Commencement 2022 with The Rt. Rev. Rowan Douglas Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury

Date: May 12, 2022

Alexandria, Va. – Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) celebrated our 199th Commencement on Thursday, May 12, awarding 59 students with degrees of Master in Divinity, Master of Arts, Diploma in Theology, Diploma in Anglican Studies, and Doctor of Ministry.

“This is the class that was formed as the refectory and library were under construction and when a pandemic struck the nation and the world,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president of VTS. “It was a distinctive context for formation. Yet I am excited to report that God has worked on these lives and the result will be a Church that is stronger, deeper, and ever more beautiful. We have a class of evangelists for Christ who are ready to make a difference.”

The commencement ceremony was celebrated in person within Immanuel Chapel. The Rt. Rev. Rowan Douglas Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, a position he held from December 2002 to December 2012, delivered the address in person.

“This ceremony is more than a glad recognition of the achievements of a generation of students,” said Williams. “I want to take the opportunity of thinking outload for a few minutes with you about why and how theology matters. Why the society, in which you will witness and minister, needs you – needs us – whether it knows it or not, and frankly, whether it likes it or not. And perhaps one way into this question is by suggesting a very simple definition of the ‘theologian.’ The theologian is someone who has heard voices speaking in strange languages.”

Williams continued, “A good theologian is not the one who solves all of the problems, but the one who insists on listening and laboring for this space of strangeness – the space where you can hear the foreign languages.”

During the ceremony, the Anglican Communion Prize, which recognizes a graduating student who has shown an outstanding commitment to discerning the mission of God through World Anglicanism, went to Garrett Ayers of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

The Thomas Underwood Dudley Award for Reading of Scripture and Liturgy is awarded to graduating students who, in the opinion of the faculty, have demonstrated excellence in the public reading and interpretation of the Scriptures and the Liturgy, was given to Joanna Unangst of the Diocese of Western Michigan.

The Doctoral Thesis Award was given to one 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. The recipient for 2022 award is Robert Renix.

The Episcopal Preaching Foundation Award, sponsored by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, was bestowed upon a graduating Masters-level student who, in the estimation of the Dean and Faculty, has demonstrated the most improvement in preaching. This year’s recipient is William Yagel of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

Suzanne Hood of the Diocese of Virginia and Molly Jane Layton of the Diocese of New York are the recipients of the Charles and Janet Harris Award. This award is given each year to candidates for Holy Orders who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership ability.

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,” The Ronnie A. Yoder Scholarship for 2022 was awarded to  Cara Modisett from Southwestern Virginia.

The Master of Arts Award 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. Donna Sweeting is the recipient of this award for 2022.Established in 2018 by Amelia “Amy” Dyer, Ph.D., the James Maxwell professor emerita of Christian Education and Pastoral Theology, in honor of her husband, the Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, the Bishop Mark Dyer Prize for Theological Reflection recognizes a graduating senior who has developed theological skills and insights to support preaching and service. This year, the prize was given to Cara Modisett from Southwestern Virginia.The recipient of the 2022 Susan Ford Chair, a gift of Susan Ford, to a member of the graduating class who has exhibited a strong commitment to the community life and mission of the Seminary, is Donna Arrendell.Established in 2008, the Dean’s Cross Award recognizes outstanding leaders who embody their baptismal vows to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” Selected annually by VTS’ dean in consultation with the chair of the Board of Trustees, the honorees receive a handmade silver cross, modeled after the seminary chapel cross, and a certificate. It was announced today that two seniors will receive the Dean’s Cross for 2022: Julia Domenick from the Diocese of Minnesota and Iva Staats from Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Virginia Theological Seminary awards Honorary Degrees each year in recognition of faithful and notable service, creative and innovative leadership in parish ministry. These awards are given annually during both Academic Convocation and Commencement. Today, we honored eight recipients who will receive this prestigious award.The Rt. Rev. Jonathan Folts ’96, D.Min. ’13, the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, the Rt. Rev. Santosh Marray, D.Min., D.D., the Most Rev. Hosam Naoum ’11, D.Min. ’20,  the Rt. Rev. Ketlen Solak ’05, D.Min.’16, and the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams, D.D. will all receive the Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa.Prof. Choon-Leong Seow, Ph.D. and Ms. Jasmin Shirley, MSPH will both receive Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

The full ceremony has been archived on the VTS YouTube channel.


Founded in 1823 as a beacon of hope in a country new and finding its way, Virginia Theological Seminary 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:

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