World’s Largest St. Nicholas Database Is Moving
Virginia Theological Seminary’s exhibit is ready for the December 6 Feast of St. Nicholas …
… followed by a December 17 dedication
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine
Because our Front Edge Publishing is based in Michigan, we have enjoyed a bit of home-state pride in Carol Myers’ creation of the world’s largest St. Nicholas database, operating out of her home in Holland, Michigan. So, each year, it’s a ReadTheSpirit tradition to publish a story—well before St. Nicholas Day on December 6—reminding readers to visit the online resources Carol has compiled at the St. Nicholas Center website. Her Center is packed with fun for history buffs, church leaders, teachers, parents—and anyone who wants to learn more about the global impact of the saint behind our pop-culture Santa Claus.
Her Center even shares tasty recipes—and we know that our readers love a good recipe!
This year, we are joining with the Myers—both Carol and also her husband, the best-selling author of psychology textbooks David Myers—as they are celebrating their historic effort to move all of these St. Nicholas resources to a permanent, endowed home at the Virginia Theological Seminary.
St. Nicholas: ‘A Subversive Saint … of Justice’
This is a project as big as the database itself and it contains many moving parts that have been unfolding over the years.
And, first, to reassure our readers who know Carol personally and have interacted with her over the decades: Don’t worry! Carol isn’t leaving her role at the helm of the website immediately. She and the Virginia Theological Seminary team are planning a multi-year transition.
This week, Carol explained some of those moving parts for us. In a Q&A interview about this momentous move, she said:
The partnership with VTS has three parts: 1) the website, 2) the “Who Is St. Nicholas?” Exhibit, and 3) the St. Nicholas Faith & Justice Center.
The Faith & Justice Center is still in the formative stage. The director will be the soon-to-be-appointed Professor of Ethics. St. Nicholas, I always say, is a subversive saint. Folks think he’s about sentimental gift-giving. He’s actually about justice—particularly for the vulnerable and oppressed. His stories and legends relate to contemporary justice issues: human trafficking, hunger, mass incarceration, death penalty, inequality. The center will help form students and others for advocacy, familiarize students with Episcopal Church resources (such as Episcopal Relief & Development, the Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Episcopal Public Policy Network) and beyond (such as Bread for the World), and take advantage of the seminary’s proximity to our nation’s capital.
The website has grown beyond anything I could have imagined back when it launched in 2002. Each year, I get correspondence from many of the million-plus visitors to our website. People ask all kinds of questions! St. Nicholas experts in Europe tell me my site is where they send people to learn about St. Nicholas. So many artists, writers, photographers, and others have shared their material, making the site as rich as it is.
I would have run out of new ideas years ago. I’ve worked hard to provide appropriate material for people across the Christian spectrum; the site serves Catholics, both Roman and Eastern Rite, Orthodox, Anglicans and other Main-line Protestants, and more conservative Evangelicals, too. It’s been an amazing and rewarding journey.
Finding a ‘middle way’ to bring our world’s people together
I asked Carol why she and David chose Virginia Theological Seminary for this generous, endowed gift and she replied that this was a relationship that had grown over time—and seemed especially fitting because the seminary already has an extensive digital outreach.
Virginia Theological Seminary does, I believe, more with digital formation of this kind than anyone else, anywhere.
We chose VTS also because the Episcopal Church offers a “middle way” that is accessible to Christians across a broad spectrum. That’s important to me as the site’s visitors come from across the whole Christian spectrum. Plus, I’m also an Episcopalian so it is a place that’s “home” to me, too. Most importantly, their warm embrace of this idea was an enormous joy and relief.
I also know these resources are in stable hands. VTS, unlike so many seminaries today, is secure financially, focused on the future, not on survival. It has just completed celebrating its bicentenary with a completely renovated campus, positioned to lead in the future.
The way the Dean and President Ian Markham has embraced St. Nicholas for the seminary is beyond anything I could have ever hoped or dreamed. My St. Nicholas has found a home there that goes way beyond just the website itself. I can’t say enough how significant and wonderful this is.
The exhibit answers the question: ‘Who is St. Nicholas?’
Carol described the exhibit this way:
Our St. Nicholas Exhibit opened at St. James Cathedral, Chicago, in 2008. The museum-quality exhibit was meant to be traveling, though due to size and expense it didn’t travel very much. VTS hosted the traveling exhibit in 2019 to kick-off our partnership for the website. When the exhibit was there, they fell in love with it and decided to find a way to have it permanently installed at the seminary. It is now in the completely renovated Welcome Center.
Dean Ian Markham said, “Unlike a generic Welcome Center found at other graduate schools, this one seeks to reflect the distinctive values of VTS. As one admires the extraordinary exhibits, the guest learns that this is a place focused on the Incarnation. Both exhibits are linked with Christmas. We are a Christmas people trusting that God is made manifest in the babe from Bethlehem.” The Welcome Center also has a creche gallery.
The exhibit, “Who Is St. Nicholas?” tells the St. Nicholas story with text and artifacts from all over the world. It shows him as a saint, introduces his stories and legends, shows how he’s celebrated around the world through faith traditions and folk customs.
It also illustrates Santa’s development. There are hands-on activities for all ages—rubbings, miter-folding and St. Nicholas symbol puzzle pieces for younger visitors. An interactive panel identifies the 32 stories depicted in a large story icon painting. The exhibit is fun, festive and educational for all ages.
Why did the Myers decide St. Nicholas should make this major move?
When we reach a certain age it’s necessary to make plans for the future. I really wanted the resources that make up St. Nicholas Center to continue to be available for families, churches, and schools.
I’m 80 now and it was important to try to find a home for the site that would give it an ongoing, secure future. The site launched in 2002 and I figured I’d do it through my 60s, not sure I’d want to continue in my 70s. Well, as I was approaching the end of my 70s I knew it wouldn’t be wise to assume that I’d want or be able to keep on in my 80s. That said, I’m not yet ready to give up the site—there’s still so much to do! Recipes to make and photograph, crafts to add, churches to find, code to clean up before handing it over, and more.
December 17 VTS Dedication in Alexandria, Virginia
Finally, Carol explained:
Sunday, December 17, 2023, is the dedication and blessing date—and, yes, David and I will be there along with a number of folks that have been instrumental, helpful, and supportive over the years.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is giving a lecture on The Way of Love, the Bishop of Virginia, Mark Stevenson, will do the dedication and blessing in the Welcome Center, followed by a service of Lessons and Carols in Immanuel Chapel.