Union Matters!
Dr. Rachel Baard’s new book argues for feminist critique and retrieval of sin-talk

Dr. Rachel Baard’s new book argues for feminist critique and retrieval of sin-talk

January 10, 2020

Early feminist theologians criticized the Christian doctrine of sin for its focus on female sexual purity and its enabling of the marginalization and oppression of women. Others have questioned whether the entire theological category of sin should be abandoned in favor of other ways of talking about the human predicament. In her new book “Sexism and Sin-Talk: Feminist Conversations on the Human Condition,” Union Presbyterian Seminary Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics Rachel Sophia Baard argues for a feminist critique of traditional sin-talk alongside a constructive reinterpretation of the doctrine of sin — one that can be life-affirming for all persons.

Baard claims that the Christian idea of sin — that tragic flaw at the core of human experience — provides one of the best tools for understanding the evils of sexism, patriarchy, and traditional sin-talk itself. She likewise provides a new rhetoric of sin-talk, one that accounts for the diverse experiences of the human family, not simply those of powerful men.

The book is published by and available for purchase through Westminster John Knox Press and Amazon.

She discussed it with Saint Louis University Professor of Theological Studies Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, Ph.D., who reviewed the book.


Church in the Public Square

Church in the Public Square

November 13, 2019


The Public Square is the space where people of different walks of life encounter each other as they move through their daily lives. It’s not limited to the political space. It could be a shopping mall or a church. The church has a word to say about how we gather and live together in community. The Strategic Plan for Union Presbyterian Seminary states, in part, that Union “is teaching not just for church leadership but for leadership in the entire public sphere.” President Brian Blount shared his thoughts on “The Church in the Public Square” with Joe Slay.


Musical group ‘The Many’ coming to Union Seminary

Musical group ‘The Many’ coming to Union Seminary

October 7, 2019


The Many, a musical group passionate about creating music for people to sing together about peace and justice and a world where all belong, will perform at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, October 14-15. Tinsley Jones, director of the seminary's Leadership Institute, interviewed the group via Skype from their home base in Chicago. The full 50-minute conversation is available here for those who want to learn more.

Drawing on indie pop and gospel influences, The Many makes music to help give voice to faith and doubt, questions and fears, laments and longings, music that speaks to a non-violent God, a Jesus who is with us and for us, and to a Spirit that can’t be easily defined or controlled.

It’s music for a movement of resistance to hatred and division, for reconciliation and restoration, and music that always reminds us “we are on this earth to love.”

Their music is made for people to sing with each other, in churches, in living rooms, in basements and bars, anywhere, everywhere, in spirit and in truth.

The Many features vocalists, Darren Calhoun, Leslie Michele and Hannah Rand (pictured above), along with guests and collaborators. Gary and Lenora Rand are co-directors of The Plural Guild, the music/arts/liturgy resource group which produces The Many.

They will lead worship, workshops, and a panel discussion at the seminary’s 2019 Howie Center Events:

    • Monday, October 14, 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. – Workshop, Worship as a Catalyst for Social Justice: Creating Liturgy for Justice/Inclusion
    • Monday, October 14, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. – An Evening with The Many: Worship, with Teaching and Q & A Sessions
    • Tuesday, October 15, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. – Creative Workshop Choices (participants select one)
      • What in the world are we singing? Finding and creating songs for worship that better reflect our theology and calling to justice and inclusion.
      • Doing liturgy as if our lives depended on it. How to create inclusive, anti-racist, poetic and moving liturgy that helps us connect more deeply with God, our full selves, each other, and this whole aching world.
    • Tuesday, October 15, 11:00 a.m. – noon – Panel Discussion with the Many, facilitated by Dr. Richard Voelz, Assistant Professor of Preaching & Worship

The events are free and open to all, but registration is required.

In addition to the Howie Center Events, The Many will lead Community Worship in Lake Chapel in the Early Center on Wednesday, October 16, at 11:45 a.m. All of these scheduled events are designed to bring community members together through the intersection of science, art, and theology.

Through the seminary's Leadership Institute, The Carl Howie Center for Science, Art, and Theology sponsors presentations through which church leaders (including seminarians) recognize and engage the insights and implications of the interplay of science, art, and theology for theological expression and the practice of ministry. The center generously provides funding for lectures, seminars, and displays at Union Presbyterian Seminary once or twice a year, featuring artists, scientists, and/or theologians in conversation about a particular topic.

Also, check out the "All Belong Here" lyric video, a preview of "Love Is Here," and "Forgive Us." Listen to more of their music on Spotify. And visit their website.

Believer on Sunday, Atheist by Thursday

Believer on Sunday, Atheist by Thursday

September 20, 2019


Author and professor emeritus Ronald P. Byars at home.

Regular worshipers may be believers on Sunday but (nearly) atheists by Thursday. The general public, not making fine distinctions, lumps mainline Protestants together with fundamentalists fighting to hold on to a privileged status already lost. Circumstances favor religious skeptics, who find themselves with rising influence. Church members in mainline denominations feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Thus comes the critical question of the moment: is Christian faith of an intellectually serious and recognizably generous sort still possible? Union Presbyterian Seminary Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Worship Ronald P Byars's new book "Believer on Sunday, Atheist by Thursday" invites readers to explore basic questions about faith itself, and classically inclined Christian faith in particular.


Faith is a kind of knowing, but a knowing that makes use of doubt and asserts that it is possible to be confident without claiming absolute certainty. Faith is less like agreeing with an argument and more like falling in love. Faith involves learning how to see with the eyes of the heart. Faith embraces realities that can be perceived even by a child, but that cannot always be directly expressed in the kind of language we use for discussing serious matters. Living in faith is and will always be an against-the-grain way of imagining the world. Union alumnus Jessica Tate wrote the Foreward to the book and spoke with Dr. Byars about it via Skype.

Preaching in Challenging Times

Preaching in Challenging Times

September 4, 2019


Rev. Dr. Richard Voelz, right, is interviewed by Union alumnus Darren Utley about his new book.

Preachers stand up to speak each week in challenging times to unsettled congregations. Each week seems to bring a new difficult subject: mass shootings and other forms of violence; hard conversations around race, ethnicity, and multi-religious contexts; immigration; poverty; climate change; foreign and domestic terrorism; and bickering about it all on social media.

Rev. Dr. Richard W. Voelz, Union Presbyterian Seminary assistant professor of preaching and worship, has authored a new book for preachers hungry for ways to envision the work of preaching in these times, as well as for tools that will help them speak to difficult and contentious topics.


“Preaching to Teach: Inspire People to Think and Act” merges the related functions of preaching and teaching, and equips the reader to accomplish both. It is the newest addition to a collection called The Artistry of Preaching Series.

In a divided and weary world, preachers struggle with the choice of any number of “images” to describe their preaching identity. Responding to social crisis after social crisis, preachers most often lean toward the roles of pastor, prophet, or somewhere on the spectrum in between the two. Juggling between these images and their associated roles on a week-to-week basis can be exhausting. But there is an ancient image of the preacher that may help: the preacher as teacher.

The image of teacher has traditionally focused on content and rhetorical aspects of preaching: the preacher is conveying information, modeling theological reasoning, or effecting a certain pulpit style. But rather than focusing on traditional concepts of teaching to determine the content, form, style, or delivery of sermons, the field of critical pedagogy (represented by notable figures such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, and bell hooks) offers a way of re-envisioning the preacher-as-teacher. Recasting the preacher-as-teacher through the lens of critical pedagogy grounds the image of teacher in an ethical framework, inviting preachers to redefine their public roles, stand in relationships of solidarity with communities of faith, break the silences of taboos, tackle tough issues, and re-imagine the world in the shape of the kingdom of God.

The book is available through Abingdon Press and on Amazon.

Voelz formerly served as the senior minister of the Johns Creek Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an Open & Affirming congregation in metro Atlanta, Georgia. He has over a decade of ministry experience in various contexts. A graduate of Vanderbilt University’s Graduate Department of Religion with the Ph.D. in Homiletics and Liturgics, Voelz brings expertise and scholarly interest in contemporary homiletic theory, preaching and youth, pastoral identity, preaching in the Stone-Campbell Movement, and contemporary liturgical theology.

He was interviewed about his book by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumnus Darren Utley, associate pastor of Fairfield Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia. 

What Does the Lord Require?

What Does the Lord Require?

August 5, 2019

What has the Lord demanded of us and how are we living in that call as a seminary? Are we responding adequately to God’s call for justice in our teaching, witness, and service as an organ of the Reign of God? Associate Professor of Bible Rodney Sadler, will explore this topic at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond during “Seminary For a Day.” He previewed his keynote address with Tinsley Jones, director of Union’s Leadership Institute, which is sponsoring the event on September 28, 2019.

Strengthening Faith Formation Among Children

Strengthening Faith Formation Among Children

July 15, 2019

Union Presbyterian Seminary has been awarded a grant to develop a map to help churches find new ways to communicate the value of religious practices for children and families in a diverse and complicated world.

Children, are confronting a world rife with new and terrifying realities. Active shooter drills in schools is just one of those realities. Millennial generation parents are drifting away from mainline churches and, with that exodus, losing the opportunity for the church to help them and their children develop the faith necessary to confront the new realities. And budget cuts throughout traditional Christian denominations are hamstringing church educators’ and pastors’ ability to reach the upcoming generation.

The Lily Endowment grant will fund research to help congregations retool their approaches to faith formation in ways that address the challenges of contemporary family life and also offer ideas about how Christian spirituality can be more effectively presented in the public realm as a positive contribution to children’s well-being, potentially attracting non-affiliated families to participation in communities of faith.

Joe Slay talks with project director Karen-Marie Yust, Josiah P. and Anne Wilson Rowe Professor of Christian Education.

What are Biblical Values?

What are Biblical Values?

April 26, 2019

In 2015, Yale Divinity School Professor John Collins heard a presidential election ad urging listeners to vote according to “biblical values.” In the ad, the Reverend Franklin Graham announced he would be traveling to all 50 states to hold prayer rallies and call the nation to God. Collins was so troubled by it that he launched a course that year titled “What are Biblical Values?” It's also the theme of the Sprunt Lectures he will deliver at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

The easy and unfounded application of scripture to political viewpoints is as prevalent today as at any time in history. It’s not uncommon to see election ads touch on right to life issues and the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Collins says the problem is when it comes to a host of social and political issues, the Bible has much less to say than is generally supposed.

How to revitalize a church through music and drama

How to revitalize a church through music and drama

January 16, 2019

Are worship and the arts viable methods for building community? How can music and drama support the efforts of community engagement? You’re about to learn the story of a small Massachusetts congregation that used community organizing, theater programs, and relationship building to revitalize a diminished ministry and enliven an urban neighborhood.

Fourth Presbyterian Church of Boston was near closing when it embraced a commitment to serve its surrounding neighborhood with community organizing and a variety of ministries, including a community music and art program. One piece of that program grew into a popular children’s musical theater program for the neighborhood, which then fed the congregation’s growing use of music, drama and even musical theater in its worship and congregational life.

The Reverend Burns Stanfield has served as the church's pastor for the last 27 years and led its afterschool offerings in music, art and children’s theater. he’s also a musician and an instructor at Harvard Divinity School and Andover Newton Seminary. And he’s president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, which develops local leadership and organized power to fight for social justice.

During a visit to Union Presbyterian Seminary, he sat down with leadership institute director Tinsley Jones to discuss the power of community organizing through music and drama.


Pictured from left, Leadership Institute Director Tinsley Jones and Rev. Burns Stanfield on the Richmond campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Perils of Peacemaking in Syria and Lebanon

Perils of Peacemaking in Syria and Lebanon

November 21, 2018

More than 350-thousand people have died and 11 million have been forced to leave their homes since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Since the outbreak of civil war, Dr. Mary Mikhael has been interpreting the consequences of this global tragedy for the Syrian and Lebanese people, particularly the Christian communities. In 2018, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program sent 10 international peace activists to several U.S. cities to speak to churches and seminaries. Dr. Mikhael was one of them. She’s a native of Syria, resident of Lebanon, and alumna of Union Presbyterian Seminary. During a visit to Richmond, Virginia, she sat down with Union Professor of Christian Missions Stan Skreslet to discuss the challenges religious groups face as they seek to bring hope, peace, and reconciliation to this war-torn region.


Photo caption: Union professor Stan Skreslet, and international peacemaker and alumna Dr. Mary Mikhael

Mikhael recently served as president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, the first woman to serve in this capacity in any seminary in the Middle East. A Presbyterian, born to Greek Orthodox parents in Syria, she is a 1982 graduate of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond (now Union Presbyterian Seminary). She earned her doctorate in education at Columbia University in New York.  Returning to Syria she became the director of the women’s program for the Middle East Council of Churches. She is active in ecumenical and interfaith activities and is a noted authority on the church in the Middle East and the role of women.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, Mikhael has been interpreting the consequences of this global tragedy for the Syrian and Lebanese people, particularly the Christian communities, as she serves with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.

She is the author of the Presbyterian Women 2010 Horizons Bible Study “Joshua: A Journey of Faith” for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and was co-author of “She Shall Be Called Woman,” a meditation on biblical women.

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App