Seminary president wants to help small churches

Posted Jan. 27, 2009, at 9:35 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:47 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The 10th president of the Bangor Theological Seminary said Tuesday that he would focus on rebuilding the seminary’s resources so that it would be able to help the small churches in northern New England thrive as the institution enters its third century.

The Rev. Kent Ulery was inaugurated in a service at Hammond Street Congregational Church. The ceremony was held during the seminary’s annual three-day convocation. About 150 people, including students, faculty, staff and ministers from around the state, attended the inauguration.

“Today’s church is asking for help in educating people not just for ordination, but for lay ministry,” Ulery, 58, of Bangor said in his address. “We need to embrace that reality and embrace the hunger and need for continuing education throughout the year, not just for three days in January.”

The Wabash, Ind., native took over the reins of the seminary, located on the Husson University campus, in July. Ulery was serving as pastor of the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ when his appointment was announced in April by the seminary’s board of trustees.

He replaced the Rev. William Imes, 65, now of Easthampton, Mass. Imes retired last summer after seven years as president.

Ulery did not outline a list of specifics Tuesday on how he intended to rebuild resources other than to say that individual donors needed to be fostered. The new president focused his address on how the seminary, founded in 1814, could help congregations, seekers and even nonbelievers journey “toward the light” — a light he compared to the one the Magi followed to the Christ child.

“God needs and the world needs what this seminary offers,” Ulery said. “We can show the light [of God] to those who cannot see it if we have courage enough to confront those whose eyes are shut.”

Under Imes’ tenure, the seminary moved from its historic campus between Union and Hammond streets in Bangor across town to the Husson campus. The old campus was sold and much of its contents auctioned off. The move allowed the school to cut its operating expenses drastically and keep a campus open in Bangor in ad-dition to its campus in Portland.

“Over the next several years,” Ulery said Tuesday, “we must move from viability to vitality, from maintaining our resources to rebuilding them. … The work entrusted to this school is not completed — not by a long shot. God has placed a burden on our hearts, a responsibility on our shoulders and a challenge on our souls.”

The Rev. Jean Alexander, pastor of United Parish of Auburndale, Mass., is a member of the seminary’s board of trustees and headed the search committee that hired Ulery. In her introduction Tuesday, she compared the inauguration of the seminary’s new president to President Obama’s inauguration a week earlier.

“Both men obviously relish a challenge,” she said. “When we interviewed [Ulery], he said that he loved a good challenge. Since he’s been here, we’ve seen that challenges clearly energize him.”

Ulery said Tuesday that although he recently attended a training session for new seminary presidents, he most likely would not seek the advice of the seasoned heads of the other institutions. Instead, he follows the advice in Psalm 46.

“In the midst of multiple voices clamoring to be heard, it will be best to be still,” he told the gathering. “I will turn to the one who is our refuge and our strength and a very present help in troubled times.”

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