ARLINGTON, Va. — The John Leland Center for Theological Studies moved at the end of August to new quarters in the busy Clarendon section of Arlington, about three miles from central Washington, D.C.
The 10-year-old Baptist seminary will be housed in 11,000 square feet of space on the second floor of a three-story building owned by the Church at Clarendon, formerly First Baptist Church of Clarendon. The building was renovated as part of a massive development project which retained the church’s Georgian façade but replaced the rest with a 10-story structure containing space for worship and education, and about 120 apartments, most of which are categorized as affordable housing.
The adjacent three-story building which houses Leland was originally the church’s education wing; it was retained but renovated for both the seminary’s and the church’s use.
Clarendon is a densely populated section of Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs, with an eclectic mix of trendy shops, restaurants and bars, as well as luxury apartments, office buildings and upscale chain stores. The church is a half block from the Clarendon station of the Metro, Washington’s subway and light rail system.
“It’s a great move for Leland,” said Mark Olson, the seminary’s president. “It’s in the middle of a very urban environment, close to a busy Metro stop and very accessible to anyone in the D.C. area. There are tons of young people, especially at night. It’s an exciting place to be for a seminary that wants to be on the cutting edge.”
Since 2009, Leland had leased space from the Baptist World Alliance, whose headquarters is in Falls Church, Va., another suburb about five miles further west. In addition, the seminary held classes and officed some staff in space provided at no cost by Columbia Baptist Church, just across the street from the BWA.
For six years prior to that, the seminary was housed in the Church at Clarendon’s original building but temporarily moved when renovations and new construction began in 2009. Leland initially met at Columbia Baptist Church.
“We had always planned to go back to Clarendon after the remodeling,” said Olson. “There wasn’t enough space at either the BWA or Columbia for our full library, so we had only a portion of it available. At Clarendon there’s plenty of space. We had less than half as much at the BWA, and scattered rooms at Columbia.”
Olson said his school’s new facilities underwent a dramatic facelift — the building was gutted; new carpet, ceilings, tile floors, sprinker system and windows were installed; sidewalks and street lamps were replaced; an elevator was added; and the exterior was sandblasted so that “the brick looks almost new.”
“We have room to grow significantly larger and we’re thankful for that,” said Olson. “We hope we can do a better job of reaching churches in the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. Those numbers are growing, and our minority enrollment is now about 40 percent of total students at the Northern Virginia campus.”
Leland also holds masters and diploma classes in five other cities across Virginia — Bluefield, Charlottesville, Mineral, Newport News and Richmond.
Olson said the seminary is likely to remain at its Clarendon location indefinitely — it has a 15-year lease with the church — and has no plans to buy its own facilities “for the foreseeable future.”
“I can’t imagine us purchasing a campus,” he said. “In fact, if we had a lot of money, I wouldn’t want to purchase property; I’d want to endow faculty chairs.”
Leland is funded in part by the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
Robert Dilday ([email protected]) is managing editor of the Religious Herald.