Blandy 2018 Welcomes Alumni Home

Against a background of crisp fall weather, the 2018 Blandy Lectures and Alumni Convocation convened on the campus of Seminary of the Southwest this November with a distinct feel of homecoming. Under the guidance of Blandy Chair The Rev. Kathy Pfister and Alumni Association President The Rev. Eric Hungerford, this year’s Blandy featured many new elements meant to emphasize the power of fellowship and the draw of returning home to Southwest.

“The opportunity to gather as colleagues in a spirit of inquiry and fellowship is essential if we are to remain connected to each other and enlivened for our work,” Pfister said. “I am so grateful to Southwest for creating such an opportunity as we celebrate who we are to one another as graduates and supporters of this transformative institution.”

Many elements that have become custom at Blandy remained: the journalist Ray Suarez, most known for his work with Al Jazeera America and PBS NewsHour and the current John J. McCloy Visiting Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, gave two impactful and personal lectures on the Fragmentation of Authority in Contemporary Culture, and shared personal insight on his journey as an Episcopalian, including his perspectives on his daughter being an Episcopal priest. In the tradition of alternating each year’s speaker between lay and ordained persons, Suarez – speaking just two days after the November midterm elections – provided thoughtful perspectives on both current events and the state of the church.

The other traditional component of Blandy – continuing education – included highly engaging and relevant sessions on Gender and Sexual Orientation in the 21st Century and Navigating Difficult Conversations in a Polarized World. Southwest’s newly created Iona Center led the creation and presentation of this content, which highlighted the quality and relevance of this new Southwest initiative’s work (link Lilly grant). These sessions were led by current faculty, Iona Center staff, and experts recruited to provide new perspectives to attendees.

“The Iona Center was pleased with the content and energy level at the continuing education programs we organized for Blandy 2018,” said Rebecca Hall, director of continuing education and discipleship formation for the Iona Center at Seminary of the Southwest. “Both topics, provided relevant and timely formation for clergy and lay leaders to take back and apply in their wide variety of contexts.”

A focus of the Blandy committee this year was to emphasize the homecoming nature of the annual gathering. In collaboration with the Center for Writing and Creative Expression, Blandy 2018 included a festive Friday-night concert, featuring the local modern-soul band Akina Adderley & the Vintage Playboys, in the Weeks Center. In addition to the music, dancing, and food, attendees enjoyed the presence of Southwest’s own Typewriter Rodeo: students writing impromptu poetry on vintage typewriters based on individual topic requests.

“It’s always fun to welcome alumni and friends back to campus, but the Blandy Lectures and Alumni Convocation gives us the unique opportunity to bring our entire community together,” said Katherine Bailey Brown, director of annual giving and alumni relations. “Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends are all welcome. This year’s Blandy Lectures and Alumni Convocation was full of highlights that included Ray Suarez’s inspiring lectures, engaging and informative continuing ed sessions organized by the Iona Collaborative, watching the Thuribulls play in the Polity Bowl, and the fun Soul in the City event on Friday night.”

One of the most significant changes was this year’s dates. Traditionally held in September, Blandy was moved this year to November to align with the annual Polity Bowl, in which the Southwest Thuribulls take on friends at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in a game of flag football. Despite the cold weather and bad breaks suffered by the Thuribulls, alums joined current students and faculty on the sidelines to cheer on the Southwest team.

“Our Blandy Lectures and Alumni Convocation provided rich opportunities for learning and fellowship,” said Dr. Scott Bader-Saye, acting dean and president. “We tried something new this year by moving the dates to coincide with the Polity Bowl and by adding a Soul by Southwest party into the mix. It was a joy to see alums on campus, to reconnect with recent graduates, and to hear stories about the seminary from decades ago.  The Iona Center provided thoughtful and instructive sessions, and Ray Suarez provided insightful lectures on journalism in a post-truth society and the future of the church in a culture of ‘nones.’”


Hungerford summed up the experience for most in attendance: “This year’s Blandy was amazing! It was such a joy to get caught up with colleagues from my class, listen to stories about the seminary from years past, and hear about all of the new and exciting things that are going on at Southwest. Ray Suarez was insightful and engaging, and it was so fun to cap things off dancing with faculty and students to Akina Adderley’s upbeat big-band soul sound and to watch our Thuribulls take on the Presbyterians in the Polity Bowl. Such a great way to reconnect with the seminary that I love!”