Urbana Theological Seminary

October 23, 2014

Student-Led Worship Service

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On Sunday, November 2, from 6:00-8:00, there will be a student-led worship service and dinner. One of the students who is organizing this service explains:

I am Keith Bufford, a student at UTS. One facet I have come to enjoy at the seminary is getting the opportunity to talk with my fellow students about their classes and reading and discussing their research with them.
A few months ago I had one such meeting with my friend and colleague Ray Lu—little did I know that our meeting would lead me on a great and wonderful adventure into ministry. Words of advice: if you are content with a peaceful, uneventful life, beware of wizards who come knocking for a visit.
Ray had been doing research for an independent study on worship. His research turned up a point of interest for him and me. Ray had discovered that early on in church history, the first hundred years or so before the Eucharist had been institutionalized in the way we know it, it was celebrated as part of a meal known as a love feast, or table fellowship. Ray had also turned up another piece of attention-grabbing information about the Jewish meal time protocol: the host of the meal would start with the breaking of the bread and end the meal with a cup of wine, we see our Lord doing just that at the last supper.
Ray thought it would be interesting to celebrate communion in just that way. But wondered how it could be done. Hours of endless dialogue followed, until we decided to put our money where our month was. We planned a service where table fellowship could be celebrated. Next we pitched it to Drs. Cuffey, Thomas, and Green with the idea of a student-lead worship service for the fall semester. To our delight the idea was met with the approval of the three. So we set the date November 2nd 2014, and we are inviting the entire UTS community.
What should you expect when you come to the service? A time of worship with prayer, scripture reading, a sermon, and worshipful music. The worship service will continue into a dinner. We will begin our meal with the breaking of the bread as was done in the past, and as it is the broken body of Christ that has brought us all together. We will continue with a meal of chili made by volunteers. Our fall worship service will conclude with the cup of Christ, as it is in the cup we go our separate ways free from our sin, with our eyes set on the glorious future Christ has promised us. I hope to see you all there so we may share Christ together! If you are interested in joining us, please RSVP to Dr. Green mgreen@urbanaseminary.org

October 3, 2014

The Pastor’s Identity in Christ

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In this week’s blog, Dr. Robert Smart, who will be the speaker at the upcoming Provisions for Pastors event, explains what the event will be about:

Our identity, besides being one of the most precious things to prevent from theft, crisis, or loss, is extremely important to God. The Father has given His children an identity in Christ that will
shape us on our journey to heaven. If in the process of identity formation we ignore what God says concerning our identity, then we may expect confusion in ministry formation and perseverance.

Just after birth, a child is given an identity. Identity formation, however, is a longer process. When Jesus Christ was approximately thirty years of age the Father spoke of His identity at His baptism just before entering fully into vocational ministry. In the same way, identity in Christ ought to precede and support our calling to Christ. It is in this important sense of identity that Satan challenges each of us, as he did our Lord. The devil’s first attacks on our Lord were aimed at His identity: “If you are the Son of God.” For once we embrace the lies about who we are, our performance in ministry will be hindered.

The evil trinity—the world, the flesh, and the devil—is seeking to kill and destroy us in each season of spiritual formation. In the spring they confuse our identity, in the summer our calling, in the autumn our intentionality, and in the winter our legacy. The world escorts us to the pit; the flesh entices us to fall in; and the devil pushes us over the edge. “The pit,” as it were, represents a dark and slimy collection of lies, condemning thoughts, and foolish strategies designed to confuse and distort our identity formation.

This seminar is designed to promote spiritual formation among pastors and leaders in ministry contexts, where we are vulnerable to terrible thoughts and tempted to quit the race. It is meant to encourage us to finish well and echo Paul’s word to Timothy: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of a Gospel minister, and fulfill all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The Seminar will be held on October 20 at Stone Creek church from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The $20 registration fee covers lunch and materials. To register, go to http://www.urbanaseminary.org/events/
Join us!

September 26, 2014

upcoming events

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Now that the semester is underway, we would like for you to know about a few upcoming events:

Provisions for Pastors series: on October 20th, Dr. Robert Smart from Christ Church in Normal, IL will be presenting a day long workshop called “The Pastor’s Identity in Christ: The Key to Keeping Your Head and Persevering in Ministry.” It will be held at Stone Creek Church, and will run from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Cost: $20. Registration information will be available soon.

C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, on Stage: On November 15, Urbana Seminary will be taking a group to Indianapolis to see a stage production of this C. S. Lewis story. Tickets are $29. If you are interested, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org for more information.

November 2: Worship Service and dinner. At 6:00, we will be having a worship service led and organized by Urbana Seminary students. The worship service will be followed by a free meal and a communion service. The worship service and meal will take place at University Baptist Church.

August 29, 2014

First week of fall semester

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With the first week of the new semester underway, we decided to ask a couple of students what they thought of their first week. Susan Hinesly a long time auditor, and Bethany Ross, a new Graduate Certificate student, both gave some thoughtful feedback:

When asked, Susan wanted to reflect on her experience here at Urbana Seminary as a whole: “Fall 2014 I begin my 21st UTS class as a perpetual audit student. These classes help reach a deep spot within my soul that only God can fill. I love the thought- provoking classes, the enthusiastic and caring instructors, and the wonderful students of all ages, backgrounds and experiences. UTS helps all of us Glorify God on our life journey though study, prayer and revelation as revealed through the holy scriptures. UTS is truly a blessing, one that we can all share in and grow from regardless of our expected purposes. Praise God!”

Bethany Ross expressed her delight with the first session of the class she is taking: “I was impressed with Dr. Cuffey’s thoughtful arrangement of the Old Testament Survey course. He has designed a comprehensive course, yet full of choices that appeal to many different learning styles. Information is being presented in such a way that visual, auditory, and tactile learners can find ways to connect in a personal way with the material and flourish in the class.”

August 11, 2014

Back to school: class spotlight

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It is hard to believe it is mid-August already! In just a couple of weeks, Urbana Seminary’s fall classes will begin. With that in mind, we have asked three of our professors to say something about a class they are offering this semester:

First, Dr. Mike McQueen explains his favorite class: “Ministry and Evangelism in Cultural Context (MECC) is the class I most like to teach for two reasons. First its content is designed to help students think through ministry in the real, changing and frustrating world in which we find ourselves. Truth meets postmodernism, not only in the context of daily witness, worship, preaching and counseling, but also in work, entertainment, sex, and politics. Second this class is primarily oriented toward discussion. Not just readings, but also TV, movies, songs and jokes provide the basis for critique of both culture and church. This course is by far the most popular among students of the courses I teach.”

Second, Dr. Kenneth Cuffey explains why everyone should take a perennially popular class: “There’s Adam and Eve, there’s Abraham and Moses. Don’t forget David, Solomon, and Isaiah. Abraham lived in tents and lied about his wife. Moses talked to bushes, went through the Red Sea, and got the law from God. David killed Goliath, along with lots of others, and got a crown. Solomon was one wise fellow, but overwhelmed by too many wives (as in 1000). Isaiah spoke for God. So the Old Testament is a long string of exciting stories, right? All having nothing to do with each other? Not so! No way! The Old Testament tells a story. It fits together, it flows along, it starts in the beginning and goes somewhere. What? How? Old Testament Survey is designed to be a life-changing experience, as you get a feel for the glue that connects the seemingly separate stories of the OT one with the other. Do you know where God is heading in the story of the Old Testament? Do you know what that story has to do with you in 2014 in Illinois? Old Testament Survey is a great place to discover–about God, about how to read the Bible, and about what holds it all together. Solid. Thought-provoking. Down to earth and practical for now.”

Finally, we are introducing an exciting new class this semester:

Pilgrimage: A Prominent Theme in Celtic Christian Spirituality
Peter D. Spychalla, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

Peregrinatio, or pilgrimage, is an important biblical theme expressed prominently and creatively in the piety of Christians through the centuries living in Celtic lands—modern-day Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. In the New Testament, believers are exiles (1 Peter 1:1) whose true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). They seek their true heavenly homeland (Hebrews 11:13–16), following their Lord and Savior, Jesus, who had no earthly place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Celtic believers sought to be “pilgrims for Christ”—some sailing away to new lands for God’s purposes while others separated themselves from earthly distractions in radical devotion to Christ. Celtic hagiography recounts missionary endeavors and fantastical seafaring voyages of Saint Patrick, Saint Columba, Saint Columbanus, Saint Brendan the Navigator, Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne, and others. The motif of the spiritual life as a journey with the Trinity as one’s companion is woven like a Celtic knot throughout hymns, songs, and poems found in Celtic Christian tradition. As an Irish hymn expresses, “Alone with none but Thee, my God, I journey on my way; what need I fear, when Thou are near, O King of night and day?”
We invite you to join this pilgrimage with us this fall at Urbana Theological Seminary as we study this theme and others in the course “Celtic Christian Spirituality.”

These three classes offer great adventures and learning experiences this fall that you will not want to miss out on!

April 12, 2014

Founders Day 2014

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Every Spring Urbana Seminary observes Founders Day.  For 2014 it’s today, April 12th!


What is Founders Day and why do we observe it?  It’s a day to commemorate the hand of God in our founding as a school, to remember the people who made sacrifices and gave gifts, who prayed and created and worked.  Founders Day is a time to say thank you to all who have helped and played a part, to register our gratitude to God for his hand overseeing the creation of a new ministry here.


Urbana Seminary was founded in 2002.  In 12 years so much has happened.

  • The decision to seek stand alone status as a school
  • The pledge of a significant gift that enabled the Seminary to launch (April 26, 2002)
  • The gathering of a core of people with a heart for the work who began the process of designing a curriculum, teaching and serving students, and applying for state approvals.
  • Dedication of the new suite of offices at 314 E Daniel (April, 2004)
  • Granting of Operating Authority by theIllinoisBoard of Higher Education (April 5, 2005)
  • First graduation of two Certificate students (May, 2005)
  • Granting of Degree Granting Authority by the IL Board of Higher Education (December 4, 2007)
  • Launching of the first Founders Fund campaign (April, 2011)
  • Launching of the 10th anniversary celebration year (April, 2012)


Praise God!  We celebrate his guidance and involvement in all that has happened.  You’ll notice that in the selection of events listed above there are a number that occurred in April, hence our choosing April each year for Founders Day.  And much more—each successive year another graduation (2014 is our 10th annual!); other significant donations that have ministered to our students and staff; a growing library; beginnings of accreditation processes; additions to the faculty and student services staff; a succession of students who have come to study and grow and get equipped.


This is a kingdom ministry to train God’s servants for His glory.

Unless the LORD build the house,

The builders labor in vain. 

Psalm 127:1a

If God’s not in it, it won’t get anywhere.  But if God is in it, He will prevail and work His purposes through our human efforts.  Looking back it seems clear that God has been in this!


Three follow-throughs to mark Founders Day 2014:

  • I encourage you to join me to praise God that he has established a seminary in such a strategic location for the kingdom and to represent Christ.  And look forward with real anticipation to what He will yet do through Urbana Seminary—pray for us for the future and God’s continued provision and direction.
  • Come to graduation this year.  It’s May 23rd, 6:00 PM, at the Chapel of St John the Divine Episcopal Church, near the university campus.  And you’re invited!  Instead of hosting a separate Founders Day event this year we would love to have our community supporters and friends come to see and hear from those who take their training and go out to serve the Lord.
  • On the Founders theme, remember the Founders Fund Campaign.  You will receive more info about this in the near future.  To have a growing circle of financial supporters is essential for the Seminary to move forward into the future to the glory of God.  We cannot do it without you.  This is an urgent ministry.  A huge thanks to those who already give.  And an encouragement to those who don’t yet to consider 2014 as the year you begin to give regularly to the Seminary’s ministry.


January 30, 2014

Tolkien and the Arts

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By Dr. Melody Green

For the last month, now, each of these blog posts have been about one author, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.  If you have been paying the least bit of attention to these, you will know that on Saturday, February first, Urbana Theological Seminary will be hosting its second conference on Tolkien. You may remember having read somewhere that he is a heavily influential writer, and he was a Christian, which are two good reasons to pay attention to what is going on with his work. On the other hand, you may be someone who loves Tolkien’s work and are looking forward to the chance to hear more about it.  You may even have been one of the attendees last year who enjoyed the experience and are looking forward to attending a second time.  Or you may still be deciding whether or not this conference is something you want to invest your time in.  Either way, hearing a little more about what is actually going to be happening at this conference might be exactly what you need to either help you make up your mind, find out what this is really all about, or get you even more motivated to join us!

So, what exciting things do we have in store for you?  First, because the theme of the conference is “Tolkien and the Arts,” artist Jef Murray, illustrator of Tolkien calendars, books, and the EWTN documentary Bilbo’s Journey, will have Tolkien-themed artwork on display (and for sale) both before and during the conference.  Anyone interested in visual art will find his use of color and design well worth viewing.  Then, there will be five excellent speakers, including two of our own students, Rick Williams and Bryan Meade.  Rick will be presenting an extended version of a paper on Tolkien as a Teacher that was originally written for a Tolkien class he took through the seminary two summers ago. Bryan, who already has degrees in film and is currently working toward his MAR, will be presenting on film presentations of Tolkien’s work.  Not only are these excellent topics in themselves, but if you have ever wondered what kind of work Urbana Seminary students are capable of, these two papers will be well worth hearing.

The other three papers are going to be presented by people who have done other work in the realm of Tolkien studies.  Both Father Charles Klamut and Dr. Melody Green have spoken at Tolkien conferences, and both either have or are working on multiple publications on Tolkien.  Father Charles will be presenting on leadership and stewardship in The Lord of the Rings; Melody will be talking about books by other authors that present Tolkien as a fictional character, and the implications of these sorts of stories.

Finally, Jef Murray, the artist we have brought in for the occasion, will be giving a fascinating and thought-provoking paper on what Tolkien called “Subcreation”—that is to say, the idea that we create stories and art because we were created in the image of a Creator.

One of the most exciting aspects of this conference is that the organizers who are bringing this event to you are working with Square Halo Press to get the papers from this year’s and last year’s Tolkien conference published in book form. The book will be titled Tolkien and the Arts, and will be published as a companion to their already-available book, C S Lewis and the Arts.

So, these are all excellent reasons to join us this Saturday, February 1st at 9:30 AM at University Baptist Church (314 E. Daniel St., Champaign, IL, 61820).  We hope to see you there!  For more information, go to http://tolkienconference.com/

January 10, 2014

The Influence of Tolkien

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written by Dr. Melody Green

In 2000 and 2001, several magazines, newspapers, and publishers put together lists of the “best” authors of the twentieth century. While these lists were organized in different ways and focused on different criteria, J. R. R. Tolkien frequently showed up near the top, if not at the very top, of them.  More recently, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the most recent installment of the more-than-a-decade-long film interpretations of Tolkien’s work, has done quite well in the box office. While many who are familiar with Tolkien’s work may be unhappy with specific ways that these have depicted, left out, or changed specific details, one thing is clear: J. R. R. Tolkien, a Christian author, is quite influential in contemporary culture.

This is a good reason for Christians who are interested in contemporary culture to pay attention to Tolkien, the influence he has, and why he has it. For many who have loved these stories, their connection began with one sentence: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”  Thus begins the story of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a quite respectable hobbit who enjoyed peace, tranquility, and six meals a day. The one thing he did not want was any sort of adventure, thank you very much.  After all, adventure makes one late for dinner! Bilbo was comfortable, and wanted things to stay just the way they were.  But just as it does for many people in this condition, this all changed in ways he had never imagined. For Bilbo, this change occurred abruptly one day when a rather odd character named Gandalf showed up on his front step.  Before the hobbit knew what was happening, Gandalf sent him off on a journey that changed his life. Bilbo met people he had never dreamed existed, had adventures he didn’t know were possible, and saw places of indescribable beauty.  He came home richer, happier, and wiser than he had ever been before, even though if he had had his own way, he would have never left his comfortable home in the first place.

Bilbo’s nephew Frodo had a similar experience in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo also lived a life of relative ease, until one day Gandalf also sent him on an adventure. But his quest was different. As Frodo  explained to a few of his hobbit friends who wanted to take the journey with him, “this is no treasure-hunt, no there-and-back journey. I am flying from deadly peril into deadly peril.”  Where Bilbo’s adventure ultimately led to a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the life he had before taken for granted, Frodo’s travels led to a very different place.  Where Bilbo learns courage, leadership skills, and develops as a character, Frodo learns both hope and sacrifice. These two complimentary stories have led countless readers into wonder and delight, while at the same time often helping them see their own experiences in a different light.  Like Bilbo, many people find themselves facing things did not expect. Like Frodo, many people carry burdens that threaten to destroy them, the people around them, and everything they hold dear.  Many readers have found comfort and encouragement in the stories of Bilbo and Frodo.

Intriguingly, because these stories come to mean so much, some readers even create their own art in response to them—as a different way of thinking through what is going on and what really matters in these stories. On February 1, Urbana Theological Seminary will be hosting our second Tolkien conference, at which three of the papers will be focusing on how this works. This includes Jef Murray, a Tolkien artist who has designed calendars and illustrated books, who will be explaining some of his work and how he views creating such art as a Christian discipline. Urbana Seminary student Bryan Mead will be discussing film adaptations of Tolkien’s work, and Melody Green will be focusing on fiction stories in which Tolkien appears as a character, and the implications of this.  Two other fascinating papers on Tolkien will also be presented: Rick Williams, also an Urbana Seminary student, will be presenting on Tolkien as a teacher, and Father Charles Klamut of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center will be speaking on Stewardship and what it means in Tolkien’s work.  For more information on the Tolkien conference, follow this link:  http://tolkienconference.com/

We hope you can join us!




May 25, 2013

Corinthian Correspondence

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written by Dr. Laura Brenneman

To all of you interested, intrigued, or flat-out frustrated with the Apostle Paul, here is your opportunity to delve deeper into some of his most interesting writing. Sign up to take BI 605-190 Corinthian Correspondence, which runs June 3-20, 2013 (3 credit hours), with Dr. Laura Brenneman, specialist in Pauline studies. These letters offer a unique view into the life of the early church, a life in which a diverse people were working out their identities as people of God, the many-gifted church of Christ, in relation to the wider church movement. Sound familiar? If you think about how the Bible relates to matters of church conflict, leadership in the church, unity in the midst of diversity, and discipleship in Christ, this is the class for you! Class meets Monday-Thursday, 12:30-4:30 p.m.

May 21, 2013

Spiritual Direction: Prayerfully Attending to God Together

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written by Dr. Peter Spychalla, Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

Contemporary Christians from diverse traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant—are showing increasing interest in spiritual direction, the ancient art of soul care in which one believer helps another prayerfully attend to God. I consider myself among the novices seeking to get acquainted with spiritual direction and take initial steps into its foothills. In official, formal, and hierarchical expressions of this ministry as practiced through the centuries, the human helper, usually experienced and gifted in guiding others, is referred to as a spiritual director. In less-official, less-formal, largely-mutual relationships pursued among contemporary believers, the human assistant may be referred to as a sacred companion, a soul friend, a spiritual companion, or a spiritual friend.

What is spiritual direction? What is its aim? How is it pursued? Spiritual direction is an ongoing process of reflection, prayer, and conversation in which two believers prayerfully attend together to the presence and workings of God in the contours and vicissitudes of the life of one of the believers (the directee) so that she or he might grow in awareness of God and intimacy with God and respond more fully to His invitations to live in grace, wholeness, and holiness. Let us consider five important elements of spiritual direction.

The Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit, rather than the human helper, is the true Spiritual Director. It is the Holy Spirit who leads, guides, instructs, forms, and invites the directee into greater attunement, closeness, and responsiveness to the Loving, Living God. Prayerful attending to God is pursued in the presence of God, by the enablement of God, in communion with God, in dependence upon God, with openness to God, for the love of God, seeking the pleasure and glory of God, seeking greater intimacy with God, seeking greater response to God, seeking discernment from the Living God. Through and through this process of holy listening and discernment is a spiritual (Holy Spirit) activity.

Accompaniment or Companionship – Each of us can use help in attending to the presence and active work of God in our lives. The directee invites a soul friend (a spiritual director) to be a prayerful, discerning companion on the spiritual journey. This ministry may be called spiritual accompaniment or spiritual companionship. One joins with another to pay attention to God. The director shows love, acceptance, and affirmation by being fully present to the directee. The director helps the directee become more attuned to God’s presence and working by asking gentle and thoughtful questions, such as, “Where is God in this?”

Holy Listening – Prayerful attention is at the heart of spiritual direction. Without it, there simply is no spiritual direction. This is a posture of open, prayerful attentiveness to God which reflects the response to the Lord modeled by the young boy, Samuel, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10), and of Mary, “who was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet” (Luke 10:39). The directee and director give themselves to holy listening, individually and jointly. The directee prayerfully pays careful attention to God’s presence and workings in the midst of life’s experiences, both within one’s own soul and all around through relationships, roles, callings, decisions, and circumstances. The director likewise prayerfully attends to all that the directee shares and reflects upon, as well as to the directee’s relationship with God, and their joint conversation about the directee’s life. Together, the two spiritual companions partner in prayerful listening to God during their time of reflection, prayer, and conversation.

Discernment – Spiritual, relational, and inner heart dynamics in the life of the directee are reflected upon in light of God’s heart, character, instructions, invitations, and promises revealed in His Holy Word. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern and affirm what the will of God is, that which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Opportunities, choices, and decisions are discerned in keeping with the counsel of the ancient prophet: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). The directee and director together seek to discern the presence of God, workings of God, and invitations of God in the life of the directee in order that he or she may live more completely in His grace, abide more deeply in Christ, and live out more fully God’s callings. Wise discernment often involves Ignatian reflection on consolations and desolations in the movements of the directee’s soul. Christ invites each one to true spiritual rest in Him: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My load is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Transformation – The aim of the ministry of spiritual direction is for the directee to draw near to the Living God and be more fully transformed, inside and out, into all that God has called them to be in Christ. The directee seeks to grow in awareness of God and intimacy with God and respond more fully to His invitations to live in grace, wholeness, and holiness. This ministry of the care of the soul aims at the cure of the soul, nurturing it toward health, wholeness, and vitality. This is to be more fully conformed to the image of Christ.

In summary, spiritual direction crucially involves the Holy Spirit, accompaniment or companionship, holy listening, discernment, and transformation. If this ancient Christian art of soul care interests you, consider joining us this summer at Urbana Theological Seminary for a journey into the foothills of spiritual direction in the course “Spiritual Direction and Soul Care.” We will adopt the posture of young Samuel, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). We will seek to learn how to prayerfully attend to God together.

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