VTS presents first Dean's Cross award to Tay Cooper and Harold Lewis

February 19, 2009

Virginia Theological Seminary awarded the first Dean' s Cross awards for servant leadership in church and society on February 15 to Octavia "Tay" Wood Cooper, a lifelong lay leader, and to the Rev. Canon Harold T. Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean and president of the seminary, and Diocese of Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee presented the award during a special Evensong service in the seminary chapel.

Established in November 2008, the Dean's Cross award recognizes outstanding leaders who embody their baptismal vows to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being" (Book of Common Prayer). Selected by the dean in consultation with the chair of the board, the honorees receive a handmade silver cross, modeled after the Seminary Chapel cross, and a certificate.

"Our work here at Virginia Seminary is formation," said Markham, "and this award celebrates the well-formed life, which involves living out the values of the baptismal covenant and making a difference in society."

Cooper was recognized for her work promoting theological education through the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) which provides book and other resources to seminaries in the Anglican Communion. Cooper, whose husband is the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, recognized early on the importance of theological education and the attendant desperate needs in Anglican Seminaries worldwide. "This wonderful occasion is made even more poignant for me," said Cooper at Sunday's dinner, "because my great-great uncle, Bishop John Johns, once president of Virginia Seminary, is smiling on me in this seminary tonight."

Lewis was honored for his "Gospel values and powerful witness to the genius of Anglicanism with its respect for learning, tolerance, and openness." Lewis is author of A Church for the Future: South Africa as the Crucible for Anglicanism in a New Century, in which he tells the story of the South African church from its role in the first Lambeth conference to the present day.

During his dinner remarks, Lewis said, "I often talk about having a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem as the very purpose of our existence, and with this award am reminded by that great hymn by Dr. Bowie: "Give us, oh God, the strength to build the city that hath stood too long a dream, whose laws are love, whose crown is servanthood, and where the sun that shineth is God's grace for human good."