BBQ Church

Dr. John Vest prepares BBQ for the feast.
Dr. John Vest prepares BBQ for the feast.

By John Vest
Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism

I came to Richmond with a dream. One of the things that excited me the most about this new position—a partnership in evangelism between Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Presbytery of the James—is the opportunity to experiment with new forms of church and Christian community. My hope is that these experiments will serve as learning labs to supplement what I do in the classroom and in congregational consulting.

M.Div. student Thomas Wesley Moore plays banjo with  music leader Rev. Bobby Joe Small.
M.Div. student Thomas Wesley Moore, left, plays banjo with music leader Rev. Bobby Joe Small.

For years I have dreamed and experimented with a “dinner church” worship service I call BBQ Church. The idea is simple: gather people together in a casual atmosphere around a shared meal (with Communion) to talk about God’s presence in our lives and in the world. When a couple of students approached me about doing summer internships in the area of new worshipping communities, I seized the opportunity to give BBQ Church a try in RVA.

Seminary communications director Mike Frontiero and son Ian feast on chicken and pork BBQ.
Seminary communications director Mike Frontiero and son Ian feast on chicken and pork BBQ.

I’m working with three students, one recent graduate, and a member of the seminary staff to run a series of BBQ Church experiments over the course of the summer (in addition to some other evangelism and learning opportunities). Our first event happened in June, and while it was certainly rough around the edges and we identified many areas for improvement, I’d say it was a great success. Even though we only advertised the event for a week on Facebook and through flyers and personal invitations on the day of the event, about 100 people showed up and we had to add more tables and chairs. Sure, many of the participants were friends and colleagues, but many others were folks we had never met before, looking for a faith community or simply intrigued by what we were doing.

bbq church5

I’m looking forward to the rest of this summer experiment, and seeing where God leads us in the fall and beyond.

Save the date for the next BBQ Church:  Saturday, July 23, 6 p.m. at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, 4401 Forest Hill Ave in Richmond, Virginia. For updates, follow The Joyful Feast on Facebook.

Congratulations 2016 graduates


On Saturday, June 4, Union Presbyterian Seminary celebrated the 204th commencement service of the school’s Richmond campus. Retiring Samuel L. Newell, Jr. Professor of Preaching and Worship Beverly Zink-Sawyer presented the commencement address, “Begetting Demons and Angels,” inspired by the gospel of Luke.

Retiring Professor of Preaching and Worship Beverly Zink-Sawyer delivered the commencement address for the Richmond campus.


Union’s Charlotte campus celebrated the close of the 14th session, on Saturday, June 11. Interim Pastor for Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, Albert Peery (D.Min.S.’74), gave the commencement address, “God’s Thoughts,” inspired by 1 Corinthians.


Forty-eight degrees were conferred across the seminary’s Richmond, Charlotte, and Extended Campus platforms. Union Presbyterian Seminary continues in its mission to prepare pastors, educators, and scholars in service to the Church with approximately 208 students enrolled in programs. They represent approximately eight nations and more than 21 states.

Why should I consider making a gift from my IRA?

TomAndGinger Scott 1
Tom and Ginger Scott

By Bernie Howell
Advancement Operations Manager

Married for 53 years, Tom and Ginger Scott delight in frequent family celebrations with their children and grandchildren both in their hometown of Columbia, Maryland, and during summer vacations at the beach.  Joyful moments can be at times small to sometimes grand – watching a trio of fox kits frolic in the yard or thrilling to fireworks over the Sydney Opera House.

Ginger minored in religion at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and after graduation she worked as an educational assistant at a church in South Carolina.  She returned to Richmond in 1959 to attend the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE).  This was her next step to gain greater theological knowledge and educational skills from many gifted and dedicated professors and students at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) and PSCE.  She fondly remembers classes with Wade Boggs, Sara Little and Glenn Bannerman.

While a student at PSCE, Ginger realized that gifts from many Presbyterians kept her class fees low.  This is the fundamental reason the Scotts continue to support Union Presbyterian Seminary (formerly Union-PSCE).  When asked, “Why do you think Christian education is important?” Ginger replied, “Christian education is more and more important as the church interprets itself to its surrounding community.  It’s exciting to see programs which bring parishioners, old and young, into co-operative efforts to meet the needs of its neighbors.”

After “running the numbers,” Tom and Ginger found that their income taxes were somewhat lower when making a gift directly from an IRA.  This is because — as part of a Minimum Required Distribution — a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) can be made to a 501c(3) organization such as Union to reduce dollar for dollar the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).  A lower AGI determines how much social security income is taxed as well as the percentage by which other itemized deductions are reduced.

The QCD is now part of the permanent tax code.  There is no longer an expiration date, so gifts can be made to a qualified charity this year and well into the future.

Use your IRA to make a tax-wise gift to Union today!

Union witnesses history at GA

Brian at GA
President Brian K. Blount poses with co-moderators, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston at GA.

This year, Portland, Oregon played host to the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that kicked off June 18th. The week long event has already made history with the election of co-moderators for the first time, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, as well as adopting The Belhar Confessions into the Book of Confessions. Union graduates, alums, professors, and staff have been on hand not only in leadership roles, but as people helping shape the direction of the denomination.

Several members of our faculty and staff have been sharing their talents and insight with the General Assembly.  Dean, Charlotte campus, Richard Boyce and Assistant Professor of Christian Education Sung Hee Chang (M.A.C.E.’99; Ph.D.’09) were asked by Union alum and Moderator for the 221st General Assembly Heath Rada (M.A.’70) to develop a Bible study for the event. Their curriculum, “Messy Tables, Messy Mission,” was used in both Monday and Tuesday’s Bible study by the assembly at large. Director of Admissions Mairi Renwick (M.Div.’11) and Associate Director of Admissions Lisa McLennan (M.Div.’13) represented Union at the Seminary Fair, giving information about our degree programs, new initiatives, and continuing education.

Professor John Vest gives keynote address at UPSem Alumni Luncheon.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism John Vest offered the keynote address, “Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism,” at the Union Presbyterian Seminary Alumni Luncheon. The alums also heard from President Brian K. Blount and Director of Alumni Development Clay Macaulay (D.Min.’85). During the luncheon, the newly elected co-moderators visited to give a quick word to the group. Denise Anderson is a pastor from National Capital Presbytery, and Jan Edmiston is a presbytery executive from Chicago. Over 80 Union and PSCE alums gathered together in fellowship.

For Orlando…

Orlando ribbonThe Lord proclaims:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   weeping and wailing.
It’s Rachel crying for her children;
   she refuses to be consoled,
   because her children are no more.
-Jeremiah 31: 15

Holy God,

we  weep, we lament,
and we trust that you hear our tears
    before they begin to fall.
Another senseless act of violence,
   with its seeds planted from the rhetoric of our world.
Homophobia and xenophobia should not be
   challenges anyone faces,
and yet we are weeping for our LGBTQ* and Latino/a  brothers and sisters. 

There are words of comfort and peace and love to be said,
   but God, let us be unsettled a little longer.
Let our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our whole beings
   remind us this is not ok.
And may your Spirit evoke in us
   a willingness to speak out, to walk alongside,
     to demand justice for these precious lives lost in Orlando.

 Hear our prayers, our tears, our anger, our helplessness.

In the name of Christ we pray, amen.

Written June 13, 2016, by Chaplain Michelle Freeman Owens (M.Div.’05)