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Rebounding from Crisis, United is Among Fastest-Growing Theological Schools in U.S. Print E-mail


Originally posted in the Dayton Daily News

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 

Seminary to Build Student Apartments in Dayton for Those Who Feel Called to Urban Ministry

Posted: 12:05 a.m. Sunday, June 23, 2013

By Ron Rollins- Staff Writer

Focus on Education Q&A with Wendy J. Deichmann

“People have to respond to God’s call in their lives in their own way. But when you’re not even willing to get up to go to church, if your faith is not making a difference in your life, then what good is it?” asked Wendy J. Deichmann, president and CEO of United Theological Seminary.

A few Sundays ago, we featured a conversation with Antioch College President Mark Roosevelt about his efforts to revive the school that closed in 2008 and reopened in 2011. There is another local higher-education president who has been given the charge of restoring her once-ailing, very historic institution to health: Wendy J. Deichmann, the president and CEO of United Theological Seminary in Trotwood. The school, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, was founded in 1871 by Bishop Milton Wright, the Wright brothers’ father. Since 1920, it was located on a historic campus in West Dayton. In 2005, it bought a modern campus from the Dayton Jewish Federation and moved there in 2005. The move crimped United’s finances and caused problems Deichmann inherited as she also was attempting to advance the school in a time when membership in the United Methodist and other mainstream, middle-of-the-road denominations is falling. We caught up with her a few weeks ago to talk about these issues and more.

Q: How did you end up here? What was your path?

A: My first connection with United was Leonard Sweet. He was my pastor in Genesee, N.Y., at the state university there. He came to United years later and served as president, and I moved to Ohio to complete my Ph.D. and we stayed in touch. He called when he needed an adjunct to teach church history back in the mid-’90s. One thing led to another — when United opened it extension program in Buffalo, which was where my family was, I got on faculty there. When that program was closed, they brought me to this campus to teach church history. I moved here in 2004, and no sooner had I arrived, they were looking for an academic dean and I was invited to apply. My timing was great. We had our 10-year accreditation review and hired three new faculty, so it was nuts. Two years later, the president resigned. Here at United, the academic dean is first vice president, so I became acting president for a few months, and the board of trustees asked me to apply for president. I had no interest whatsoever, but they liked what they had seen and really wanted me to do it. It was becoming evident the school was struggling, and I was here anyway, right?

Q: How’s it gone?

A: I have learned that I really enjoy large challenges, and this work. Things are going well, and I think there is nothing so important as what we were doing here. We have a great team.

Q: Was there a precipitating event that made you change your mind about wanting the job?

A: Well, part of it was that the seminary has endured some extreme hardships during a crisis from before I took over as president. We’re still in recovery, but we’re out of the crisis as of, say, a year and a half ago. After one has gone through the valleys I’ve gone through to build up a historic institution that has great value, it’s not something you want to let go of easily. It matters too much. And I feel I’ve been given a gift by God for this work and to be able to do it. It’s a calling.

Q: Recap the crisis for us.

A: When the seminary relocated from its old campus to this campus, despite a quite successful fundraising campaign, it incurred a significant mortgage it could not really afford. At the same time, we had a precipitous drop in enrollment; when the school moved, a lot of people thought it had closed and disappeared. It was hard to get information about the school. That went on for about four or five months. There were internal issues as well. When I became president, I had to make staff changes. We rebuilt the enrollment team to be one of the best, honestly, in theological education. It’s one of the reasons we’re one of the fastest-growing theological schools in America, and bucking every trend. The trend overall in theological education enrollment for several years has been gradual decline, but we have tripled our enrollment in the last four years. Back to our previous situation, the big mortgage and the enrollment drop put us in a financial-aid danger zone that triggered alerts with our creditors and our sponsoring denomination, which triggered all kinds of investigations and false assumptions of wrongdoing. That wasn’t true; we were just poor. Then the recession hit.

Q: What did you do?

A: We had to cut 20 percent of the budget as soon as possible, so that we could move forward. We had to find every dollar we could. We cut every staff salary, including my own. Faculty salaries were frozen. Everyone had to participate in the turnaround for it to work. We’ve gradually restored all the salaries. We did lose one non-tenured professor during the cutbacks, so we were down to a bare minimum faculty and student body. Meanwhile, we were working with the faculty on a curriculum based around church renewal — trying to deal with a denomination in sharp decline. We realized that in 20 or 30 years, none of us might have jobs. We believe God is always working to being hope, new life and renewal to the church, so if it’s struggling, then something is wrong and we have to address it.

Q: What does renewal mean, in this context?

A: It’s emotional and practical — how can we be both spiritually healthy and theologically credible?

Q: So, the decline is mostly happening among mainstream, traditional denominations such as United Methodist that are less evangelical. Why do you think it’s happening?

A: Well, God is still God, so it’s probably us humans who have stopped stepping up to the plate. We need to look at what we’re doing that we need to do differently. That starts with humbling prayer. But then we need to look to the Bible and see what it teaches about renewal — how in our teaching of theology do we address issues of how God is teaching us to run our finances, how we preach, how we worship, how we demonstrate the ethics of what we regard as Christian, and put those things at the core of our curriculum. There are lots of examples of renewal in the history of the church. And we can look around and see great examples of renewal in the life of the church today — there are strong, healthy churches in mainstream denominations. How can we learn from them, and bring their leaders in to speak to our classes?

Q: What are some of those churches doing right?

A: They have dynamic, relevant worship services that are attractive to young people, they have sound biblical and theological preaching and teaching and are committed to ministry among the poor — so they act to do something that makes a difference in the world, and people care about that. Young people care about that. If they go to church, they want to hear a message that speaks to them at their age level, and hear prayers and music that speak to them where they are. Why go to church if it doesn’t speak to your life and have meaning in the world? It helps to have a state-of-the-art staff and marketing capacity. But it also matters that you are making a sacrificial engagement on the part of the church and on behalf of the world — look at what you’re doing in Dayton, but also in Darfur. Lots of churches have mission projects, but are they setting out to change a whole city, a whole nation? This is really about taking the gospel seriously enough so that you’re willing to give everything you’ve got to take God’s will and change the world to make it a better place.

Q: Can you bottle that?

A: You can’t bottle it, but you can teach it when you bring the academic, the practical and the spiritual aspects of ministry together. But you have to start with the spiritual, and keep God at the center of everything you do. If you don’t, it’s all a sham. You have to ask, what does it mean that God has called me to be in this ministry? Then how do I become a pastoral person, ministering to the sick, preaching in a way that brings people to church, and marshaling the resources of the church to help the community? But it’s a business, too — just as what I had to do at this school was business. We have to teach that, too. When people ask me what’s going on at United, I say it’s a miracle — but we also had to have a business plan. We set goals that seemed unrealistic at first, we had some hard conversations with our board, and we overachieved all of them. But I do believe it’s about the renewal of the church. The church is a mess, and we are ripe for an awakening in the church and its place in the world.

Q: You mean, like the Great Awakening movements of the 18th century?

A: I think it’s time for a cultural shift in the life of the mainline denominations. The holiness and pentacostal churches are doing just fine, they’re growing. I don’t always agree with their theology, but they’re thriving. We should be thriving, too. They do lots of things very well — they believe in the power of God and the life of the believer to make a difference, and they have passion. They will sacrificially follow what they believe to be true, even to the point of taking risks and being criticized by those who disagree with them. Their goal is to convert as many people as possible to Christianity, and believe this is their calling.

Q: So, how do you address that?

A: It’s a lifestyle thing — a lot of the folks in mainline denominations feel they would go to church if they got nice music, good preaching and feel affirmed and edified with nothing to offend them. Maybe they’re a little stretched to challenge their faith, but not too much — then they want to go home to dinner, football and back to work on Monday. A comforting, vague sense of God rather than something that compels you to get out of bed with joy and forgiveness and changes your mind about how to spend your week and recharges your faith.

Q: Is there a happy medium?

A: Sure, there’s a whole spectrum. People have to respond to God’s call in their lives in their own way. But when you’re not even willing to get up to go to church, if your faith is not making a difference in your life, then what good is it?

Q: What you’re talking about is relevancy as you move into the future. What is United doing to stay relevant?

A: Well, based on the demographics of the Spanish-speaking Latino and Hispanic communities growing as quickly as they are in this country, we launched a program in February to prepare their leaders for ministry in their communities. I wish I could say we’d done it sooner, but it’s something established theological education institutions have struggled with. But it’s a very growing need. Also, there is our use of technology in theological education. We wanted to serve underserved populations in remote regions, and we’re using online teaching for that, developing hybrid programs. The whole universe is online now, and it’s where young people spend their time. God needs to be there, too. We’re teaching our students how to use technology and the Internet in advancing their churches and their ministries — blogs, websites, teaching, marketing. Letting the world know what you’re doing in your church. Some of our graduates are creating online worship services.

Q: What other programs?

A; We’ve also started a sports chaplaincy program. What is more important in our culture than sports? A lot of churches are concerned about the distraction from church that sports can be, but I say, yikes, it’s such a huge part of our culture, and athletes are the superstars of our culture, so what happens when you can engage them with faith? Why not do something so these icons can be encouraged to be positive role models for our kids?

Q: Do you think United lost something when it moved out of Dayton View to this new campus?

A: We are about to address that, with a homecoming of a sort. We all know there are very difficult problems with urban decline and decay throughout our nation and world, and United was given the opportunity to receive a gift of property in Dayton last year that we’ve accepted. We needed more space, and we were really interested in re-entering the urban setting and developing a lab for our students to learn about issues of urban ministry and urban renewal. So the gift was the old First United Methodist Church on Salem Avenue, where we’re going to build student apartments for those who feel called to urban ministry for their learning. We’ll develop partnerships with other churches and organizations in the neighborhood, and our students will be prepared to be change agents for renewal. There’s a movement called the New Monasticism, in which growing numbers of young people feel called to ministry in a stark community and will choose to go into a setting of poverty where they can make a difference. So this is under way. We’re very excited. There is so much urban blight and decline in cities across America, and I don’t think we should wait for some politician or big company to come along and do something about it. Really, people at the grassroots level can know they are valued, that they are the children of God, and that people are the best resource we have for renewal.

Q: What’s one thing you’d change about Dayton to make it a better place to live and work?

A: I am really concerned about the vacancy and the poverty, and I think we need to address that. And I think we can. I think we’re going to, all of us, as a larger Dayton community. We’re included in that. No entity can do it alone. I feel a real surge of collaboration to strengthen Dayton’s self-image and its image in the world. But to deal with the poverty and rundown, vacant buildings, I think we need to create more green space, create more programs for children, do more to support arts and music. We need to make all the resources of the regional available for our young people so that they want to stay here. And I fully expect United to continue to be a part of the renewal and well-being for this city. A lot of people don’t know about United, but we are a great resource for the community. I’ve spent most of my first five years here in crisis management and I’ve been limited in how much I’ve been able to get into the public and be that kind of presence. But I see that as my next phase.

United Launches Hispanic Christian Academy Print E-mail


In early February, President Wendy Deichmann and Dean David Watson signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Global Empowerment Ministries, launching United's online Hispanic lay ministry school called "Hispanic Christian Academy."

“The whole idea behind the program is to multiply leaders to expand the kingdom of God,” said Dr. Iosmar Alavarez ’11, CEO of Global Empowerment Ministries. “It is a lay movement … We want to train lay leaders to expand the kingdom of God by planting churches that make disciples, and then more disciples who plant more churches.”

The Hispanic Christian Academy, housed in the Center for Hispanic Ministry within United’s School for Discipleship and Renewal, is a lay ministry school that connects Hispanic first, second and third generations with God and one another. The goal of this online program, which launched in February with more than 20 students, is to impact the local church through equipping and training leaders to serve as local pastors, associate pastors, church planters, evangelists, missioners and other roles of ministry. 

Alvarez said Global Empowerment Ministries chose United because of what it represents and its focus on the community.

“We chose United because they are very creative. United is doing very great things that no one else is doing,” Alvarez said. “We chose United, not only because I was a student here, but because of what United represents and what United is.”

President Deichmann noted her appreciation for the hard work of those who were involved in the project. Represented at the signing were: Dr. Peter Bellini; Dr. Watson; Dr. Alvarez; Rev. Eliseo Mejia-Leiva, Hispanic Ministries Director, Kentucky Annual Conference of The UMC; Nelson Figueroa, Administrative Executive Officer at Global Empowerment Ministries; Phyllis Ennist, Dean of Distance Education; Ron Kuker, VP and Director of Finance; and Laura Weber, Coordinator for Discipleship and Renewal Programs and Special Events.

“This is such an important ministry, and I think by working together we will take things even to a next step. Only God can imagine and envision truly the impact this will have in the life of the church,” President Deichmann said.

Dr. Bellini, who spent the past year working on the project, noted the Memorandum of Understanding notes the terms of the partnership and also complimented Global Empowerment Ministries on its work.

“We are like-minded,” he said. “We should have been doing this yesterday. It’s long overdue …

Now we’re partnering together. It’s exciting to see the amount of people we’re going to equip, train and reach because we’re able to cross a lot of boundaries and barriers.”

New Songs and Hymns for Renewal: A Competition Print E-mail


United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, is pleased to announce its second annual song and hymn-writing competition, “New Songs and Hymns for Renewal!” Writers and composers are invited to submit songs or hymns with themes of church renewal or personal spiritual renewal. Submissions are due by April 22, 2013.

Cash prizes will be awarded and the winning compositions will be performed at our opening Convocation celebration on Friday, August 9, 2013. For complete details, including submission guidelines, prizes, and application information, please click here.

more info



United Theological Seminary is a graduate professional school of The United Methodist Church offering masters and doctoral theological degrees, as well as continuing education.  United's goal is to educate dynamic, Spirit-led leaders who will renew the church for the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.  We are committed to teaching the Bible and the historic Christian faith, instilling a passion for personal and social holiness, and renewing the Church for its ministry and mission.

Bishop Gives Grads Lesson to ‘Love the Unlovely’ at Advent Commencement Print E-mail


Bishop Michael J. Coyner of the Indiana Area, UMC, addressed the 67 United Theological Seminary graduates on “loving the unlovely” during the Seminary’s Advent Commencement held December 14 at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, OH.

Bishop Coyner was the featured speaker at the seminary’s Advent Commencement ceremony, traveling from Indianapolis, IN, to deliver the address.

During his address, Coyner told the story of a time while he attended Duke Divinity School during his student internship in a church outside Durham, NC, when his faculty adviser came to visit his Sunday School class for younger adults and things didn’t go as planned.

“I told the class all about it, I worked really, really hard on my lesson plan for that day, I warned the class, you know we need to be on good behavior, they even spruced up the room, they brought coffee and refreshments and they were on their best behavior and everything was ready so that I could impress Dr. McMurray Ritchey when he came to see me,” Coyner sai “But I forgot about Barbara. Barbara came to our class because she had nowhere else to go. I don’t know what her diagnosis would be today but we knew that she was mentally challenged.”

That day, Coyner noted the usually unproblematic Barbara was “a mess” and kept interfering with his class, but his students stood by and comforted Barbara.

“Finally, finally the hour of the class was over and I said a closing prayer and the class felt it was a disaster; they all left in a hurry,” Coyner said. “And I sat there across the table from Dr. McMurray Ritchey, my faculty adviser, feeling like an utter failure in ministry.”

That was when Dr. Ritchey gave Coyner one of the most important lessons he learned about ministry.

“He said, ‘Mike, today’s lesson was about Christian community,’” Coyner said. “‘Today’s lesson was about the way your class accepted and loved Barbara who’s a hard person to love. Today’s lesson was all about acceptance and love and grace and community and forgiveness.’ And then he said, ‘And you missed it because you were so busy trying to do your lesson plan today.’ And then he went on to say, ‘Mike, you’re going to find that wherever you go in ministry, there’s going to be Barbaras. Some of them will be really obvious like she is, but others will be all dressed and uptown looking and seem like they’ve got their life together but inside they’ve got their own struggles, and they’re going to be hard to love. And wherever you go in life and in ministry, there’s going to be folks who are unlovely and hard to love and folks who don’t believe they’re lovable. Everywhere you go, you’re going to see Barbaras. And you’d better get used to it.’ ‘Because,’ he said, ‘the church at its best, the church at its best, draws to itself those who are hard to love and who most need the love of God, and you’d better be ready,’ he said, ‘to love the unlovely.’”

Coyner added everywhere he’s gone, there have been Barbaras, whether it’s been during his time as a bishop or as a pastor.

“Sometimes they have been obvious, sometimes they’ve had needs just pouring out all over the place, other times they have looked pretty good on the outside but on the inside they’ve been just as much troubled and difficult to love,” he said. “… Those Barbara-type people keep showing up in my life. The folks that are hard to love, who are unlovely or who believe they’re not lovable and yet who come because they’re drawn somehow wanting to find the love of God and Jesus Christ that we proclaim and want to share.”

Coyner noted the other lesson he learned from that day – sometimes, he is the Barbara.

“Somehow learning to love the unlovely must include us,” Coyner said. “And for ministry to endure and thrive and even I’d use the word succeed and be fruitful, it requires an inner change in ourselves to realize, one, I’m the unlovely sometimes, but two, I am loved … So as you go forth in ministry, continue your ministry, build on your ministry, multiply your ministries and engage your ministries of all sorts, all of you in this room are in ministry. But let me simply remind you of a profound and difficult but wonderful task, we are called not just to love those who love us or those that are easy to love, we’re called to love the unlovely, even when it’s ourselves.”

Bishop Coyner has served numerous churches as Pastor, as District Superintendent and as Executive Assistant to Bishop Woody White for the Indiana Area. He was elected a Bishop in the United Methodist Church in 1996 and was assigned to the Dakotas Area, where he served two terms as Resident Bishop. In 2004, he was assigned to serve the Indiana Area, and in 2012, he was assigned to a third term in the Indiana Conference.

United Aids Hurricane-Hit West Virginia With Food Drive Print E-mail

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s effect on our brothers and sisters in West Virginia, students at United have made a pledge themselves and issued a challenge to the faculty and staff to help raise funds to go toward filling food pantries in West Virginia.

In this season of Thanksgiving and with gratitude for an abundance of blessings, the Student Council at United is making a two-way challenge to raise funds for our brothers and sisters in West Virginia, where food pantries have been emptied just before winter, which is the neediest time for many.

The Student Council has pledged $300 to this effort and their challenge to the faculty and staff (together) is to match that amount of giving with cash donations.  The Student Council has further challenged the Miami Valley District of the UMC to match the collective goal of the United community and they have agreed to do so.  Thus, working together we have the opportunity to raise $1,200 in relief funding for food pantries in our sister state in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The Student Council has researched the greatest food pantry needs in the region where one of our students, Ms. Julie Dean, lives and serves in ministry.  At the conclusion of the fund drive, the Student Council will work with Julie to coordinate the purchase and delivery of the items most needed.

Anyone interested in donating toward the Student Council’s efforts can do so here:


On campus, cash donations are being accepted through November 26 and can be given to Ms. Robbie Collins or to Ms. Pat Lodge.


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