DAYTON, Ohio (UMNS) - When the Rev. Wendy J. Deichmann Edwards was ordained, she saw herself as a leader on the local level, not as an influence in the larger United Methodist Church. Now, as the new president of United Theological Seminary in suburban Dayton, Ohio, she views her leadership role as "such a great opportunity to serve."

Unanimously elected in February by United's board of trustees, Edwards is the first woman president of a freestanding United Methodist seminary in the United States. The 50-year-old clergywoman from the denomination's Western New York Conference was inaugurated as the seminary's eighth president on Oct. 7 during a service at Christ United Methodist Church in Kettering, Ohio.

In an age when mainline churches are shrinking, United Theological Seminary is focusing on church renewal in a Holy Spirit-led way, Edwards told United Methodist News Service. Theological education, she pointed out, is all about fostering leadership that goes out and makes a difference for Jesus Christ.

"We have the capacity to serve in ways that will turn the world upside down," she declared.

Previously the academic dean and vice president for academic affairs, Edwards was acting president for several months at United before her election.