Bridging the gap: why we give to St. Vladimir’s Seminary

Ginny Nieuwsma

Matushka Laurel Magruder works in the banking industry and enjoys serving as a Sunday School teacher at their home parish, St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Baltimore, MD. Deacon James and Mat. Laurel are blessed with two children. 

Deacon James received the M.Div. from St. Vladimir's Seminary in 2003 and a Ph.D. in art history from Johns Hopkins University in 2014. Currently he teaches art history courses at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County and is attached to St. Andrew.

What would American Orthodoxy look like, had SVOTS not existed?

This question was posed to SVOTS alumnus Dn. James and his wife Mat. Laurel Magruder. Deacon James paused thoughtfully before replying.

“St. Vladimir’s is unique; it has bridged the gap between ‘the old country’ and newer generations in Orthodoxy,” he noted. “In so doing, the Seminary rendered the teaching and practice of the Orthodox Christian faith comprehensible for so many—it has bridged the gap.

“St. Vladimir’s has also opened up Holy Tradition to people who don’t hold theological degrees and don’t have ethnic Orthodox roots,” Dn. James continued. “Since its inception, the Seminary has not ceased to remind us that our Faith is a living tradition.”

As a college freshman, Dn. James had no idea that his assignment to help clean up the reading room in his school’s chapel would change his life. Picking up a copy of the Antiochian Archdiocese’s magazine The Word, he encountered the Orthodox Christian faith and immediately wanted to learn more.

Then in Oregon that summer, Dn. James first heard of St. Vladimir’s Seminary when the deacon at his hometown’s OCA mission parish gave him SVS Press books to read.

“In the 1980s,” Dn. James recalls, “in any given category, St. Vladimir’s was producing most of the English-speaking content, whether it was books, or music, or teaching cassette tapes. It’s hard to imagine how Orthodoxy in this country could have moved out of its ethnic communities without St. Vladimir’s Seminary.”

A few years later, Laurel and James met, fell in love, and eventually married. Their study of Orthodox Christianity became a mutual quest and in July of 1996 (many books, CDs, and conversations later!) they were received into the Church through St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Since my childhood, my desire has been to serve in ministry,” Dn. James notes. After visiting three seminaries, the Magruders settled on St. Vladimir’s.

During their seminary years, Mat. Laurel found a job in Yonkers and also earned her MBA degree through New York University (NYU). She says that their time at St. Vladimir’s marked the beginning of new growth in her Orthodox Christian journey.

“The Seminary helped me begin to integrate the Orthodox faith into my own life as we attended services at the Chapel and participated in community life with other couples.

“St. Vladimir’s was the first place where I could see the fullness and integration of Orthodox Christian faith and practice within the life of the family.”

Deacon James adds, “Through our shared life in the Chapel and around campus, we got to know our clergy professors in the context of their families. They modeled for us the importance of time management, and how to cope with the realities of life in ministry. The faculty was very open with us about their challenges and struggles.”

“From the beginning, we were also impressed that the community was so pan Orthodox,” Mat. Laurel adds. “There was greater flexibility and openness at St. Vladimir’s, since students came from every tradition, and many states and countries.”

After seminary, Dn. James completed his Ph.D. in Art History at Johns Hopkins University, and Laurel continued in her career. Eventually a son and a daughter were added to their family, and James was ordained to the diaconate.

Love for seminarians motivates Dn. James and Mat. Laurel to support St. Vladimir’s. “We hope other families can benefit from their time at St. Vladimir’s, just as we did,” Mat. Laurel says. “Budget concerns add a tremendous amount of stress for many families in ministry—we want to help alleviate that burden.”

Deacon James agrees, “It’s our responsibility to make sure that seminarian families have all they need to succeed in ministry. One great way to do that is to offer seminarians a debt-free foundation.”