In this series, we asked alumni to update us on their path to ministry since graduation. They reflect on how their time at Princeton Seminary prepared them for leadership, while sharing some of the surprises and challenges they’ve experienced along the way.
Ryan Irmer ’16 MDiv/MA talks about what it was like to go from being a basketball coach and a teacher to a seminarian. Now as a pastor, it is clear to him that God has called him to unify people and share God’s transformative love and grace.
Q: Tell us about yourself—how did you go from being a basketball coach to a pastor?
A: I grew up Lutheran and was a huge basketball fan. After a decade of college basketball coaching, I started teaching physical education classes to make ends meet. A few years later, I took some seminary classes and found my passion.
In 2012, my family and I moved to Princeton and it was a great experience. A yearlong field education placement allowed us to live in Northern Ireland, where I served as an assistant pastor at Groomsport Presbyterian Church. Upon our return, I accepted a call to pastor Slackwood Presbyterian Church in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Q: How did Princeton Seminary prepare you for your ministry?
A: Since I came to the Seminary from a second career, I had a clear understanding of who I was and why I was there, so every class and field education experience shaped me, formed me, and prepared me to be a pastor. I had unbelievable practical experiences at Kingston Presbyterian Church in Kingston, New Jersey, University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, New Jersey, and at Groomsport Presbyterian Church. These experiences profoundly shaped and prepared me for ministry.
Every class and field education experience shaped me, formed me, and prepared me to be a pastor.
Q: What is the greatest challenge that you face as a minister?
A: Leading a faithful congregation in the context of today’s consumeristic environment is difficult. We need to be faithful to Scripture’s challenge. I would like us to be able to focus first and foremost on who Jesus Christ is and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Then, out of that, we respond to the issues of our time faithfully. If we do that, then we will stay more united, rather than letting issues, viewpoints, and opinions divide us. My hope is that Slackwood Presbyterian Church will serve as a space for the community to experience and share God’s transformative love and grace.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you received while at Princeton Seminary?
A: During my Introduction to Preaching class, Dr. Cleo LaRue said, “To be a great preacher, you need to preach a lot.” I’ve taken that advice seriously and I take every opportunity to preach and prepare sermons. Hopefully, I am becoming a quality preacher. I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way because of his advice.
Q: What did you enjoy most about the Seminary’s community?
A: Sitting with my classmates at the apartments or in the dining hall and talking about what we were learning really reinforced what we were being taught in the classroom. Those moments sitting with a few friends and talking were really, really important.
“Informal time in discussion groups with faculty and students discussing feminist theological literature, altered my views, excited my spirit, and greatly influenced my teaching.”