Saturday, October 23, 2010

Message from Ian Markham on the VTS Chapel

A message from the Dean and President of VTS, the Rev. Dr. Ian Markham on the fire at the VTS Chapel:

A Message from our Dean and President

Dear Alumni/ae and Friends: 
We mourn on this day after the fire which destroyed the Seminary’s beloved chapel. As flames engulfed that sacred site yesterday afternoon, we gathered in Scott Lounge for prayers. I offered the following prayer, and I humbly share it with you: 
Loving God, we give thanks. Our sense of loss is great—so our pain, our worry, our concerns. We give you the thousands of memories that go with our chapel. We trust that in you our memories are captured and saved for our eternal life. We give thanks for the community services that came to help us—firefighters and police. Our community is at prayer, and we give thanks that the fire was contained and that no lives were lost. We give you our concerns and worries. We pray for wisdom and discernment and we offer this moment and ourselves to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. 
Please let me respond to a few questions that must be on your minds: 
How did the fire begin?  
Yesterday at 3:55 p.m., smoke was seen coming from the chapel. Very soon, it was apparent that the chapel was already in flames. We do not know how the fire began and the ATF investigation continues. The ATF investigation is standard for all church fires in the United States. 
What happened immediately? 
9-1-1 was called. Every effort was made to insure that no one was in the chapel. Firefighters appeared within minutes. Aspinwall Hall, Meade Hall (faculty offices) and nearby residences were protected and a massive effort was launched to extinguish the flames that were consuming the chapel. 
What caused the fire? 
We do not know at this time the cause of the fire. As we are able, we will share with you all facts. The Seminary Chapel, which was consecrated in 1881, was largely a wooden structure, so the flames moved quite quickly. 
Is the chapel totally lost? 
The damage is extensive as you will see from the many photographs that have been taken. We can see that some stained glass windows appear to have survived, but we really do not know what state the windows are in or what remains in the chapel interior. 
What’s next? 
We are grieving but we are also thinking about worship without our chapel in the days ahead. There are business and insurance considerations. It is important to connect to our Trustees, the Faculty, the Staff and our current students. And there are countless other concerns, some immediate and others long term. 
I will be in touch with you on a regular basis by way of the Dean’s Commentary and other ways as necessary. Please know that you will be included in our finding a way forward from the sadness of this day on the Holy Hill. For me the Hill has never seemed more holy. 
We will rebuild, but we cannot think about that at this moment. If you wish to make an online donation or a donation by mail, please specify that the donation is for the Seminary Chapel Fund.  Please share your thoughts by letters, phone calls, emails or through theFacebook Tribute Page. We are truly grateful for your prayers and support. 
In your parishes across this great land and around the world, please pray for Virginia Theological Seminary and the future which God will give us. I close with the words of the Seminary Prayer: 
O God, you have committed to your servants the ministry of reconciliation and you have guided our forebears to found the Virginia Theological Seminary: watch over us we pray you in the years to come as you have guided us in the past. Keep our leaders alert to the voice of your Spirit, that we cling only to such things as are good in the past and press forward with courage to the new service of the future. Grant to teachers and students humility to learn, wisdom to plan, courage to follow where your truth may lead, and love to think of others before self. So dwell in our home that we may reflect the Spirit of the Father for whom every family is named. Bind us all into an holy fellowship; make all our worship, work and play witness faithfully to you; so that the Seminary may be a center from which light and life and love shall radiate to the four corners of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 
With a grateful heart, I am, 
Faithfully yours, in Christ, 

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