The Overseas Ministries Study Center Joins Princeton Seminary - Princeton Theological Seminary

It all began in 1922 in a town on the Jersey Shore.

American missionaries returning from abroad would come there to a quiet campus with garden apartments for rest and rejuvenation before going off on their next foreign mission.

Today, the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC) still provides respite to missionaries, but they come from around the world, like Nigerians who are returning from London, Koreans on hiatus from Indonesia, or Chinese resting up from mission work in Australia.

The center’s own mission, meanwhile, has evolved to reflect this global transformation. It’s now a renowned research institute focused on the world Christian movement that it has borne witness to for decades.

“We’re an evolving institution that never lost our original gift,” says Thomas John Hastings, PhD ’04, the center’s executive director.

That evolution has continued this fall as OMSC began operating as a program of Princeton Theological Seminary.

The Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary.

58 Mercer Street, OMSC’s new headquarters

The center that began nearly 100 years ago in Ventnor, New Jersey, and which moved to New Haven, Connecticut in the 1980s, has relocated to Princeton Seminary under an agreement signed in 2019 by Hastings and Seminary President M. Craig Barnes.

The physical move is now complete, with the center bringing its senior staff, programs, and extensive collection of Asian Christian art to its new headquarters at 58 Mercer Street.

A new “OMSC@PTSEM” website has recently gone live. And the center has announced the first in a series of research grants that are among the new programs it is rolling out in the move to the Seminary. A slate of events for the fall semester, to be held virtually due to the pandemic, include panel discussions, meet-the-author events, in the studio events, and webinars.

“After nearly a century as an independent, educational nonprofit, we are now officially part of the Seminary,” says Hastings. “We are very excited about this transition.”

Senior leaders at Princeton Seminary say the OMSC brings many benefits, including research excellence that complements the seminary’s already-strong academic programs in World Christianity. Additionally, the presence of OMSC on campus opens many possibilities for students.

“The OMSC enhances our profile as a globally engaged institution,” says Jacqueline E. Lapsley, dean and vice president of Academic Affairs. “And they are going to enrich our campus life enormously with their programs and the scholars they bring in from all over the world.”

Once known as “Houses of Fellowship,” the OMSC was started to provide much-needed furlough housing for the rapidly growing American missionary movement, writes Robert T. Coote, who authored a history of the center.

The Ventnor site boomed for decades, eventually taking over an entire block.

Thomas John Hastings headshot.

Thomas Hastings, executive director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center

Over time, the center shifted to academic and research roles. Its move to New Haven in 1987 was prompted in part by the proximity to Yale Divinity School’s Day Missions Library. With the center’s emphasis on scholarship, and its widely acclaimed journal, the International Bulletin of Mission Research, it was well-positioned to study the enormous growth in Christianity in the Global South.

“What we do is amplify the voices within World Christianity, and we are a leading interpreter of the movement,” says Hastings. “We give visibility to people who have been silent or silenced.”

The events for this fall reflect that global focus. They include a webinar with J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a Ghanaian scholar of African Pentecostalism. Another event features Filipino painter Emmanuel Garibay.

Once the threat from COVID-19 recedes, Hastings said the center will resume its residential programs and other in-person initiatives, which will bring theologians, church leaders, cross-cultural missionaries, and artists from around the world to the seminary campus, making 58 Mercer Street a hub for intellectual engagement on World Christianity.

Hastings and his colleagues, Easten Law (assistant director for academic programs), Caitlin Barton (communications, development, and administrative associate), and Byung Ho Choi (online study program manager) are eager to open the doors to our global partners and seminary students, faculty, and staff.

“It will be a place of welcome, a place of Christian hospitality,” he said. “We look forward to making a genuine contribution to the seminary community.”