Pastor Calvin Coulter was visiting an older widow in her home when she asked about heaven. As Coulter discussed the wonder of seeing Jesus face to face, he realized the widow was confused about the doctrine of the Trinity. She thought Jesus and God the Father were the same person. Immediately, his training from Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, kicked in. He drew from a work by theologian Fred Sanders and offered a gentle pastoral corrective.
“To bring some kind of focus to her vision of what her future is actually going to be put feet to the academic theology,” said Coulter, pastor of Knockbracken Congregational Church in Belfast.
Coulter exemplifies the type of student Union is seeking to reach through a partnership with BibleMesh. He was working toward a Master of Theology degree in Reformed theology when he received a call to pastor Knockbracken in August 2019. He wanted to devote himself fulltime to his ministry field yet not stop his theological education. So he enrolled in Union’s online program hosted by BibleMesh. Without it, he might not have had the theological resources to answer the widow’s questions.
The partnership with BibleMesh has helped Union develop an online program with global reach and flexibility for students.
“BibleMesh has really just provided us with all the technical support and the means for us to go online with our programs,” Union Principal Stafford Carson said. “For a small college that can’t really manufacture its own [virtual learning environment] very quickly or easily, BibleMesh has just been an absolute gift.”
Union was established in 1978 as the merger of two Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) colleges dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The college is conservative, evangelical, and Reformed. In recent years, it enrolled around 200 students each year, the majority of whom were undergraduates. Around 15 percent of the student body is preparing for ordination in the PCI. With the development of online programs, the percentage of postgraduate students has increased significantly in the past year.
The college’s partnership with BibleMesh launched in 2018 and includes three master’s degrees available fully online: a Master of Arts in theology, a Master of Theology in Reformed theology, and a Master of Theology in New Testament. Postgraduate diplomas are available in Reformed theology and New Testament, along with a postgraduate certificate in biblical Greek.
Under the partnership, BibleMesh provides the online platform for Union’s courses and Union determines course content. That content includes in-house material produced by the college’s faculty as well as instruction from Zondervan Academic courses available on the BibleMesh platform.
As Union copes with the global COVID-19 pandemic, its leaders are seeking to ramp up the college’s online program.
“The COVID crisis will really mean we’ve got to accelerate and move quickly in this direction,” Carson said.
At present, about 20 students are enrolled in the online program from Belfast to Manila. In the fall, Union plans to employ a hybrid approach to theological education, with its residential students undertaking an increased portion of their studies online. As online enrollment increases across theological institutions worldwide, Carson said, internet delivery is part of “the way forward.” He encouraged other colleges to consider whether a BibleMesh partnership might be right for them as well.