The Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS) at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) was pleased to welcome a delegation from the Bishop Williams Theological Seminary (BWTS) in Kyoto, Japan February 11th-21st. The delegation of eight, composed of students, professors, and clergy from the Anglican Church in Japan, was a pilgrimage visit that highlighted important connections shared between both provinces and institutions. The Rev. Dr. John Yieh, Molly Laird Downs Professor in New Testament at VTS served as the delegation’s host during their two-week long visit. I sat down with him recently to hear his reflections on the experience.
Dr. Yieh, you along with CACS, hosted the delegation from Bishop Williams Theological Seminary in Kyoto earlier this month. In a few words, can you tell me why this visit was significant for both institutions?
Well, there are two main reasons why this visit was so significant for both VTS as well as BWTS. The first reason is one of pilgrimage. Bishop Williams, the namesake of BWTS, is both a graduate of VTS and one of the leaders who helped found the Anglican Church of Japan. Recognizing that his mission work grew into a province of multiple dioceses and thousands of people, the delegation came in part to pay homage to Bishop Williams. The second reason this visit was significant was that it provided an opportunity for learning. The delegation wanted to learn how an institution like VTS came to shape someone like Bishop Williams while also observing the seminary’s current learning environment. So, yes, two reasons – pilgrimage and learning – are why the visit was so significant. Their visit to VTS brought the two long lost relatives back home in reunion. As a result, Dean Markham is planning to visit them in October to continue and strengthen this renewed relationship.
You spent a lot of time with the eight individuals from Kyoto while they were here. Can you tell us about some of the moments that were impactful or inspirational for them?
Yes, there were definitely some moments that stand out. While the delegation was in the US they traveled to Richmond, Virginia to see where Bishop Williams is buried at Hollywood Cemetery. There they were joined by Bishop Goff from the Diocese of Virginia. They held a memorial service using the Japanese prayer book, which was very moving. Clearly touched by the experience, one of the professors from the delegation said, “this made it all worth it.” It felt like a homecoming in a way. Later in the week, the group also made a trip to New York. While there they were received at St. Thomas Church, 5th Avenue. In the reredos behind the altar, someone pointed out a statue of Bishop Williams. This was also quite a moving moment.
Students, staff, and faculty had many opportunities to hear from and interact with our visitors. Can you share with us one or two stories of those interactions that demonstrate the power of cross-cultural formation opportunities?
The delegation had the opportunity to meet with Dean Markham, Dr. Knowles, Dr. Heaney, Dr. Budde and many other professors. They are touched and moved by the warm hospitality of the entire community of VTS. They are particularly excited by the lecture of Dr. Bob Prichard (Professor of Christianity in America) and the conversation with Dr. James Farwell (Professor of Theology and Liturgy). The two professors were very generous in sharing their knowledge and wisdom with these Japanese guests on history, mission, liturgy and comparative religions. The delegation also appreciated the opportunity to join VTS students and faculty in chapel services and formation groups. They marveled at the formation group on Thursday mornings when students at VTS meet in small groups in professors’ homes to share in conversation, enjoy a meal, and pray together. The delegation enjoyed the time to be a part of VTS’s community life in this way and others. It demonstrates well the power of cross-cultural formation. Though the two institutions serve different churches in different cultures, but there is one Anglican Communion. We have a lot to share and learn from each other.