Volume 5 Number 1
|Allen Brindisi is pastor of Riverside Presbyterian Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida.|
Almost fifty years after John took that reading course, Nancy remembers experiencing with her classmates the kind of community that she hopes will also characterize her ministry in the church. She was in a marriage and family counseling class with Professor Deborah Hunsinger and twenty students sat in a circle. At the beginning of the class everyone shared briefly what was happening in their lives. When it came to the last student, a Korean man, he shared that his two-year-old son had just been diagnosed with autism. He started crying. Classmates supported him and listened to him. It became a time of deep sharing.
Eventually Hunsinger asked if it was appropriate to go on with the class. Nancy remembers, "I said, ‘Yes, this strikes me as very real. We’re talking about practical theology. It’s real that you would come into a session meeting focused on an agenda, but then there’s someone on your session who has just had a major life experience. What would we do? Would we go on with business as usual?’ No, we would take care of the person, and then go on with business. So we went on with the class. For me this was iconic of what seminary was about. There was the educational part, but there was also a strong sense of community that developed naturally."
Allen remembers a specific class during seminary that was a turning point in his life. "I was a student in Professor James Loder’s class. I don’t remember what the class was. One day we walked in and he was just sitting there with all the chairs in a circle. He just smiled, didn’t say anything. One by one people came in and sat, and Loder would just nod and smile. There were some who didn’t get it and would start to talk. But he wouldn’t respond, and pretty soon you got the impression that we should be quiet. Soon there were thirty people in the room, and no one said a word. This went on for twenty minutes. No one knew what it was about. One student burst into the room really late and started to talk. That broke the spell. Then Loder debriefed us and explained what it was all about, asking, ‘How did you feel when no one said anything?’ We talked about it. We talked about how the student broke the silence. But the revelation for me, personally, the turning point in my life—because I was very quiet, I didn’t raise my hand a lot in class—was when Loder asked the class to decide who was the leader in the class, even though no one had said a word.
"And I was the leader. And that hit me like a knife, and I think it changed my life. It told me that there was a place for leadership that wasn’t extroverted, that wasn’t ‘burst into the room, fill up the room with your presence’ kind of leadership. If I had any doubts whether I was suited for the kind of calling that I was being trained to do, those doubts were greatly dispelled after that day. I was okay."
Deena, also, saw the course of her life change dramatically during her time at seminary. She remembers the day and the place. "A turning point for me was when I was on the street close to Erdman, walking home to the Stockton Street campus. I originally came to PTS for just one year to figure things out. I came because some people told me I should come to Princeton, because they thought I had gifts. But I had come out of such a conservative background that I was still unsure whether it was okay for women to be ordained. I can still remember standing in the street. I had been reflecting on the parable of the talents that we had been studying in a class or in a Bible study. Then suddenly it became very clear to me that, yes, maybe it is right that women shouldn’t be ordained—maybe, probably not, but maybe. But even if that’s true, it had become clear to me that I had these gifts for ministry and that it was a sin not to use them. I knew at that moment that I was going to be here for three years and that I was headed for ordained ministry."
One hundred and eighty-eight years of students like these. No, not every story is like this; they don’t all have happy endings. But many are. Stories like these, more than the stone buildings, the name, or the geographical location, are the heritage of Princeton Seminary. It is a heritage that testifies not to institutional greatness, but to God’s faithfulness. In that hope, professors keep teaching, administrators keep administering, alumni/ae keep giving, churches keep supporting, friends keep praying, and students keep coming. Part II of this article will appear in the summer/fall 2050 issue of inSpire. If history tells us anything, the stories will be strikingly different in detail (vacations to Mars?), but very much the same.
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