Feedback on the Bicentenary from a Board Member

Date: October 24, 2023

One joy of my role is that I am the one who gets the feedback. Sometimes it is critical; sometimes it is exceptionally positive. This email was sent to Vice President Linda Dienno (and I was on copy) from Dianne Audrick Smith. Dianne gave me permission to reproduce the email in today’s commentary.
“It was a smashing success! I guess what surprised me most was the clear inclusion of the African American experience from the founding of VTS through the recognition of the efforts on the part of VTS to speak truth and begin the work of reparations, from the opening of the AAECH on the first day with its panel discussions and Bp. Gayle Harris’  lecture at the end to the showing of DUST and Dean Markham’s reference to the  descendants of  African Americans who had worked on VTS in earlier decades, to the unveiling of the John Solomon Russell portrait and the recognition of the artist. I would not have expected such recognition of the roles played by African Americans in VTS’ history and current success.
The buildings, of course, were beautiful.  Everything was neat and trim.Golf carts to ferry folks around were an important touch.  Being able to shift when changes were made (Barney Hawkins’ illness and inability to be at this event for which he had labored so long and the changes in preacher for the closing Eucharist) were handled deftly.  Everyone was smiling and from all that I could see, handled all our questions and concerns with genuine care and compassion.  The music was simply wonderful at each of the services. The meals were scrumptious.
I guess the one thing that would have made this even more impressive would have been the inclusion of more students in some substantive way as seminarians, rather than choir, sacristans, and tour guides.  [The editor simply notes that this was a matter of some internal debate: to absorb the number of guests, we held the events during the Fall break. It was the only way that we receive the 600 guests on the campus.] That may have been near impossible because of the anticipated numbers, but that would have been great.  Or maybe some theological reflection class or something…..
Perhaps the one other thing that meant the most to me was the ZOOM with Archbishop Naoum.  Having an opportunity to participate in the January 2023 pilgrimage to the Holy Land I am deeply touched by the war. The Archbishop’s perspective on the current events in Gaza, the war surrounding him and then what happened at the hospital within days touched me deeply.
The Bicentenary also provided opportunities for conversation among many of us.  In total there were four of the GTS/VTS Board members in attendance at some point during those four days and I think we all felt a greater connection to our new institution. We had an opportunity to talk with each other and among other long-time VTS board members in an informal setting, something that we don’t have an opportunity to do otherwise. Feeling part of the whole is invaluable.
Thank you for including me in this event. It was wonderful. It was clearly a labor of love for all the staff. Please also thank them and the student volunteers for putting together “quite a show.”  It took many hands to make the event work and you all fulfilled your responsibilities with professionalism and care.  So….what’s next?”
That is a good question Dianne. Let us think about this together at the Board Meeting in November.
The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.
Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary and the President of The General Theological Seminary

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