institution as UTS in 1975. She noted that Rev. Moon did three "very brave things." One of those tasks was to send out the most "experienced, knowledgeable disciples to pioneer missions in other countries." He was answering God's call to "give his best people" regardless the consequences. But, she noted, 35 years later, "that investment has yielded a movement in 190 countries."
The second brave thing that Rev. Moon did, she noted, was to "gather his best-educated and most capable leaders to study for two years at this new seminary." She again noted that this was a bold and risky move at a time when the young movement needed strong leaders. She remarked that "My father believed our movement needed trained clergy who could inherit the wisdom of the Christian tradition in all its complexity, and more, the wisdom of the other great religions, too."
She then noted that hiring respected theologians and church historians from other religious traditions to teach the new seminary students was the third brave act undertaken by her father. As she remarked in her Address, "My father knew the importance of history and he wanted his graduates to stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants." She reminded the graduates that what the world needs are pastors and visionaries who can become peacemakers and who can build bridges among the diverse faith communities. Rev. Moon noted that some of the early graduates of UTS eventually became leaders and faculty at the Seminary specifically mentioning Dr. Hendricks and Dr. Michael Mickler, professor of Church History.
She then went on to offer appreciation for the leadership of Dr. Hendricks, under whose guidance UTS was able to expand its degree program with the Doctor of Ministry and the new Master of Arts in Religious Studies, which will take in its first students in the Fall and for his work to professionalize Unification ministry. Rev. Moon congratulated him for his dedication to UTS and noted that UTS will continue to expand and grow as we look to the future.
In concluding, Rev. Moon spoke of the history of religion in the U.S., particularly the Puritan founders of the Plymouth colony and the vibrant form of Protestantism that they brought with them. She then reminded the audience that this once vibrant community had, over time, succumbed to the materialism of the surrounding society and of the resulting religious revivals and Great Awakenings that took place to bring about a change and a return to God's standard. She reminded the graduates that every church and religious community faces similar challenges and encouraged the students to "become spiritual giants" themselves and agents of change and to "join together with Father and Mother Moon, as children of God, to advance his kingdom."
Rev. Joshua Cotter, Vice President of FFWPU, was then invited to the podium to offer a tribute and introduction to Dr. Richard Panzer as the incoming President of UTS. Rev. Cotter spoke of Dr. Panzer's vision and dedication to his work with abstinence and character education and the founding of his organization, Free Teens. He described Dr. Panzer as a strong leader with energy and drive yet at the same time a profound faith and deep love for God. Rev. Moon then officially welcomed Dr. Panzer as the incoming President of UTS.
Dr. Kathy Winings then offered a heartfelt tribute to Dr. Hendricks. She described his contributions to the seminary over the past ten years including the new degree programs, the interfaith peacebuilding concentration, and his efforts to create the Center for Education at UTS that addressed the growing educational needs of the Unification movement. She concluded by noting Dr. Hendricks' love of learning, his vision for theological education, his dedication to family, and his deep and abiding faith as a man of God. Rev. Moon then presented a beautiful plaque to Dr. Hendricks on behalf of the Board.
Following a moving Benediction by Dr. Jacob David, assistant professor of Ministry at UTS and senior pastor at St. Paul and the Resurrection Episcopal Church in New Jersey, the graduates, faculty and Board members then recessed to the strains of "God of Our Fathers" signaling the conclusion of a beautiful and inspiring 34th Commencement. After photos and the exchange of congratulations, guests and graduates alike enjoyed a wonderful reception and fellowship before saying farewell to each other. All in all, graduation was a time for students to congratulate each other, celebrate this milestone with family and friends, and to look forward to what God has in store for them as they continue on their lifelong journey of serving God and the world around them.