Virginia Theological Seminary celebrates its 200th Commencement

Virginia Theological Seminary
Posted May 15, 2023

Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) celebrated its 200th Commencement on Thursday, May 11, 2023. Degrees and diplomas were conferred upon 59 students across the Seminary’s Master in Divinity, Master of Arts, Doctor of Ministry, Diploma in Theology, and Diploma in Anglican Studies programs. Seven licentiates were converted to the degree of Master in Divinity.

Six honorary degrees were conferred in recognition of faithful and notable service, and creative and innovative leadership in parish ministry. The Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Ph.D., The Rt. Rev. Paula E. Clark, M.Div., Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., and The Rev. Juan M.C. Oliver, Ph.D., received a Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Tony Briggle, B.A., and Judy Woodruff, B.A., received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

This year’s Commencement ceremony comes as VTS marks its Historic Bicentenary. Seminarians processed in carrying a commemorative banner that highlights VTS’ 200 years. Designed and created by Watts & Company of London, the student body (classes of 2023, 2024, and 2205) gifted the banner to VTS out of deep gratitude for their seminary experience.

The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president of VTS., said: “This commencement is highly symbolic. For 200 years, we have produced people who have served Christ and the Church; they have sat by the bedside of the dying; they have baptized babies into the Church; and they have preached faithfully the transforming love of God. Our graduates for 2023 are a stellar class. They are well educated, deeply thoughtful, passionate about justice, and have a lovely sense of fun. This class of graduates will make the past proud: they will go into the world and preach the Gospel.”

The Class of 2023 unanimously named The Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Ph.D., to be their commencement speaker. A widely published author on matters of race and justice, Douglas was named Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Theology at Union in September 2017. She serves as canon theologian at the Washington National Cathedral and theologian in residence at Trinity Church Wall Street.

In her address, Douglas called on students to live into the faith of VTS’ history, rather than its flaws.  “VTS community, ours is a time when to be insulated from the stories that are different, the perspectives that are challenging, and the truths that are unsettling is becoming far too acceptable. That is what bigotry and xenophobia are made of. Ours, my friends, is a time of growing insensitivity to the violence, the brutality, the death visited upon the helpless and the homeless, the marginalized and the oppressed, the weak and the innocent. This is what self-centered dehumanizing prejudice looks like. Ours unfortunately is a time when returning to a disturbing past and protecting an unjust present has become virtually a rallying cry. That is what fear and privilege look like,” she said.

Douglas concluded: “We must leave this place determined to carry forth the history of faith that is VTS. A history of being a people living into the one in whose image they are created, bestowed with the gift of imagination. Being the people who are inquisitive, who are impassioned, who are inspired, leading us all into the future that God has imagined.”

The full Commencement ceremony can be viewed on the VTS YouTube channel.

Prizes and Awards:

Laura Natta received the Anglican Communion Prize, which recognizes a graduating student who has shown an outstanding commitment to discerning the mission of God through World Anglicanism.

Katie Hoyer received the Thomas Underwood Dudley Award for Reading of Scripture and Liturgy. The award recognizes a graduating student who, in the opinion of the faculty, has demonstrated excellence in the public reading and interpretation of the Scriptures and the Liturgy.

Robert Bingham Powell received the Doctoral Thesis Award that is given to a graduating doctoral student who has written an exceptional thesis with clarity, depth, and boundedness that addresses a higher aim of Christian life, service, and leadership.

Steve Bragaw and Mitchell Felton each received The Episcopal Preaching Foundation Award. Sponsored by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, the award is bestowed upon graduating Masters-level students who, in the estimation of the Dean and Faculty, have demonstrated the most improvement in preaching.

Joshua Padraig Cavanaugh and Elizabeth Walker were recipients of The Charles and Janet Harris Award that is given each year to candidates for Holy Orders who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership ability.

Bonnie Bivins received The Ronnie A. Yoder Scholarship Award that was established by the Honorable Judge Ronnie A. Yoder “to advance the study of love as an appropriate center of Christian theology, life, preaching, and practice, and to explore love as an ecumenical theme unifying all of humankind’s religions.”

Mary Beth Buchholz received The Master of Arts Award that is given to a graduating Master of Arts student who has researched and written an exceptional and original thesis or capstone project with clarity, depth, and integrity.

Christopher Poore received The Bishop Mark Dyer Prize for Theological Reflection. The Bishop Mark Dyer Prize for Theological Reflection recognizes a graduating senior who has developed theological skills and insights to support preaching and service.

Janettarose Greene received the 2023 Susan Ford Chair, a gift awarded in the estimation of the Dean and Faculty to a member of the graduating class who has exhibited a strong commitment to the community life and mission of the Seminary.


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About VTS:

Virginia Theological Seminary was founded in 1823 by St. Paul’s Church in Alexandria, Virginia. It is the strongest seminary in the Anglican Communion and has a long tradition of shaping faithful women and men, lay and ordained, for leadership in The Episcopal Church and beyond. Visited by three Presidents, the seminary provides more than 25 percent of the clergy of The Episcopal Church.