Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sewanee - The University of the South

The University of the South, also known as Sewanee, was founded 150 years ago by a group of Episcopal bishops from across the South who wanted to found a college and seminary in the southern states. Currently, the institution is owned by 28 dioceses of the Episcopal Church, and it offers an undergraduate liberal arts education to 1,300 students, and graduate studies in the School of Theology for around 100 students. It is one of the accredited Episcopal seminaries.

The campus is set high on a mountain in the Cumberland Plateau between Nashville and Chattanooga. The more than 10,000 acres of mountainside owned by the university is called the Domain. When you leave the Domain, you are supposed to tap your car roof to let a Sewanee angel know that you are leaving. An angel is supposed to travel with you and protect you while you are off the Domain. When you return, you tap your car roof to release the angel.

There is also a "Gown tradition" here. Professors wear academic gowns when they teach. Students who have met certain academic goals also wear gowns to class. Some of the buildings here were designed after buildings at Oxford and Cambridge, and there is a lovely, pseudo-English feeling to the campus. Students are active participants in the worship life of All Saints Chapel, where morning and evening prayer are held daily. Also, women students must wear dresses or skirts to class and men students must wear ties and jackets.

There are two ways of being an Episcopalian in the South. There is the Vuh-ginn-iuh way, exemplified at Virginia Theological Seminary. It is fairly low church, with the emphasis on the Bible and on preaching, not on liturgy and ritual. Cassocks and surplices are the favored garb.

Then there is the Sewanee way. Sewanee has a love of liturgy and pomp and reflects a more Anglo-Catholic tradition. Chausibles and incense are OK here!

I realize that I have been formed by both traditions. My upbringing in Florida was in a church staffed with Sewanee-trained clergy. My seminary experience was at Virginia. Despite my Midwest roots and many, many years on the East Coast, I think I am a Southern Episcopalian by experience and training. But with both strands -- Sewanee and Virginia -- interwoven.

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