Less than a year after selling its centrepiece gothic-towered Iona Building to the University of British Columbia, Vancouver School of Theology (VST) is ready to move its operation into a newly-restructured building nearby.
That move, together with the confirmation of several new faculty members, marks a multi-faceted new era.
VST principal Richard Topping said this week that the school is looking forward to “receiving an occupancy permit, prior to moving from its temporary home in St. Andrew’s Hall” into the newly reconstructed quarters in August.
The reconstruction involves converting a student residence into the VST operations facility which will house the school’s faculty and administrative offices, classrooms, meeting rooms and a library. As of this week, said Topping, the upper floor carpets are installed, the lighting is in and the stonework is finished on the outside.
He added that “St. Mark’s College will have facilities in the new quarters and University Hill United Church will meet there as well.”
VST communications director Shannon Lythgoe explained that the reconstructed facility is about 25,000 square feet, about one-quarter the size of the Iona building. But she added that it will work well for current and future models for theological education.
“In Iona, whole wings were rented out to various non-VST entities, mostly related to UBC. But, for example, distance education is thriving and the building renovations serve that well. Every classroom is wired in real-time and for modal purposes,” Lythgoe added. Even though VST has a growing off-campus student body, she noted, there are many fewer students around the campus than there had been in earlier, more traditional models.
VST was founded in 1971 as a partnership between Union College and Anglican Theological College. Both founding partners traced their schools to earlier in the 20th century. Union was the United Church seminary.
A few years later, St. Andrew’s Hall, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Canada, joined the partnership. And a working relationship with St. Mark’s (Catholic) College continues. As well, a congenial rapport with the other theological entities at UBC – Carey Centre (Baptist) and Regent College (transdenominational) – prevails.
Meanwhile, the new faculty members represent VST’s eclectic approach to theological education. Three who have been featured on the VST site enunciate evangelical, First Nations, inter-religious, homiletics and hermeneutical studies and emphases. They are:
- Ray Aldred: Director of Indigenous Studies. A status Cree from Treaty 8 land in northern Alberta, Aldred is an ordained minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination. He has pastored in two prairie Indigenous churches and served as director of the First Nations sector of the C&MA. He comes to VST from an associate professor of theology role at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary. He is the former chair of the Aboriginal Ministries Council of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He and his wife Elaine do ministry together as a couple, especially in helping to train facilitators of support groups for people who have suffered abuse.
- Laura Duhan Kaplan: Interim Director of the Iona Pacific Inter-religious Centre. (Duhan Kaplan’s appointment began last summer.) She arrived in Vancouver in 2005, to serve as rabbi at Or Shalom Synagogue. She has served as co-chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress Jewish-Christian dialogue, led workshops at the United Church’s Naramata Centre and taught at VST and UBC Religious Studies as an adjunct faculty member. She is a fellow at Rabbis Without Borders, a progressive, pluralistic U.S.-based Jewish think tank. Laura’s most recent publications explore the phenomenology of prayer. A native of New York City, she is married to psychologist and musician Charles Kaplan.
- Jayson Byassee: Inaugural appointment to the Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics. Byassee comes to VST from the senior minister’s role at Boone United Methodist Church in Boone, North Carolina, where he worked with a pastoral staff of eight and a congregation of 1,500 people. He is a contributing editor to Christian Century magazine, where he served as an assistant editor from 2004 – 2008. He served previously as a research fellow in the New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He is the author of six books on a range of theological subjects. His work has also appeared in Christianity Today, Theology Today, Books & Culture, Sojourners, United Methodist Reporter, and First Things.