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Admissions Blog

Bell Clapper Explanation

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Bell Clapper Explanation

Bell Clapper Image

A fair amount of lore surrounds the bell clapper at Princeton Theological Seminary.

First, it’s perhaps worth clarifying what a bell clapper is. Within a bell, there is a striking implement, usually a metal tongue suspended from the bell’s center. This is the clapper. The PTS bell clapper was part of the bell hanging over Alexander Hall, the Seminary’s original building. Since the early nineteenth-century, the bell rang to signal the beginning and end of class periods.

Over the years, the bell aggravated thousands of seminarians. A popular prank developed: students would climb into the belfry and remove the clapper from its nest, thus preventing the bell from making any sound when it was rung. Once the bell clapper was freed, students had to put it somewhere; thus, the clapper was passed from student to student and, on some occasions, from state to state. The practice continued through the Seminary’s two hundred year history – but the bell clapper always found its way back to the Seminary. (Of course, some sources suggest that the administration kept a “store” of clappers to cultivate precisely this impression.) A PTS alum recalls the bell clapper being strapped to a classmate’s waist, under his robe, at the 2005 commencement. When his name was called, he mounted the dais, pulled out the clapper, and – bowing before Dr. Torrance – presented the clapper to him. The entire class erupted into applause.

Current PTS students are less familiar with the clapper and its mythology. Indeed, the bell above Alexander Hall is no longer rung, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the bell clapper remains hung within it. Its rich legacy lives on nonetheless – in the PTS Admissions Blog!

The Ordination Track and PTS

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“The ‘Ordination Track’ and PTS”

Westminster CPM

One of the benefits of going to a Presbyterian seminary, I think, is that the PC(USA) candidacy process is accommodated, if not outright expected.

Earlier this month, I had to miss three days of class to meet with my presbytery. I encountered little resistance. I turned in my work early, and each of my professors sincerely wished me well.

Of course, only about 40 percent of students are Presbyterian. The rest come from the full spectrum of traditions: Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, Mennonite, UCC, Episcopalian, and even Catholic. All of these denominations have their own ordination processes, and while the seminary as a whole may not be as familiar with these processes, they are similarly accommodated. Put differently: everyone here, from the students to the professors to beloved President Torrance himself, has a bigger picture in mind than a single degree program.

My time in Nashville last month initially felt like yet another “hoop” I had to jump through. I was told where to be and when, and the rest of the arrangements were left to me. I lobbied for a Skype encounter – we could just talk online! – but my request was denied. The Presbytery of Middle Tennessee requires in-person consultations. How old-fashioned, I thought. Skype wouldn’t require me to miss class. Skype is how we handle long-distance dialogue in the twenty-first century.

Breakfast with CPM

But Skype isn’t how you build relationships. Skype also probably isn’t the way you articulate a call story, a journey of faith, or a vision of the future. These things require real presence: facial expressions, gestures, and eye twinkles. The laptop camera might miss these things. Above all, had my presbytery’s CPM consented to “meet” via Skype, I doubt I would have walked away from our encounter with such a buoyed sense of purpose. That purpose – that affirmation – is neither owed to nor guaranteed for me. Nonetheless, it felt warm, and strengthening. I returned from Nashville with my panoramic perspective restored. CPM forced me to close my books and confront in-person the reality that awaits me on the other side of this academic experience. Although it may seem obvious enough to an outsider, I have to remind myself: I am preparing to be a pastor, not a student. For me – and for PTS – this isn’t merely accepted and accommodated. It’s celebrated.

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