The Paths You Choose Are Up to You!


By Doug McCusker, Class of 2014

I am in the last year of my Masters of Divinity studies at Meadville Lombard Theological School. When I started I had no idea of all the exciting avenues and paths that my thirst for knowledge would take me. I have always been a history buff so after my first church history class, I immediately latched on to the rich history resources in Meadville’s archives. Not only was I able to dig deep in Judeo-Christian history, but I have found a real connection with Unitarian Universalist history. This year, I joined the UU History and Heritage Society and delivered my first paper at the annual conference. I’ve also intertwined many stories from our tradition’s rich history into sermons and religious education classes.


I also have been able to explore my Latino/Hispanic heritage through several classes and internship experiences focused on multi-cultural engagement in our increasingly pluralistic society. The faculty helped me create a tailored immersion experience in which I took the concepts from the classroom and church setting out into the community. I led a mission trip of youth to El Salvador where we helped build an elementary school that was bombed during their civil war. It was an amazing experience that has deepened not only my own identity exploration but also my ministerial formation.


Meadville Lombard Theological School offered me an academic and experiential foundation in which to grow into my ministerial self. The rest has been up to me, and I have tried to take full ownership of this wonderful opportunity that comes once in a life-time. I’ve had classes in the mountains of California, at other seminaries and of course at the Meadville Lombard campus in downtown Chicago. But just as importantly, I’ve been able to apply my faith and ministerial calling at a homeless shelter, prison, hospital and teaching congregation; all while I was in seminary.  The journey has been amazing!


A Message From Denny Davidoff:

Denny_CropHere in the Development and Communications office at Meadville Lombard, one of our holiday season rituals is called The EOYA. This unpronounceable acronym stands for End Of Year Appeal and on our work calendar it’s a very big deal. It is, in short, the campaign we mount by mail and e-mail and blog and Twitter to ask all of our donor friends to celebrate the new year (and to reap income tax benefits) by contributing whatever they can afford to keep our operating budget thriving and our student financial aid coffers plentiful.

Raising money for Meadville Lombard is hard work and it is also joyous work. I believe in our mission, admire our faculty, revel in our diverse and wizard smart student body. My deep commitment to Unitarian Universalism congregations and allied institutions is fulfilled as I witness the education and formation of new ministers and new theologically-savvy lay leaders who graduate year after year ready to guide, to preach, to lead, to rally and invigorate — to do what it takes to keep our faith relevant and effective out in a suffering and unjust world.

Please pay attention. Look for a newsletter message from me and a letter from President Lee Barker. Make room in you heart and in your checkbook for a generous contribution to keep Meadville Lombard growing stronger. I love saying our school is “Unapologetically Progressive” and I further testify that our school is worthy of your support.

Make an online gift today.

Blessings for the holidays and for your New Year. Come visit us in 2014!

Scholarships Available – Apply Now!

This week of Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to thank our generous donors who make it possible for our students to attend Meadville Lombard in order to serve the world and Unitarian Universalism. If you or someone you know is considering a future in ministry, please be sure to share this link with them—and soon.  The deadline for early admission is March 1, 2014.


We give great thanks to the following individuals for offering these opportunities:

  • BradburdsThe Arnold and Julia Bradburd Scholarship for Ministerial Excellence:  The Bradburds established this full tuition scholarship to be awarded to a student showing potential for excellence in ministry. All completed admission applications are reviewed by the faculty and finalists will be presented to the President for selection in early March. Read more about how this award changed the life of Jason Cook, selected as the Bradburd Scholar in 2011.



  • The Nancy and Richard Bechtolt Scholarship: Nancy Bechtolt established this full tuition scholarship specifically to award a student pursuing parish ministry. All completed admission applications are reviewed by the faculty and finalists will be presented to the President for selection in early March.





  • wertheimThe Marion and Joe Wertheim Community Scholars:   The Wertheims established this scholarship program for three (3) students who will be selected to receive this award which pays tuition for the 3-unit Community Studies signature course. This is the equivalent of 1/3 off your first year of tuition. All completed admission applications are reviewed by the faculty and finalists will be presented to the President for selection in early March.


Additional Financial Assistance Available

We are grateful to the Bradburds, Mrs. Bechtolt and the Wertheims for their continued dedication to and support of our students and of excellence in Unitarian Universalist ministry. They, along with many other friends of the school, also help us to provide additional scholarship assistance to our students who apply by the March 1 deadline. Visit our website to read more about other financial assistance available.
If you have any questions about these scholarships or other financial aid awards, contact Tina Porter. If you have questions about the application process, please feel free to contact Justine Urbikas.

Still Time to Register for Spring Classes

Today is the last day of registration for classes at Meadville Lombard. Haven’t registered yet? We invite you to register today. Explore the Hebrew Bible with Professor Adam Stokes by signing up today!

The Bible is undoubtedly one of the most important books in Western literature.  It is also a source of inspiration and guidance for millions of the people of faith who believe that the Bible is the Word of God.  With that said, the Bible, like many other religious texts, often gets a bad rap.  It has been used by extremists of all kinds to support all types of oppression and bigotry.  One of the things I most enjoy about teaching the Hebrew Bible is showing students that many of the things they think are in the Bible, such as women being blamed for the fall of humanity, are actually not in there.  Rather, these views stem from later interpretations of the biblical text.

Now granted there is some pretty nasty stuff in the Bible which I also address in my class particularly in relation to the question of what we are to do with such material.  My hope is that Unitarian Universalist ministers may be able to view the Bible, not as one big document but a collection of documents some of which continue to have positive spiritual value for their congregations and communities.   In many ways, I find that in teaching at a Unitarian school and coming into contact with students from multiple religious traditions I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.  Ultimately my class on the Hebrew Bible is a dialogue in which I hope to shape my students’ ideas about the Bible as well as having my own views shaped by them.

Learn with Professor Lisa DiFranza

We invite you to register to one of our Spring Courses today! Click here to see a full list of our course offerings.

Learn with Professor Lisa DiFranza in Bringing Text Alive: A Reader’s Theatre Intensive:

Bringing Text Alive is a hands-on adventure into language and listening. Students will be immersed in nuts and bolts performance tools required to bring the written word to life, through imagination, voice, body, intellect and spirit – so that we can comprehend its meaning collectively. Multiple text genres will be explored, – plays, poems, biblical texts, short stories, etc. The performance skills and exercises, which are the anchor of the course, will help students to release restrictive habits, discover the range of their voices, experiment and improvise with the sound and rhythm of text, and examine the physicality and spirituality of speech. Not only will this course support authentic and expressive preaching, it will also examine the nature and value of performance in congregational life – through innovative approaches to text study, and new ways of thinking about collaborative performance in worship. The week culminates with a public reader’s theater performance!

I’m thrilled to teach BRINGING TEXT ALIVE at Meadville Lombard in March. The intensive format is ideal for this sort of immersive, collaborative, hands-on course. For me – it is unceasingly exciting to see what happens when the lives, experiences voices and bodies of students connect with words on a page. When students combine a deep listening to a text with the richness and authenticity of their own voices, even the most well worn texts can emerge with sparkly fresh vitality – into the world.  Also, collaborative creation is a large part of this course – and so the “whole” will inevitably become more than the sum of our parts – this ineffable and unpredictable aspect of the week is the “x factor.” BRINGING TEXT ALIVE is an collective adventure into the unknown!


Take Ethics and Moral Development with Dr. Mike Hogue

ImageWe live in a world that is paradoxically more interconnected and more polarized than it has perhaps ever been. At the very moment when our global moral challenges require us to collaborate across our differences we seem to be especially ill-prepared to do so. This is pretty unsettling and it means that leaders and change agents are faced with a pretty monumental task—getting folks to cooperate when they’d rather not. And when we add religion and ethics to the mix, things get even more complicated, which is why I’m so excited about teaching this course.


The premise of this course is that if we really want to understand religion and morality in a way that empowers us to become more effective progressive religious leaders, then we need to study religious ethics in an entirely different way. Whether or not one believes in a god or many gods or no god at all, it is important to come to terms with the idea that, whatever else it may be, religion is a human phenomenon. Further, insofar as we humans are creatures of nature, then religion is also a natural phenomenon. Understanding this is a critical step toward becoming a religious leader who can connect communities, span boundaries, and cross borders.


With all of this in mind, this course integrates exciting new work in the sciences and philosophy and offers students the opportunity to study religious ethics and moral development in a radically new way. Religious ethics is commonly taught through either a close historical analysis of a particular religious tradition or comparatively across several traditions. Incorporating but expanding these approaches, this course embeds the study of religious ethics in an evolutionary anthropological perspective. In addition, the course enriches socialization models of moral development by examining new insights emerging out of evolutionary psychology and the neurocognitive and neuroaffective sciences. As a result, our collaborative learning in this class will be as invigorating as the challenges of religious leadership in a complex world.

Learn more about the courses ML offers on our website

Take a Class at Meadville Lombard!

NicCableMy name is Nic Cable and I am a student at Chicago Theological Seminary. I am so happy and lucky that I am able to take classes at Meadville Lombard Theological School that assist in my formation in becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister. By not going to a UU seminary, it was really important for me to have some immersion with fellow UU seminarians and courses that will be beneficial to my development. I have taken six classes at Meadville and during each of them, I felt warmly embraced and treated like a part of the family. I recommend it to anyone!

Beyond the great courses that Meadville offers its students, the professors that teach there are brilliant, caring, and deeply committed to liberal religious values that our faith tradition espouses. Studying in a room filled with Unitarian Universalists may sound like the lead-in to a good joke, but it is actually quite transformative that leads to a strong sense of community even in the short time we spend together. Whether you live in Chicago, Alaska, or anywhere in between, I think it would be a fantastic growing opportunity to take classes at Meadville. Maybe I will see you there!

My Week in Chautauqua by Jason Cook

ImageChautauqua. It’s easy to stumble over the name upon first reading it, but I’ve been saying it most of my life. My friend Helen has been attending Chautauqua since we were kids. She would come back full of stories, so I knew something about it. I knew that it operated each year during the summer. I knew there was a different theme each week. And I knew there was a plethora of lectures, concerts, and other performances. Beyond that, it was still a mystery to me.


Now that I’ve been to Chautauqua, it’s no longer a mystery. But that mysterious quality has been replaced with a dreamlike quality. Was I really there amongst that collection of Victorian houses and buildings situated on a beautiful lake shore? Did I really spend a week in a place where I and virtually everyone else traveled by foot or scooter everywhere we went? Did I really hear people like diplomat Nick Burns and Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller share their deepest wisdom? Did I really attend multiple concerts each day, everything from opera to Broadway to pop? And, finally, was that really me preaching at the Hall of Philosophy one unseasonably chilly Sunday morning?

Life at Chautauqua is different than outside its gates, which gives it that wonderful dream-like quality. For the time that I was there serving as minister of the week, it was a true community in ways I hadn’t experienced before. People said hello and introduced themselves as I walked along the flower-lined streets. Hammocks waited by the lake shore for any who felt in need of one. Doors to houses remained unlocked just in case a neighbor needed to borrow something while the owner was away. My spouse and I stayed at the beautiful UU House, operated by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chautauqua, where I had the opportunity to sit in rocking chairs over long television-free evenings and discuss concerns for our denomination and its future.

uuhouse (2)

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Chautauqua couldn’t have been more welcoming. Planning the service with them, and then preaching that first Sunday was a pleasure. We were all excited knowing that our Unitarian Universalist message not only reaches UU’s at Chatutauqua, but so many other people who might have never heard of us before. I had several people of other faiths approach me at the end of the service and say how meaningful it had been for them, and how they were going to investigate the UU churches in their hometowns. At the Minister’s Talk Back, I had the opportunity to go deeper with the members of the fellowship and others, and our discussion ended up being quite meaningful for me. Throughout the week, I was deeply appreciative of their hospitality as they invited my spouse and me not only to their church meetings, but into their homes.

hallofphil (2)My week at Chautauqua was one where many of the important things in my life intersected. I had space and time to be in touch with myself spiritually, I could take care of my body, I could nourish my intellect, and I could enjoy a vibrant community. It was a time when I got to be a part of bringing our Unitarian Universalist message to a wider audience, and it was a true pleasure continuing the dialogue about the service throughout the rest of the week as I met person after person who had sat there in the Hall of Philosophy on Sunday morning. It was a time when I could meet new friends from the Chautauqua Fellowship and make deep, lasting connections. No wonder Chautauqua now rests in my memory as a beautiful dream—a dream I hope very much to return to one day.

Why Community Studies?

Second-year M.Div. student Shari Woodbury reflects back on the first year of the Touchpoint program

“We act ourselves into new ways of thinking.”  Meadville’s Touchpoint curriculum is built on this foundational insight about learning. That’s why first-year students spend eight hours per week volunteering at community agencies:  feeding the hungry, offering companionship to elders, supporting those struggling to break free of addiction, assisting refugees with job searches.

Each community site serves as a microcosm of humanity – a living, breathing, loving, aching “text” – through which the other assigned texts of the Community Studies seminar may be filtered and applied. “Where do you see beauty, brokenness, hope, religion at your site?” “Give some examples of the five faces of oppression.” In our cyber-connected student Dialogue Triads, we drew on our sites to engage such topics weekly.

I chose to volunteer at the Shalom Community Center, a day shelter serving homeless people. This brought me face to face with a level of misfortune and poverty that I have never personally known. At the hospitality desk, I handed out toiletries and checked peoples’ mail folders. I also wandered around wearing a badge with a picture of an ear and the words “I’m here to listen.”

People spoke of estranged relationships. Job interviews. Car problems. Growing up in foster care and the juvenile justice system. I heard about hopes for a new apartment. Diabetes and bi-polar disorder. Worries about a teenaged son skipping school. Some confided in me about their struggle to quit drinking. Their loved ones taken by cancer, by murder. The challenges of caring for a newborn. Their history of suicide attempts.prayer jar with listening badge

Now we all know that homeless people struggle to meet basic physical needs for food, shelter and safety. I witnessed a struggle, no less significant, to meet basic spiritual needs for hope, love and respect. I also saw firsthand both the love and fear, the judgment and generosity, through which different community members responded to homelessness.

The final project for the class was to help us integrate what we had learned over the year. I chose to write and record a song. The stories and struggles I witnessed were so personal and poignant that music seemed the best way to evoke them. (You can find the Shalom song at My classmates’ final projects – slide shows, rich papers, visual art creations, poems and more – likewise bore powerful witness to the people we served – people who have indelibly shaped our sense of community, love and accountability.

Lived knowledge is different than book learning. It goes deeper. It gets under our skin, slips around our egos, punctures our preconceptions, opens our hearts. It makes the once invisible, forever unforgettable. It can turn pray-ers into prophets, listeners into leaders.

Community Studies enriched my understanding of community, brought me closer to my bright and tender peers, and nurtured my nascent pastoral identity. Just as importantly, it deepened my conviction that to live up to its promises of unity in diversity and love without borders, Unitarian Universalism must put its values into action in the community… and not only that, but we must invite the silenced voices to speak in our spaces and to transform our faith, from the inside out. Together in community, we can act ourselves into new ways of being and make our world more whole.

From The President

ATS Re-Accreditation

ImageOver the last many years, Meadville Lombard has sought to create a vibrant ministerial formation process that is relevant for service in the 21st century while updating our facilities and assuring financial stability. In the necessary experimentation to reach our dreams we have sometimes stumbled, but always with a determination to strengthen this school and ultimately serve Unitarian Universalism through the ministers we prepare. Two years ago, with the Meadville Lombard TouchPointSM model of theological education fully introduced, our relocation to the South Loop completed, and economic sustainability realized, we felt we were at a brief resting place, a plateau from which to look backward with satisfaction and forward to new initiatives that will build on our success.

So I was taken by surprise by how emotionally affected I was when all that we had accomplished was decisively affirmed by the official letter I received from The Association of Theological Schools last week.

The ATS Board of Commissioners reaffirmed our accreditation for a full period of ten years, to spring 2023 and approved our four degree programs. That was wonderful news in and of itself. But then the letter went on to rave about what we have done here, encouraging us to maintain:

“The collaborative process engaged by the school’s leadership…[that] has established for this seminary a unique niche in graduate theological education…”

“…an imaginative curriculum that is creatively delivered to a distinctive audience.”

“The new sense of nimbleness that has led to an amazing turnaround over the last decade…”,

“…an agile model that is mission-driven, market-sensitive, and monetarily sustainable.”

My sense of gratitude is enormous. I am so proud of our Provost Dr. Sharon Welch and our awesome faculty, our small but amazingly efficient administrative staff, and the distinguished UU leaders who have served as our trustees over the years of tough decisions and brave initiatives. And I am also deeply grateful to all of you: our alums who daily prove the value of a Meadville Lombard education by your ministries, our supporters whose confidence is registered by your generous donations, and our students who have always believed in our future.

If you want to read the entire text of the ATS letter, you can find it here.

This is a great day for Unitarian Universalism as we celebrate Meadville Lombard as a seminary that is indisputably recognized as a leader in theological education – the way it should be!


lee barker signature



Rev. Dr. Lee Barker

President and Professor of Ministry