Dr. Wendy Fletcher, new principal of the Vancouver School of Theology

The Rev. Dr. Wendy Fletcher, a professor of church history, was installed as the ecumenical school’s sixth principal. She is the first Anglican principal since the union of the Anglican Theological College and Union College in 1971, and the first woman to lead VST.

In her installation service, Fletcher was welcomed by representatives of VST’s supporting denominations (Anglican, United Church, Presbyterian) at the national and provincial levels, VST’s First Nations partners, the Association of Theological Schools, and neighbouring schools: St. Marks, Carey Hall, St. Andrew’s Hall, and Regent College.

Dr. Martha Piper, the first female president of the adjacent University of BC, brought special greetings.

In her installation address, Fletcher said many mainline churches, and many of their theological schools, are concerned about decline. “This question rises up from the belly of our fear: Can these bones live? – or in less elegant prose – How will we survive?”

Fletcher said that the question of survival had led liberal theological institutions like VST sometimes to somehow try to become “relevant” in worship, structures, and even theology.

“Paradoxically, our reach toward relevance appears to have drawn us increasingly further from our goal,” she said, and gave a few figures from a research project on religion and ethnicity in Canada she was involved in.

During the period 1971 to 2001, active membership in Canadian Anglican churches declined 42 per cent – children in Sunday schools by 66 per cent, and teenagers in youth programs by 89 per cent.

Chancellor of the Vancouver School of Thology, retired Archbishop Douglas Hambidge, and Board Chair Ken Carty assist new Principal Wendy Fletcher with her robe at her installation ceremony.

“Our church did not ignore this dilemma,” she said. “In the period of the 89 per cent decline, there was a 165 percent increase in the number of youth programs offered, and a 300 per cent increase in the number of youth workers hired. But still the numbers of youth dropped, and continue to drop.”

“Framing our questions as questions of survival and of relevance is not a pathway to a thriving future,” she said. “I invite us to move beyond concern for survival.”

The question for VST, she suggested, is how to“engage the present” and have the imagination to work towards a world “framed by justice and fairness, held in compassion and fed through accountability, integrity, authenticity, transparency, courage, generosity and beauty.”

Fletcher ended her address recounting a dream in which she stood on a cliff’s edge along with the VST community with an inferno behind. “We looked at each other and together we jumped and rose, soaring as eagles.”

From the new Principal's address:

How are we in this generation at VST, with God called to break open pathways for the possibility of life? We are called to engage the dramatic and troubling reality of the world which God loves. We are called to jump off the frames upon which our canvases have stretched themselves and run to meet the world with eyes, hearts, minds and arms wide open.

We are called to engage the present – not to fix it, not to save it – that would be God’s work, but to engage it. Standing on the ground between shadow and sight we are asked to become the ones God has created us to be, bearers of a word of life and possibility – in this city, in this moment, in this hour – standing on the ground between shadow and sight.

We are invited to transfigure our sight, to imagine a world such as God has imagined, in God’s radical act of weaving and healing the earth….imagine.

Sixteen members of the Vancouver School of Theology community carry in a 1500 lb. totem pole carved by Coast Salish artist Jackie Timothy. Made possible by a gift from Edmund Maier of Calgary-whose son and VST professor Harry is at left-the pole will be raised at VST in the near future. (Wayne Chose photos)

And so on this night, on this ground we stand holding our hope between shadow and sight. As a wise one said, “The meaning of our lives in the first instance is not measured by our abilities but by our choices.”

This night is not in the first instance about the installation of a principal. It becomes the night of our choosing. We, the VST, church and university communities, choose what kind of future we will fashion together. We frame our covenant, the hope we bear for our own becoming; we say to God, to ourselves and to the world: we believe that God intends that we should be alive.

Tonight we choose. On this night we stand together on the edge of the cliff and with our eyes lifted toward forever, we honour God’s movement in our past, we embrace the gift of God in our present, and together we jump – radically committed to our future, knowing that grace will lift us, that grace will carry us, that grace will bring us home. God so loved the world…

Dr. Fletcher’s entire address can be found at http://vst.edu/pdfs/InstallationAddress.pdf