Bishop Baskerville-Burrows Gives Historic 197th Commencement at VTS Online

Virginia Theological Seminary
Posted May 18, 2020
Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) celebrated its 197th Commencement on Thursday, May 14, awarding 45 students with degrees of Master in Divinity, Master of Arts, Diploma in Theology, and Diploma in Anglican Studies. For the first time, Commencement was celebrated exclusively online.
The ceremony included several traditional elements of previous commencements: awarding of degrees, music was performed, presentation of awards, honoring faculty transitions, and a riveting commencement speaker. In addition, a special online Liturgy was prepared, class crosses were blessed, and congratulatory messages from faculty and staff were shared to the graduating class.

“We are dispersed around the country as our chapel and refectory sit empty. The campus is eerily quiet. In this time of pandemic, dislocation and disorientation, we find ourselves with at least two conflicting emotions: joy for our graduates and grief for what is lost in this season,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president of VTS. “We pray and give thanks in the assurance that God is in the midst of both our joy and our struggles. This is a tender time. But we are an Easter people, and so let us now listen deeply to the Word of God in Holy Scripture. Grounded in God’s promises of restoration and renewal, we look forward with our graduates as they follow in the footsteps of generations of VTS alums and ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.’”

The commencement address was given by the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, 11th Bishop of Indianapolis. A native of New York City, she holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture with a minor in urban studies from Smith College, an M.A. in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, and an M.Div. degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), received in 1997. Before being elected bishop in 2016, she served in the Dioceses of Newark, Central New York, and Chicago. She is the first Black woman to be elected a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church.

“I deeply believe that we are watching a new church being born. And in this church, as in every age, we need ALL of the gifts. The gifts of teaching, preaching, and tending the sacramental life of the church will continue to provide a firm foundation for community-building and justice-seeking and radical welcoming that is needed now more than ever. But I bid you never forget that this is the work the whole people of God, lay and ordained,” said Baskerville-Burrows. “As we create the church that will respond to the spiritual and economic sea changes happening all around us, we will be called to be midwives of the sacred, not technicians of the sanctuary.”
She concluded, “I pray that you find your own assurance that nothing—not even a virus—can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Wherever you are bound, know that this hurting world needs you. I give thanks for each of you and your ministry in our beloved church that the world desperately needs. You are just the ones we have been waiting for.”

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 Guimond Pierre-Louis.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 Shanthakumar Sureshkumar.

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 Refection recognizes a graduating senior who has developed theological skills and insights to support preaching and service. This year, the prize was given to Stephen Crippen.

The Episcopal Preaching Foundation Award, sponsored by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, is 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 Gwynn Crichton.

Established by the Hon. 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 2020 was awarded to Elta Wilson.

The recipient of the 2020 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 Peter Nunnally.

Amanda Bourne and Douglas Worthington are the recipients of the Charles and Janet Harris Award. This award is given each year to a candidate for Holy Orders who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership ability.


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 Virginia Seminary online at