by Barbara A. Chaapel
Rob Long may be the only PTS student whose application to seminary included a reference letter from New Jersey’s new governor, James E. McGreevey, albeit written in 1999 when McGreevey was the mayor of Woodbridge.
McGreevey described Long, who worked on his 1997 gubernatorial campaign (which McGreevey lost) and more recently on his successful 2001 campaign, as a person who “has dedicated his life toward helping others through work with nonprofit associations and political activism,” and whose life has followed Jesus’ directive that “just as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.”
On the surface, Long’s résumé doesn’t seem to have much to do with “the least of these.” Educated first as a teacher (Dickinson College B.A.) and then as an economist (Columbia Business School M.B.A.), Long worked as a stockbroker before he entered the world of politics as deputy treasurer for (James) Florio for Governor in 1989, later serving on Governor Florio’s staff. Government became for Long a change agent, a way of serving people, and when Florio lost his bid for reelection, Long left government to cofound, with a friend, the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC), a nonprofit social service agency that works with children, low-income citizens, and people with disabilities. Among Long’s management roles there was supervising college students in the AmeriCorps national service project. In 1997 and 1998, while staying with NJCDC, Long was also treasurer and deputy campaign manager for McGreevey for Governor ’97.
Rob Long (left) relaxes with New Jersey governor
It was in a late-night conversation with a friend that Long first felt the call to ministry. His friend was struggling with how both to provide financially for his family and also to pursue his dreams. Long recalled similar struggles and shared how, after finally putting God’s will ahead of his own attempts to resolve those struggles, the challenges were met by God’s grace and bounty.
“Then in urging my friend to seek God and put his material worries in God’s hands,” he says, “I suddenly realized that if I really believed what I was saying, then I could stop ‘working for a living’ and work full-time for God—and truly rely on God for the provision of my family’s needs. At that moment I felt the call to seminary.”
So Long tried a part-time semester of seminary at Drew Theological School and then applied to Princeton as a full-time student. Well, sort of full time.
After one semester, Long again felt the pull of politics when a New Jersey senator mounted a serious challenge to McGreevey’s second attempt to be elected governor. Long began working for the campaign part time, attending classes in Princeton during the week, then spending every weekend in Woodbridge. “It became too much,” Long says. “I had to drop a course, and I never had time to spend with my wife. [His wife, Dina, was working full time on the campaign]. So I decided to take a leave of absence and work full time on the campaign and then, after the election, on the transition team.”
Ironically (or providentially) it was during Long’s work for McGreevey that his call to ministry was once again confirmed. He was asked by fellow campaign workers (Jews and Christians) to lead a weekly Bible study. With his seminary commentaries and notes from an exegesis course with PTS professor Ross Wagner in hand, he waded in and moderated “stimulating discussions and a freeform exchange of ideas about Scripture and God. I learn best as I prepare to teach,” he says.
He also became a “campaign chaplain” of a sort. “My colleagues in a sense confirmed me as a spiritual leader for the campaign staff,” he explains. “I often served as a confidential sounding board for staff on personal and vocational matters, and on September 11, people asked me to lead a prayer service and a discussion session. I remember we read Psalm 23 together. It was helpful to experience that day as part of an interfaith community.”
Post-inauguration, Long is now back at PTS, hoping for a part-time placement as pastor of a small Methodist church near Princeton while he completes seminary. He knows that he will continue to wrestle with his own ego and his needs for the rewards of the world. But his favorite biblical passage—Matthew 6:19–34, where Jesus speaks words like “You cannot serve God and mammon” and “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”—will ground him.
As will his belief in God’s radical acceptance. “God takes you just as you are,” Long professes. “There is freedom in knowing I can be exactly who I am, not what others expect me to be. I believe that God will take me on faith; I know that I will take God on faith.”