Mari Joerstad, Chris Pullenayegem, Rebecca Simpson

New Strategic Academic Leaders Confirmed

At its most recent meeting of its Board of Governors, the Vancouver School of Theology has confirmed the appointment of three new academics leaders, adding more depth, diversity and creativity to its outstanding team.

Principal Richard Topping said, “We are delighted at the strengths that these new appointments bring to the school. Our commitment to our denominational partners, to vital congregations and thoughtful practitioners is signaled in the addition of these gifted, accomplished and experienced leaders. We anticipate renewed energy for the pursuit of our calling. VST is called to educate and form thoughtful, engaged and generous Christian leaders.”

Dr. Mari Joerstad has been appointed as the Dean of the Vancouver School of Theology, effective July 1, 2021.

The Academic Dean is the Chief Academic Officer of Vancouver School of Theology (VST) and as such is a leader with responsibility for the academic life of the school. The Dean ensures that VST’s educational programs, services and experience meet a very high standard of quality and integrity. The Academic Dean champions, advances, oversees, and ensures the delivery of VST’s academic operations including admissions, registration and student record functions. The Dean leads in the utilization of educational technologies and records integration. In doing so the Academic Dean provides leadership and support for the faculty and the student body.

Dr. Joerstad is a biblical scholar, whose research focuses on ecology, land, migration and belonging in the Hebrew Bible. She received her BA from the University of Toronto, a Master of Religion from the Toronto School of Theology (Wycliffe College), and a PhD from Duke University, where she studied with Ellen Davis. A revised version of her dissertation, entitled The Hebrew Bible and Environmental Ethics: Humans, Nonhumans, and the Living Landscape, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. She has also published articles in journals like The Journal of Biblical Literature, Horizons in Biblical Theology, and The Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture. More recently, she has been a Research Associate at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, where she has provided support for the grant Facing the Anthropocene, lead by Norman Wirzba and Jedediah Purdy, and funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Mari grew up in Norway, but moved to Toronto as a teenager. For the last ten years, she’s been in North Carolina, where she has studied and worked at Duke University. She is married to the Rev. Tyler Garrard, and together they have one (soon to be two) children.

The Rev. Dr. Ray Aldred is presently serving as Interim Dean and will conclude his service as on June 30, 2021. Dr. Aldred succeeded, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Dutcher-Walls who retires after 17 years of faithful service as VST Dean and faculty member. Dr. Aldred will continue in his permanent role as the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program (ISP) at the Vancouver School of Theology whose mission is to partner with the Indigenous Church around theological education.

Mr. Chris Pullenayegem has been appointed as the inaugural director of the Congregational Vitality Through Community Engagement Project at VST, effective January 1, 2021.

Chris is a ministry practitioner committed to a holistic approach to ministry, integrating faith, justice, and compassion in contextualized, incarnational ways. He has decades of experience working in the areas of church renewal, new ministry and migrant church development and discipleship/faith formation. Thriving in challenges he is familiar with leading start-ups/new initiatives and brings passion, innovation, people skills and sound strategy to help them grow. As a kingdom strategist, he believes that the future expansion of the Church is directly linked to how well we equip, empower, and mobilize the body of Christ to be the Church in the world. He was Faith Formation and Mission Program Coordinator for the United Church of Canada, where he facilitated discipleship and mission with established and immigrant faith communities (2013-2020).

Chris has an academic background in law (specializing in refugee and Immigration law and policy), psychology, leading change and innovation and adult education. He grew up in a multi-religious and multi-ethic context among communities fractured along these lines. An immigrant from Sri Lanka, Chris now lives in Ontario and is part of a group of expatriates with an interest in reconciliation, which led him to focus on forgiveness as a key to reconciliation and develop curriculum to assist communities to explore this theme in depth. His interest in inter-faith work motivated him to lead an Ontario inter-faith coalition on social reform . He is a trainer in cross-cultural competencies and multi-faith awareness and is a keen observer of people movements. Chris finds recreation in music, wood-working, home renovations and outdoor activities.

In leading the Congregational Vitality Project, Chris will be working closely with local and national church leaders (Anglican, Presbyterian and United, inter alia) and civic and business leaders to identify, index, develop, curate and deploy resources and strategies to catalyze congregational mission engagement with their communities. The underlying assumption is that congregations exist to share in the mission of the risen Christ and realize their proper end through participation in it. God is at work in the world and we want to be bold in discerning and engaging with the movement of the Spirit in our churches and God’s world. The position reports directly to the Principal of VST. The position will be guided and directed to fulfill the mission of VST

Rev. Rebecca Simpson will assume the role of Presbyterian Director of Denominational Formation and Assistant Professor at the Vancouver School of Theology, also effective January 1, 2021.

Rebecca is a graduate of Simon Fraser University where she earned a Bachelor of Education with a focus on educational psychology and a major in biology. Her early teaching years were spent in secondary science labs in Maple Ridge, BC and an adult education program in Swan River, Manitoba. Rebecca continued her studies at Vancouver School of Theology and subsequently served as Camp Douglas Director for the Presbytery of Westminster. She is now the Minister of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Mission, BC, where she lives with her husband and three nearly grown children. With a wide variety of experiences within the Presbyterian Church in Canada, she is poised to share in the spiritual formation of future Ministers of Word and Sacraments. Rebecca is passionate about teaching and learning and looks forward to working with students at VST.

The Presbyterian Director of Denominational Formation (DDF) is seconded from St. Andrew’s Hall, a college of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, to serve on the faculty of The Vancouver School of Theology. St. Andrew’s Hall exercises its provincial teaching charter through its vibrant partnership with The Vancouver School of Theology.

The Director of Denominational Formation is part of a team of staff and faculty at The Vancouver School of Theology called to educate and form thoughtful, engaged and generous Christian leaders for God’s world. Rebecca will be part of a Presbyterian team at St. Andrew’s Hall educating and equipping missional leaders for Christ’s Church of tomorrow, today. The responsibilities of this position include recruiting, mentoring, supporting and inspiring Presbyterian students with teaching, coordinating community life, worship, pastoral care and prayer support in cooperation with our SAH Chaplain, reporting to presbyteries and other Presbyterian Church in Canada bodies on student progress.

Rebecca succeeds the Rev. Ross Lockhart in this role as he began his service as Dean of St. Andrew’s Hall in July 2020.

About VST
VST’s core mandate is to educate and form thoughtful, engaged and generous Christian leaders for the church in the 21st century. Among theological schools, VST is viewed as a change agent and an innovator for the church. As an affiliated college of the University of British Columbia, VST is now ranked in the top 50 schools globally and in the top 10 of most improved theological schools. VST is accredited by the Government of British Columbia, and internationally by ATS (Association of Theological Schools).

The Vancouver School of Theology welcomes students from many Christian communions, other faith traditions and Indigenous communities, while celebrating its core relationships with the Anglican Church of Canada, Presbyterian Church in Canada, and United Church of Canada. The Indigenous Studies Program at VST is central to the school’s identity and commitments. In 2021, the Vancouver School of Theology will celebrate its 50th Anniversary as a leader in theological education.

The Vancouver School of Theology acknowledges that the land on which they are located is the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xwməθkwəyəm (Musqueam) People.

Contact: Richard Topping
Principal and Professor of Studies in the Reformed Tradition
Vancouver School of Theology
6015 Walter Gage Road, Vancouver, BC Canada, V6T 1Z1
richardt@vst.edu • 604-822-9809

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