Introducing New Fall 2022 Students

Vice-President for Community Life, Dean of Students, and Director, Financial Aid

It is with great pleasure that I get to introduce you to the incoming Black students for 2022. I’ve had a great time getting to know them, a group that includes a few international students, and look forward to the time when the BAA gets to meet them too. As has been my custom the last few years, I asked them to tell me why they chose UPSem and what they are looking forward to while here.

Tamara Burdon (M.Div./Charlotte)
“Rev. Dr. Paula Parker was my Spiritual Coach and I was expressing to her that I wanted to go to seminary but it was too expensive. It was then that I found out about UPSEM! I am so excited to experience this journey with God. I want to see what the Father has for me!!!”

Brianna Burton (M.Div.| MAPT/Richmond)
“UPSem chose me. I took one step into the library and after years of ignoring even the possibility of seminary, I got a conviction that God wanted me to be here. But I’m so glad that I finally listened! I am looking forward to finally being able to explore a bunch of questions about one’s spiritual development during times of transition, especially during reproductive health events (pregnancy, birth, postpartum, infertility, infant/child loss). I am a doula and childbirth educator, and look forward to applying what I know while working with families and couples.”

Veron Hussey (Th.M./Richmond)
Vernon is from Guyana and is one of five international students in the Th.M. program. “I chose UPSem because of the question: “Is your call to bold Christian service?” It really resonated with my soul and where I felt the call was leading me. Further, in researching the program offerings and overall ethos of the seminary relative to what would best suit my vocational goals, everything seemed to align. I look forward to mutually rewarding experiences as I engage with this dynamic community. Through our encounters, I trust that we will thrive in/by God’s grace.”

Geoffrey Kanyugi (MACE/Richmond)
Geoffrey is here from Kenya pursuing the MACE. He has a beautiful smile…even if you can’t tell from this picture. “We are a community that is bound by the love of God, enriched by our individuality, and united in bold Christian service for the church in the world. UPSem has the best deep learning experience as I build my career ladder in Masters of Christian Education.”

Cellonia Ndede (MACE/Richmond)
Cellonia also comes to us from Kenya. She is studying in the MACE program. “While teaching in a Bible school after my undergraduate study, I realized that the pulpit was not my desired domain because I like to get people’s instant reactions, words, feelings – in conversations. UPSem had just the program I thought would nurture me into the right direction – MACE; to get guidance on how to apply myself as a servant of God in the marketplace with the MACE qualification, given my background in marketing and human resources; to make a difference in society but most importantly to learn from every situation and everyone I interact with as I am at UPSem.”

Rancy Zarr (M. Div.| MACE/Richmond)
Rancy is a Baptist pastor from Liberia. He will be with us four years completing the dual M.Div./MACE degrees.
“I find it necessary to study at Union Presbyterian Seminary because the institution is a mixture of students and instructional staff from around the world with diverse backgrounds. Because of this reason, I believe that there is no racial discrimination. So, I am of the conviction that it is indeed a good environment to pursue my dream of being theologically educated, thereby gaining more knowledge for ministry work. Already, I am experiencing love and care from the president, the UPSem Global Mission, and all those who I meet every day. It is my prayer that the Seminary will continue to support my journey of faith as I experience love and care in this friendly environment.”

We also welcomed the following students this year:


Kimberly Davis, M.Div./MACE
Bonita Kirk, MAPT
John Ng’aNg’a, MACE


LaDonna Harrison, M.Div.
Priscilla Wilkinson, M.Div.

Also, we are expecting three additional Black students to begin with the Spring Charlotte term for a total of 12 NEW students across both campuses.

Do We Really Want A Theocracy?


In recent months, some Christians have called to make the United States a theocracy. One nation under God, and one religion under God. However, what would a formally Christian United States look like? How would it be achieved? How would it get around the Constitution? Since as Christians we are not monolithic, would the Christianity embraced by government be liberal, mainstream, or conservative? So, what would we do with the millions of Americans, who happen to outnumber practicing Christians, many who practice Islam, or Judaism? Christians who practice Catholicism are sometime still looked at with suspicion by some Christians. How would this action affect people who do not believe in God?

This would be a call for a theocracy, a system of government in which religious leaders rule in the name of God. The call is in a sense rather hypocritical, since Christians in the United States railed against the theocracy in Iran that resulted from the overthrow of Shah of Iran who was supported by the United States government. The Islamic State of Iran was established with the cleric Ruhollah Khomeini installed as the supreme leader.

Not only have we condemned the theocracy that exists in Iran, various states have passed laws banning Sharia law, which is a set of Islamic religious laws that govern aspects of day-to-day life for Muslims in addition to religious rituals. Other states have enacted laws that prohibit state courts from considering foreign, international, or religious law.

We have condemned theocracies because the countries that have embraced them practice a different faith and we have not taken to understand what they believe. Does labeling a theocracy Christian make it better? Am I wrong in saying that a state religion was one of the greatest fears of the founding fathers?

A reading of the Old Testament, along with portions of the Gospels that describe the crucifixion of the one we serve, Jesus, clearly shows the dangers of a theocracy.

There were thousands of priests in Israel prior to the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon who were a part of the theocracy. If we read their names in the Bible, we only read this once. Yet the names of Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos are not only mentioned a few times, books in the Bible are named after them. They are mentioned because they challenged the theocracy of their time, even in the face of death and imprisonment. They refused to give theological endorsement, not only to rulers, but also those who would use their position to take advantage of persons in need. They spoke doom to this system and predicted what would happen because of their actions.

Even when some consider the context surrounding the life and death of Jesus, little attention is paid to the fact that the members of the Sanhedrin were actually co-conspirators with the Romans. They were the Supreme Council in charge of Jewish affairs in Roman Palestine. The Sanhedrin was composed of priests and religious teachers who met to decide on legal matters with religious, political, and social ramifications. They did not have the power to crucify Jesus, however, they had enough influence to make it happen.

Finally, in my many readings of the Gospels, I have never found an instance where Jesus made anybody do something. Jesus changed people by his words and actions.

Instead of changing our form of government to make people act the way we want them to act, we should follow the example of Jesus, who changed people by his words and actions. Our words and our actions can make the United States a much greater and better nation if our words and actions reflect the Jesus of the Bible that we say that we love and follow.

Gems for the Journey:  Routine History Pt. II

MSW Virginia Commonwealth University; MDiv ‘07

Matt 24: 40-42
“Keep  awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).

Rev. Veronica Thomas

Let us recap the last issue of Gems for the Journey:  We are experiencing signs of the time, Routine History. Signs we can’t fast or pray away, it is Routine History. Jesus talked about the end times and telescoped near future and far future events as did the Old Testament prophets.  Many of the persecutions have already occurred; more are yet to come. But God is in control of even the length of the prosecutions. He will not forget his people. This is all we need to know about the future to motivate us to live rightly now. The Greek word thlipus means tribulation and is used for terrible suffering, slaughter, and disease. All the Old Testament (OT) prophets predicted such a period before God’s great redemptive intervention on behalf of his people at history’s end. Jesus’s reference to this distress as “unequaled” in the history of the world fits the OT prophetic vision.

Today, we must remain watchful. It is good that we don’t know exactly when Christ will return.  If we know the precise date, we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ. Worse yet, we might plan to keep sinning and then turn to God right at the end. Heaven is not our only goal; we have work to do here. We must keep doing it until we see the unmistakable return of our savior. How foolish we are to worry about dates when Christ Himself is unconcerned about the specific time! Our calling is to trust in God’s goodness and to concentrate on obeying the desires God has for us that He has revealed so clearly in the Word.

Christ’s second coming will be swift and sudden. There will be no opportunity for last-minute repentance or bargaining. The choice we have already made will determine our eternal destiny. Jesus’ point is that life will seem to be going on normally when the second coming event takes place. How foolish to say, “I’ll wait till just before I die,” or “Till just before Christ comes,” to trust and serve Him. I remember Winfred (my husband), Linwood (a family friend) and I were traveling to take Charity (my daughter), to Grambling State University in Louisiana. We were traveling on Interstate 95 and stopped at the first rest stop after entering North Carolina. Winfred and Linwood got out of the car while Charity and I remained in the backseat under cover. While they were gone I decided to get out of the car and wash some fruit. When they returned they observed no change in the cover. They thought Charity and I were still in the back seat. They pulled off without me. I thought it was a joke! After about ten minutes it became serious. After standing outside a truck driver asked me, “Is anything wrong?”  I explained that I was looking for my family and I didn’t see the car. He asked me to describe the car looked. I told him it was a white Volvo station wagon.  He said, “A car with that description left about twenty minutes ago!”  I explained that they did not know I was not in the car.  Next, I called the state police to see if they could turn my the car around before they reached the South Carolina state line. They were able to reach them just before the South Carolina border. Linwood who was driving thought he was being stopped for speeding. This was not good for him. He had gotten a speeding ticket in VA the week before. When the state policeman reached the car, Linwood had awakened Winfred who was sleep. The police were asking the passengers if they knew Veronica Thomas? Winfred said “Yes, that’s my wife. How do you know her?”  The state police asked: “Where is she?”  My husband said, “In the back seat.” He pulled the covering back and I was not there. He said to me later that he thought the rapture had taken place. I was gone; he was left. In his spirit Matt. 24: 40-42 was taking place.

It will be a routine day. . . life going on as usual . . . when Christ comes again. God doesn’t give warnings. He calls us to choose, now, and to serve him faithfully. Jesus’s purpose in telling about his return is not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the dates, but to warn us to be prepared. Will you be ready? The only safe choice is to be obedient. Jesus asks us to spend the time waiting, taking care of his people, and doing his work here on earth both within the church and outside of it. This is the best way to prepare for Christ’s return. Don’t be discouraged, it’s Routine History occurring on a routine day. It is in God’s plan for the second coming of His Son, Jesus. And the people of God saidAmen.” So be it.


Calling All Prayer Warriors!

This is a call to all alumni and friends of Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPSem)! We are inviting you, and we dare to encourage you, to join in praying for UPSem’s leadership and its future. Remember the invasion from the East against Jehoshaphat, Judah and Jerusalem.  Jahaziel said “…the battle is not yours but God’s.”  He advised them to stand still and see the victory of the Lord (2 Chron 20:14-19).  When Jehoshaphat appointed the singers and praisers to give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love, the Lord set an ambush of their enemies who all helped to destroy each other.

We know that, as Jahaziel told the people, “the battle is not ours.  It is the Lord’s.” Our assignment as “singers and praisers” is to pray giving thanks to God for what God has done, is doing and will do for UPSem.  Our emphasis will be the presidency of our loved alma mater.

Let us unite in prayer at a “zoom” gathering on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 at 7:00 P.M. EST.  Our focus will be skill and discernment of the Search Committee who is charged with identifying and recommending to the Board of Trustees the person who will serve as the next president of the Seminary.  We anticipate another gathering of Prayer Warriors for the newly elected president in early spring 2023.  We will then be praying for this leader to be widely experienced in preparation for this role and girded by the power and will of God.

To attend this gathering, please call Nicole Smith, Alumni Associate at UPSem (800-229-2990, ext. 228) or email her at . You will need to sign in for the “zoom” gathering. Let us know if you wish to be a pray-er.  You may attend even if you do not wish to be a pray-er. If you have further questions, call Clay Macaulay, Director of Alumni Development (800-229-2990, ext.382)

Litany:  The Lord’s Will for All People

M.Ed., Temple University ’65; M.Div., Union-PSCE ’07; Ph.D., UConn ’72


MSW Virginia Commonwealth University; MDiv ‘07

Rev. Dr. Helen Bessent Byrd

Written for UPSeminary Assembly led by BAA February 2012


Leader:  Everlasting God, who is always more ready to shower us with your benevolence, munificence, and magnificence than we are to seek them, we worship you giving you honor, glory, and praise.

All: We will bless the Lord at all times.  His praise will continually be on our mouth. Psa. 94:1

Leader:  God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.  But we are often at war with one another.  In a thousand little ways we demand to be catered to.  We seldom esteem others as more important than ourselves.  We often create strife by demanding our way rather than by walking in God’s Spirit.

All:  The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked. Psa. 97:10

Leader:  We give thanks, O Lord, for the saints of yesteryear and the men and women today who courageously and boldly go on doing what they must in the face of loneliness, monotony, misunderstanding, and danger to achieve what we and they are praying for.

All:  We will give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart; we will tell of all your wonderful deeds.  Psa. 9:1

Leader:  Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there might be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous let our hearts be thankful; in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.

All:  We will let love be genuine; hate what is evil is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  We will not lag in zeal; will be ardent in spirit, serving the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Rom. 12:9-12

Leader:  Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage.  All too often we forget your generosity and the sacrifices of many people who made our privileges possible.  Bless our land with knowledge, honesty, integrity, civility, and industry.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from greed and arrogance, and from every evil way.

All:  We will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the just for the upright will abide in the land, and the innocent will remain in it. Pro. 2:20, 21

We will be guided by the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal. 5:22-23

We pray in the name of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Note:  As we follow the will of God in our daily lives, let us remember to give in this period of Thanksgiving. View the UPSem Website, Alumni Page and follow the guidelines to give to the Seminary so that students will have the opportunity to be aided in responding to the call of God. For tracking purposes, please write “BAA” on the website form and on the memo line of your check.