Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Community of Christ Seminary

If you're looking for a seminary but obtaining a Master of Divinity (MDiv) is not a priority, you should definitely consider Community of Christ Seminary, part of Graceland University. They have a well-developed Master of Arts in Religion program focused on preparing spiritual leadership.

In case you're unfamiliar, Community of Christ is the former Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For most of their history since 'the Reorganization' in 1860 they spilled a great deal of ink in distinguishing themselves from their Utah cousins, denouncing polygamy, and laying claim to being the one, true church of Christ on earth. Over the course of the late 20th century the denomination became more progressive, shedding a massive number of members in the process and spawning myriads of splinter groups. In 2000 they officially changed their name to Community of Christ, and have continue since then in bringing their beliefs and practices in line with the era. While they continue to use their own editions of both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants (to which they actively add new sections from time to time) in addition to the Bible, their view of scripture is worth noting:
"Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission. We affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—not to replace the witness of the Bible or improve on it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God. When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship." (Scripture in Community of Christ.)
While Community of Christ branches have historically had bi-vocational, self-supporting ministers serving them with little if any formal training for ministry, over the past few decades some of these as well as full-time ministers and denominational leaders enrolled in graduate theological programs, obtaining advanced degrees in divinity. It's fairly certain that their studies were a strong contributing factor to the transformation of the church from a sect to a forward-looking denomination. I've been given to understand that one of the seminaries that influenced many of them was St Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, a United Methodist school. Others, like Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, affiliated with the United Church of Christ, were also in the mix. It was only about 2+ decades ago that Community of Christ started their own seminary.

While Community of Christ Seminary does not offer a Master of Divinity (MDiv) program, sort of the 'gold standard' of theological education, and required by most organized denominations for ministerial ordination, under the auspices of Graceland University they do have a Master of Arts in Religion program that is regionally accredited. This program currently has three areas of concentration to choose from, rather than just one standard for all students.

Those concentrations are broken down as follows:
Christian Theology
  • RELG5022 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible 3 s.h.
  • RELG5050 New Testament - Letters and Apocalypse 3 s.h.
  • RELG6050 Christology and Liberation Theology 3 s.h.
  • RELG6070 History of Christian Thought II 3 s.h.
Spiritual Leadership
  • RELG5435 Pastor as Person 3 s.h.
  • RELG5440 Spiritual Formation and Transformation 3 s.h.
  • RELG6245 Transformational Leadership 3 s.h.
  • RELG6250 Community Building and Diversity 3 s.h.
 Peace and Justice
  • RELG5445 Theology of Peace 3 s.h.
  • RELG5450 Philosophy of Peacebuilding 3 s.h.
  • RELG6255 Social Justice: Ecologies and Economies of Peace 3 s.h.
  • RELG6260 Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice 3 s.h.
The full lineup of classes for this degree can be found on the Community of Christ Seminary website.

I take the effort that Community of Christ leadership is putting into developing their own seminary not only as a way for them to train their own ministers, but also to participate in the broader work of churches of all varieties. From what I've found online, they take in a fair number of students from other denominations, and so for that reason I believe that it would be a potential path to graduate studies for Universal Life Church ministers.

As I said, they do not offer an MDiv at the moment, but I'm certain that they must have this on their roadmap. The Master of Arts can be offered through Graceland's regional accreditation, as noted above, but a recognized MDiv requires recognition from the Association of Theological Schools. Offering the MA in Religion is probably preparatory to receiving that accreditation.

If I were only looking for an Master of Arts in Religion, this seminary would be at the top of my list.

See Also:

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Some Unaccredited Seminary Options

In a previous post I promised to say more about opportunities to attend theological schools that are not accredited. Generally speaking I would advise against this path if you are looking for formal preparation to be a certified chaplain, to pursue an a career in academia, or otherwise need an accredited degree for your professional goals. However, if your focus is on church ministry, parachurch work, nonprofit or social enterprise efforts, or being a Bible/theology teacher in a non-academic setting, then an unaccredited seminary might be right for you. You'll find the hourly rate to be perhaps a third or less of accredited schools. You do have to be more careful, though, as there is no independently verified guarantee of quality. In any event, here are four options you might want to consider. The first two are of evangelical alignment, and the second pair are supported by independent Catholic jurisdictions.

First, Rockbridge Seminary in Springfield, Missouri operates out of the Second Baptist Church of that city. Founded in 2003, it conferred the Master of Divinity for the first time in 2007. This is a distance learning seminary, and they claim accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and I suggest you take a look at the organization's site to size it up for yourself. I'm including Rockbridge here as unaccredited because the DEAC won't likely be recognized by most employers. Again, you'll want to look into that yourself. The seminary is evangelical in nature, and expects the following of all enrolling students:

Follower of Jesus Christ
Rockbridge Seminary assumes the applicant is a follower of Jesus Christ and is committed to serving Him through ministry. Further, the Seminary assumes that the applicant is known to have a life honoring to Jesus Christ.

Serving In Ministry
Applicants are asked to be actively serving in a local church or other ministry role (either as a volunteer or as a paid staff member) and must be affirmed by local church leadership through a Church Endorsement Form.

If that accurately describes you and your situation, and you want a Bible-centered, evangelical process of formation for ministry, then take a look at their other application steps and decide how to proceed. While they offer a certificate and three graduate degrees, for comparison we'll look at the price of their Master of Divinity (MDIV). It totals 80 hours and costs $249 per credit hour. 

Second, one of the longest-operating unaccredited seminaries is Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary, is based out of Evansville, Indiana. It was founded in 1969 and offers courses leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees centered in Christianity. The seminary has attempted to receive accreditation from a variety of sources over the years, and in all cases failed. There's no indication that I can find that it had to do with academic standards, though. From what I've read it was a matter of financial reserves and changing policies of potential accrediting bodies that was at issue. Again, though, caveat emptor

As I said, Trinity offers a range of degree programs, but we're comparing MDivs here. The Master of Divinity program at Trinity requires 76 hours and costs 206 per credit hour. As you can see, it's presently $43 less expensive than Rockbridge Seminary. The application doesn't mention a required statement of faith, though there are fields asking for the identity of your denomination as well as your ministry experience. Don't let that put you off, though. If the Universal Life Church is your only church affiliation, then just be honest. This is a multi-denominational seminary and I get the impression they won't turn down otherwise qualified students. 

Third, a big change from what we've seen so far is Sofia Divinity School. Affiliated with the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch, this seminary prepares people to receive holy orders. That is to say, taking this course of study may lead to ordination as an independent Catholic priest, part of the aforementioned jurisdiction. Featured in the book, The Other Catholics, the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch is very progressive and tends to allow for a fairly wide range of approaches to Catholicism. Priests can marry, be of any sexual orientation, and male or female. I'm not sure about transgender and nonbinary folk, so it would be best to check on that. The coursework is divided up into three modules of 12 credits each, then two modules of 6 credits each. The 12 credit modules each cost $500, and 6 credit modules are $250, meaning that per credit hour you would be paying less than $45! Payment for the modules can be spread out over four months.

Now, it might seem strange I'm including Sofia Divinity School here, because attendance can lead to holy orders in a denomination other than the Universal Life Church. That's up to you, I suppose, but if it's what you want, nothing about the ULC is exclusive.

That brings us to the fourth option, which is another independent Catholic seminary. This one, Ascension Theological College (ATC), is affiliated with The Ascension Alliance. Here's how ATC describes what it offers:

We strive to provide high quality academic programming at a modest cost. Our programs help prepare seminarians for sacramental ministry (Catholic apostolic priesthood), non-sacramental ministry, and pastoral counseling. We offer the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Divinity degree to those who do not already have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution; the Master of Divinity to those who do; the Master of Pastoral Counseling for qualified candidates who feel called to do counseling within a spiritual context; the Master of Spirituality for those interested in personal enrichment or non-ordained creative ministry; the Master of Theological Studies for those interested in ordained non-sacramental ministry; and the Doctor of Ministry to select students who have a master’s degree and extensive ministry experience, see below, under “Doctoral Studies.” The course of studies is both structured and individualized. The educational expectations are comparable to those of other seminaries though the curriculum reflects our unique renewal philosophy and style of learning.

The way ATC manages tuition is quite different from the other schools reviewed here. Check it out:

Application fee: $25 

Review of Prior Learning: $25 

Monthly Tithe: $20 (Includes Administrative, Academic, and Committee Support) 

Distance Learning Courses taken through ATC: $75 

Retreats & Workshops at the Hermitage: Fee to vary according to expenses for presenter(s), food, materials, etc.

If I understand all that correctly, it's probably the best deal you'll get, at least in hard numbers.

Hopefully this is helpful to someone. As I become aware of other options I'll be sure to post about them as well. 

See Also:

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Take a Look at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities

The other day I issued a warning about a particular seminary that required doctrinal purity, according to their strict definition of it, in order for people to attend as students. Not expecting many Universal Life Church ministers to fit easily into their stuffy little box, I advised steering clear, despite the ubiquity of online ads from that seminary. My suggestion was, and remains, to carefully look through the list of schools accredited* with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) if you want to take an advanced degree in theology and/or ministry. Today, though, I'll offer a suggestion of a seminary, perhaps to counterbalance the negativity of my other post on this topic. 

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (UTSTC), located in Minnesota, is ATS accredited and makes it possible for students to study entirely online, or attend in person. Online classes can either be asynchronous, meaning there are no scheduled class times and collaboration is done online through discussion groups and the like, or synchronous. This latter option entails attending classes virtually at scheduled times. For those working 9-5 jobs, synchronous coursework can be tricky. Fortunately, it's possible to do everything asynchronously if that's your reality. 

UTSTC is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, widely known as the most progressive or 'theologically liberal' denomination in the United States. At the same time, UTSTC operates largely as an interfaith seminary, offering MDiv concentrations for both their own and other Christian denominations (Lutheran StudiesMethodist StudiesPresbyterian StudiesUCC Studies), but also for other religions (UU StudiesHumanist StudiesInterreligious Chaplaincy—Islamic FocusBahá’í Pastoral Care), alongside other tracks that are independent of religious tradition (Interreligious ChaplaincySocial TransformationTheology and the ArtsChurch LeadershipLutheran StudiesSpiritual DirectionBiblical StudiesReligion and TheologyGeneral Studies).

Having spoken with current and former students, current staff, and religious leaders local to the seminary, I know this to be a very, very open-minded institution. Whatever you believe, you can find a place here. You can also evolve, changing your faith, without any hindrance with this seminary. There is no swearing allegiance to one religious tradition or ideology. Atheists, Christians, Jewish folks, Muslims, Hindus, Humanists, Baha'i, interfaith people, and really anyone else can attend and learn, so long as they are otherwise eligible.

On the application you will be asked about your religious background, but it's simply a dropdown menu with a range of options. Among them are 'interfaith' and 'other,' so if none of the other options fit, you have an 'out.' Two references are required, being from either 1) a religious leader, 2) a former professor, or 3) a professional colleague. If you've done anything at all in life that was good, you probably can find two people to be good references for you. The rest is the standard essay writing and academic history work, including sending official transcripts from any schools you've attended before. Of course, you will need an earned, accredited Bachelor's degree (any field) to be eligible to study for a graduate degree.

Hopefully this information will be of use to some ULC ministers, or really anyone looking for a quality, progressive theological education that will prepare them for a wide range of ministries. Be sure to visit the seminary website, and give it some thought. I hope to enroll later this year myself, so maybe we'll be classmates.

*A word about accreditation in theological education. ATS accreditation is important for those of us who need formal training for the types of ministry we'll carry out, such as institutional chaplains and teaching in accredited schools. It is the gold standard for anyone looking for an education that will take their ministry to the next level. To be clear, I'm by no means saying any formal education should be required for ordination. The Universal Life Church ordains anyone upon written request. Your ministry is what you make it. At the same time, some choose to deepen their skill set and knowledge with further education. In a following post I'll share about some unaccredited options for conservative Christian ULC ministers.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Dyeus: The Indo-European Sky Father (Video)

A fascinating look at a possible origin of God the Father, and a dive into the origins of Indo-European.
In this video, we explore the Proto-Indo-European Sky Father. A deity revered by many cultures throughout history. From the Greek Zeus to the Roman Jupiter, the Sky Father god represented the celestial day-lit sky. Hosted by Dr. Andrew M. Henry. 

David Anthony, "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language," 2007. 
Ranko Matasovic, "A Reader in Comparative Indo-European Religion," 2018. 
Mallory and Adams, "The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World," 2006. 
West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, Oxford Press, 2007. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

An Interview with Rev. Andre Hensley

The video below was filmed in 2008, so before smartphones. Perhaps that's why it sort of like a hidden cam video. A couple interviews Rev. Andre Hensley, president of the Universal Life Church, and so far as I can tell, the interview was on the up-and-up. Given that Rev. Andre looked at the camera at least once, I'm figuring it must be okay. In any case, it provides some interesting insights from his perspective on the Universal Life Church, at least up to that time. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Explaining the Split in the Universal Life Church

At some point in the past several months you might have heard about the schism taking place in the United Methodist Church. Really, this isn't anything new for Protestantism. We didn't get to the point of having thousands of Protestant denominations by everyone getting along! Did you know, though, that there have been splits in the oldest denomination offering ordination to anyone for life and for free? The Universal Life tradition currently has two major divisions, and possibly a handful of smaller spin-off groups.

It's hard to say how many smaller organizations claim the Universal Life Church name without being affiliated with the headquarters in Modesto, California. Some may have started out as chartered congregations and then decided to do their own thing. Internet searches turn up little branches of the church, but it's hard to quantify them, as it's unclear how many are still active, and there's currently no centralized list with which I'm familiar. There is, however, a very strong competitor in the space, and that's the ULC Monastery.

In 1995 a ULC minister named Dan Zimmerman started a website for his congregation, which was called Universal Life Church/ULC Monastery, Inc. It was based out of Tucson Arizona. Rev. Zimmerman requested to be authorized to accept and forward to the ULC HQ any ordination requests received on his site, so that people could be ordained by our church through that method. Authorization was granted, and it's my understanding that at that time the ULC HQ didn't have a site of its own, so it made sense to open up that channel. Besides, Rev. Kirby Hensely always emphasized that one of the most important duties of ULC ministers was to ordain others on their request.

In 2005 Zimmerman asked one of his members to assist with operating part of the site from Seattle Washington. In 2006 they had an internal management dispute, so Brother Dan did the responsible thing and closed his site on 08/01/06. At that time the ULC HQ authorization for them them to take ordination requests online was revoked. after that, the Seattle people carried out a sort of hostile takeover of the Monastery website and changed it to be themonastery.org. They proceeded to call themselves the Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse, Inc. This church continues to this day, and seems to be operating under the name "Universal Life Church Ministries," although you'll still see the Monastery name in use. They are a separate organization that is not affiliated with the original Universal Life Church with headquarters in Modesto, California.

If you were ordained by the Universal Life Church prior to 2006 and contact the Monastery, they will tell you that due to a database change they don't have access to ordinations prior to that year. However, they will issue you a replacement credential with the date you provide, and it includes a notation at the bottom with a date that the ordination was allegedly 'renewed.' In legal terms, that's the actual ordination date for the Universal Life Church Ministries, as they did not have the Modesto-ordained minister on record prior to that date. Anyone familiar with the Universal Life Church as Rev. Kirby J. Hensley presented it would know that ordination is 'for life,' and therefore no 'renewal' is needed.

Technically, I suppose there was a database change in 2006. It was a brand new database for a new organization not affiliated with the original Universal Life Church. However, it seems deceitful to me for the ULCM not to be transparent about what's going on. Further, the Monastery when on a buying spree over the intervening years and has obtained and put to use numerous domains bearing the Universal Life Church name in some form, as well as domains like 'getordained.com.' Some of those domains are attached to stand-alone websites that communicate on the backend with the Monastery but look a little different up front, while others simply redirect to one of the ULCM sites. Meanwhile, the only domain connected directly with the ULC HQ is ulchq.com.

Now, to be clear, the ordinations offered through the Universal Life Church Ministries/Universal Life Church Monastery are perfectly valid for officiating legally-recognized weddings. If you were ordained through that denomination of Universal Life, you are still ordained...just not by the Universal Life Church that Rev. Kirby J. Hensley founded. In practice this shouldn't ever matter to to you. However, it might be worth asking whether you want to support such an organization. That's entirely up to you.

The Universal Life Church international headquarters is definitely lost in the online shuffle, and not only because the Monastery owns and uses so many domains, dominating search results. So far as I have seen, the Universal Life Church in Modesto doesn't do any online advertising. Further, the official website is badly outdated and broken. The store shows items out of

stock which are not, and there's no new information about current happenings listed. The page navigator at the top also behaves very oddly, making it necessary to use the page links in the footer to get around the site.

There is a page at ULC.net which was previously authorized to carry official ULC courses, but that is no longer the case. There are other materials available through that website, but unfortunately these are reportedly not being fulfilled. The ULC HQ has been receiving calls from people who have ordered through that site and never received their orders, even after months of waiting. Since it's a separate site and the store is not connected to ULC HQ, there's really nothing they can do.

So there you have it. Religious division takes place even among the mail order ministry/online ordination denominations. As is often the case, in my experience, it's less about doctrine and beliefs, and more about personalities and control. More's the pity.

See Also:

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Some Thoughts on Liberty University's Rawlings School of Divinity

If you are thinking about studying for an accredited Master of Divinity degree, it's likely you've done some internet searching already. Inevitably, this leads to ads showing up for you on Facebook and elsewhere, promoting various theological schools. One that will very likely come up for you in an ad (or ten!) is Liberty University's Rawlings School of Divinity. While it is currently an ATS accredited seminary, and charges a fairly reasonable block rate of $2,750 per semester, ULC ministers might find it especially tough to be admitted. 

In addition to the usual school transcripts and references, there is also a questionnaire that you will need to fill out. It asks for the church where you are a member in good standing, as well as for the pastor's name. It also lists several theological positions that you must affirm in order to be accepted. Given that ULC minister often hold to beliefs that are considered irregular to some degree by traditional Christianity, or else don't have membership in a local church, many of us will not be eligible for admission.  

That said, perhaps you are a ULC minister but also a very conservative evangelical Christian and also a member of a local church that is likewise conservative and evangelical. In that case it's entirely possible for you to fill out the application questionnaire with no problem. As I've indicated already, though, that would probably make you more of an exception to the general rule about us. We get ordained to officiate weddings for friends, or to start a wedding business, or even to start a church or ministry with some recognition. For those of us who take it in a professional direction, if we had local churches and denominations within which to pursue ministry, we probably would. Fortunately, the Universal Life Church offers us an alternative.

In terms of finding a good theological seminary that fits your budget and beliefs, I strongly recommend that you spend some time exploring the accredited seminaries listed on the ATS website. With so many options, and so many schools offering their coursework entirely online, you're sure to find something you like. 

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