Category Archives: News

Start with Good News: Rediscovering the Why of Evangelism

We’re excited to be hosting  “Start with Good News: Rediscovering the Why of Evangelism” at Union Presbyterian Seminary, September 27-29, on our Richmond campus, and lived streamed to our Charlotte campus.

This three-day conference will help re-educate ourselves on how to talk about the gospel and why it matters in the world, a fitting topic in our changing church.  “Start with Good News” will provide leadership and information relevant to church members of all denominations, sizes, and viewpoints.

However, the registration deadline is September 20! We don’t want you to miss this unique opportunity to be in conversation on the topic of evangelism in the 21st century.

Led by UPSem Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism John Vest, the conference will feature four key leaders in the field of post-modern evangelism: Nikki MacMillan (M.Div.’99), stated clerk and mission coordinator for the Cherokee Presbytery; Roger Ross, senior pastor for First United Methodist Church in Springfield, Illinois; Anthony Smith, teaching pastor at Mission House in Salisbury, North Carolina; and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author and speaker.

Richmond campus housing is full, but the SpringHill Suites in Glen Allen is offering a special rate of $83 per night for this conference.

For those in the Charlotte area, we are live-streaming the conference to the Charlotte campus of UPSem, at 5141 Sharon Road.  You will participate fully through the live feed in plenaries and worship, and for small group time, you’ll meet together in groups just as we are doing in Richmond.  Cost is the same, and lunches will be served.

The cost of $25 per person (max of $100 per church) for the entire conference, including two lunches, is so low due to the generous support of our partners, the Presbytery of Charlotte, Presbytery of the James, and the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic.

Please consider getting a group from your church together to attend, or just come by yourself.  Registration will close on September 20, so don’t miss your chance to be part of this exciting and timely conference.


Click here
for biographical sketches of the leaders.

Click here for a schedule of the conference.

Click here to register for Start with Good News:  Rediscovering the Why of Evangelism

Union Named Seminary that Changes the World

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RICHMOND, VA (September 16, 2016) Union Presbyterian Seminary has been recognized as a Seminary that Changes the World, Class of 2016-17 by The Center for Faith and Service. Each year, Seminaries that Change the World identifies a select group of seminaries and divinity schools offering innovative courses, programs, and opportunities for students seeking to engage in social justice and service work while in seminary. UPSem’s recognition reflects the ongoing work the school is doing to prepare future faith leaders.

“We are pleased that the many efforts of our students, staff, and faculty, and indeed the work of the institution itself, have been recognized as we respond to God’s call to engage in and participate with the transforming work of God’s Reign in our world,” said UPSem President Brian K. Blount. “Our commitment to serving God in this way neither begins nor ends with this wonderful recognition, but we are delighted to be counted among such wonderful company.” 

UPSem’s engagement with and for the world spans a variety of programs, partnerships, and courses. The seminary is engaged with the local community as an institutional partner with Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities (RISC), an initiative that brings congregations and leaders together to address root causes of injustice in the greater Richmond area. 

In the coming year, UPSem will begin a partnership with Shalom Farms which promises to create one of the largest Urban Farms in Virginia. The collaboration will help to provide food for people in food deserts in Richmond, teach basic gardening, and address theological issues around ecology and stewardship.

UPSem also has initiated a new set of course requirements designated “The Church in the World,” which includes specialized topics of study on evangelism, interfaith relations and community engagement. Course offerings include Wealth and Poverty in the Bible, Intercultural Religious Education, Sex, Money; and Politics in the Ancient Church, Urban Ministry: Surviving and Thriving.

A partnership between UPSem and The Presbytery of the James has brought Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism John Vest to teach academic courses in evangelism, offer training to local congregations, and begin a new spiritual formation platform called The Joyful Feast which seeks to engage those on the edge of the religious community. 

Katie Geneva Cannon, Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics, recently received Union Theological Seminary of New York‘s Union Medal at the 178th Commencement. That seminary’s highest award honors persons of faith whose lives reflect the mission of the seminary in the world. Cannon focuses her work in the areas of Christian ethics, womanist theology, and women in religion and society. Cannon was the first African American woman ordained in the PC (USA). 

The list of Seminaries that Change the World is published by The Center for Faith and Service, an organization that works to help seminaries, service programs, denominations and local congregations connect faith with service and social justice work. Reflecting on this year’s list, Wayne Meisel, Executive Director of The Center for Faith and Service, said “Anyone seeking to change the world ought to at least consider seminary or divinity school as an option to grow personally in one’s faith and to inspire, sustain and deepen his or her commitment to neighbor, community, country and the world. Through their commitment to collaborate, this diverse group of schools named on this year’s list of Seminaries that Change the World embody the best of faithful and justice-seeking communities.”

For more information about Seminaries that Change the World, visit www.faith3.org.

Pokémon Go or Pokémon No for Christians?

Pokémon Go was a Pokémon no go in Japan recently as the game-maker worried that the  hype generated by a leaked email might crash the system. With more than 30 million downloads in over 30 countries already, this app-based augmented reality game already has way more adherents than most Christian denominations in the U.S. That kind of popularity generates concerns, not the least of which is whether or not Pokémon Go is a good pastime for Christian young people.  Some questions focus on children’s physical safety as they follow the game to unfamiliar locations. Others relate to economic risk, as users are prompted to spend real money buying online “lures” and other game elements. But from a religious perspective, the biggest question is about the spiritual value of Pokémon Go and other virtual reality experiences.

Christians have long endorsed the idea of envisioning the world differently than it is. In fact, all religions encourage their adherents to see the world through eyes governed by the stories of what could be told by their tradition. In a sense, to embrace a Christian identity in a predominantly secular world is to choose to participate in an augmented reality game in real time and space, much like the experience of chasing Pokémon around town. Everywhere they go, Christian young people are expected to see and act differently because they view life through Easter eyes. Playing Pokémon Go reinforces a way of being in the world that expects the unexpected to happen.

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Dual Degree Student Rosy Robson demonstrates how Pokémon Go works on the quad of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Christians historically have also been fans of pilgrimages. These spiritual journeys involve rituals and practices that help participants express commitments and make meaning in their lives. They require pilgrims to acknowledge that their destiny is shaped by God and thus not wholly within their control. Pokémon Go players are also on a quest, one that serves to reshape their experiences of life and is not fully theirs to define. Studies of gamers find that they are aware of the dissonance between being agents within their play and also bounded by the design and rules of the game. Perhaps playing Pokémon Go, then, is good training for daily Christian pilgrimage, where young people are called to “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15) and become reflective producers of a faithful life with God.

Let me be clear. Pokémon Go is not a Christian game and chasing Pokémon in and of itself will not make children and youth more faithful Christians. Playing Pokémon Go, however, can cultivate skills of imagination, attention, questing, awareness, and decision-making that can be transferred to Christian discipleship. Furthermore, the communal nature of the game, where young people band together to locate and catch  Pokémon, reinforces another Christian value: community. The celebrations that arise during the chase echo the joy of Christian fellowship and, more faintly, the delight of Christian worship. For all these reasons, my response to the question of whether Christian young people should join this augmented reality sensation is ” Pokémon Go”!

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Karen-Marie Yust is the Josiah P. and Anne Wilson Rowe Professor of Christian Education at Union Presbyterian Seminary

Incoming students enjoy face-to-face fellowship

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By Sandy Irby
Director, Communities of Learning Program

The Richmond campus burst into life this summer as participants in Union Presbyterian Seminary’s (UPSem) annual Communities of Learning (CoL) program gathered for their greatly anticipated “Face-to-Face” (F2F) event.

After eight weeks of small-group, online study and discussion, students, faculty advisors, and alumni mentors gathered during a warm July weekend for the first time. Smiles aplenty marked this time of conversation and laughter, table fellowship, and worship among a very special community of old friends who had never met before.

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The F2F weekend is the culminating event of Communities of Learning—a program unique to UPSem and one that has met with resounding success since its introduction in 2011. Designed to ease the transition of newly admitted students into seminary academics and community life, CoL enfolds them into the UPSem family from the get-go—before classes even begin.

Along with faculty and alumni mentors, students from all three campuses follow an online curriculum that offers a foretaste of the academic readings and class discussions that await them in the fall.  CoL’s emphasis on the sharing of diverse perspectives encourages collaborative learning and, in the process, builds relationships and strengthens community.

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At the end of the F2F weekend, all departed with fond farewells— eager to meet again in the fall, to continue the conversation, to learn from one another, and to grow deeper in relationship with God and in community with one another. In this way, the CoL program sets the stage not only for seminary study, but also for future ministry for the church in the world.

See more photos!

To learn more about the program and/or to sign up as a new student or alumni mentor, please contact:
Sandy Irby, Director
Communities of Learning Program
(804) 278-4272 /  sirby@upsem.edu

Statement from President Blount on the passing of Dr. Kenneth Orr

Dear Friends,

It is too soon, it seems, for another statement announcing the passing of a beloved member of our seminary community. And yet, I am saddened to share the news of the death of Dr. Kenneth B. Orr (B.D. ’60; Th.M. ’61), president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education from 1974-1979. Dr. Orr’s death comes after a long and courageous battle against Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Orr graduated from Duke University in 1954. After ROTC at Duke where he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, he served as a pilot from 1954-57. In 1960-61, he earned the B.D. (equivalent to today’s Master of Divinity) and Th.M. degrees from Union Theological Seminary (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in Richmond, Virginia. After three years as pastor of West End Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia, he returned to Union as assistant to the president, eventually becoming a vice president. Orr earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1976, winning the honor of Outstanding Dissertation Award. From 1974-79, he was president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now a part of Union Presbyterian Seminary). In 1979, he accepted the call to become president of Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, where he served until 1997. Under his leadership, Presbyterian became a Carnegie Foundation Baccalaureate Institution, a liberal arts college with a national reputation. In recognition of his outstanding service, the governor of South Carolina awarded him the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor. After retirement, Dr. Orr worked for some years as an academic search consultant with the firm of Jon McRae and Associates in Atlanta.

Dr. Orr is survived by his wife of sixteen years, Ruth Douglas Currie, of Montreat; three sons, Kevin Hunter Orr, Erie, Pennsylvania; Jeffrey Hill Orr, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; and Jonathan Jarrett Orr, Richmond, Virginia; and seven grandchildren from his prior marriage to Janice Jarrett Orr, now deceased.

A memorial service in celebration of Dr. Orr’s life will be held at the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Black Mountain, North Carolina, on Saturday, July 30, 2016, at 2 p.m. with reception immediately following. After the reception, a private family internment service will be held at the Columbarium in Montreat, North Carolina. Memorial gifts may be made to Presbyterian College for the President Emeritus Dr. Kenneth B. Orr Memorial Endowment: Faculty Research Fellowship, Presbyterian College, Office of Advancement, 503 South Broad St., Clinton, SC 29325.

Brian K. Blount
President and Professor of New Testament
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Statement from President Blount on the passing of Dr. Arnold Lovell

Dear Friends,

I write to share the sad news regarding the death of Dr. Arnold B. Lovell. Dr. Lovell came to Union Theological Seminary as a graduate of Appalachian State University. A 1981 Doctor of Ministry graduate of UTS, he would also go on to earn a Doctorate in Education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Dr. Lovell returned to the Union community to become a Visiting Professor of Evangelism at the seminary for more than a decade. He also taught Polity. He served as senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church, South Charleston, West Virginia and Second Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, and as an interim pastor for churches in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Emily Sexton Lovell, and their daughters Carolyn Edmunds Lovell and Catherine Hedrick Lovell Lawson. The Service of Worship and Witness to the Resurrection will be held on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 3 p.m. at Clemmons Presbyterian Church, 3930 Clemmons Road, Clemmons, NC 27102. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be sent to the Mt. Eval Association, c/o Stewart Sexton, 321 N Main St., Denton, NC, 27239.

Brian K. Blount
President and Professor of New TestamentBrian_Blount-1

Congratulations 2016 graduates

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On Saturday, June 4, Union Presbyterian Seminary celebrated the 204th commencement service of the school’s Richmond campus. Retiring Samuel L. Newell, Jr. Professor of Preaching and Worship Beverly Zink-Sawyer presented the commencement address, “Begetting Demons and Angels,” inspired by the gospel of Luke.

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Retiring Professor of Preaching and Worship Beverly Zink-Sawyer delivered the commencement address for the Richmond campus.

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Union’s Charlotte campus celebrated the close of the 14th session, on Saturday, June 11. Interim Pastor for Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, Albert Peery (D.Min.S.’74), gave the commencement address, “God’s Thoughts,” inspired by 1 Corinthians.

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Forty-eight degrees were conferred across the seminary’s Richmond, Charlotte, and Extended Campus platforms. Union Presbyterian Seminary continues in its mission to prepare pastors, educators, and scholars in service to the Church with approximately 208 students enrolled in programs. They represent approximately eight nations and more than 21 states.

Union witnesses history at GA

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President Brian K. Blount poses with co-moderators, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston at GA.

This year, Portland, Oregon played host to the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that kicked off June 18th. The week long event has already made history with the election of co-moderators for the first time, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, as well as adopting The Belhar Confessions into the Book of Confessions. Union graduates, alums, professors, and staff have been on hand not only in leadership roles, but as people helping shape the direction of the denomination.

Several members of our faculty and staff have been sharing their talents and insight with the General Assembly.  Dean, Charlotte campus, Richard Boyce and Assistant Professor of Christian Education Sung Hee Chang (M.A.C.E.’99; Ph.D.’09) were asked by Union alum and Moderator for the 221st General Assembly Heath Rada (M.A.’70) to develop a Bible study for the event. Their curriculum, “Messy Tables, Messy Mission,” was used in both Monday and Tuesday’s Bible study by the assembly at large. Director of Admissions Mairi Renwick (M.Div.’11) and Associate Director of Admissions Lisa McLennan (M.Div.’13) represented Union at the Seminary Fair, giving information about our degree programs, new initiatives, and continuing education.

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Professor John Vest gives keynote address at UPSem Alumni Luncheon.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism John Vest offered the keynote address, “Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism,” at the Union Presbyterian Seminary Alumni Luncheon. The alums also heard from President Brian K. Blount and Director of Alumni Development Clay Macaulay (D.Min.’85). During the luncheon, the newly elected co-moderators visited to give a quick word to the group. Denise Anderson is a pastor from National Capital Presbytery, and Jan Edmiston is a presbytery executive from Chicago. Over 80 Union and PSCE alums gathered together in fellowship.

For Orlando…

Orlando ribbonThe Lord proclaims:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   weeping and wailing.
It’s Rachel crying for her children;
   she refuses to be consoled,
   because her children are no more.
-Jeremiah 31: 15

Holy God,

we  weep, we lament,
and we trust that you hear our tears
    before they begin to fall.
Another senseless act of violence,
   with its seeds planted from the rhetoric of our world.
Homophobia and xenophobia should not be
   challenges anyone faces,
and yet we are weeping for our LGBTQ* and Latino/a  brothers and sisters. 

There are words of comfort and peace and love to be said,
   but God, let us be unsettled a little longer.
Let our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our whole beings
   remind us this is not ok.
And may your Spirit evoke in us
   a willingness to speak out, to walk alongside,
     to demand justice for these precious lives lost in Orlando.

 Hear our prayers, our tears, our anger, our helplessness.

In the name of Christ we pray, amen.

Written June 13, 2016, by Chaplain Michelle Freeman Owens (M.Div.’05)

Ochs addresses religion-related violence

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Photo credit: Amanda Kathryn Hill

Peter W. Ochs, University of Virginia’s Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, addressed how to reduce religion-related violence at Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Dawe Lecture.

“Recent news headlines seem to give secularists more courage to say ‘We told you so!,’” Dr. Ochs said. “Is religion itself really dangerous to humankind? Or has it taken western diplomats too long to realize that religious groups do not necessarily act like other social groups; that there are religious resources for peace as well as conflict, that it takes special knowledge to understand religions, and that new coalitions of government and religious and civil society leaders are needed to engage religious groups in times of peace as well as conflict?”

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Dr. Ochs’ talk introduced the work of the “Global Covenant of Religions, Inc.,” a new NGO dedicated to drawing on religious as well as governmental and civil society resources.

He is the co-founder of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning, which promotes interfaith dialog among Christians, Jews, and Muslims through scriptural study groups. He is also a co-founder of the Children of Abraham Institute, which promotes interfaith study and dialog among members of the Abrahamic religions.

The annual lecture series pays tribute to the late Professor Donald G. Dawe and Mrs. Nancy Dawe, and promotes ethical and religious understanding. Because of Dr. Dawe’s long-standing interest and commitments in the area of multi-religious and multicultural understanding and interfaith dialogue, the lecture series seeks to contribute to deepened awareness and insight in these areas of intellectual and especially practical religious concern.

Watch the lecture