As we prepare to begin the fall semester, we look forward to gathering together in-person again in classrooms and the workplace. Given the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey and around the country we are taking a layered approach of many measures to keep our community safe, including requiring vaccination for all people, using face coverings, and improving air ventilation across campus.
Some of the most important means of keeping our community safe rest upon the daily, faithful actions of individuals, including washing your hands regularly and staying home if you feel ill. Keeping our campus healthy this fall semester must be a community-wide effort.
I hope that all of you are finding time for rest and renewal in these summer days. We are looking ahead to the fall semester with great anticipation of opportunities to gather in the classrooms and campus spaces that are a cherished part of life together at Princeton Seminary. This season will require our collective patience and grace with one another, as we embrace new rhythms and many will be coming to campus for the very first time.
I am grateful to the many people who have been working faithfully to prepare our campus for the full return of students this fall, and I want to provide an update with our current plans.
At the end of this unusual academic year, the health of our community is a testament to the diligent care you have taken to maintain good health practices and protect one another. I continue to give thanks for the resilience of our community to meet the considerable challenges of this season with grace, adaptability, and love of neighbor.
As we look to the future, we are optimistic that we will be able to reopen our campus and return to in-person learning in the fall. While the numbers of COVID-19 cases remain elevated in our region, the quickening pace of the vaccine rollout gives us cause for hope that we will be able to safely return to some measure of in-person operations in the fall. As always, we hold our plans with humility and flexibility, ready to adapt to updated public health guidance to promote the safety of our community.
It has been nearly a year since our curriculum shifted online and our way of life as a Seminary community changed so radically in response to the global public health crisis. This has been a season of struggle and heartbreak, yet also a time of resilience and faithfulness. I remain grateful for the ways that our community has responded with diligence, creativity, and grace to persevere in the midst of incredibly challenging circumstances and to take the measures necessary to keep one another safe.
We see much cause for hope on the horizon that we will gradually be able to return to the residential learning experience that we cherish. Yet we are also mindful that the pandemic is by no means nearing its conclusion. The more virulent strains of the virus are present in our region, and the vaccine rollout has been slower than anticipated. The impact of COVID-19 will be with us in some degree for some time to come. With this in mind, we continue to plan for the future with humility and flexibility.
We continue to monitor the evolving public health situation. While the beginning of vaccine distribution gives us much cause for hope, it is clear that we will still have significant limitations on gathering and public events through the summer.
For this reason, we have made the decision that we will hold virtual commencement exercises this May for our graduates. This will allow every graduate to participate, regardless of their current location, and to do so safely. Making this decision now will allow time to plan for a meaningful experience. A committee chaired by Dean John White, and including representatives from the graduating class, will be planning these virtual festivities. More information will be forthcoming.
I pray that this reading week brings rest and renewal to each of you in the midst of a challenging semester. I have been encouraged and filled with gratitude by the many ways that our community has adapted to meet the challenges of this moment. Faculty have taken great time and care to move their courses to digital formats. Students have been creative and faithful in participating in community life through worship, QTeams, and gathering online. Administrators and staff have continued to keep our campus operational and our mission advancing. Together, we are taking the necessary steps to keep one another and our community healthy in this season
While we had hoped that the public health situation would be markedly improved by this point, the rising virus transmission rates in our region and around the country make clear that we must continue to remain vigilant about our practices and health guidelines.
In the six weeks since I last wrote to you in June about our planning for the fall semester, much has changed with the trajectory of the virus. While the rates of infection in central New Jersey are currently promising, the virus is escalating rapidly around the rest of the country. The majority of states are experiencing a significant spread of COVID-19, and travelers from these states must self-quarantine for two weeks upon entry to New Jersey. Although we had hoped that the virus would slow during the summer months, the truth is that we are still very much in an active and unpredictable global health crisis. This pressing reality must guide an adjustment to our plans for the coming academic year.
Because of the high rates of virus transmission around the country, we encourage all students not to come to campus this year if they can make alternative living arrangements. For the safety of our entire community, we need to reduce the density of our student residences in order to further mitigate the chances of spreading the virus, and we also do not want students to put themselves or others at risk by traveling to campus at a time when the national transmission rates are so high.
While so much is unsettled and uncertain in our world today, we can cling to the faithfulness of God, who holds us fast and who calls us to keep faith with one another. I am grateful for the creative ways that we have deepened our connections to one another in this last semester in the midst of a global pandemic, and in the coming academic year we will remain faithful to the calling that brings us together.
As we make plans for students and employees to return to campus, we continue to be guided by foundational commitments to (1) the health of our community, (2) the learning experience of our students, and (3) aspiring to deepen community life. While we will all need to make sacrifices and continued adjustments to daily routines in the months ahead, we will not lose sight of our mission and vision.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
An Address to the Graduates from President Barnes
This special video message includes the names of all of the graduating students. Although the commencement service is postponed, today the Princeton Seminary community honors and celebrates the gifts and accomplishments of the Class of 2020.
Congratulations to the graduates!
Update About Planning for Academic Year 20-21
This academic year has ended much differently than any of us expected. Our seminary and our world have been transformed overnight by the effects of the pandemic. We are missing the celebrations and gatherings that bind our community together and normally close our academic year. Yet even as we grieve the disruptions, disappointments, and pain that this health crisis has unleashed, we claim the gospel hope that Christ is always reforming our lives, our seminary, and our world, even and especially through this challenging time. I am tremendously grateful for the resiliency and faithfulness of our entire community in this season. The quick and creative work of students, faculty, and staff have ensured the continuity of our academic program and, most importantly, the enduring connection of our community, even as we must be physically distant.
We now turn toward the future, realizing that the effects of this crisis will be significant and long-lasting. It will call upon our continued creativity as we contemplate life in its wake. As we continue to make very difficult decisions in the weeks ahead, we will always prioritize our mission of theological education and, specifically, (1) the health of our community, (2) the learning experience of our students, (3) keeping our entire workforce employed, and (4) aspiring to deepen community life. While we will all need to make sacrifices in the months ahead, we will not lose sight of our mission and vision.
We will continue to move forward as a learning community, and much planning for the upcoming year is already underway. I encourage you to read this message closely and in its entirety for important information about our evolving plans for the coming academic year.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. ~ Ephesians 3:20-21
A Video Message from President Barnes: Abundant Expectation
“Our calling is not to yearn for what we had or to settle for what we have. Our calling is to search diligently for the way that Christ is reforming our lives, our seminary, our world…I’m convinced that we will see more of Christ’s saving reformation through this hard time. That’s just the way Christ works.”
A Message from President Barnes: Belonging
The longer we shelter in place, the more I think about belonging.
In aspiring to be a covenant community, our seminary is claiming that we want to belong to each other as we belong to the God who has made covenants of love, grace, and commitment with us. Princeton Seminary has long stressed our devotion to being a residential community of faith and scholarship. So staying at home to complete our classes and work is not something that comes naturally to us, but we’re now sheltering because that is what loving our neighbors looks like, at least for today. Still, it makes us yearn for the future when we can return to being physically together again with the people to whom we belong.
But the pandemic has also revealed how much we belong to people we don’t even know. It has exposed our radical dependence on one another and our created relatedness with all humanity, a vision that God has always seen but we too often miss. People working on the frontlines in hospitals and grocery stores and delivery trucks understand that we belong to one another, and so they put themselves in harm’s way to serve others. Their example calls all of us to see in new ways the breadth of those to whom we belong, as siblings in the human family.
04/17/20 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. ~ Habakkuk 2:3
A Video Message from President Barnes: We Believe
“We believe we will do more than just endure these strange, hard days, we will look for God’s redemption of them. We believe in the promise of a future filled with hope…We believe the angel who said to the woman at Easter, ‘Jesus has gone on ahead of you.’ So whatever the future holds, we know that the Savior will be there waiting for us. And that’s enough.”
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. ~ Psalm 130:6
A Video Message from President Barnes: Waiting for the Lord
“The morning is going to come…but in the meantime, don’t waste the waiting. Allow it to reveal the good and the bad in your life, and then give it all back to God, for our lives are always lived in God’s hands, and it is upon the Lord that we wait.”
An Update on Commencement, Summer Courses, and Summer Events
Dear Seminary Community,
We are continuing to monitor the unfolding public health situation, and I have some important updates that will affect campus life over the coming months.
First, regretfully, we will not hold the commencement service in May. This was a very painful decision because this is a culminating moment for which our graduates have worked so hard, and it is one of our most sacred services of the academic year. Yet our first responsibility is the health of our community, family members and guests, and the wider public.
We will hold a postponed commencement celebration for the class of 2020 next year, May 10, 2021, in the Princeton University Chapel. We hope that as many graduates as possible will be able to return to campus to celebrate, and more details of the festivities will be forthcoming.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. ~ Romans 12:12
In a new article, President Barnes reflects on the spiritual practice of prayer.
From Humility to Humility | The Spirituality of Quarantine
I am still trying to figure out the spirituality of staying home. When a highly communicable virus is growing exponentially around us, the most loving way to treat our neighbor is through physical distance. And this doesn’t stop the work of the church. I am so grateful to our pastoral leaders on campus who have found a way to continue chapel services online, offer pastoral counseling over the phone, and mobilize a pastoral care team to check on students. Across the country, pastors are delivering sermons online and hosting digital worship services from their living rooms. All of that is faithful spirituality. But how do we best fulfill our mission to be Christ’s “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by cloistering ourselves at home?
I have found help with this question by remembering the contributions of St. Benedict and St. Gregory. This is not the first time in human history that we have faced widespread disease that leads us to prayer.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by. ~ Psalm 57:1
A Video Message from President Barnes: Under the Wings of God
“As we find refuge under the caring, loving wings of God we discover that this perfect love casts out all of our fear…For the sake of your own soul, for the sake of the community, for the sake of our society, which needs all of the love it can find right now, take care of your life with God. Find God’s care and compassion that you might be free to be compassionate yourself.”
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. ~ Psalm 46:1-3
A Video Message from President Barnes:Learning to Sing the Lord's Song
“We are still a community that is committed to caring for each other during these hard days…and in these days as we learn new ways of being together without actually being together, the love of the community is going to break through.”
Partial Campus Closure Beginning Friday
Dear Seminary Community,
Every day brings escalating news of the spread of COVID-19 in our region, and these reports call us to respond rapidly and faithfully as responsible citizens and neighbors. We face increasingly significant restrictions on even local travel and basic public activities in the days ahead.
In order to promote the health of our students, employees, and the broader public, the Seminary will move to a state of partial campus closure beginning this Friday at 5:00 p.m. and lasting until at least April 6. For details, FAQ, and up-to-date information, continue to check the alerts site.
We remain focused on fulfilling our academic program online, while closing as much of the campus as possible so that the virus does not have an opportunity to spread here. This is yet another step to promote social distancing and to ensure that we have the least number of people on campus as possible, which in this public health crisis is good not only for our community but for the larger region. Read More
Social Distancing and Notifying the Seminary
Dear Seminary Community,
This has been a difficult season for our community and our world, and the daily news reports on the spread of COVID-19 indicate that we will face increasing disruptions to the Seminary in the weeks ahead.
Yesterday the governor of New Jersey announced strict social distancing measures across our region, including limiting large gatherings, closing restaurants and gyms, and moving all higher education instruction online. Given the escalation of this situation, we strongly encourage students to leave the Seminary campus, if possible. Dean White and the housing office sent out a very important communication yesterday, and we urge you to evaluate your plans carefully. Any student in need of financial assistance in returning home should contact Dean White.
New Updates and a Theological Perspective on "Social Distancing"
Dear Seminary Community,
Dedicated people across all areas of our school are working quickly to help us transition into our new and unprecedented way of life. I’m grateful for the many people who are devoting long hours to support the needs of our community in light of the changes on campus and in the world. This week faculty are investing time in refashioning syllabi and digital training. Administrators and staff are establishing new policies and practices to continue operations and provide for the health and safety of our community.
The Seminary remains open and will continue to operate on a normal schedule as we implement social distancing practices in the classroom, by moving all classes online, and in the workplace. The Seminary continues to operate with regular business hours. If the Seminary needs to close or modify business hours, we will update the community.
In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, what remains certain is the Seminary’s commitment to your wellbeing and the wellbeing of our broader community. I am grateful to the team of dedicated colleagues that have been working diligently on our behalf to plan and respond to this rapidly-evolving public health issue.
There are no known cases of COVID-19 on campus. At this stage, the best thing that we can do to prevent the spread of the virus is to take proactive measures to limit the occasions for potential exposure by reducing the number and size of gatherings within our community. These measures of “social distancing” are important not only for our own campus, but to do everything we can to slow the spread of infection in order to serve the public good as citizens of a global community.
As the country closely watches the developments of the coronavirus (COVID-19) we recognize that you may have heightened concerns and growing questions. Please refer to this set of Frequently Asked Questions and check this site often for up-to-date information.
Please know that there are no known cases of COVID-19 on campus.
Your physical and spiritual well-being is our greatest priority, and we are collectively taking proactive measures to prevent the spread of viruses, including disinfecting “high-touch” surfaces, such as doorknobs, handles, and tabletops, and positioning additional hand sanitizer dispensers at high-traffic areas on campus. Read More