Welcoming Dean John Huh - Princeton Theological Seminary

John Huh was finishing up a psychology degree as a senior at Boston College when his advisor gave him surprising news.

He had nearly enough credits for a second major in theology.

It turned out he earned the credits in part through working at a battered women’s shelter, part of a program that had students learning Jesuit theology in the classroom while putting what they learned into practice at social service agencies in Boston.

“The Jesuits were big on social justice, and that’s how theology developed in me,” Huh says. “Psychology was always my intention, and theology just happened to come along.”

The combination proved enduring.

Huh added the second major and went on to earn two graduate degrees from Princeton Theology Seminary as he forged an intriguing career at the nexus of ministry, psychology, social justice, and academia.

His career took a new turn in August, when he joined Princeton Seminary as the inaugural Bryant M. Kirkland Dean of the Chapel and Vice President for Student Life. In this leadership role, he coordinates the worship life of the Seminary community and oversees a range of student-centered services, from orientation to residential life and counseling.

“Among all the executive positions, this is the one that works directly, hands on with students,” says Huh, PhD ’13, MDiv ’06. “And I knew coming in that I would love that.”

The job also fits his calling in pastoral care, which he has developed over decades as a counselor, professor of counseling, mental health advocate, and pastor. He is one of the founders of New Mercy Community Church, an acclaimed alternative congregation in Bergen County.

“The biggest joys for me have come from doing pastoral care and counseling in ministry settings,” says Huh, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). “The term I like to use is ‘doing life together’ with my congregants.”

“One of the reasons I was attracted to the job is that I get to do that.”

Huh was nine when his family emigrated from South Korea, allowing his father, a pastor, to fulfill his dream of doing graduate work in the United States by earning his PhD in homiletics and liturgy from Drew University.

Huh arrived at Princeton Seminary as a student in 2003, ready to chart his own path toward a focus on counseling, pastoral theology, and community mental health. He has taught counseling for years to seminarians at both Princeton Seminary and New Brunswick Theological Seminary. He also founded and leads a nonprofit agency, Lighthouse Counseling Network, that provides services for the Asian American community through a network of churches.

“This is a very personal conviction of mine,” he says. “Not only do I want to teach about how to care for and counsel others, but I want to do the practicum portion of it, to find out what kind of system we can create so that those who are in need, can actually use it.”

His passion for counseling and pastoral care also informs his work as a pastor. As an associate pastor at All Nation’s Church in Voorhees, New Jersey, he worked with youth and young adults. Then, a few years later, he and two fellow ministers developed the idea for New Mercy as a church that would be exceptionally empathic and welcoming, with a vision to be “a church for the broken,” and adopting a creative round-table leadership model.

“Church is biblically supposed to be where broken people come, acknowledge each other’s brokenness, and become more vulnerable to each other,” Huh says. “The belief is that God restores and heals, and as we get restored, we go out and serve.”

Since it opened in 2010, New Mercy has thrived in Hackensack and even planted another church with a team of co-pastors and lay people.

Huh says he has learned much from his experiences. But one lesson stands out as he begins a new chapter in his career.

“When you share convictions with like-minded people about the way God calls you to serve, and you can create a team to run that race together, then anything is possible,” he says.