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UTC to turn 100
  By Meetu Tewari  
  FOR the Christian community in India, the United Theological College (UTC) in Bangalore is second only to the Serampore College set up by William Carey. UTC's centennial celebrations began on July 28, 2009, and will conclude the same day next year. The Herald of India correspondent Meetu Tewari visited the college and interviewed its acting Principal Dr Joseph George and Principal-designate Rev Dr J. R. John Samuel Raj. Her report:

VISITING United Theological College (UTC) in Bangalore was quite an experience. The quiet and peace on the campus was in stark contrast to the noisy traffic that greets everyone in the city. The buildings retain their old-world charm and are excellently maintained. It is a beautiful, serene and green campus. Next year, UTC turns 100.

Question: How did United Theological College start?

Answer: UTC was started in 1910. On July 8, 2010, the college will complete 100 years. UTC is a unique Christian institution as it is sponsored by several churches. It does not come under any particular church. It is, therefore, able to maintain its ecumenical character. We have over 30 church members on the college's Council and they represent various churches.

Q: What are your plans for the grand occasion when UTC completes 100 years on July 8, 2010?

A: A big celebration will be organised on the campus. Several bishops representing various churches will attend a consultation on 'Church and Education'. There will be a thanksgiving service in the evening. We also plan to introduce new courses and are aiming for a new program every two months.

Q: How did you (Principal-designate Rev Dr J. R. John Samuel Raj) land up in UTC?

A: I started ministry in a church in Kerala and later went on to the University of Hamburg. I then heard of a vacancy here and applied. My parents decided that their firstborn would be dedicated to God's ministry. This is a life that requires commitment; God takes care of you.

Here, a PhD holder is paid Rs 10,000 and free housing. It is, however, an immensely satisfying profession. I am married and have two daughters. My wife has a PhD in Sanskrit. One of my daughters is married and in Christian Medical College while the other is studying dentistry.

Q: Once you take over as Principal, are there any particular changes you wish to introduce?

A: We wish to be an open institute and include more people representing various denominations of the Christian faith. I wish to strengthen the relationship between the Church and the community. The purpose of Christianity is to transform society. We also have collaborations with international universities and academic communities. I would like to take this forward.

Q: How are you sharpening the focus on community?

A: For students who come from marginalised backgrounds and are not fluent in English, we offer a month-long program that familiarises them with the language.

We are also involved in community development in the slum area near CSI Hospital (the Deenajana Samudhaya Abhivriddhi Sangha). It is a part of our students' field education. We invite people from the slum to the college on special occasions, such as for the Christmas dinner. We also help them financially. Every Wednesday, our students work with ragpickers. They are assigned a task, on completion of which, they are expected to submit a report. Our students are also sent to different places for 25 days in a year. Most of these are social organisations. Some are sent to slums in Mumbai. On their return, the students present a paper regarding the work they have done.

Q: What is the most important lesson you (Principal Dr Joseph George) have learned from your religion?

A: Concern for humanity, concern for the present. My focus is to reach out to the community and do my best. We generally focus on the future, on heaven and hell. Although these concepts are very important, what matters most is making the society better today -- not by just reading texts, but taking action.

Q: Has the student population changed over the years?

A: We receive about 100 applications every year. About 80 are shortlisted for the interview and 25 are then selected. The number of students has remained the same. We also have Church-sponsored applicants.

Q: What do you look for in a student and what is the selection procedure?

A: We have three main tests -- General Knowledge, English and the Bible. This is followed by a psychological test. Thereafter, the students are interviewed by the Principal, Dean and Registrar. We look for confidence and communication skills.

Q: Recently a lot of terrible things happened to the Christian community in Kandhamal in Orissa. How has that affected you?

A: One might say -- "Let me find a way" -- but we say, "Let God find a way." Our work remains unchanged; we still work for the society and wish everyone the best. After Kandhamal happened, 15 of our students and faculty went and stayed with the refugees.

Q: How has teaching changed in the college over the years?

A: The curriculum and method of teaching have both undergone changes. The emphasis in education is also taking a new turn. We are focussing more on the community now and what is happening in the world. However, our values have not changed. The shift has been from Bible-centered theology to practiced theology. We now also give professional training such as in journalism.

We also run a few courses for people of other faiths, but our core courses require you to be a Christian. We use new teaching aids and all our students make use of the Internet. We are technologically up to date.

Q: Is there anything you would like to share with us?

A: UTC's library is one of the largest in India. We have over 1,00,000 books, in addition to periodicals and reference books. We also have very old, ancient texts, including palm leaf inscriptions. We have a modern conference hall that is often used by NGOs. Over 100 persons can visit and dine there.
Photo caption: An artwork on the campus
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