VST—a Big Small School

Partnerships across the province, country, and globe sustain and enrich communities of faith and learning. 

Transnational Transformation
Anglican Diocese of New
St. Andrew's Theological
Trust Me, Theology is Fun
Presbyterian Church of Canada
Huron University
A Path to Leadership
Durham University
United Church of Canada
St. Mark's / Corpus Christi

This fall, President Richard Topping reached out to VST’s collaborators in future-looking, contextually-grounded faith and theological education to invite them to share their thoughts on partnership with VST. Denominational friends and institutional allies enrich VST’s mission and help to realize the vision of educating and forming thoughtful, engaged, and generous Christian leaders. These connections range from the other side of UBC’s campus to the warm valleys of South Africa; from the Great Lakes to the northern fields of England; the South Pacific archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines to the very building that VST classes are held in.  And just as the connections stretch across the globe, they stretch VST to engage with the world God so loves in new and varied ways, alongside like-hearted communities close to home and far away. Praise be for the friendships and connections that enable good work to be done. 

Transnational Transformation

Dana Mahan, Pretoria University:

Because the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria prides itself on advancing life-affirming values by seeking to teach theologies that are constructive, critical, relevant, contextual, and engaging, its leaders must continually examine and evaluate this notion of context, and the extent of their influence on faith communities both near and far.

For this reason, Prof Rantoa Letšosa, Dean of the faculty, and Prof Dirk Human, Deputy Dean of Research within the faculty, have recently pioneered a strategic partnership with Vancouver School of Theology.

While it may be located half-a-world away from Pretoria, the mission of the Vancouver School of Theology, to educate and form thoughtful, engaged, and generous Christian leaders for the church and the world, could not be more aligned with that of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, both institutions committed to the thoughtful, critical formation of their students, in the hopes that those same students will see the wider world as their context for generous, constructive engagement.

As mentioned in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Prof Letšosa and Dr Topping in August of 2023 – thus making the new partnership official – the two institutions have expressed “their mutual desire to collaborate and explore ways in which to support and advance . . . research and research related activities through the offering of post-graduate studies in Theology in the various theological specialisations . . . (hereby confirming) the parties’ commitment to form a collaborative relationship focused on the recruitment, enrolment, teaching and supervision of PhD candidates.”

Given that the Faculty of Theology and Religion is part of the University of Pretoria, a research-intensive hub of advancement and innovation, this collaboration with the Vancouver School of Theology promises to help the Faculty lead from the front, as more postgraduate students from abroad enter its programmes and explore new intellectual territory in the completion of their degrees.

What is more, in the transnational experiences of these same students, the professional values held by both institutions, namely the importance they place, once again, on thoughtful, critical formation and generous, constructive engagement, stand a better chance of growing and flourishing, both in Canada and in South Africa.

Given the common struggles and challenges in these two national contexts related to race relations, social justice, and shared economic prosperity, amongst others, the prospect of learning from and supporting one another as the Faculty and the School work in consort to expose historic truths and foster social reconciliation provides their respective leaders with much hope and eager anticipation for the months and years ahead.

Anglican Diocese of New Westminster

Right Reverend John Stephens:

I have lived in the Lower Mainland and been part of the Anglican Church for most of my life. The Vancouver School of Theology has been a steady presence in all of that time, in close relationship with the Diocese of New Westminster. This relationship between VST and the diocese has been key in the formation and development of the diocese as a whole, as many within this area, both lay and clergy, have studied and grown and renewed faith at VST.

I am now in the position of Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster and fostering this relationship is important for me. The formation of clergy as well educated, well grounded, and well prepared for ministry in these times is essential for our diocese. The formation of lay people as they deepen their theological knowledge and biblical literacy is vital in our diocese. The ongoing and continuing education of seasoned people of faith, lay and ordained, is also important in continuing the pilgrimage. All of this is foremost in my relationship with VST.

When I look at the Church of this time and this place, it continues to be vital that we pay attention to how we encourage and strengthen new and not-as-new leaders to re-vision the Church and the calling of God in our times. The world is changing and the Church must change as well. The understanding of faith is changing and people of faith must change as well. A school of theology needs to understand these changes and be willing to step into this new place and discover anew the calling of the Holy Spirit. The Vancouver School of Theology does that with our Diocese of New Westminster and this relationship is essential in our diocese.

St. Andrew's Theological Seminary

Principal Dr. Gloria Mapangdol, Phillipines:

Upon the signing of the partnership agreement in January 2021, COVID struck, affecting every aspect of our lives. Theological education was not spared and we had our share of challenges during and after the pandemic. The agreement provided us with several opportunities for connection, including faculty and student exchange, sabbatical leave visits, and online learning opportunities. However, most of these were put on hold as we struggled to respond to our own institutional challenges.

Before the pandemic, Dr. Richard Topping visited St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, and Dr. Ross Lockhart spent a week with us giving lectures to the students and faculty. Similarly, when the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster conducted a parish Management course at VST, VST paid for my return ticket and registration to attend this important course. We had arranged for another faculty member to spend a month of his sabbatical leave at VST, with VST offering to shoulder his airfare and lodging. However, this was cancelled due to the restrictions during the pandemic. While VST had been inviting us to join online courses, we were also exploring how we could conduct online courses in order to reach out to our students, the lay people, and the clergy. 

We now look forward to strengthening our partnership with VST and to come up with more tangible expressions of this commitment. We praise God that despite the challenges, He has also gifted us with ample opportunities. Aside from the online courses we have for both the clergy and the lay, we have 103 in-house students at SATS—the biggest number in 10-15 years. Indeed, the mission field is awaiting more workers and theological education has a significant role to play in preparing these workers. 

May VST and SATS continue to explore fruitful ways to work together. God bless the partnership!

Trust Me, Theology is Fun

Prof. Joas Adiprasetya, Jakarta Theological Seminary, Indonesia:

You might have a chance to see Dr. Richard Topping wearing a black T-shirt with the words: “Trust me, theology is fun.” Traveling by plane takes more than 20 hours to get the souvenir T-shirt from Jakarta Theological Seminary (JTS). And Dr. Topping did that! I picked him up at Jakarta Airport on January 12, 2019. It was the first time we met in person, although we had often communicated by email. We greeted each other warmly as if we had known each other for a long time. The two Barthians get along very quickly! In Indonesia, he gave lectures, preached, and had a lot of formal and casual discussions. He was not the first person from VST who visited us. Dr. Jason Byassee visited Indonesia to give a series of lectures with me on the Trinity in the annual summer course of Persetia, an association for theological schools in Indonesia. But the venue was in Makassar, which is quite far from Jakarta.

The same year, I visited VST as a lecturer for the 2019 Summer Course. The friendship and cooperation between the two schools has been growing significantly. A partnership agreement was finally signed in 2021 by Dr. Richard Topping and Dr. Septemmy Lakawa, who also came to VST for the 2021 Summer Course. We are also very grateful for the opportunity for so many young Indonesian theologians, including JTS alums, to continue their studies at VST—I have lost count of the number.

As the oldest ecumenical seminary in Indonesia, we at JTS feel that our two communities are on the same wavelength regarding our commitments to a robust theological education, struggle for peace and justice, and ecumenical spirituality. Or, in VST’s motto: thoughtful, engaged, and generous! Speaking of mottos, I would confidently say that ours at JTS—“Green Campus, Blue Seminary”—echoes the theological passion and spirituality of one of the best VST theologians, the late Sallie McFague, whose books have been read by most of our students long before the recent friendship.

The friendship between VST and JTS is worth continuing, mainly because the 20-hour painful flight will be more durable in a post-pandemic world. Unlimited possibilities are waiting to be explored. We must try our best to prove to our people that theology is fun.

Presbyterian Church of Canada

Principal Clerk Rev. Victor S.J. Kim:

The past several years have not only affirmed the truth that change is an inescapable part of life, but that the change we are now experiencing is more disorienting and disruptive than we may have ever imagined, and unfolding at a pace that threatens to leave those unable to adapt behind. Churches, congregations, and denominations are not exempt from this truth and, in fact, may be more vulnerable than other institutions or organizations. 

But with challenges always come opportunities. While so much may have changed in terms of patterns of engagement and attitudes towards institutions and authority, the essential human need to be connected to purpose, meaning, and matters of consequence remain—hope still remains. 

It is in such times that robust and innovative theological education and formation become more essential than ever before. My denomination, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, is grateful for the relationship we share with the Vancouver School of Theology through our theological college, St. Andrew’s Hall. The Presbyterian Church in Canada recognizes the leading role that VST plays in educating and equipping thoughtful, engaged, and generous Christian leaders for our rapidly changing context.

We are appreciative of an institution that is open to new paradigms of understanding where knowledge comes from. VST embraces the growing world community at our doorstep, particularly those communities of faith whose narratives are different from the ones we in the west have become overly familiar with. VST’s integration of these narratives helps to shape and inform the preparation and experience of their students, which only adds to the capacity they will bring into positions of servant leadership within the communities where they will serve. The Presbyterian Church in Canada looks forward to welcoming newly formed leaders for ministry whose context includes the fresh vision and hope that the diverse student body and staff at VST provides, and we anticipate the imagination and positivity they will bring to our congregations and communities.

Speaking of experience, we continue to be excited about the theological field education that VST provides for students preparing for ministry, and VST’s initiative to evolve into leaders in the area of field education. The recent recognition around this part of the program will only serve to strengthen those who seek to be educated and formed at VST.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada gives thanks for all our theological colleges, including St. Andrew’s Hall and for the partnership we have with the Vancouver School of Theology, and we look forward to strengthening and deepening that relationship as we engage in serving the world God loves in the name of Jesus Christ.

Huron University

Dean of Theology Dr. Dan Smith, Ontario:

Since 2018, VST and the Faculty of Theology at Huron University have had a creative partnership intended to add a flexible option for United Church students preparing for ministry in Southwestern Ontario. For VST friends and alumni unfamiliar with Huron, the Faculty of Theology is one of two faculties at Huron University College, the founding institution of Western University in London, Ontario. Historically Anglican, the Faculty of Theology offers both masters-level theological education through its MA, MDiv, and MTS programs, as well as courses and modules in Religion & Theology for BA-level students at Huron and Western. In addition, for the last eleven years, Huron has been committed to interreligious theological education, with several Islamic Studies options in the MTS degree. 

In a nutshell, students in the VST@Huron program take courses in Pastoral Theology, Homiletics, Spiritual Care, and Field Education in person at Huron, thanks largely to our United Church faculty members, the Rev. Dr. Brad Morrison and the Rev. Dr. Jeff Crittenden. Students take the rest of the Master of Divinity program – courses in Biblical Studies, Theology, Church History, and so on – online with VST, and the degree and United Church Testamur are granted through VST. Student progress and readiness for ministry are assessed and reported jointly by VST and by Huron’s United Church faculty. Because both schools are accredited (and regularly assessed) by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), educational quality is assured and credit transfer is straightforward.

More to the point, and this is why as Huron’s Dean of Theology I am very pleased to have this partnership with VST, the two schools are closely aligned in both educational mission and theological commitments. A quick glance at the Program Learning Outcomes for the MDiv degrees at both VST and Huron shows that both schools are committed to a theological education that establishes students in their tradition, enables them to develop personally and spiritually as leaders, and empowers them to engage their ministry contexts with creativity and sensitivity. My hope is that in the future, Huron and VST can find other ways to collaborate, based on these shared commitments. 


A Path to Leadership Excellence

UBC Sauder Executive Education:

In an alliance that began in 2017, the Vancouver School of Theology and the UBC Sauder School of Business, Executive Education have been fostering a unique educational synergy aimed at enhancing leadership within the realms of theology.

President Richard Topping, recognizing the need for VST students to acquire business administration and managerial acumen, introduced the Certificate in Leadership Excellence program. The initiative is customized by UBC Sauder for VST students, who glean insights into management, finance, and administration from accomplished faculty and leaders across the business spectrum. By integrating these concepts with their theological education, the students are equipped to steer congregations with confidence and proficiency.

President Topping, himself one of the program’s graduates, attests to its merits. “Just rubbing shoulders with people who are leaders in other sectors was really helpful,” he remarked. “While we haven’t lessened any of the academic requirements of our students in the area of theology, the Certificate in Leadership Excellence has proved to be a form of adjunct learning that makes their overall education more relevant and provides a little more traction in the day-to-day life of a congregation.”

Topping points to the profound benefits of courses like Coaching and Mentoring, which helps students analyze and improve their leadership approach, and Financial Statement Analysis for the Non-Accountant, which equips participants with essential financial literacy skills for the non-profit sector.

The program’s continued evolution is a testament to the close collaboration between President Topping and Bruce Wiesner, Associate Dean of UBC Sauder Executive Education. Together, they ensure that the Certificate of Leadership Excellence remains adaptive and world-class for VST students.

“I give Reverend Topping tremendous credit for having the vision to recognize that theological students could benefit from leadership development and business skills, and to reach out to us to create a solution,” says Associate Dean Wiesner. “It’s an extremely rewarding partnership, and UBC Sauder Executive Education remains dedicated to tailoring the program to the unique needs of the VST participants.”

A recent addition to the curriculum underscores this commitment. A course focused on “Leading Through a Time of Change” prepares students to navigate not only incremental shifts but also radical transformations, such as those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this course, students cultivate the ability to manage effectively and make informed decisions in challenging circumstances.

The VST and UBC Sauder partnership represents a distinctive opportunity within Canadian theological education. President Topping proudly notes that VST received international recognition as one of the “10 most improved theological schools in the world” in both 2019 and 2021. He attributes this success to innovative partnerships like this that ultimately empower students to make a positive impact on society.

Durham University

Prof. Dr. Matthew J. Guest:

It was a few years ago that I first visited Vancouver School of Theology. I was there to explore the possibility of building a formal relationship between VST and my own institution, Durham University, in the UK. Both institutions were interested in developing a partnership focused on supporting doctoral research. We shared common research interests and a commitment to theological scholarship that engages with the challenges of the contemporary world. Our own doctoral programme was thriving and we had for some time benefitted from attracting a large community of international PhD students, some travelling to Durham to study, others engaged largely in distance learning. Technological developments have generated more and more possibilities on that front in recent years, not least the practice of holding supervisory meetings via Zoom, as well as the expansion of library resources available in electronic form. We already had some excellent students from across the world, and our departmental research culture was enriched by their presence and scholarship. Extending this global reach into a partnership with VST seemed like an exciting next step in developing our provision in theological education.


I was very warmly welcomed by VST’s president, Richard Topping, during a delightful trip to Vancouver that included opportunities to meet with staff and students. I got a real sense of the supportive scholarly community maintained at VST, as well as the clear enthusiasm for developing doctoral research. The staff had already received a number of expressions of interest from keen graduates as well as staff committed to serving as supervisors in collaboration with colleagues at Durham. It was clear to me at that point that this is a relationship that could work brilliantly, and so work began in earnest to make it happen. 

We are now five years into this partnership and, I am delighted to report, have just renewed it for another five. We’re proud and excited by what we’ve been able to achieve through this relationship with our colleagues in Vancouver. Since the partnership between Durham and VST was established, a number of students have embarked on PhD research via this cross-institutional arrangement. Students benefit from supervisors based in both institutions and have access to library resources housed at VST and at Durham. It continues to be a privilege and a pleasure to partner with VST – to collaborate on its development of doctoral provision, and to learn from its impressive academic staff and students. I look forward to seeing this partnership develop further as we work together on common goals, and I am excited to see what we can achieve via our transatlantic relationship. 

United Church of Canada

Pacific Mountain Regional Council, Executive Minister Treena Duncan:

A council of The United Church of Canada, Pacific Mountain Regional Council (PMRC) supports just under 200 United Church communities across BC and the Yukon. In addition to staffing, funding, advocacy, and resources, PMR’s strong partnerships with key organizations strengthen the life and work of our church. Vancouver School of Theology serves as one such long-standing partner, whose distinctive and rich perspectives are valued and celebrated. With its West Coast context, VST’s articulated vision to nurture thoughtful, engaged, and generous Christian leaders aligns with our own vision for effective leadership and healthy communities of faith—PMR’s relationship with VST is centered on a shared purpose and mission to support those called to ministry and leadership. 

Our shared dedication to working toward reconciliation and excellence in our respective offerings underscores the pivotal role education has in nurturing leaders, and in cultivating dynamic faith communities. We firmly believe that a well-rounded theological education complemented by hands-on leadership, pastoral care, and management proficiency provides ministry candidates essential tools for successful service. VST’s ongoing development of Field Education and mentorship in the formative process is a valued aspect of ministry training, with PMR communities of faith serving as partners in this experience. Our shared investment enhances collective capacity for meeting the needs of faith communities in PMRC and beyond. 

Alongside hundreds of lay leaders, staff, and members who have accessed VST’s extensive offerings, Pacific Mountain Region boasts a multitude of ministers who proudly call themselves VST alumni. Between VST’s development of innovative leaders and PMR’s responsive support and timely initiatives, we are seeing ministers and church staff equipped with the skills and resilience needed for leading in these challenging times. The shared benefits ripple outward, developing leaders, revitalizing congregations, and enriching our collective faith journey. 

As we look ahead, our hope is for communities of faith and ministries to continue to be guided by inspired and compassionate leaders who have been nurtured at VST. We anticipate deeper collaboration, further growth, and an ongoing commitment to the flourishing of faith communities. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12 beautifully encapsulates the essence of our partnership, where each contributes unique gifts, culminating in a stronger, more impactful whole.

St. Mark's / Corpus Christi

President Gerry Turcotte & Dean Lynda Robitaille, Vancouver:

In 2018 St. Mark’s / Corpus Christi Colleges entered into a partnership agreement to support domestic and international Indigenous and non-indigenous students wanting to pursue graduate studies at the Vancouver School of Theology. This dynamic pathway facilitates the admission of prospective qualified, mature, designated students from VST to CCC programs; provides English Language support to interested international students considering studying at VST; and promotes the BA in Theology and Culture at SMC as a degree preparing students for graduate studies at VST, including the MDiv, MATS, MAPPL, MA IIS.

 The partnership agreement allows faculty, staff, and students at both SMC and VST to get to know their neighbours and to work together on common projects. The students bond with one another in class, as well as through activities hosted by the respective institutions. Students in the BA even have the opportunity to study in both programs concurrently, shortening the time required for their degree. 

 Together the Colleges celebrate a remarkable ecumenical partnership that is a model for the wider community to follow — a friendship and trust built in authentic faith formation.