• October

    Introducing a New Department - Lifelong Learning!

    In the Fall of 2016, Dean Markham invited me to assume a yet-to-be-defined Associate Dean position in which I would assume oversight of the Center for Liturgy and Music and of the Office of Lifetime Theological Education, in addition to my existing role as Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching. In short, the Dean had a vision for a more fully integrated administration supporting continuing education and leadership development across the church.

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  • September

    VTS Announces Symposium on Carvings from Assyrian Temple

    In August of 2019 Virginia Theological Seminary will host an international symposium “The Reliefs of Ashurnasirpal II: Architecture, Iconography, and Text.” Under the direction of J. Caleb Howard, Ph. D., visiting professor, the participants will present cutting edge scholarship on carvings from the palace, temple, and related buildings of the ancient king from Nimrud. Dr. Melody Knowles, academic dean and Old Testament professor, wants to be clear this conference is not about dusty artifacts. “These [carvings] have everything to do with religion, politics, and the media. This is how ancient kings communicated who they were and what they were about. This was their media policy.”

    The two low-relief carvings that will be the focus of this symposium were part of a shipment of three tablets to Virginia Seminary in 1859 from Austen Henry Layard’s excavation of the Temple-Palace complex of ancient Nimrud, built in what is now Iraq by the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II. It’s uncertain where the two tablets were located in the ancient city of Nimrud, but it is well-established that large stone panels lined the walls of the palace and its temples, depicting scenes of military triumph and agricultural abundance. The carved figures combined idealized human perfection with godlike attributes such as wings and the features of powerful animals; the cuneiform text recounted the king’s lineage and exploits in battle. All of this, says Knowles, was designed to intimidate the visitor. “Even those who couldn’t read the inscriptions saying the king was chosen of the gods and a master of conquest, they were still confronted with wall after wall of these huge panels representing human/divine figures with bulging muscles, flowing beards and battle weapons. You knew you didn’t want to mess with this guy.”

    The reliefs from the palace side of the complex have been widely studied, right down to the menu that fed over 69,000 people for ten days when the king officially opened the palace to visitors. But the original placement of the reliefs that remain at VTS continue to be a mystery. Conference papers will focus on the production and functions of the Nimrud reliefs as well as their ancient placement.

    At the time of Layard’s excavation, colleges and seminaries considered the reliefs to be archeological proof that the Old Testament histories were true. Now they are considered important for understanding the ancient milieu in which the narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures took shape. At VTS the tablets were treated as research material and openly stored in the seminary library, first in Packard-Laird and later in Bishop Payne Library. Time and destructive conflicts in the Middle East have transformed them into rare treasures. The burden of their care has risen with their value, and in 2017 the annual cost of insurance alone topped $70,000.

    After a long discernment process, the Board of Trustees determined that the open display of the reliefs was no longer feasible but the cost of securing them would divert resources from the Seminary’s primary mission. A compromise decision put the thoroughly studied carving from the palace side of the complex up for sale, allocating some of the proceeds for scholarship funding. Sale proceeds will also help fund an appropriately secure display space in Bicentennial Hall for the remaining reliefs. Dr. Knowles hopes the 2019 symposium will inaugurate the remaining reliefs’ new home. “Bicentennial Hall is a pristine example of the Seminary’s original architecture,” she says. “It is, itself, an artifact. Both the building and the artifacts within it point to the heritage on which our mission rests. Seminary education has ancient roots. You see the objects themselves and you see the cloud of witnesses—scribes, architects, archeologists, missionaries, teachers and students—standing with you alongside these artifacts of our past.”

    The two images are watercolors from A. H. Layard,The Monuments of Nineveh, London, 1849–1853.
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  • VTS Announces Vocations Scholarship Fund

    When Virginia Theological Seminary’s admissions director Derek Greten-Harrison looks over the incoming class, he sees a diversity of spiritual and intellectual promise. He also sees debt.  
    “Often our applicants look financially okay on paper,” he says, “but there are things such as student loan debt which the financial aid metrics don’t take into account. According to Forbes, the class of 2016 graduated with an average student loan debt of $37,174. For Black students, that average is $7,400 higherIn the end, 46% of students receiving aid from VTS have a “funding gap” that traditional financial aid doesn’t fillGreten-Harrison points out that Church Pension Group figures for the median compensation for fulltime clergy with five years’ experience or less is $61,144 for men and $60,000 for women. Thirty percent of that is often housing, leaving about $42,000 in cash stipend. “This is why it’s so important that a seminary education not add more debt,” he says.  

    Enter the Vocations Scholarship Fund. One of the Bicentennial initiatives funded by the sale of the Seminary’s Assyrian relief, the Vocations Scholarship Fund will provide aid for students of color, international students, and second-career students. These students are the most vulnerable to the “financial aid gap,” but Greten-Harrison points out that a rising tide of scholarship funding will lift all ships. Students tend to agree.  

    Kathleen Walker, a senior from Southeast Florida says that if the seminary could help her navigate her financial situation, “we can accomplish that for everyone.” She and her sister shared a house in Miami and had taken turns completing advanced degrees while parenting her sister’s two children. 

    Walker worried how her decision might impact her sister’s family. “I had heard that if you own a home they would consider that an asset. But I couldn’t sell my home out from under my family,” she says. Plus, she had significant student loan debt from a master’s degree in public administration. The Seminary helped her put together a package that will allow her to graduate this May without having added to her existing student loans. She feels the Vocations Scholarship Fund will allow VTS the flexibility to build similar packages for students from different demographics.  

    Jeryl Mitchell is one of those “different demographics.” Like Kathleen, she left a successful career to attend seminary, and like Kathleen, she brings atypical family obligations. The single mother of 
    a child with ongoing surgical needs, Mitchell attended classes at General Theological Seminary in New York, where she lived, while fulfilling Diocesan postulant requirements. She gradually switched to part-time consulting to allow time for her studies.

    By the time she transferred to VTS, where she “felt God wanted me to be,” her IRA was heavily depleted. “Being a full-time student has limited my opportunity to earn income to student positions, which pay the same rate as when I got my first master’s
     degree in 1983,”she says. Ineligible for some of the minority-focused grants such as the Bishop Payne Scholarship, she receives support from her home parish and took out a Sallie Mae loan last year. She emphasizes that she believes she’s “emptying out and entering a new way of being in Christ.” But she’s enthusiastic about how the Vocations Scholarship Fund will help second-career students maintain their retirement resources, an especially important contribution since they cannot accrue credited service after age 72. “We all come to seminary with the faith-based belief that this is where God wants us to be,” she says. “That comes with some sacrifices and some learnings.”  

    Stephen Shortess, a senior from Louisiana, says, “I do think VTS starts us with the expectation that we will leave here without debt” and then he runs through the financial ups and downs of seminary life: a new baby and increased healthcare costs, the lower salary of a spouse who can only give an employer three yearsStill he says, “I think it’s true for everybody here that we received more than it cost us.”  

    While he’s clear about the importance of graduating without debthe grows eloquent on the topic of using proceeds from the Assyrian relief for international scholarships. “This is a piece of artwork and it had its own language. It describes a culture that was flourishing during the time of the Bible. I think it’s important to think hard about who we want to honor with the scholarships. [This is] a chance to be brave, and that bravery is not necessarily looking at people in this country, but connecting us with parts of the world where we still get so much of our heritage through Scripture.” He considers aloud the prospect of funding students from other faith traditions. “What would Jesus do if he had all that money from this artifact?” he asks. “Would he give a chance to the Samaritan?  

    The size of the Vocations Scholarship Fund will be finalized by the Board of Trustees when the Assyrian relief is auctioned at Christie’s in October. As a board-designated fund, the scholarship may be reviewed by the trustees and adapted to meet the changing needs of the student body. The sale of the relief will also cover the cost of maintaining a smaller pair of relief carvings from the same excavation site, which will be the subject of a scholarly symposium at VTS in 2019. 
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  • July

    Future LGBT Priests: Advocates for Christian orthodoxy

    This article was originally published in the Sewanee Theological Review, a publication of the School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South. It has been republished here with permission.

    Ian Markham and Paul Moberly Mazariegos

    We do not claim to be professional sociologists. We concede right at the outset that the sample size is small, although please note the number of seminarians at our Episcopal seminaries is also small. We do recognize that ideally there should have been a wider “control” group of other seminarians for the purposes of comparison. What follows is an invitation into a reality that many seminary professors are sharing in anecdote after anecdote. It is intended to be a little mischievous—our stereotypes need to be challenged—and offered in a spirit of serious fun. With these riders out of the way, let the journey begin.

    The journey of full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church has been a story of slow and steady progress. Integrity USA was founded in 1974 as a grassroots movement of gay people in congregations across the Episcopal Church. In 1976, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution making it clear that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”1 By the early 21st century, the Episcopal Church became the center of a global controversy with the election of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop. In 2009, the Episcopal Church made it clear that all the orders of ministry are open to all people, thereby inviting gay and lesbians to consider a vocation to Holy Orders in the Church. And in 2015, the Episcopal Church changed the canons of the church to make it explicit that the rite of marriage is available to all people—both heterosexual couples and homosexual couples.

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  • June

    Saying Farewell to People and Places

    Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning
    Key Hall has been a delightful home for the Center for the Ministry of Teaching (CMT) and, more recently, the Department of Lifelong Learning. We have grown to love the historic building with its elegant arches and ladder-accessible balconies. It has been home to a large portion of the Seminary’s circulating collection of books on Christian formation, teaching, the history of education, and human development. We’ve had a cozy children’s section beside a fireplace and regularly hosted classes from The Butterfly House for story time. As technologies and resource center usage have changed, the CMT has adapted and become known for its accessible digital resources and as a trusted partner training leaders in the faithful use of digital media for ministry. With that, Key Hall has become an innovation hub, generating new initiatives and online consultations.

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  • May

    Global Episcopal Network Conference held at Virginia Seminary

    From April 11-13, 2018 the VTS Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS) hosted the 2018 Global Episcopal Mission Network Conference in Alexandria, VA. The theme, “Mission Connects Us: God, World, Church,” focused on building mission relationships, engaging in healthy mission, mission best-practices, and spiritual formation for mission.

    Two of three keynotes were given by the Rev. Dr. Robert Heaney, Ph.D., D.Phil, director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies and the Rev. Canon John Kafwanka, director of Mission for the Anglican Communion.

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  • April

    The Daring Way™ Workshop at VTS

    Anna Broadbent, M.Div. '18
    On April 21, from 9:00-5:00 p.m., Virginia Theological Seminary will offer The Daring Way™, a workshop based upon the work and research of Dr. Brené Brown, author of books such as The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong and her newest book Braving the Wilderness. The workshop will be led by senior Anna Broadbent, LPC and David Hoover, LCSW both Certified Daring Way Facilitator-Candidates and The Reverends Beth Magill and Stacy Williams-Duncan, Certified Daring Way Facilitators.
    The one day workshop will explore topics such as vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness. We will examine the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are holding us back and identify new choices and practices that will move us toward more authentic and wholehearted ways of living, loving, parenting, and leading. We will also explore how this work can be enhanced by linking with Christian spiritual practices.
    The Daring Way™ is open and available to all in and outside the VTS community – including students, staff, faculty, and spouses. This workshop is being provided at an extreme discount of $30 ($15 for students – use discount code SEMINARIAN), which includes all materials and lunch. Registration is available at the following link: http://bit.ly/DaringVTS
    Questions? Please contact Anna Broadbent or the Rev. Stacy Williams-Duncan
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  • January

    Deepen Your Faith with Sacramentum, an Online Inquirers' Class

    On January 2, 2018, students from around the world can register for a fully-online Inquirers’ class in the Episcopal tradition to begin February 11, 2018. Sacramentum is an experience of sacred community exploring Jesus and his teachings. 

    Sacramentum will be a fully online, live course taught in real time, designed to help students go deeper into the mystery of Christ through the lens of the Episcopal tradition. This weekly, 7-session course (Sundays, February 11-March 25, 7-8:30 p.m. EST) is designed for those who want to know more about Jesus, including long-time believers seeking to deepen their faith, as well as those preparing for baptism, confirmation, reception into the Episcopal Church, and reaffirmation of baptismal vows.
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  • Voice and Silence in the Gospel of Mark: Deep Calls to Deep Midyear Retreat

    On a weekend in Advent, preaching fellows from Deep Calls to Deep, a VTS-sponsored program to nurture preaching passion, and participants in Backstory Preaching, a program for the formation of preachers, gathered to explore th Gospel of Mark. The workshop was led by Cynthia Kittredge, Dean and President of Seminary of the Southwest, and Professor of New Testament, and Ruthanna Hooke, Associate Professor of Homiletics, Associate Dean of Chapel, and Director of Deep Calls to Deep at Virginia Theological Seminary.

    We gathered at Seminary of the Southwest for a daylong workshop, exploring themes of voice and silence in the Gospel of Mark. The workshop’s goal was to give the participants a sense of the whole Gospel of Mark, so that we can draw on this knowledge when preaching Mark this coming liturgical year. We wanted to get the text into our bodies and our bodies into the text, to discover the connection between the voices of Mark’s Gospel and our own voices, and to develop a communal telling of the Gospel by the end of the day.

    Themes of voice and silence weave through Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel begins with a “voice crying in the wilderness,” and ends with the women at the tomb, who were commanded to “go and tell” of Jesus’ resurrection, but “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” In between these opening and closing voices/silences, we hear the voice of God, demons, those seeking healing, those challenging Jesus, and Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross. Voice is often accompanied by movement—demons convulsing, a woman touching Jesus’ cloak, supplicants falling at his feet, the storm raging and then being stilled at a word from Jesus. Voice is defined broadly in Mark, since some of the most crucial “proclamations” are wordless, such as the woman anointing Jesus in Bethany. Moreover, each story in Mark, and the Gospel as a whole, demands to be heard and proclaimed on three levels—personal, social, and cosmic. And although the ending of the Gospel says that the women said nothing about Jesus’ resurrection, there are stories throughout the Gospel of people being raised up: Peter’s mother-in-law, Jairus’s daughter, blind Bartimaeus. Instead of ending in silence, then, the Gospel points us back to Galilee, where Jesus’ resurrection has been proclaimed and enacted all along.

    We explored these and other key texts from Mark throughout the day, using voice and movement exercises to engage the text. We wrote poems on a significant movement found in our texts. Eventually, we put all of the texts together and told them to each other, each storyteller employing the listeners to become part of the story. As the story wove together, Mark’s Gospel resonated through us and moved among us. Hearing and feeling this text afresh summoned us preachers to ask ourselves: what is the cost of speaking, and what is the cost of being silent? What does it take for us to claim and speak with our true voice? Since every use of voice, and every silence, has personal, social, and cosmic implications, how do the voices of Mark’s Gospel call upon us to proclaim Jesus’ life, death and resurretion in our own time?
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