Principal and Dean Wendy Fletcher chats with the past president of the Auxiliary Audrey Halsley at the annual luncheon

Last fall during final exam time at the Vancouver School of Theology, first year student Curtis Bablitz, working on his Master's of Divinity degree, probably should have been studying.

Instead, he was smoothing white linen cloths over tables, setting out dainty china cups, and arranging cookies on a platter. He was one of several students who volunteered to host the annual tea party for the Ladies' Auxiliary- the school's most dedicated fundraiser.

"Yesterday, when I was learning how to set out tablecloths, I realized that these might be useful skills, for ministry," Bablitz said, with a laugh. Beyond exegesis, there are practical skills that students pick up at VST.

Now students had the chance to make practical use of their lessons-hospitality among them. The tea was an annual gesture of thanks for the decades-old organization that's held yearly benefit concerts and public lectures, collected major donations for a bursary fund, and aided in the development of the library, among a host of other things.

The Vancouver School of Theology started more than 100 years ago as an Anglican institution and only later became home to theology students from the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church, and the United Methodist Church in the US.

In recent years the school has expanded to incorporate a Native Ministries Degree Program and a Canadian Studies Certificate Program co-sponsored with the Shizuoka Eiwa College in Japan. There are numerous students from South Korea, and a building number of students who aren't members of the Christian faith.

It's a diverse crowd, and the ladies in the auxiliary seemed to enjoy the encounter.

"A very charming young man from Korea took me down to the lobby and helped me find the telephone, because I had no idea where it was," said Eve Koehli, an Anglican, originally from Cornwall, England. Did she learn anything interesting? "Oh yes, it's very cold over there right now!”

Second-year VST Master of Divinity student Chris Dierkes serves up a little squash soup at the annual Vancouver School of Theology Auxiliary tea party. (Beatrice Marovich photos)

But there was also time to listen to stories with depth. The auxiliary heard from students across the faith spectrum-including Lauren Aldred, a first-year student who describes her faith as an earth-based, Wiccan spirituality. But she was careful to note that at VST, she didn't find herself in a dissonant atmosphere. "For everyone here," she told the auxiliary, "The most important thing is serving the Creator.”

Wendy Fletcher, principal and dean of VST had prepared many of the ladies for the ecumenical vision of the school during a lecture two months earlier. She was the keynote speaker at an event, delineating "new ways of being Church" in a world where numbers in the pews are dwindling.

Said Mary McDougall, the parish representative for Holy Trinity Anglican in White Rock. "It's up to us to keep the Church going, and to keep making it relevant to people.”