Dean Markham delivers opening sermon: “We were reminded afresh of the strength of sin.”


Media Contact: Curtis Prather
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ALEXANDRIA, VA – “Our baptismal covenant is the statement of the Christian world view,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), in the opening sermon that began the new academic year. “It captures our work here at the Seminary. It captures the necessity of class (we need to understand the disclosure of God to humanity); the importance of chapel (so help us God); and the potential of lunch (where we recognize the intrinsic dignity of all). So as we stand and renew our vows, please recognize what you are doing.”

The Seminary’s current student body is comprised of 134 women and men who are enrolled in master level programs, as well as 67 students in the Doctor of Ministry program. Our students come from 57 US dioceses and 20 countries. Of the new students entering in the fall (not including the Part-Time Non Degree students), 54 percent are women; 54 percent are married/partnered; and 32 percent are in their 20s, with an overall median age of 37. This year, 19 percent of students identify as persons of color.

Dean Markham's sermon, delivered to students, faculty, and staff in Immanuel Chapel, spoke of inclusion, tolerance, and redemption, that has taken on renewed importance in the shadow of the violence in Charlottesville, VA, just three weeks ago: "We were reminded afresh of the strength of sin; we were reminded afresh that in a post-truth world, in a world where conspiracy theories abound, people can be sucked into a world view that needs to be named as evil; we were reminded afresh of how thin the veneer of respectability is and just below there is a racist self wanting to come out."

Today’s sermon was a direct reminder and challenge of the continuing work the Seminary "grapples" with in confronting the past. In 2010, when the original Immanuel Chapel burned, several items that survived the fire were plaques that were tied to slavery. Markham shared with the community thoughts of where they might end up: "Most likely, they will be placed on a wall in our cemetery--relics of a past era which is haunted by the sin of slavery. They are rightly in a museum or cemetery--not in a living house of worship."

"We cannot change our history, which closely parallels the history of our country," Markham continued. "But constantly, VTS tries to make right the history of our association with slavery. Indeed, we have a lot to apologize for, if not atone for. We remember and atone before our fellow citizens and before God."

Click here to read Dean Markham's September 5, 2017 sermon.


Founded in 1823 as a beacon of hope in a country new and finding its way, Virginia Theological Seminary is the flagship Seminary of the Episcopal Church. One of our first benefactors was Francis Scott Key whose poem provides the text for our national anthem. In the 193 years since being established, VTS has led the way in forming leaders of the Episcopal Church, including: the Most Rev. John E. Hines (VTS 1933, D.D. 1946), former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker (VTS 1954, D.D. 1978), the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; and theologian, author and lay preacher Ms. Verna J. Dozier (VTS D.D. 1978). Serving the worldwide Anglican Communion, Virginia Theological Seminary educates approximately 25% of those being ordained who received residential theological education. Visit us online at
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