Mary Bray Spence Collection

Mary Bray Spence of Gulfport, Florida, began collecting crosses while recuperating from a serious accident. She asked friends and family members who were traveling to send her crosses, and they obliged – by the time she’d recovered, they had sent her hundreds of crosses from every corner of the globe.

She continued to add more, so by the time she donated her collection to the Historical Foundation of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Montreat, North Carolina, in the 1970s, it contained over 750 pieces. The collection was transferred to Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS) in Decatur, Georgia, in 2007, and the school has been in the process of digitizing the collection for several years.

“At this point there are probably more questions than answers about each individual cross,” says Caitlin Reeves Greenamyre, archivist at CTS. According to its records, items in the collection range in size from a quarter inch to four feet, and were produced between the 13th and 20th centuries. They include crosses made from gold, silver, gemstones, ivory, wood, hair, bone, glass, plastic, stone, and other materials. While some were intended for decorative or devotional purposes, others were meant to be worn or displayed. The collection includes Victorian hair crosses, intricate filigree items, modern costume jewelry, handmade crosses, and mass-produced souvenir crosses.

A grant awarded by Atla in April will enable CTS to complete the digitization project, which includes adding descriptions about each item as metadata so the collection will be searchable. Once complete, the collection will be accessible on the seminary’s website and through Atla’s digital library, allowing this culture – and a tradition-spanning collection of crosses – to be available to all.

Cultures and questions coalesce in a collection of crosses from around the world, inspired by one woman’s quest for consolation, learn more.



While having a seminary education is powerful, it is no substitute for having a commission from God…. God has appeared to each of us for a purpose…. You have been created with purpose, on purpose…

Your seminary degree cannot replace God appearing in your life….The charge doesn’t need more people with more theological education but no anointing. Because you can know how to translate the Greek and the Hebrew; you can know how to quote Cone and Bonhoeffer. But if you don’t know Jesus? You’ll sound good, but nothing will happen.

The goal of the ministry is not just information and performance.

It’s transformation.

— Nicholas Pearce
Clinical professor of management and organizations at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, assistant pastor of the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, and member of the McCormick Theological Seminary Board of Trustees, at McCormick Commencement Service, May 7, 2022.

Top Topics
Roles & Responsibilities
Board Essentials

Back to Issue  Read Previous Article Read Next Article

Advertise With Us

Reach thousands of seminary administrators, trustees, and others in positions of leadership in North American theological schools — an audience that cares about good governance, effective leadership, and current religious issues — by advertising in In Trust!

Learn More