Hot off the presses: Leadership Institute 2016-2017!

Photo courtesy of the Leadership Institute: Interim Ministry Seminar, 2015

Some of the many resources we offer at Union Presbyterian Seminary are seminars, continuing education opportunities and certification courses through our Leadership Institute.

In an effort to support graduating students, clergy-folk in the community and congregations as a whole, the Leadership Institute seeks to, “participate in the mission of the church by forming and equipping leaders for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). An increasingly complex church and world challenges leaders to develop fresh perspectives and skill”.

There are several offerings, each year, which appeal to both clergy and lay-folks alike. We welcome all who wish to learn, grow and fellowship with the sisters and brothers both near and far!

In our work as Church Relations Officers, my colleague and I have been keeping you abreast of the timeline for the release of the new schedule, and it is finally here!

Here are some highlights in programming for this coming year:

  • Start with Good News: Rediscovering the Why of Evangelism” Sept. 27-29, 2016
    • Before we even think about evangelistic strategies and outreach programs, church leaders and members need to relearn how to talk about the gospel and why it matters in our lives and in the world.
    • Led by Nikki MacMillan, Roger Ross, Anthony Smith, Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove and John Vest. 
  • “Strategic Planning in an Uncertain World” Oct. 17-20, 2016
    • This workshop will focus on the role of strategic planning in an adaptive context. Participants will be introduced to a variety of concepts and resources including creating an environment for change, building resiliency in the congregation, and tools which focus the heart of ministry in a target, measurable yet flexible way. Each participant will leave with seeds for a planning process which matches the style, timeline, and resources of his or her own church setting.
    • Led by Jill M. Hudson and Laurie Ferguson.
  • “Stewardship Comes in all Sizes, Shapes and Colors” Mar. 20-23, 2017
    • Every congregation has a story to tell, a story that reveals the mission and vision of the ministry of the congregation. Our stories are different because our congregations are different. In this workshop, we will explore the many ways to tell the story and share the mission and vision of a congregation with the various methods of talking about stewardship.
    • Led by Deborah Rexrode and Raymond Bonwell.
  • “Writing (Righting) Wrong: Memory, Resistance, Resilience” Apr. 4-6, 2017
    • In this workshop we will assess and redress the muted, masked, and mangled testimonies and the trans generational experiences of women, men and children whose ancestors were enslaved Africans. Instead of giving in to justified feelings of fury, our worship combines the anatomy of the idea with the genogram, in order to stabilize in writing how characteristics prevalent in the Black Church community are ingrained and shaped by memory, resistance, and resilience.
    • Led by Katie Geneva Cannon and Paula Owens Parker.

**New for the Fall 2016 program schedule from the Leadership Institute!**

  • “Pathways to Learning and Leadership” 2-year Program for CRE
    • The Leadership Institute has been hard at work envisioning ways for our seminary to equip church members for deeper discipleship, faith, and service.  Beginning in September, we will  offer five-week, online courses for church members and those interested in becoming Commissioned Ruling Elders.  There will be four courses offered in 2016-17, two in the fall and two in the spring, in Biblical Interpretation, Reformed Theology and Church History, The Christian Life, and The Mission of the Church.
    • Participants will meet with an instructor online for two hours each week, and learning will be supplemented with readings, online discussions, and practical application. 
    • Pathways to Learning and Leadership is a two-year program. Church members who complete both years (nine courses) will be awarded a certificate of completion.
    • Certified Ruling Elder candidates will work with their presbyteries to complete presbytery requirements toward becoming commissioned. 

In addition to those above mentioned opportunities, we have continued training and certification curricula on both Richmond and Charlotte campuses. Church Business Administration seminars will be hosted on our Richmond campus over the course of two weeks in July, and on our Charlotte campus in individual segments throughout both the Fall and Spring semesters. Christian Education Certification Courses (hybrid online and on-campus course) will begin in September 2016.

Finally, clergy resources will be available in Retirement Seminars, Interim Pastor Training, and Preaching the Gospel of Matthew. We hope you will take the time to carefully read and consider each of these wonderful offerings.

Join Professors John Carroll, Frances Taylor Gench and Richard W. Voelz for “The Gospel Of Matthew: Challenges and Resources for Preachers Today”

We are excited to share with you the 2016-2017 Leadership Institute offerings through our website (here) and via print mail!

If you wish to receive a printed catalog of offerings, please contact your respective Church Relations Officer: VA, WV, and DC churches should reach out to Nicole at and all others should reach out to Jordan at

Dates, locations, costs for registration and further details are listed online and in the printed brochure.

Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact the Leadership Institute at 1-800-229-2990 ext 301.

We hope to see you this year!



Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer


A Great Gust of Faith Formation

dr. lee barrett
Dr. Lee Barrett, III leading discussion at Presbyterian School of Christian Education (1988); Photo from the ATS/PSCE Centennial Celebration

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
Acts 2: 1-4

This past Sunday, the Christian Church celebrated Pentecost in thousands of languages and in every corner of the world. I find that idea a bit romantic and powerful in this time when it seems that people are shouting the statistics of church decline. Even now, in yet another turbulent age for the Church, we continue to praise God as we did many centuries ago.

I can only believe that it was the Spirit that guided my focus for the sermon at First Presbyterian Church in Albemarle, NC that morning. The focus was on the need for multiple ways of communicating because each one of us hears, learns, and interprets in different ways. This gift of multiple languages, and the gift of Christ’s disciples who could now speak and understand them, burned the Church into existence as God’s Word was shared with every person in multiple ways. Just before I stood up to preach this sermon, I felt the Spirit burst through the doors of that sanctuary and create a new gust of wind as educators gathered at and filled the front of the sanctuary to overflowing as they were recognized.

class photo
Assembly Training School, entering class of 1955

Union Presbyterian Seminary has a rich history in Christian Education. Over the last 102 years, our federated school, Presbyterian School of Christian Education formerly known as Assembly Training School for Lay Workers has played a key role in forming Christian educators and sending them around the world as missionaries, Sunday School teachers, Directors of Christian Education, Youth Group leaders, camp directors, puzzle makers, illustrators, and authors… just to name a few! As we continue to seek ways to live into our Christian Education legacy that has been passed down through generations of professors and students, one might say that Union Presbyterian Seminary is an institution of the Pentecost.

Whether we serve a congregation of eight people or eight-thousand people, each one of us is called to live into the call of Pentecost– that is, we are each challenged to share God’s Word with those whom we meet. We may not always be able to do this effectively based on the way that we ourselves communicate and the way that our neighbors hear and receive what we say. This is why we should seek out others to help us in this endeavor (beyond the fact that I don’t know a single person with the needed time available to them!).

Love Thy Neighbor
This image, created by the children at FPC Albemarle at the start of this educational year, was shared with each educator as a “thank you” for their gifts to the congregation.

Personally, when I think back on my faith journey, it is the many Sunday School teachers and Youth Group leaders that come to mind. As I saw the variety of people who gathered at the front of First Presbyterian Church’s sanctuary on Sunday, having committed their lives to caring for and guiding others through their own faith journeys, my heart was full. On Sunday morning 109 names were listed in the bulletin, recognizing and thanking the individuals who had given their time to the faith formation of others. When I think about what those days following the first Pentecost might have looked like as Christ’s followers began to go out, this might be pretty close to accurate!

To each of those individuals, and to all Christian Educators around the world,
I want to say “Thank you!”


First Presbyterian Church in Albemarle, NC is led by Rev. Elizabeth Ayscue (M. Div. 1989) and Rev. Matt Drumheller (M. Div. 2012). Learn more about their Christian Education opportunities on the congregation’s website!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


Community: Sprunts celebrated!

image1This past week, CRO Jordan Davis and I were busy assisting the staff and faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary in hosting our annual Sprunt Lecture series on the Richmond Campus and nearby at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church. What a wonderful time of worship, study, and fellowship!

We hosted nearly 175 alumni, clergy, and community friends over the course of 3 days, beginning with a fabulous golf tournament in beautiful weather on Monday morning. We heard engaging lectures about Paul’s letter to the church in Rome from Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa. We worshiped with alumnus, Rev. Gary Charles, at Watts Chapel and Ginter Park church. We celebrated distinguished alumni Dr. Nancy Ramsay and Dr. Art Ross for their contributions to the Church in the world.  Between time, alums gathered to share memories of their time at Union and to reconnect after several years away from their beloved alma mater.

As a 2011 graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary at Richmond, I had not made the time in my work schedule to attend a Sprunt Lecture series. Since participating this year as both a staff member and clergy-person, I can see why this event brings back so many members of our community! I feel honored to have been a student at an institution with a legacy of individuals who felt called, and continue to feel called, to a life of service and stewardship to the larger Church in the name of Jesus Christ. It was powerful to hear stories from past students, to hear about their contributions to their respective communities, and to watch the joy of reconnecting with beloved colleagues and professors. If I could sum up those three days, I would celebrate the joy of community shared at Union Presbyterian Seminary through the years. Again, what a wonderful time of worship, study and fellowship!

If you were not able to attend this great series of lectures and worship, and wish to hear from Dr. Gaventa, Rev. Charles and others, check out our Youtube page! Here you will find video recordings from the three lectures, two worship services and presentation from Dr. Bill Sweetser. Keep in touch with Union Presbyterian Seminary via our website for information about next year’s annual Sprunt Lecture series. We hope to see you in the future!

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Parents Through Baptism

Mother’s Day worship is one that is highly debated in the ministry world. As pastors, do we focus on this holiday in our sermons and if so, how do we do so faithfully? What about liturgy? What about those women in our congregation who dread Mother’s Day for a variety of reasons?

Placing all of my cards face up, my personal story is this: I am a 28 year-old female, married for almost two years. It seems that many of my friends are having their first children, my sister (3 years older than myself) is preparing to have her third, and my husband and I do not yet have children though there is not a lack of outside encouragement in that direction. Mother’s Day can be a slight annoyance for me at this point.

watts fontA few weeks ago I spent time with Durham Presbyterian Church (Durham, NC) and have thought about that visit quite a bit this week. I happened to visit when the congregation was celebrating the sacrament of Baptism. This happened to follow one of those conversations about my family plans and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I groaned a bit when I realized what was going to happen that day and even wondered if I might be able to slip out to go to the bathroom during. Long story short— I took a deep breath and remained in worship, and I am so thankful that I did.

Following a beautiful baptism of a sweet child of God, Rev. Franklin Golden proceeded with the sermon. During this very meaningful time, Rev. Golden spoke of the way being a parent changes someone but focused on how each one of us gathered, with children and without, are called to care for one another. When we remember our own Baptism and vow to help care for one another during the baptisms of others, we take on a parental role. “This child is now your child,” he said.

This child, this squirmy little boy who I had never met and may never see again, represented all those who I have vowed to care for. This small child, this congregation and all of those who I have spent time with over the last year and a half, all of the individuals whose baptisms I have witnessed— each one has been entrusted in my care. I am not a biological mother, but that does not mean that I do not play that role in many areas.

As Christians, we are called to love one another and to care for one another. We are called to embody and share God’s nurturing and caring love. When we do that, we are in turn a mother or father figure.

Last night I was leaving the high school where my husband is a teacher. It was 9 o’clock and dark, the sights and sounds of downtown were cranking up. Off to the side of the sidewalk I saw young boy, probably a freshman (roughly 15 years old) sitting quiet and upset. After talking to him for a few minutes and helping to figure out the best way to address what was going on, I was reminded of that Baptism sermon from Durham Presbyterian Church once again. When talking to my husband after we got home, I not-so-jokingly said “the mother in me came out when I saw him… I couldn’t help it.”

Me with my amazing nieces! Not my own children, but I care for them as if they were.
Me with my amazing nieces! Not my own children, but I care for them as if they were.

Maybe it was the maternal instinct. Maybe it is because I vowed at my baptism, and again at my ordination, to care for God’s children. Maybe the two have merged in a glorious way that I will never begin to comprehend.

This Mother’s Day, whether you honor the mothers in your congregation or focus on the (probably just as difficult) lectionary text of Revelation 22 I urge you to remember and to find a way to remind not just the women in your congregation, but all of the individuals gathered, that we have been called to care for one another. In our baptisms we have not only claimed our identity as Child of God, but we also claim an identity as one who shares God’s nurturing love with one another, caring for one another as if we are mothers and fathers.

If we don’t serve as God’s embracing arms, caring for one another in this incredible and unique way, who will?

Whether you have ten children or no children, whether your children still leave their mess around the house or haven’t been home in five years, whether you desire children or think that could be the worst thing to ever happen– this Mother’s day, I celebrate you and all the ways that you live into your baptism and into mine, reminding me of God’s incredible love and helping me to share that in my own way!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer