Virginia Theological Seminary commemorates 200 years

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Virginia Theological Seminary commemorates 200 years
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By Dylan Jaffe | djaffe@alextimes.com

A series of events are planned this week to commemorate the Virginia Theological Seminary’s bicentenary, including worship services, lectures and other activities to look back on the seminary’s 200-year journey.

The events began Wednesday and will run through Saturday, with each day focusing on separate pillars of the seminary’s history. Wednesday focused on the African American Episcopal Historical Collection, with speakers and panels discussing how VTS evolved from initially being segregated.

Thursday’s focus revolves around alumni with an included viewing of “DUST,” an immersive story of those who have lived the 200-year history. Friday includes a campus tour led by Rev. J. Barnes Hawkins IV, Ph.D., as well as family friendly activities. Saturday concludes with a festive Eucharist at 9 a.m. A schedule with details regarding the events hosted on each day can be found on VTS’ website.

The school was founded in 1823 and is one of seven seminaries in the United States that trains clergy between the ages of 20 and 60 for the Episcopal Church, according to Nicky Burridge, vice president of communications for VTS. The seminary has multiple programs available to students, including a Pathway to Ministry for students interested in becoming ordained, as well as an Anglican studies program for students who have completed a masters of divinity in a non-Episcopalian institution and would like to become an Episcopal minister.

The VTS community reaches beyond just Alexandria and the state of Virginia. Speakers at the commemoration will hail from throughout the U.S. and from overseas.

“We’ve got keynote speakers coming from as far as Israel and Japan. We have one day that is specifically targeted at our alumni and we have alumni across the entire United States,” Burridge said.

VTS was founded only 74 years after Alexandria was established and the seminary prides itself on its long-standing connection to the city.

“VTS is a child of the city of Alexandria. Throughout our history we have been in thiscity, we value our connections with [Alexandria],” VTS Dean, the Rev. Ian Markham, said.

Burridge emphasized that the bicentenary is not a celebration, but rather a reflection on VTS’ complicated journey, as their messages and morals have evolved to reflect modern times.

“That’s obviously a big milestone, particularly in a relatively young country like America. We are not celebrating. We are marking the moment. We’re reflecting on our history, both the positive aspects and the negative aspects,” Burridge said.

One of VTS’ missions highlighted on the website expands on the “deep commitment to shape Church leaders, lay and ordained, who are committed to the creation of a just society in which the image of God in all people is honored and where the sins of racism and injustice are named, challenged, and ultimately eradicated.”

Attendees are still eligible to sign up for events and are encouraged to do so as many alumni come back to visit friends and family. Burridge said so far, there are 464 participants attending the events, with an anticipated turnout of around 500 guests.

“The events of our historic bicentenary seek to reflect our history as an institution and will include opportunities to reflect on our great debt to African Americans, as well as mark our missionary history, and think about the challenges facing the Church today and how we can make a difference to the future,” Markham said.

There are many events on each day during the bicentenary that range from arts and culture to history to alumni focuses. There are also family friendly events that children and pets can enjoy.

“We also have a family focus because we are a residential seminary. We do have a lotof families living there,” Burridge said. “We have games and activities and things for children which are open to the wider community.”

There’s even a service tailored for pets, called ‘Paws to Pray,’ in which residents are encouraged to bring their animals to take part in worship with their owners.

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