Student Life Changed in Turbulent Times
by Erika Marksbury
PTS students are diverse in their reactions to the events of September 11, and they've decorated their dormitory room doors in ways that reflect not only that diversity but also their yearnings for both peace and justice. Posters that call for "Justice Not Vengeance" can be seen on many doors, as can American flags or the oft-quoted "God Bless America." Others proclaim "Not in My Name," display sermon transcripts, or offer drawings of doves. But the attacks on the United States inspired students to do more than just redecorate their doors; on campus now exists a renewed yearning to understand both neighbors and selves, and a profound desire to learn how to minister in this context.
Students who were on campus a week before classes started joined faculty and staff on the afternoon of September 11 for a hastily called service in a crowded Miller Chapel. It was a somber and moving service of song, Scripture, and prayers offered by those in attendance. The PTS community came together in a moment of shock and grief to be in God's presence.
In following weeks the campus responded in myriad ways. Perhaps the most creative outreach effort was the joint concert of three bands-The Perfect Woman (PTS students Keeva Kase, Todd Kennedy, Jonas Hayes, and Jeff Bryan), Million Time Winner (led by PTS Ph.D. student Christian Andrews), and Fooled by April (out of Boston)-held at the Princeton University graduate school bar near the Seminary. Originally planned as a benefit for another cause, the event changed course. Kase said, "The day of the attacks we decided to shift our cause to help benefit the attack victims." At the end of the night, pooling together proceeds from the cover charge, the doormen's pay, and their own pay for the evening, the bands had raised $1,200. Kase approached President Gillespie and asked if the Seminary could double the amount raised; Gillespie increased the donation total to $5,000, which was sent to Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church's (NYC) fund serving "particularly the families of service workers and support staff who are unlikely to have good pensions, portfolios, etc." "All in all," Kase said, "it was a great event."
PTS students have taken time to look inward as well-especially those doing field education in New York City churches, as they learn how to minister in a changing world. Middler Katy Doyle said, "Doing field ed in New York City is allowing me to experience the mourning, the pain, the compassion, the dedication, and the rebirth of the city. September 11 has become a much more personal experience for me because I'm ministering to people for whom it was more than just the day of the terrorist attacks-it was the day their loved ones died and their city changed forever. What I'm learning and experiencing in the city will have an everlasting effect on my ministry."
|Trustees Address Faith, Civil Liberties, and Security
PTS trustees Justin Johnson, a Pennsylvania Superior Court justice, and Tom Johnson, an attorney for Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made a presentation titled "Faith, Civil Liberties, and Security" at the Seminary almost exactly a month after the September 11 attacks.
Noting the Japanese internment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tom Johnson said, "We don't have the very best record of striking the balance in the right places." So with an increased need for security, he asserted, comes a need to be vigilant in maintaining those civil liberties crucial to the health of American society.
Specifically discussed were the antiterrorism act of 2001, the implications of new law enforcement technology, search and seizure laws, racial profiling, national identification cards, and freedom of speech.
Tom Johnson (left)
and Justin Johnson
But their concern extended beyond the law. "For me, as a Presbyterian, it's my responsibility-if not as an attorney, if not as a judge, then certainly as a man of God-to speak out when I see oppression anywhere," said Justin Johnson. "And we're in a time right now when it's so easy to condemn people who are not in a position to defend themselves. It's so easy in trying to make up for the grief that we feel to strike out at somebody. This is the kind of opportunity that's available to our denomination and that's available to each of us...to stand up for the downtrodden."
Students, faculty, staff, and trustees welcomed this opportunity to discuss-as Americans and as Christians-issues important to the future of the nation.
There is also a communal effort to understand these issues. Seminarians for Social Change, a student-led group, hosted a dinner discussion for students to think through the events together and how they, as Christians dedicated to peace, could respond. Junior Stephanie Hoylman said, "Perhaps the tendency is to prefer a more active response to such issues; in this case, discussion seemed to be the most positive and appropriate. I found it very healing just to realize that a lot of other people are also experiencing an uncertainty about how to react to the situation in our nation."
Preaching in chapel, and even in preaching classes, now incorporates reflections on the attacks. Students organize impromptu prayer meetings, such as on the night the United States began bombing Afghanistan, when about 20 students gathered in the chapel. And professors' prayers to open class often ask for God's guidance and mercy as the community attempts to learn in the aftermath of these events. The Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and the faculty's Church and Society Committee offered "For Such a Time As This," a series of faculty-led forums dealing with issues such as the just war theory, revelation in a time of mass death, the theology of the cross, and the church and patriotism.
At the just war forum, a student asked whether or not students preparing to be pastors could consider the "war" on terrorism just and offer their support of it. Fred Tittle, an M.Div. senior retired from the Marine Corps with ground combat experience, responded, "As students preparing to be pastors, our concern shouldn't be whether this war is just or unjust. Instead, we should be concerned about the people in our congregations who will be serving in it, regardless of that question, and who will need healing."
Not an area of study or campus life remains untouched by these events. The campus community has drawn together to help one another understand and cope as best they can. And while students are seeking healing for themselves, they are now constantly aware that the church they are training to lead is one that will offer the challenges and opportunities of an unpredictable and too often pain-stricken world.
Erika Marksbury is a PTS M.Div. middler and a part-time editorial assistant in the Office of Communications/Publications.