2012 Sprunt Lectures Distinguished Alum

Union Presbyterian Seminary is pleased to announce that Bob Dunham (D.Min.’75) is the Sprunt Lectures Distinguished Alumnus for 2012. Bob has been a tireless supporter and advocate of Union ever since he was a student. Having had a great experience with “remarkable professors” and fellow students, he jumped at “the thought of being able to give back to the seminary in some way” when he was invited to join the Board of Trustees in 2005. “The chance to serve on the board was a real joy for me,” he said. Serving on the academic affairs committee puts Bob in contact with lots of faculty members, and he likes what he sees. “I’d love to take some of those professors that are now teaching there,” he said.

Bob has been pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, NC, for 21 years. “I used to think that wasn’t a good idea”—to stay at one church for so long—“but I’ve come to find the relationship with the congregation has continued to strengthen,” he said. “I’ve re-evaluated my sense of the potential and the importance of long-term pastorates.” He has noticed that many of his local colleagues have been in their churches even longer than he has. He thinks it’s “part of the culture of the community and the area. People like this area and they want to stay,” but it’s more than that. Pastors are drawn to remaining with “a congregation that is so deeply engaged in witness to the community” and to the world at large. “That’s really what keeps me here,” he said. “I feel privileged to have been here as long as I have.”

The University of North Carolina’s Presbyterian Campus Ministry is housed at UPC, and Bob loves getting to know the students. Several have gone on to seminary, including quite a few at Union. “It gives me enormous satisfaction,” he said, to see students who go to Union and “who have found it just as engaging and stirring a place as I found it.”

Bob attended Union Theological Seminary “well before federation,” but he had the best of both worlds because the Presbyterian School of Christian Education was “right across the Brook.” He took classes at both and had close relationships with several faculty members and students from PSCE. “I had a deep fondness for both schools,” he said. He and his classmates were studying “in the midst of some of the giants of biblical studies,” he says, and Dunham is still building on that foundation today. Part of why he serves on the Board of Trustees, writes for Interpretation, and keeps coming back for continuing education courses is the “enormous sense of gratitude” he feels.

“It’s just a great privilege to be in relationship with the seminary,” Bob said, “and I wish more people could have that experience.” Dunham married his wife, Marla, the week before classes started at Union. This is the place where they began their life together, and many of the relationships they formed here are still important today. “It adds a great deal of joy to my life,” he said, “to be around there and give back to the place and the people who make it what it is.”