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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The mood of the first class of UTS at the Clinton Maryland satellite center was upbeat and veering toward the heights of optimism at its first convocation on Monday, Sept. 28th.

The celebration began with prayer of blessing offered by Bishop David Billings, presiding Bishop, United Fellowship of Churches International and UTS Board of Trustees member.

As a central force behind bringing UTS to Maryland, Bishop Billings highlighted that long before now, Rev. Moon spoke about and was involved in mind-body, health, and healing concepts and practices through his numerous organizations and work.

As an important feature of the courses at the Maryland campus, he noted that the coursework and scholarship from UTS will contribute to this field by equipping pastors and students with knowledge and skills in spiritual health and counseling. This will support them in having a more holistic view of their vocation.

Bishop John Paul James, the Director and a principal faculty member of Logos Christian College, a partner with UTS in Maryland, and the Director of the satellite campus, welcomed the gathering by promising that additional space has been secured on the same floor where current UTS classes are held and that Bishop Billings and Bishop James are looking into purchasing the whole building so UTS could have a stronger base in the district and offer more courses.

“We are going to network with other universities engage wonderful qualified professors from local universities here,” he said.

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Front row, from right: Mr. Dan Fefferman, Bishop John Paul James, Dr. Kathy Winings, and Bishop David Billings, with new students and UTS alumni.

Dr. James, whose career has involved counseling, education and pastoring, also said he thought that the large number of UTS alumni living in Maryland could be strong asset for the satellite center. Alumni who stopped in at the gathering included  Henry Christopher, Doug Burton, Jose Ferrete, Bill Selig, Dinshaw Dadachanji, Arthur Herstein, Wendy Herstein, Dan Fefferman and Matt Goldberg.

“I am looking forward to working with the alumni, looking forward to having quarterly banquets with you,” he said. Adding, that “Let Virginia, Maryland and Washington be the premier place. Whatever you have done for New York, do more for us!”

“I want to say something: What is important is that there is an element in our society that  is killing our people. Not just African Americans but everybody. It is a sense of faithlessness as well as an element that wants to degrade marriage and family. With your help, with the alumni, we will certainly change that and will make a difference in this region,” Dr. James said.

“God is so good. I love being here. I love to see my fellow alumni here and the new students, “observed Dr. Kathy Winings, UTS Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“When I met this first class here at the beginning of this term, I said this is the best way to begin a new campus. I knew that you were going to set a very high bar for future students here,” she told the pioneer UTS seminarians, adding: “It is auspicious that this is starting now. We have just celebrated our 40th anniversary. This is the time to move forward.”

Dr. Winings also expressed that the alumni should take an active interest in supporting the satellite center and partner with the new students. “You will meet some amazing UTS alumni. Some of the best are here tonight. We have a strong alumni network here in Maryland,” she said.

In reference to the recent visit of Pope Francis, Dr. Winings said: “We are at a time and a crossroads in human history in which we need people of faith that have the training, skills and tools and are equipped to address the pastoral issues, the ministerial issues, the social justice issues that we are facing. I am moved by Pope Francis. I just finished reading his encyclical letter on social justice, and he is someone I can relate to because that is what I teach, social justice ministries.  In Washington, D.C., this whole area needs men and women of faith who can address these issues of youth, marriage, addiction, and poverty. We know that they won’t be resolved by simple solutions, necessarily, but with God all things are possible,” she said to applause.

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Dr. Winings recalled the ecumenical vision of the UTS founder in her remarks.

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“Rev. Moon used to describe to us graduate students his vision for UTS. He said that well trained students who have the heart of God, with the passion of God and the knowledge and the tools can make a difference in this world. It will not be a political solution. It is a spiritual, ministerial solution to our problems.

She further noted that “he used to paint the picture of the Barrytown campus with buildings for other religions all around the main building with UTS as the center of this academic and ecumenical revolution. So you are part of this beautiful vision.”

Dan Fefferman (UTS ’85), currently a member of the UTS Board of Trustees, also shared a message of welcome to the new students. He commented that he was impressed with the Pope’s acknowledgement that “God weeps for the victims of sexual abuse. The idea that God weeps is a most profound theological concept.” Fefferman further applauded the Pope’s statement because it supported the Unificationist idea that God suffers along with suffering humanity.

UTS is working with Logos Christian College and Graduate School of Washington to build the satellite campus. As a non-accredited school registered in Maryland, working with UTS will allow Logos students to obtain an accredited degree.

The eight new students, all of whom are members of the St. John’s Community Church in Capitol Heights, Maryland and the  nine UTS alumni who attended were meeting each other for the first time. The new students asked the alumni many questions about their spiritual journey that began at UTS, and the conversations lasted long after the convocation ended.

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