Music, Liturgy, and the Arts at Virginia Theological Seminary

Music, Liturgy, and the Arts at Virginia Theological Seminary


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Looking for a copy of The Great Litany that uses updated language (EOW) and includes music. Any suggestions?
An Advent greeting from St. Paul's Parish, Washington DC. May this season of hope bless us all.
Ellen Johnston from St. John's Episcopal Church in Camden AR.

Located at Virginia Theological Seminary, we seek to transform and enrich liturgy, music, and preaching in the Episcopal Church. Our foundation is built on our belief that vibrant and engaging liturgical practices—including an energetic music ministry and effective preaching— are the driving force of a vital parish no matter what the style, and that imaginative worship transforms and leads to discipleship.

Operating as usual


Designing Dynamic Liturgies:
A Ten Week Course for Clergy and Musicians

Are you a musician who is working in the Episcopal Church for the first time?

Are you a vocational deacon who desires
to know more about the Church’s liturgy?

Have you been working in the Episcopal Church
for some time but want a refresher course?

Or are you just curious about how liturgies are put together?

Offered through the Stevenson School for Ministry in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, this course will explore principles and best practices for designing dynamic liturgies. The full breadth of the Book of Common Prayer, Enriching Our Worship, The Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing II, Wonder, Love, and Praise, and other liturgical and musical supplements will be discussed. The topics covered include the liturgical year, the Daily Office, the Eucharist, Baptism, Lent and Holy Week services, and special services. Special attention will be paid to smaller-resourced parishes. Also to be discussed are the liturgical and musical challenges presented by COVID-19.

FACULTY: The Rev. Shawn Strout, Associate for Academic Programming and Assessment and Visiting Professor of Worship and adjunct faculty member for the Anglican Studies certificate jointly administered by Lancaster Theological Seminary and the Stevenson School for Ministry in Central Pennsylvania, and Ellen Johnston, former Senior Associate for Life Long Learning and Director of Music, Liturgy and the Arts at Virginia Theological Seminary and Director of Music at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, Virginia.

For more information: Contact Ellen Johnston – [email protected]

COST: $300 for credit and $100 for audit

DATES: Weekly Zoom Meeting Times: Tuesdays at 7:00 PM, beginning February 16.



The Rev. Dr. Juan M.C. Oliver, Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer and member of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, contributes this article to Music, Liturgy, and the Arts.

I’ve been thinking about ritual and time, or ritual time. Anthropologists will tell us that ritual almost always takes place in a special place and at a special time, even if this place and time are in flux, or temporary. We mark off a “when” and a “where” and that marking off has some significance. Places of worship are theologically at least, much more than a convenient shelter. They offer, as Suzanne Langer said about architecture, “the semblance of an ethnic domain,” —that is, the place of a people, whether they be a family in their home or students in a school, or, in our case, an assembly at a place of worship.

In a similar way, we also parcel off time, usually in cyclical ways, to mark ritual time. In secular life, this takes place on the holidays of the year, or the weekend as a week-marker, even the morning routine of getting everyone ready for school and work. In liturgical time, there are cycles of the year, the day and the week. Perhaps the oldest for us is the marker of the week, Sunday, the first day of creation, the day of Resurrection, the “eighth day” of the world at its fulfillment in the coming of the kingdom of God, the eschaton. By assembling on Sundays Christians proclaim —simply by gathering at this time- that we live in expectation of something wonderful to happen, here, among us, in this world.

I have been thinking about time because Advent is about to begin, and of course, expectation is of its essence. To the unsuspecting visitor, Advent might look like we are looking forward to Christmas. This is true as far as it goes, but it can also be taken a bit too literally. First, we are not getting ready just for Christmas. The readings (especially if you observe a seven week Advent) are about much more than the remembrance of a birth two millennia ago. They are about the restoration and fulfillment of this world through the arrival (adventus) of God’s rule of justice, peace and love, in other words, God’s basileia, the divine royal authority; this world as GOD would have it, God’s reign or kingdom.

Except of course, all this is being communicated by metaphor and symbol. And that’s where we get in trouble. For as citizens of a scientistic world, in which only what is measurable is real, we tend to fall into understanding sacred time in literal, rather than iconic ways. To stay with Advent: starting about this time you will hear belly aching about why we should not decorate until December 24, “because it is not Christmas yet.” This is taking liturgical time way too literally, I think, and a noxious misunderstanding of the iconic ie., symbolic, or sign-like nature of liturgical time.

Iconic time is time infused with meaning. From the secular meanings of Memorial and Labor Days as the bookends of summer, to Thanksgiving as meaning something like “the blessing of family and friends” to the sacred or religious meanings of Christmas: God with us, the humanization and enfleshment of God, the “marriage” of God and creation, divine humility, the sacredness of all things bright and beautiful, the presence of Light in darkness, —all these coexist at different levels, from different angles in the twelve day celebration of Christmas. Add to these the coming of God’s reign of peace and justice, the healing of the world, the final fulfillment of creation, etc., and you have a profoundly rich feast, so profoundly rich that like a very bright bonfire it shines back all the way into November and forward all the way to February. I for one will not cover my eyes to avoid seeing it. My tree will be going up soon after Thanksgiving not because it’s Christmas, but because I am excited about it.

For who said that decorations, songs, visiting friends, etc, are only celebratory? Can’t they be expectant? Why shouldn’t we let the grace of Christmas flood our lives as soon as the first hint of it appears? Sure, be wise, do not overshop, overdecorate, over anything. And take time up to pay attention, to savor ponder ALL of Christmas’ meanings, relish the halcyon days, and let Christmas install in you a hunger for the coming Reign of God, when the whole earth will be “full of the knowledge of God,” –all the time.

JUAN OLIVER has served in a variety of ministerial positions as vicar, interim rector, acting canon to the ordinary, and as an academic and professor. Dr. Oliver has published widely on worship and Latino ministry. His most recent project, A House of Meanings was published in 2020. He is the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer and lives in Santa Fé, New Mexico.


VTS Middler, Cara Ellen Modisett, a frequent contributor to Music, Liturgy, and the Arts, shares a sermon she wrote for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Sunday. While it was written for a specific Sunday, we found it to be appropriate on any day.

The city where I live, Roanoke, Va., contains an entire mountain within its corporate limits – Mill Mountain. On the top of Mill Mountain is a giant neon star, more than 88 feet tall, 100 feet tall including its support structure, built on the mountainside one Christmas season back in the late 1940s. The mountain also holds hiking trails, two overlooks, a zoo, a nature center and roads that lead up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a popular place for sightseers, wedding proposals and senior pictures. From the overlooks, you can see for miles, not just the highways and the office buildings of the city below but the ridges of the mountains beyond, mountains that are as much as a billion years old, worn down by the elements over millennia.

It’s November, and it’s getting colder, and we’re expecting rain to the point of flooding in the next few days as another storm hurtles into the states south of us, so I have a small window of time to spend with this text outdoors – because of the pandemic, an indoor public space is not an option for me, 30-some years spent with a rebuilt heart.

So on this particular late fall afternoon, I take my notebook and my mask and my cell phone and drive downtown, past the baseball fields and the hospital and over the river, and I take a right turn and head up the mountain when rain clouds are just starting to gather, the colors on the trees fading with the higher the elevation, and Daylight Saving Time is already turning the afternoon to evening.

And on the top of the mountain, even with the zoo and the neon star and occasional wedding proposals, there’s a lot of open space, slopes tilting down from the peak to the treeline, boulders holding down the earth, walking paths through the rhododendron. And on this particular late afternoon I find that others have come up to be in the cooler air as well – a family with young children whose Spanish-speaking voices bubble up through the trees. A couple in their thirties, a couple navigating with a walker, a middle-aged man barreling up a sidewalk in his mechanized wheelchair, a father in a biker’s leather vest who’s parked his motorcycle and is clambering on the playground equipment with his young son. A young woman on a bicycle. A man holding a hiking stick, sitting and watching the sun and shadows across the valley, never turning to look back, for the entire time I am there. A squirrel annoyed with my presence, but not annoyed enough to stop rooting through a trash can.

And it’s warm enough, so I sit on the grass with my phone open to Lectionary Page dot net and my legal pad and my pen and I write. And I’m writing about the scripture for Christ the King Sunday, the Sunday right before Advent. It’s a Sunday that’s a bit of a made-up feast day, first created in 1925, and not even by the Episcopal Church but by the Catholic Pope, Pius XI. It’s been celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent since 1970. To be honest, it’s a feast day I have some trouble with. The idea of Christ as a King, as part of a hierarchical, rather outdated, often male-dominated system of government, is hard to square with the idea of Christ as vulnerable, human, itinerant, rebellious. And in this year’s lectionary, the idea of Christ as judgmental, sorting among the goats and the sheep at the end of the world, is hard to square with a God of grace and love.

So here I am, on top of a mountain, exchanging socially distanced hellos with the Spanish-speaking family and the woman on the bicycle, trying not to disturb the man sitting in his solitude, finding myself smiling at the motorcycle dude following his son down the slide. I hear an ambulance. The bare trees, ready for the temporary death of winter, don’t hide the ugliness of the city anymore, and the rooftops of big box stores and gas stations have replaced the forests that once filled the valley. And it’s all beautiful anyway.

On this mountain, I feel a bit the way I feel at church on a pre-pandemic Sunday. Not just that the mountain is vast, sacred ground, beautiful and soaring and old. This year, we are missing that experience of church, coming together and being together in one building, sharing the Eucharist, taking in the body of Christ, nourished and fed by him, imperfect and not beautiful and beautiful, all of us in God’s grace, sharing the table and being loved by our creator, then going back out again into the world to do God’s work. There’s a point in the Eucharist I particularly love, after I’ve already received and I’m sitting down again, and watching the others who walk up to the table, then return again – young and old, strong and struggling, family and solitary – and I love each one of them as they walk past. It’s a thin moment, a time when the walls between us and God, and us and each other, disappear briefly, a time when God speaks to us, forgives us, reconciles us to each other, feeds us and sends us back out into the world to work toward the promise of God’s Kingdom.

This afternoon, this mountain feels like the Eucharist to me. It holds God, a nourishing, loving, reconciling and eternal God, a God repeating the Great Commandment week after week, to love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love neighbor as you love yourself; and it is a Jesus repeating the Great Commission week after week – go into the world and tell the good news, make disciples of all the people and be reconciled to one another. The mountain, like the Eucharist, holds all of us together – the young and the old, the strong and the struggling, the family and the solitary, a mix of voices and languages and views – and we are nourished here, fed by God’s creation, a different form of Christ’s incarnation. We may not all even know it. This mountain is a thin place, where the walls between us and God, and us and each other, disappear briefly.

And all of this does all connect with Christ the King Sunday, and helps work past the contradictions we try to hold together. For today’s scripture, like the Eucharist, holds all of God incarnate in Christ the King: God is the shepherd who leads us into the safety of mountain pastures, as we read in Ezekiel. God is the eternal creator who made the caverns of the earth and the heights of the hills also, as we sing in the Psalms. God And most importantly for our time, he is the God who judges us, and tells us that in loving each other we love him, as we hear in the Gospel.

As storm clouds gather and an uncertain winter comes, it is good for us to remember that God will not desert us, that God is there with us through this strange and anxious wilderness of pandemic and politics. It is also good for us to remember that God asks for something in return –reminding us that those who share the mountaintop with us are members of the family of God, and that in loving them we love our creator who first loved us – that is Christ the King’s commandment for us. And on this mountain, I see the created and the creator, the ageless world where God lives and loves, and the ever-changing world of humanity where we live and love. For now, this is our Eucharist.


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Here's a look at the beautiful Advent and Christmas choral music coming up this week from Dec 1–5, all premiered daily, then archived to listen anytime on our website and YouTube channel! Tune in!
#adventcalendarproject #amplifyfemalecomposers #choralmusic 10/30/2020

A Report on the Gathering on Liturgical Formation (or) What has the SCLM been doing since the 79th General Convention?

Did you miss the SCLM webinars? See what happened and watch the recordings. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and MusicFront Row L to R: Mark Childers, the Rev. Stan Baker, Ellen Johnston, Dr. Michael Boney;Around the table L to R: the Rt. Rev. Jeff Lee, Jessica Nelson, E… 09/30/2020

Online Event Page | Eventbrite

It's not to late to register for The Sounds of Protest, a free webinar with Dr. William Bobby McClain and the Rev. Dr. William Bradley Roberts. Eventbrite brings people together through live experiences. Discover events that match your passions, or create your own with online ticketing tools. 09/22/2020

Hope Incarnate: Planning Worship for Advent and Christmas

If you missed the Advent webinar from VTS now is your chance to watch it! What have we learned about leading worship and music from six months of COVID-19 disruption? What is at stake theologically and pastorally? How are we being ...


Online Event Page | Eventbrite

Have you wondered where the protest songs are in these days? Do you know about the coded songs during the days of the Underground Railroad? What about the protest songs of the civil rights era in the 1960s? There is still time to register for this free event. Come and listen to Bobby McClain, who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama, have a conversation with William Bradley Roberts.

Eventbrite brings people together through live experiences. Discover events that match your passions, or create your own with online ticketing tools.


Quarantined Choirs

Advent and Christmas resources for your choirs!

Church musicians are learning new ways to convene their choirs and new ways to make music during these days of COVID-19. We are told that rehearsing in person is dangerous to all unless very strict… 09/15/2020

Livestreaming: Platforms, Tech, and the Systems

Check out this webinar about live streaming. We think we'll be doing this for a while! Free webinar on why and how to livestream events, conversations, and services.


The Sounds of Protest: A Conversation

Dr. William Bobby McClain and the Rev. Dr. William Bradley Roberts discuss protest songs from the past and looking into the future. 09/07/2020

Collects for Pandemic Sanctuaries c Brennon Wesley Cara Modisett, a middler at VTS who is also a fine church musician, has composed three lovely collects for the pandemic church while on retreat.  Here is what she says ab… 09/04/2020

'Reimagining music in church post Covid-19'

Check out this event from St. Martin-in-the-Field in London. The time given is British time. It happens at 1:30pm EDT. Reimagining music in church post Covid-19

Videos (show all)

Once and Future Hymnal Symposium webinar
Once and Future Hymnal Symposium webinar
Once and Future Hymnal Symposium webinar
Once and Future Hymnal Symposium webinar
Marilyn Haskel leading group singing.
Ysaye Barnwell leads small group singing.




3737 Seminary Rd
Alexandria, VA
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Christ the King Christ the King
1801 North Quaker Lane
Alexandria, 22302

Join us Sundays at 9 or 11 inside on the lawn or online.

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3737 Seminary Rd
Alexandria, 22304

CACS at Virginia Theological Seminary Bringing community to the Communion with a rich tradition of hospitality, exchange and research.

St. Andrew & St. Margaret of Scotland St. Andrew & St. Margaret of Scotland
402 E Monroe Ave
Alexandria, 22301-1625

The Church of St. Andrew & St. Margaret is a vibrant, growing, traditional Anglican parish within the Anglican Catholic Church located just outside our nation's capitol in the heart of Northern Virginia.