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Distinctive Characteristics and Emphases of Education at United

Theological education at United has a distinctive flavor. The seminary’s programs are known across the country for a number of emphases and characteristics that give its graduates a distinctive and powerful preparation for leadership in faith communities responding to God’s call in a rapidly changing world. Here are some of the distinctive traits of education at United.

1. From its beginning, United has sought to educate in ways that honor the depth and riches of each denominational tradition, and yet cultivate the honest and strong dialogue across differences that creates a strong and diverse community of believers. The seminary is one of the seven seminaries of the United Church of Christ and, as such, draws on its own identity within a united and uniting, and reformed and reforming, tradition. At the same time the school was chartered to be a multi-denominational institution. So United has been deeply involved in ecumenical conversations and movements for a long time. In our present religiously pluralistic world, this moves us to engage with attempts at liberal-evangelical dialogue within Christianity and at inter-faith dialogue in the larger society.

2. The educational enterprise at United is shaped by the seminary’s mission to prepare lay leaders as well as clergy, and especially by the conviction that learning to identify, analyze, and address the great issues facing contemporary society is a necessary emphasis for educating leaders for a church that is called to minister to that society.God’s aim is to transform the whole world and everyone in it. So we believe that it is not enough to prepare leaders for the church who know the ways of the church—we must cultivate leaders for the church who can look at society and see where God is calling the church to serve in transforming mission. God calls everyone to this mission. It is not enough to offer preparation for clergy alone; we must offer education to meet the needs of all the people of God.

3. Education at United emphasizes the ability to analyze the contexts of community and ministry in order to be able to hear the distinctive Word God is saying and that needs to be heard, by those particular human beings in that time and place. Because theology and ministry are always in and for particular communities in particular real life situations (i.e., because God speaks to us where we are), theology and ministry are profoundly contextual, and thus good religious leaders must be trained to attend to the character of the contexts in which they lead.

4. Education at United teaches students HOW to think as much as it teaches them WHAT to think, because our graduates will have to be innovators, creatively improvising the forms of community, ministry, and mission needed to respond to God’s call in situations none of us can anticipate at this moment. The church and the world are changing so fast that no one can predict the precise shape of Christian community and ministry 25 years from now, especially when we consider the wide range of contexts into which God calls us to minister. We educate to equip our students with the skills to respond to the new things God will do and need us to think and do.

5. Education at United seeks to form whole persons, heart, mind, and spirit. Because ministry is a holistic and embodied practice, we offer curricula that are integrative in three dimensions -- across fields of theological study, between practice and theory, and as personal appropriation.

6. United is known nationally for its programming in the area of Theology and the Arts. This is not some optional “extra” for the life of the church in the twenty-first century. Theology, which seeks to speak of the infinite God in finite human terms, is inherently an imaginative enterprise, and art more than a science. Moreover, if the church wants to speak effectively to the culture, to recover the vitality of worship and find the creative spark it will need to thrive, we might have something to learn from the arts. At United we believe that the conversation between theology and the arts holds an important key for equipping leaders for the church that needs to emerge in the twenty-first century.

7. United has a long and deep commitment to creating an inclusive community that matches the seminary’s understanding of the community to which God calls the world. We believe that God’s aim is not only to transform individuals, but to transform communities, societies, the whole creation “that they all may be one.” Thus it is essential that education at United both teaches and lives a commitment to God’s welcome table.


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Sharon Tan
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Please call the dean’s office
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