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Leadership for the Hundred Percent: Occupy Comes to Virginia Seminary


Media Contact: Susan Shillinglaw
Tel: 703-461-1764
Email: sshillinglaw@vts.edu

Alexandria, VA – Virginia Theological Seminary held an "Occupy Faith: Leadership for the 100%" forum last night, featuring a panel of distinguished speakers that included the Rt. Rev. George Packard (VTS ‘74), former chaplain for the armed services, the Rev. James Cooper (D.D. ‘70), rector of Trinity Wall Street, Micah Bales (pictured), leader of Occupy Church DC, and the Rev. J. Barney Hawkins IV, Ph.D., vice president of Institutional Advancement at Virginia Seminary.

Organized by the Seminary’s Social Concerns Committee and VTS junior, Weston Mathews, the forum focused on faith and leadership responses to the Occupy movement. “Many of the issues Occupy has brought to the forefront of our national consciousness,” said Mathews, “are the very issues that Jesus Christ brought to the world in the sermon on the mount.”

When forum moderator, Kyle Oliver (VTS ’12), asked Micah Bales, a Quaker, what drew him to the Occupy movement, Micah replied, “The Occupy movement isn’t something that I had on my radar screen at all… I did not think of myself as an organizer or activist. But as I learned more about [it], I became increasingly convinced that God wanted me to be involved.”

He went up to New York City and became involved for awhile with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), came back to Washington D.C., and became one of the organizers of Occupy DC at McPherson Square. Since then, dozens of organizations have sprouted such as Occupy Faith, Occupy Church, and Occupy Our Homes which offers foreclosure assistance.

Added Bales, “I read in the Hebrew Scriptures that the land doesn’t belong to us – we are actually tenants of the land. The Lord is our landlord and we owe and account to God for how we are going to treat the people on the land. We need to be really careful about strict ideas of ownership and property because, ultimately, everything belongs to the Lord.”

When asked about how an institution with a large endowment makes decisions on how to manage its money, the Rev. Barney Hawkins replied, “The land and resources at Virginia Seminary belong to the larger purpose… we manage our assets as trustees, stewards of the Seminary’s ministry and mission but also mindful that we will bequeath this institution, strong and financially secure, to those who will come after us. Ministry and mission are always tied to vision and resources and we must live for those who will come after us even if it sometimes means appearing less prophetic or faithful.”
The Rev. Jim Cooper described his role in OWS saying, “Trinity is aligned with the themes of Occupy Wall Street and has been for a decade or so… our first relationship was with the healthy encampment when my wife and I and many parishioners would go out every day and have conversations and engage, bring food, celebrate, sing, and pray. Our buildings were available to any part of the community.”
Bishop Packard, who famously led the OWS charge on December 17, 2011 to jump the fence at Duarte Square Park in New York City—property owned partly by Trinity Wall Street—in order to set up a new camp, replied, “Trinity and VTS are describing environments that are housed and self-contained - ‘it’s our property’ – but the larger questions still stare at us… what happened on Dec. 17 happened over a series of many, many meetings… I felt that there was an injustice that needed to be confronted and I hoped that Trinity would allow other conversations to inform their sense of mission other than this closed environment that was presented to us.”
Cooper responded by pointing out the affect of OWS on the greater community. “Our congregation, our neighbors, the merchants who in the second and third months, were losing business,” he said. “They were frantic about their safely – it was not a happy situation. The encampment had had its time and most are grateful that it concluded.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Oliver announced that the Social Concerns Committee, along with several anonymous donors, had raised $2,800 in honor of Occupy. The money will go to the rebuilding of the cathedral in Haiti.
Concluded Mathews, “Today’s forum was an opportunity for VTS to engage the church’s complicity in structural sin and to examine how we can work as a body to seek and serve Christ in all persons and, in particular, to practice the kind of reconciliation The Episcopal Church needs for mission in a polarized world.”

Founded in 1823, Virginia Theological Seminary is the largest of the 11 accredited seminaries of the Episcopal Church. The school prepares men and women, representing more than 40 different dioceses and nine different countries, for service in the Church, both as ordained and lay ministers, and offers a number of professional degree programs and diplomas.
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