Encore Transition Program: Accepting Applications for Spring 2018

Dear Friends,

The Encore Transition Program is now a “fixture” here at Union, with the second cohort set to finish on December 12, 2017. This fall, fifteen new participants between the ages of 54-74 spent four months engaged in a bi-weekly process of discernment about their “encore” – or “second” – stage of life. In addition to discussions about aging, transition, creativity, and spirituality, the program provides participants the opportunity for networking, mentoring, and field observation in areas of personal interest.


The Encore Transition Program is designed and facilitated by Ruth Wooden, M.A. ’16. Ruth attended Union as part of her own “encore” after a communications and nonprofit management career that spanned more than 40 years.


Personally, I was delighted to attend a session that met Tuesday evening, October 10, 2017, when the group held an impassioned discussion of the book Falling Upward by Fr. Richard Rohr. I was inspired listening to “fellow travelers” exploring spirituality in the second half of life, and the particular challenges of doing so in our current political climate. If you are wrestling with similar hard but invigorating questions about your encore vocation, I can’t recommend the program highly enough!


To this end, we are excited to announce a new Encore Transition Program to be offered this coming Spring Semester, beginning January 30, 2018. The Program description and application for the third cohort is available online.





The semester fee for the Program is $3000, and a sliding scale is available for some participants.


Union Theological Seminary is thrilled to welcome the Encore Transition Program to our community for a third semester. We look forward to supporting a new cohort of fellow travelers seeking better ways to be active social justice advocates and caring practitioners.




Serene Jones


P.S. For further inspiration, do take time to read the April 2017 New York Times article about the Encore Transition Program.


Don’t Tax Students’ Thirst for Knowledge

Dear friends and colleagues,
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York joins the many voices of higher education students and leaders across the nation who are vigorously protesting the proposed Senate tax bill.  If passed, its impact on higher education would be disastrous for generations of students to come and, as result, devastating for our institutions and our nation as a whole. Of primary concern is a proposed change to consider tuition waivers as taxable income, which would put significant financial strain on the thousands of students who depend on scholarships to fund their education. If passed, the bill would financially lock-out low-income students from graduate school in every field, exacerbating already present inequalities and functionally restrict Masters and Ph.D. programs to the wealthy.
As anyone in present-day graduate programs knows, the system already suffers from dramatic racial and economic disparities. Instead of addressing these issues, the present tax bill would worsen them. This should deeply concern any who care about the quality of academic work done in our institutions. Racial and economic inequality in academia is not a minor qualm; it is fundamentally unjust, and it destroys any pretense of academic excellence professed by higher education.
All scholarship is, to some degree, subjective. We enter into our work carrying our own biases, prejudices and blind spots. The history of every discipline reveals that when low-income voices and voices of color are excluded from the academic table, the quality of academic work suffers.  Bright and eager minds are silenced. Creative ideas


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Angela Moscheo Benson M.A. ’06, ’10

What do you do?
After teaching for the past decade, I accepted a job earlier this year at Cumberland Heights, an internationally renowned drug and alcohol treatment facility. In addition to leading inter-religious services, I also teach group classes on Twelve Step spirituality and religion, guilt and shame, anger and resentment, and loss and grief. I also am the Pastoral Care Director, so I regularly counsel individuals and families in issues surrounding spirituality and religion and other recovery needs.
How did Union prepare you for this?
At Union I was able to have rigorous discourse with people from a variety of faith traditions, an opportunity that regularly inform my work today. I also took advantage of the opportunity to attend classes at Columbia’s Teachers College. Those courses related directly to my professional goal of becoming a chaplain and teacher of religion, a goal I have reached with my current position.
What is the best thing about your job?
I get paid to have in depth theological and philosophical conversations every day. In turn, I have the honor of ministering to the spiritually wounded.
How have stayed connected to Union?
I return to Union at least once a year to attend a chapel service, participate in a seminar or even sit in on a class. The Landmark guest rooms are a great way to be on campus and in the city I love where I can meet up with old friends and classmates. I also stay in touch with a number of my classmates and a few of


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December Information Session: Live Stream

Join the Admissions Team at Union Theological Seminary for our December Information Session.
Tune in on Saturday, December 2 at 2:00 pm to hear from faculty, current students and members of the administration about life at Union, as well as our academic programs and application procedures.

The post December Information Session: Live Stream appeared first on Union Theological Seminary.


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Sandy Smolnicky, M.A. ’85

What do you do?
As a newly appointed Grants Officer for our county, I review and track all potential and incoming operating grants and grant agreements county-wide. With the Finance and Budget Offices, I maintain a database of grants sought by and awarded to county departments and offices. I offer seminars in grants management best practices, monitor the county’s compliance with grant agreements terms and conditions required by grantors, including those who have sub-recipients; and, identifies strategic un-funded needs of the county.
How did Union prepare you for this?
In order to do justice, we must take action, preferably in a political arena. The struggle is real. We show others hope and fight for solutions, no matter what.
What is the best thing about your job?
I have a direct impact on real human needs every day on by making systemic change in the way funding is managed in our departments and offices.
How have stayed connected to Union?
I have stayed connected through social media and occasional meetings with former alum.
What would you say to someone considering going to Union?
Union is the best Choice!
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Lay Leader Joins Episcopal Divinity School @ Union As Director of Anglican Studies

NEW YORK– Miguel Escobar, an Episcopal Church leader experienced in developing educational programs for lay and clergy, has been appointed director of Anglican Studies at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary (EDS@Union).
“I am delighted that Miguel has accepted my invitation to be part of what we are building at EDS@Union,” said the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean. “His ability to develop innovative initiatives with measurable results and his connections across the Episcopal Church make him the ideal person to create rich programming that will complement our strong academic core and foster our communications across the church. Miguel’s gifts will help prepare our students not simply to serve in a church, but to be the church.”
Escobar is currently managing program director for leadership, communications and external affairs at the Episcopal Church Foundation. He earned a master of divinity degree from Union in 2007 and served as communications assistant to then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori from 2007 to 2010. Escobar is a member of the board of directors of Forward Movement and serves on the advisory council of Duke Divinity School’s Leadership programs and Episcopal Relief and Development’s church engagement committee.
He grew up in the Texas hill country and attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, where he studied the Roman Catholic social justice tradition, Latin American liberation theologies, and minored in Spanish. He joined the Episcopal Church through St. Mary’s, West Harlem, drawn by​ the congregation’s diversity and commitment to social justice, and is now a member of


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Spirit of Justice: Michelle Alexander & Angela Davis (Video)

“We always have to act as if revolution were possible, as if it were possible to change the world.” – Angela Davis
If you missed Friday’s conversation between Michelle Alexander and Angela Davis, be sure to watch it now! In conversation, the two reflect on the rise of the prison industrial complex, and offer thoughts on how we can best dismantle this systemic injustice.
Their wide-ranging conversation is eminently intersectional, noting how capitalism & white supremacy operate in conjunction to deprive folks of liberty and stifle social change. As our country continues to spiral into darkness, now is a time for bold and decisive action: There’s no clearer clarion call than these women’s prophetic words.

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Trinity Church Wall Street and Union Theological Seminary Announce Fellows Program

Initial cohort of students from China and India
to launch in 2018 – 2019 academic year
Trinity Church Wall Street and Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (Union) today announced the creation of the Trinity Union Fellows program, which will bring international students to Trinity and Union for one year of academic training and faith formation.
The program will begin in the 2018-2019 academic year with an initial cohort of up to six students from China and India. Funded by a $750,000 grant from Trinity, the Fellows will join other students in the Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M) degree program. The grant will cover a full range of expenses for students, including English language courses and living stipends. Union and Trinity will be partnering with sister institutions in China and India to identify applicants for the program.
“A key aspect of Trinity Church’s mission is to help train and develop church leadership,” said the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer, Rector of Trinity Church Wall Street. “This program will provide an opportunity for international students to immerse themselves in the rigorous academic environment at Union, as well as the community life of the growing congregation at Trinity Church, providing a well-rounded experience for these future Christian leaders.”
“We are excited to be partnering with Union Theological Seminary, which has a long and well-respected history of educating international students to act as catalysts in their communities and their churches,” said Dr. Lupfer.
At Trinity, students will participate in all facets of worship, as well as learn


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Union and Episcopal Divinity School @ Union Condemn the DOJ’s Anti-Trans Bigotry

By Rev. Dr. Serene Jones & Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Justice Department will no longer consider discrimination against transgender people a violation of the Civil Rights Act. In doing so, he is attempting to not only make bigotry against transgender persons an official U.S. policy, but to legally protect and venerate hatred. This policy shift is an abdication of the Justice department’s responsibility to seek justice for all U.S. citizens and is an affront to sacred creation of all human beings.
In Genesis, we read that humanity was created in God’s own image without exception.  The diversity of human creation is an expression of the fullness of God. In this regard, our diverse gender identities and sexual orientations come from God and reflect God, Godself. Human attempts to label select communities within this divine creation as unworthy of respect and love are blasphemous; a direct affront to God. Indeed, in rejecting the full personhood of transgender people, Sessions’ position defiles the very goodness of God’s creation.
This shift in Justice Department policy is consequential. Without the protections of the Civil Rights Act, transgender people will be fired from their jobs or refused housing, as just two examples of its effects, simply for expressing their full humanity. Moreover, this withdrawal of protections exacerbates the potential for outright violence and persecution. This year, twenty-one transgender people have already been murdered. Such murders are an urgent call for more protections not less.
The Union Theological Seminary and


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Union Theological Seminary President Responds to Justice Department Memo on Religious Liberty

October 9, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Session’s recent memorandum lays the groundwork for outright discrimination against a specific group of people, and disturbingly, he uses the cover of religious liberty to justify it. There are many troubling aspects to his position, but as a Christian, I am specifically disturbed by the “religious” views he uses to buttress his position.  As a Christian minister and a life-long church-goer, I absolutely disagree with his construal.  According to the tenet of Christianity, we are called to be exemplary in our love not exempted from loving certain groups.
Oddly, Sessions is himself doing the very thing he intends to prevent. He is giving special rights to Christians who are anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice, while at the same time, denying the religious freedoms of Christians and people of other faiths who are neither.  This de-facto government endorsement of one particular slice of Christianity is a clear violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause. Our founders were careful to protect individual rights to worship without creating an official state religion. This Justice memo not only jeopardizes that tenuous balance, it threatens the lives of countless Americans.
No LGBTQ person should be denied a job because of an employer’s bigotry, nor should they lose their housing because a landlord feels it sinful to rent to them. No person should lose access to birth control because of their boss’ religious objection. The life and freedom of millions cannot be made subservient to one group of Christians who have a particular  interpretation of doctrine. 


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Puerto Rico: A Colony in Crisis!

By Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz
After 119 years so much has changed, yet so much remains the same. Were it not so painful, it would be fascinating to observe the underlying rationalization/legitimation of the oppressive, brutal and racist treatment of colonial subjects by empires—and how little that process has evolved.
During the 16th century, Juan Gines Sepulveda, the apologist for the Spanish Crown, argued for the continued colonization and brutalization of the indigenous peoples of the Americas on the basis that they needed protection from themselves. In the eyes of the Spanish, the colonized were childlike and incapable of taking care of themselves. This bigoted and dehumanizing justification of colonial oppression manifested recently in President Trump’s statements and behaviors toward Puerto Rico. He said: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. Ten thousand Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.” Of course, he conveniently neglected to mention that Florida and Texas received over 40,000 federal workers to provide relief after Hurricane Irma. This rhetoric is commonly used to blame the victims of immoral deeds, instead of blaming the malevolent colonial aggressors. Mr. Trump’s racist and demoralizing worldview was laid bare when he threw paper towels to hurting human beings as if he was throwing fish to walruses.
The Puerto Rican nation has had to endure this type of brutal behavior from the U.S. for 119 years. Most U. S. presidents have expressed their racist views with subtlety, although with the same adverse effects.


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Live Stream: Spirit of Justice with Michelle Alexander & Angela Davis

Visiting Professor Michelle Alexander will interview Angela Davis, the American political activist, academic, and author.
The live stream will be available on Friday, October 20 at 6:00 pm. 

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Acclaimed Author & Legal Scholar Michelle Alexander to Lead ‘The Spirit of Justice’, a Series of Public Dialogues at Union

September 20, 2017
NEW YORK– Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (Union) announces the launch of a series of free public dialogues that aims to explore what kind of democracy, economy, and global community that we, the people, aim to co-create in the months and years to come.  Michelle Alexander, Visiting Professor and Scholar at Union, and bestselling author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, will host these timely discussions through a series of one-on-one dialogues with provocative and inspiring thought leaders, beginning with acclaimed activist and scholar, Angela Davis (Oct. 20), bestselling author Naomi Klein (Feb. 15, 2018), and Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors (April 19, 2018).
The Spirit of Justice dialogues come not a moment too soon. The 2016 U.S. presidential election highlights the dangers of viewing American history as a slow but steady march towards greater freedom, justice, and equality for all. The reality is far more complicated. But one thing is clear: Since the days of our nation’s founding, there have always been people who have courageously embraced and embodied a spirit of justice. People of all colors, backgrounds, and walks of life have, in various ways, shown up in American history as revolutionaries, challenging us to reimagine what dignity, justice, and equality ought to mean and forcing us to reconsider who should be considered worthy of our collective care, compassion, and concern.
While some may wish to return to a time when most Americans had few rights and little


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The Spirit of Justice Series

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The DACA Decision: A Matter of Soul

“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
“Come, inherit God’s realm prepared for you . . . for I (Jesus) was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:34-35)
There is more at stake in our national debate over the fate of the “dreamers” than immigration policy.  The very soul of who we are as a nation moving forward hinges on how we act toward these young sojourners in our midst.
At the heart of the great Abrahamic faith traditions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—are mandates to love the neighbor, with special emphasis on welcoming strangers and those fleeing persecution.  God formed God’s own people Israel in an act of migration (the Exodus into Egypt).  When Herod sought to kill the newborn who was being proclaimed Savior, Jesus’ parents sought temporary asylum in a neighboring country.
Few issues enable the many disparate religious communities in our pluralistic nation to speak with one voice.  But on the matter of the Trump administration’s declared intent to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and deport hundreds of thousands of wonderful young women and men who are our neighbors, we so stand together.  The Central Conference of American Rabbis, leading Muslim imams, Catholic Conference of Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, and bishops and presiding officers of virtually every “mainline” protestant church have issued pleas to reverse the proposed course and establish reasonable (though not automatic or easy) pathways toward permanent residency or


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