Encore Transition Program

The Encore Transition Program is now in its Sixth Year.

Even COVID didn’t slow us down. We are now fully on Zoom, engaging participants from around the country, and outside the U.S.

Consider Joining Us for the Spring Semester 2024.
The deadline to apply is Friday, December 8.


Welcome to the Next Stage of your Life!


Are you recently retired or in the planning stages of retiring and thinking about this upcoming stage of life, hoping to make a difference in your community or the country.?

After gaining much valuable life, personal and work experience, are you thinking you’d like to try something different to improve your community–but not quite sure how to get started with that new chapter? Where to look?  What to read or research?  Who to talk to?

Do you sense that you are alone with these feelings and wanting to meet others who are asking themselves the same questions?

Are you feeling you could walk further on your spiritual journey—with reading, contemplation, dialogue and discernment of your ethical values and social purpose?


“I felt drawn to have a meaningful next step. My own personal experience after a bad accident and then being in the Encore cohort encouraged me to go back to school – today I’m a 70 year-old student going for an MDiv to become a hospice chaplain.” -Blanche C., New York. Spring 2022 Encore Transition Program


Many older adults are asking themselves perplexing questions as they approach the so-called “retirement” age.  While many are ready to leave a long-term, full-time work life, they don’t want to retire from life itself.  In fact, they are looking to a new chapter, but haven’t had the opportunity to take the time to think about what that might look like. Many people are more confident about what they don’t want to do in this new stage than know what they do want to enjoy doing in this new chapter of their life.

Others have a sense that they are ready to do something to fulfill that purpose-driven dream they have harbored inside for some time.  Some others are deeply mindful that the world needs more fairness, more kindness, more social justice.  They want to play a part in that better future and put their experience and wisdom to work to that end.

They seek to be Wise Elders in every sense of the word.  They are realistic about their time and abilities but know that perhaps they have not yet made their greatest contribution to the world and to their own legacy.  They sense this is a profound moment of Transition.



"In the Encore Transition Program, I was happy to find a structured framework in which to intentionally consider and begin to plan what might be next for me after I finish my work career. The chance to explore a variety of relevant topics and discern with a cohort of other purposeful individuals was very appealing; the Zoom format and bi-weekly schedule made it easy to engage with this important resource for my journey." -Jim D., North Carolina. Spring 2023 Encore Transition Program

"I had finished one kind of ministry and started another teaching in a prison and expanding my quilting hobby to make social justice statements that mattered to me. Encore offered an opportunity for “deeper” thinking about what might be possible. It was permission to consider alternatives. It was how I approach quilting: “There are no mistakes, only design opportunities.” -Renee K., Ohio. Fall 2021 Encore Transition Program


–The Encore Transition Program at Union Theological Seminary engages a highly diverse group of 8-10 adults, ages 55+, in a four-month program of discernment, dialogue, personal discovery, and personal design.

There are two sessions during each school calendar year: a Fall Semester that concludes mid-December and a Spring Semester that concludes in early May. Applications for Fall open in early July; applications for Spring open in late October.

 –The group meets via Zoom for 2 ½ hours every other Wednesday evening for a total of 8 sessions.  The exact list of dates is included in the application (add link).

The Encore Transition Program at Union runs seminar-style to maximize participant engagement.  Assigned readings and exercises are designed to provoke discernment, reflection, self-discovery, and planning.  Readings are both practical (for example, Transitions by William Bridges) and spiritual (for example, Falling Upward by Fr. Richard Rohr).  There are no papers, but we expect people to come prepared with personal reflections at each class session.  Facilitators will offer advance topics or questions to help prompt these reflections. There are also small group discussions to maximize personal connections with fellow participants in the program.

–Program leaders will also meet one on one with each participant at the beginning of the semester to engage in a discussion about potential areas of interest for their Encore experience and general questions about working in social purpose.  The goal here is to help guide participants to  resources, research and connections, including potential conversation partners who can offer advice and ideas to the Encore participant. Often these conversation partners are others who have gone before in earlier Encore Transition Program classes.

–We ask that all applicants be prepared to share their individual learning from this research and conversations near the end of the program.  We ask that all applicants be serious about their intention to seek an Encore chapter engaging in social purpose in some capacity, i.e. educational, volunteer, professional, vocational, or personal commitment.


“I retired from teaching HS English after 33 years. I knew I wanted to stay part of NYC life and work with writers (and write poetry). I found workshops at NY Hospital Community Outreach and SAGE (Service and Advocacy for Gay Elders). With Encore’s help I made the transition from teaching brilliant teenagers to well-educated adults…doing the same thing but in a different way.”-Kim Z., NYC. Spring 2023 Encore Transition Program

“After retiring from a strenuous human resource position I got myself and best friend Diesel trained for weekly therapy visits at a local hospital. He is a star at making people smile." -Mary Pat M., Hudson Valley, NY. Spring 2021 Encore Transition Program


–Each cohort is selected from all applications to bring together a range of people from different backgrounds, religious affiliations (including none) and geographical location. Now, thanks to Zoom, the program draws widely from outside the New York tri-state region, a change from the first in-person groups who met on Union’s NYC campus.

–The groups all share a common moment in time – they all are “in transition” or sense it is coming soon.  This is more than an external change moment…it is a moment of transformation internally.  It can be both unnerving and exhilarating.  The group finds supportive common ground in this transition journey, and collaborations with people one might never meet otherwise.

–Many participants develop new friendships, and several cohorts continue to meet as a group periodically on Zoom after the conclusion of the semester program.


"Suzanne Wall from Ohio and I met on zoom in the Encore program and later discovered we both wanted to visit Iona and the monastery there in Remote Scotland. We found a way to do that together!” -Ginna B., Seattle. Fall 2021 Encore Transition Program


Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is a seminary and graduate school of theology established in 1836 by founders “deeply impressed by the claims of the world upon the church.”  Union prepares women and men for committed lives of service the church, the academy and society.

Union believes that a new inter-religious spirituality of radical openness and love is the world’s best hope for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.  Empowered by groundbreaking inquiry aligned with practical realism and a bias for action, Union is charting a profound new course for enduring social change.

Participants in the Encore Transition Program at Union will become valuable members of this vibrant, growing global community.  Many alums of the program have gone on to audit classes and attend Union events in person and on-line and are a valuable group of “alumnae” to the school.


The Encore Transition Program was designed and is facilitated by Ruth Wooden, M.A. UTS, 2016.  Ruth attended Union as part of her Encore journey after a career in communications and non-profit management that spanned 40+ years.  She curated the program to be the “class she wished she could have taken when she retired.” After the test of the first session she felt it would be even better to have additional facilitators working with the cohorts and recruited two alums from that first cohort in Spring 2017.

Evry Mann, M.A. and Jane Alexandre , Ph.D. have both been integral parts of the program ever since.  Ev is a musician, educator and writer and founder of Marbletown Multi Arts, a community center in Stone Ridge, NY.  Jane Alexandre is an independent artist/scholar based in the NY dance world for more than 30 years. She is also now a lecturer in theology and the arts at Union Theological Seminary.

In addition, there are often other guests from the Union administration and faculty who join as “fellow travelers” themselves.  Dr. Serene Jones, President of UTS has joined almost every cohort for one session and Dr. Jane Huber has also contributed to the program as a spiritual director and field education specialist to guide research and conversation partner activities to individual participants.

Finally, near the end of each semester, we welcome recent Encore alums to share their continuing story after being in the Encore Program.  It’s an inspiring way to finish our time together!

If you have any questions about the Encore Transition Program, please email Ruth Wooden at [email protected].