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History of United Theological Seminary

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United traces its history back to the former Church of the United Brethren in Christ and The Evangelical Church.

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    1869 | Motion at General Conference, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, to Found a Seminary

    Upon a motion by Rev. Milton Wright, the General Conference of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ ordered founding of a theological seminary to be supported by the whole church. Milton Wright, later elected bishop, served as first chairman of the executive committee of the seminary. Under his leadership the school was located in Dayton and at his proposal it received its first name, Union Biblical Seminary. Rev. Milton Wright, a theology professor at Hartsville University in Indiana, was elected editor of the denomination’s weekly newspaper, Religious Telescope, at this same General Conference, and moved his family to Dayton where the denomination had located its publishing house in 1852. Three of the Wright children, Reuchlin, Lorin, and Wilbur, were born in Indiana. Orville and Katharine were born in Dayton. Dayton also became home to the Wright Aeroplane.


    1871 | Union Biblical Seminary Opened in Dayton, OH

    Classes were first held at Union Biblical Seminary on October 11, 1871 in borrowed rooms at Home Street United Brethren in Christ Church (Dayton). The young seminary had two full time professors, the Rev. Lewis Davis, D.D. and the Rev. George A. Funkhouser, eleven students, and a minuscule library. The seminary was incorporated in the State of Ohio on November 12, 1873.


    1873 | Decision to Admit Women Students

    In 1873 Union Biblical Seminary decided to admit women students.


    1874 | First Class Graduated from UBS; First Woman Accepted

    The first graduating class from UBS was in 1874. Union Biblical Seminary's first woman was accepted the same year.


    1879 | First Seminary Building for Union Biblical Seminary

    Union Biblical Seminary’s first building was a three-story brick structure set on five acres of land at First Street and Euclid Avenue in West Dayton. The building contained a chapel, a library room, an office, four recitation rooms, and sixteen furnished dormitory rooms. It cost $12,000 to build and furnish.The land for the new building was donated by John Kemp, the first General Agent of the seminary, serving from 1870 to 1874. His gift of land was valued at $10,000 and his generosity distinguished him as the seminary’s first great benefactor.


    1883 | First Woman Graduated from UBS in the English Curriculum

    Esther Balmer Sage was the first woman to graduate from Union Biblical Seminary in the English curriculum.


    1887 | First Woman Graduated from UBS in the Regular Curriculum

    Ella Niswonger was the first woman to graduate from Union Biblical Seminary in the Regular curriculum.


    1889 | Ordaining Women Approved; Missionary Curriculum Added

    The General Conference of the United Brethren in Christ Church approved ordaining women. The first woman to be ordained the same year was Ella Niswonger. Also in 1889 the Missionary curriculum was added.


    1892 | First Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) Degree granted at Union Biblical Seminary

    For several years the departments of instruction were Exegetical, Doctrinal, Historical, Practical, and Homiletical. Applicants were expected to be college graduates “unless they have otherwise qualified themselves to pursue with advantage the prescribed course.” The Regular Course took three full years and graduates received a diploma. Gradually the academic standards were raised and the first Bachelor of Divinity degree was granted in 1892.


    1901 | First Woman Was Elected As A Clergy Delegate; First Woman Graduated from the Missionary Curriculum

    Rev. Ella Niswonger was the first woman to be elected as a clergy delegate to the General Conference of the United Brethren in Christ Church. Ethel Bookwalter Burnter was the first woman graduate from the Missionary curriculum.


    1905 | Evangelical School of Theology Founded in Reading, PA

    The Evangelical School of Theology was formed in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1905 by The Evangelical Association. The first Bachelor of Divinity degree was granted in 1907.The Evangelical School of Theology later merged with Bonebrake Theological Seminary to form United Theological Seminary.


    1908 | First Women to Graduate from UBS in the Deaconess Curriculum

    Flora C. Kitzmiller and Hannah Buhan Sharp were the first woman to graduate from Union Biblical Seminary in the Deaconess curriculum.


    1909 | Union Biblical Seminary Changes Name to Bonebrake Theological Seminary

    For many years, Union Biblical Seminary carried in its catalogue the following announcement: “Any party contributing $50,000 to the Institution shall have the naming of the Institution.” In 1906, John and Mary Bonebrake gave the seminary 3,840 acres of Kansas wheat land. In 1908 the land was appraised at $86,400 and the seminary was taken up on its offer to allow the donor of $50,000 to name the school. It was the largest single gift the seminary had received at the time. On January 20, 1909 Union Biblical Seminary changed its name to Bonebrake Theological Seminary, in honor of the six great uncles of John Bonebrake who had been pioneer United Brethren preachers.The seminary continued to grow and began looking for land to expand from its single building at First Street and Euclid Avenue to a campus.


    1923 | Bonebrake Seminary Moves to New Campus in Upper Dayton View

    On April 1, 1911, the first tract of land was purchased a mile and a half north of the seminary’s original building. Now known as Upper Dayton View, it was wide open country at that time. The decision to relocate on open farmland was a bold move dubbed by its opponents as “Fout’s Folly” in honor of its promoter, seminary business manager, Rev. J.E. Fout. A total of 274 acres was eventually secured. Thirty-five acres were reserved for the seminary. The seminary established building restrictions on the remainder of the land and sold it to a real estate development company. The Dayton View Triangle residential district grew out of this agreement. Ground was broken on March 27, 1920 for the first three seminary buildings completed and occupied by October 1923.The campus was bounded by Harvard Boulevard, Catalpa Drive, Cornell Drive, and Burroughs Drive. The official address was 1810 Harvard Blvd.The campus, designed by the Olmsted Brothers architectural firm of Boston, MA, used an American type of modified Gothic. The employment of the Olmsted Brothers, who also designed Central Park in New York City, was made possible by a gift from Mr. John H. Patterson, of the National Cash Register Company.The first three buildings included the administration building, later named in honor of the Bonebrakes; a dormitory, later named in honor of Rev. Fout; and the heating plant, also known as the powerhouse.


    1929 | Evangelical School of Theology Moves to New Building

    Evangelical School of Theology in Reading, PA moved into its new building in Fall 1929, one year after the charter was approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The new building was named Breyfogel Hall, in honor of Bishop S.C. Breyfogel, who was most responsible for the creation and early leadership of the school. The school occupied this building until the merger with Bonebrake Seminary in 1954.


    1938 | Bonebrake Seminary and Evangelical School of Theology Receive Accreditation

    Bonebrake Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH) and Evangelical School of Theology (Reading, PA) were charter members of the Association of Theological Schools and received accreditation in 1938.The Association of Theological Schools is an accrediting agency formed to evaluate academic excellence and to “promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public.”


    1946 | The Evangelical United Brethren Church Formed

    On November 16, 1946, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, The Evangelical Church and The United Brethren Church were united into The Evangelical United Brethren Church, after twenty years of negotiation. At the time of union, the new church included about 700,000 members. Bonebrake Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH and Evangelical School of Theology in Reading, PA became part of the new denomination.


    1952 | Memorial Library at Bonebrake Seminary Completed

    The Memorial Library, built in 1951 – 52, included:

    • Reading Room

    • Card Catalogue Room

    • Lounge and Visual Education Room

    • Periodical Room

    • Historical Society Room

    • Nine typing rooms for students

    • Offices for four faculty members

    • Offices for the library staff


    1954 | United Theological Seminary Formed

    United Theological Seminary was created by combining the full body of administrative and teaching personnel, the libraries and the financial resources of Bonebrake Theological Seminary and Evangelical School of Theology.

    The four faculty members who moved from Reading, PA to Dayton, OH were:

    • Dr. J. Arthur Heck, professor of Systematic Theology

    • Dr. Irvin W. Batdorf, Professor of New Testament Literature

    • Dr. Harry A. DeWire, Cowden Professor of Christian Education and Psychology

    • Dr. George W. Frey, Jr., Professor of Old Testament History and Literature


    1956 | Master of Religious Education (M.R.E.) Degree First Offered

    In the early part of the twentieth century, Christian Education was a great and new field. Professors Walter G. Clippinger, J.G. Huber, W.A. Weber, and M.A. Honline did much to build a strong department of Christian Education in the seminary. An effort was made to raise an endowment for this chair, calling it the Robert Cowden Chair of Psychology and Religious Education. The Master of Religious Education degree was first offered in 1956, the same year Harriet Miller, the first woman professor at United, was elected to the faculty as assistant professor of Christian Education. The name of the degree was later changed to Master of Arts in Religious Education (M.A.R.E.), evolved into the Master of Arts in Specialized Ministry in Christian Education in 2002, and was discontinued in 2004.


    1957 | Roberts Hall Completed

    A new dormitory was completed in 1957. It was named in memory of the Rev. Dr. Walter N. Roberts after his death in 1966. Dr. Roberts, a former missionary and professor in the Philippine Islands, was elected part-time professor of Practical Theology and director of student field work at Bonebrake Theological Seminary in 1935.In 1938 he was elected president of Bonebrake Seminary, a position he held through the transition to United Theological Seminary until he retired in 1965.


    1960 - 78 | Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) Degree Offered

    The Master of Sacred Theology program was adopted in 1960 as a program of study and degree beyond the Bachelor of Divinity. The purpose of the S.T.M., as originally stated, was “to assist students to prepare more adequately for the parish ministry, missionary service, the teaching ministry, institutional chaplaincy, religious education, or other ministries in the Church.”


    1961 | Breyfogel Worship Center Completed

    The Breyfogel Worship Center, completed in 1961, was named for Bishop Sylvanus Charles Breyfogel who served as president of Evangelical School of Theology from its founding in 1905 until his death in 1934.

    When it opened, the Breyfogel Center included the following:

    • Sanctuary with 20 stained glass windows representing “great moments of divine revelation” (seats 400)

    • Prayer chapel for private prayer or small group worship (seats 12)

    • Two Seminar rooms (one upstairs and one downstairs)

    • Sacristy

    • Radio and television control room

    • Two cloak rooms

    • Offices for twelve professors

    • A large classroom and/or choir room

    • A storage room

    Upon leaving the sanctuary, one can see several odd stones embedded in the wall of the narthex close to the exit stairs. On the right hand are two stone inserts. The upper one is a stone from Byblus, Lebanon. The lower stone is from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. On the left hand is a stone which came from Isaac Long’s barn in Pennsylvania, where Philip William Otterbein embraced Martin Boehm and said “Wir sind Brüder” (“We are brothers”) at Pentecost in 1767, after Otterbein had heard Boehm preach. The chapel windows individually illustrate a “Moment of Revelation” motif, a continuous and progressive revelation from the beginning of time to the end of time. See Behind the Glass for an inspiring look at the stories behind the stained glass windows.


    1966 | Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) Changed to Master of Divinity (M.Div.) Degree

    Encouraged and approved by the Association of Theological Schools and responding to student desire, the Bachelor of Divinity was dropped in favor of the Master of Divinity degree in 1966. The school also moved to a full five-day academic week in the fall of 1966. Team teaching was formally adopted at the same time.


    1968 | The United Methodist Church Formed

    With the union of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church in 1968, United Theological Seminary became one of thirteen theological schools of The United Methodist Church.


    1969 | Innovative “Curriculum for the ’70s” Inaugurated

    In the late 1960s the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) called for a more integrative and person-centered approach to education. The response of United was the creation of a unique curriculum, the heart of which was the core group with a major emphasis on the supervision of ministry. This innovation helped break new ground in the general curriculum reform of the 1970s. The new curriculum placed great importance on the small group, smaller classes, supervision, directed study, one to one counseling, and personalized instruction.

    The main features of the new curriculum, as reported by Dean Newell Wert, were:

    • Greater emphasis on professional education

    • Greater attention to field supervision

    • Greater attention to integration of field experiences into the total curriculum

    • Greater attention to evaluation of the student’s growth

    • Students were to take a large measure of responsibility for their own education

    • Core groups were central in the program; small groups of students worked with two faculty members over a period of two years


    1971 | Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) Degree Instituted

    The Doctor of Ministry degree was instituted in 1971, following the recognition of the degree by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in 1970. At the time, the program operated in conjunction with four other schools in the Dayton area. A commission, with membership representing each of the cooperating institutions, provided oversight for the program. In accordance with standards articulated by the ATS, the goal of the degree was the promotion of a theologically reflective practice of ministry through the integration of advanced understanding of the nature and purposes of ministry with enhanced competencies in pastoral analysis and ministerial skills. The first D.Min. degree was conferred in 1973.


    1973 | Communication Center Established

    United has long been a leader and innovator in the application of new technologies to theological education and to the mission of the United Methodist Church. From the early-sixties through the mid-seventies United’s efforts were largely focused on acquainting and preparing its students in religious programming and production techniques for television. Courses were added to the curriculum that stressed the significance of television as a powerful medium to communicate the church’s message. Changes in television technology in the 1970s, including improved quality and scalable equipment, combined with the success of United’s existing media curriculum, enabled the seminary to create a Communication Center in 1973. With the new Communication Center, United further developed its own television production studio and hired new faculty with interest and skills in the application of television and related media to classroom teaching and learning.


    1975 | North Central Association of Colleges and Universities Accreditation


    1977 | Harriet L. Miller Women’s Center Established

    The Harriet L. Miller Women’s Center, named for the first woman to serve on United’s faculty, was established to facilitate the partnership of women and men in a community of faith. The Center sponsors programs and projects that integrate the history, scholarship, leadership and ministries of women into the seminary curriculum and supports retreats, workshops, and womanist/feminist/mujerista theological dialogue for women faculty and staff, ordained and lay women in the Church, denominational organizations and other church groups. The Center also assists men in developing their capacity to recognize the presence and participation of women in seminary and clergy communities and in the Church.


    1979 | Center for Evangelical United Brethren Heritage Established

    The Center for Evangelical United Brethren Heritage was established in October 1979 under the leadership of President John R. Knecht and by action of the Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary. An Advisory Board of twelve members was appointed to direct its affairs: J. Bruce Behney, Arthur C. Core, Donald K. Gorrell, Frederick D. Hill, John R. Knecht, Mary McLanachan, James D. Nelson, John H. Ness, Jr., Elmer J. O’Brien, John Reed, Audrie E. Reber, and K. James Stein. Elmer J. O’Brien was appointed Director of the Center to administer its program and activities. Its purpose is to preserve and promote the study of the religious and ecclesiastical traditions that formed the Evangelical United Brethren Church. To this end the Center has carried on an extensive oral history project and has gathered people for consultations and special observances.


    1980 | Center for Supervisory Studies Established

    The Center for Supervisory Studies began in 1980 to bring about transformation in the leadership practice of both persons and institutions. Over time, the Center became a leader in the development of pastoral supervision as an academic discipline in theological education, having produced one of the three books in the initial trio of works that gave grounding to theological field education. Dr. Pohly’s seminal book, Transforming the Rough Places: The Ministry of Supervision (Providence House Publishers, Franklin, TN, 2001), is used as a text in church judicatory training, clinical pastoral education, and seminary curricula throughout the United States and in several foreign countries. The name of the Center was changed to the Pohly Center for for Supervision and Leadership Formation in 2001 to honor its founder, Dr. Kenneth Pohly, and to expand the Center’s purpose to include leadership formation as a model of supervisory training and research. The Pohly Center for Supervision and Leadership Formation became part of the Institute for Applied Theology at United in 2003.


    1985 | Master of Arts in Theological Studies (M.A.T.S.) Degree Offered

    The Master of Arts in Theological Studies (M.A.T.S.) degree was inaugurated in 1985 with six students. It is designed for persons who wish to pursue the academic study of religion or to increase their religious understanding in a particular area of study in order to serve the church or a community. Nearly half of the M.A.T.S. candidates pursue doctoral research. Other candidates use the M.A.T.S. degree to study an aspect of religion (e.g., sociology, psychology) in order to enhance their present employment (e.g., administration of social services, chaplain). The M.A.T.S. program has several objectives. It seeks to ground students in the foundational disciplines of theology study, to introduce students to methodologies involved in the academic study of religion, and to extend one’s understanding of a particular discipline in the study of religion through a major concentration.


    1986 | Master of Arts in Religious Communications (M.A.R.C.) Degree Offered

    The Master of Arts in Religious Communication (M.A.R.C.) was added to the curriculum in 1986 under the leadership of Ken Bedell and Dennis Benson. Its purpose was to develop an understanding of the roles of the modern communications environment and to integrate and interpret those roles in the teaching/learning dynamic, and to learn how to use the various media technologies for the church’s mission and ministry. The Master of Arts in Religious Communication program, accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, was a unique degree program among graduate professional programs in ministry. It strengthened the seminary’s role as an interpreter of television and the personal computer as communication technologies that would revolutionize the church’s role as teacher and interpreter of the Word and its tradition. The M.A.R.C. program evolved into the “Digital Culture Ministry” specialization that became part of the Master of Arts in Specialized Ministries and Master of Divinity degree programs in 2004. The program was discontinued in 2006.


    1989 – 2000 Diaconal Ministry Program at Scarritt-Bennett Center (Nashville, TN)


    1992 | Doctor of Missiology (D.Miss.) Degree Program Inaugurated

    The initial suggestion to offer the D.Miss. program came as a result of a visit in 1987 by a team from the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church seeking to ascertain the resources of theological schools for the advanced training of persons for mission leadership. At their urging United undertook an assessment of the school’s resources, the interest of the faculty, and the support of the Board of Trustees for the new degree program. Following a feasibility study, planning process, and accreditation approvals, the degree was offered in 1992. The D. Miss. program was designed to prepare persons for denominational/interdenominational leadership roles in specialized cross-cultural ministries in North America and around the world, as well as for research and teaching in the field of missiology and its cognate disciplines. The Doctor of Missiology degree was phased out beginning in 2003 due to a lack of resources to support the program.


    1995 | West Virginia M.Div. Program Inaugurated

    Beginning in 1995, United established course offering sites in West Virginia so that students, clergy and laity might benefit from theological education opportunities in geographic areas not readily served by a United Methodist seminary. The curriculum is structured by design and course schedule to meet the personal and professional needs and interests of those pursuing theological education while ministering to local churches clustered in specific areas, regions or conferences. Students take courses on weekends in West Virginia and Dayton.


    1996 | Buffalo, NY Campus Established

    From 1996 to 2005, United offered an Association of Theological Schools (ATS)-accredited, In-Context Master of Divinity degree program at Houghton College’s Buffalo campus in West Seneca, New York. Students from the Buffalo area and as far away as Erie, Pennsylvania and Watertown, New York benefited from this program. The program was phased out due to a lack of resources to support it.


    1998 | The Richard A. and Nancy Zimmerman Chapel Dedicated

    Richard and Nancy Zimmerman, members of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church have loyal ties with this former denomination and thus United Seminary. They have great respect for the school and have been generous donors since they became members of the Board of Trustees in 1986. Dick Zimmerman served as chair of the board for eight years before becoming chair of the Development Affairs Committee of the Board. The Zimmermans are both active members of the First United Methodist Church of Hershey, Pennsylvania, and serve on boards of trustees for various academic institutions, business and civic organizations. Dick is the retired CEO and Chair of the Board of Hershey Foods Corporation and Nancy is a community volunteer of many years with the Harrisburg Symphony and other fine arts endeavors.


    1998 | Master of Arts in Specialized Ministries (M.A.S.M.) Degree Offered

    The seminary instituted the Master of Arts in Specialized Ministry in 1998 to address the educational needs of the office of deacon in The United Methodist Church.


    1998 | Multimedia Center Established

    In late 1994, the seminary received a gift of one computer for multimedia project development and it was set up in a corner of the Communication Center/Video Studio. A scanner, large hard drive, and video capture card were added in 1996 along with additional software to increase multimedia capabilities. During the 1996-97 academic year, this one computer was used for the development of computer-based presentations and digital audio and video projects for courses in Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Prayer, and Theology. It was also shared by students in the “Computers in Ministry” class offered in Spring 1997 In early 1998, the Multimedia Center was created and equipped with four computers made possible by funding from the United Methodist Ministerial Education Fund and the Information Technology for Theological Teaching Grant from the Lilly Endowment. At that time, the Information Technology Office moved to a three-room suite which became the Multimedia Center, the server room for the campus network, and office space. Two additional computers were added to the Multimedia Center in 1999. In August 2000, a supplemental grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled all six computers in the Multimedia Center to be replaced with upgraded technology. In July 2003, the Multimedia Center moved from its location in Breyfogel Center to a classroom in Bonebrake Hall. With the subsequent move to the new Trotwood campus in 2005, the Multimedia Center was expanded to ten new computers. The Multimedia Center is used for Multimedia in Ministry classes, software workshops, and by faculty, staff, and students working on multimedia projects or web research.


    2000 | Historic Tracker Organ Dedicated in Zimmerman Chapel

    The historic Tracker Organ, originally installed in the Zimmerman Chapel in 2000, was moved to the seminary’s Memorial Library on the Trotwood campus in 2005.


    2001 | 130th Anniversary

    United celebrated it’s 130th anniversary with a gala dinner and a special United Harvest presentation emphasizing our heritage in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Church and future in The United Methodist Church.


    2003 | Institute for Applied Theology Formed

    The Institute for Applied Theology was established in May 2003 as part of “A Tapestry of Great Potential,” the comprehensive vision and strategic plan for the future of United Theological Seminary. Institute programs seek to complement and enhance the seminary’s masters and doctoral programs by offering courses, workshops, and special events open to students, clergy and lay ministers, and the community.


    2005 | United Theological Seminary Moves to New Campus in Trotwood, OH

    On Friday, February 18, 2005 Dr. G. Edwin Zeiders, President of United Theological Seminary, signed the documents that closed the purchase of a new campus in Trotwood, OH. This concluded a process of study and due diligence contract which began in August 2004. The property, formerly owned by the Jewish Federation of Dayton, consists of an 80-acre campus at 4501 Denlinger Road. The new site includes a 78,000-square-foot building which will be renovated to accommodate the seminary. On Friday, June 3, 2005 Dr. Daryl Ward and the Rev. Vanessa Ward, co-pastors of Omega Baptist Church, David Abney III, Chairman of the Joint Board at Omega, and Dr. G. Edwin Zeiders, President of United Theological Seminary, signed the documents that closed Omega’s purchase of the former United Theological Seminary property located at 1810 Harvard Boulevard in the Dayton View Triangle. The site includes more than 30 acres and six buildings, some of which were built in the 1920s. Omega plans to use the property to build a worship center and an educational facility that will continue the church’s outreach to the community. Alumni/ae, faculty, staff, students, and friends of United came together in October 2005 to remember United’s heritage, say farewell to the Harvard Boulevard campus in Dayton, and celebrate the seminary’s new campus in Trotwood, Ohio.


    2008 | Inauguration of Wendy J. Deichmann

    Bishop Bruce Ough inaugurated Wendy J. Deichmann as President of United at Christ United Methodist Church in Dayton, Ohio on October 7, 2008.