A Mission to Help Young People Leads to a Historic, Prominent Church

Field study introduced Barbara Florvil to Alfred Street Baptist Church and her calling
Barbara Florvil News Image
Photograph by Bill Cardoni

Seminary was not on Barbara Florvil’s to-do list after college.

“I wasn’t even clear what seminary was,” said the 2013 graduate of Tufts University. “The options I was thinking about were law school or a master’s degree in education.”

Florvil, MDiv ’18, was sure of one thing — that she wanted to have an impact in the world. Majoring in child development, she felt called to work in communities of color where she could use her skills to help close student achievement gaps and broaden access to higher education.

She eventually found her way to that calling on a path that led her to the Master of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Florvil today oversees youth ministry at the oldest, largest, and most prominent African American church in northern Virginia — the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria. Recognized for combining traditional Baptist beliefs with preaching and ministry that address contemporary life issues, Alfred Street has tripled in size over the last decade to 7,000 members.

In 2015 and 2016, then-President Barack Obama and his family attended Easter services at the church.

The church has a long tradition of supporting historically black colleges and universities, and made headlines earlier this year by paying off the outstanding tuition and fee balances of 34 graduating seniors at Howard University.

Florvil is deeply involved with the congregation’s young people, working to help them both develop their spiritual lives and prepare for success in their education and careers. She works in over 17 different programs within the congregation, covering youth worship services, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and college ministry.

“We teach our youth about God through arts, education, and service,” she said.

“Most recently, our youth helped to renovate a juvenile detention shelter and hosted the youth of the shelter at one of our Sunday services.”

As a daughter of Haitian immigrant parents who are devout Christians, Florvil always had a strong faith life. But the path to seminary began when after college she served in the AmeriCorps Public Allies program, which provides mentoring and leadership training to young adults in minority communities. In that role, which included serving as a college advisor at a church in Brooklyn, New York, Florvil began to see more clearly the underlying spiritual foundation of her career goals.

“I realized that the commitment I brought to doing college advising was connected to the fact that I saw these young people as children of God,” she said. “And so, seminary just kept rising to the top as a space to explore the connection between faith and creating social impact.”

At Princeton Seminary, she received the formal ministerial training she sought. Her Seminary education also deepened her knowledge of black church history and strengthened her identity as a black Christian woman. She served as co-chair of the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) Women’s Fellowship and took certificate programs in Black Church Studies and Women, Gender, and Theology Studies.

“Being a part of ABS was very impactful in finding community and family, and feeling grounded in my identity,” she said. “I also learned a lot through the certificate programs about what it means to work in a black church, and to think deeply about the ways in which women can serve in ministry and how ministry can better serve women.”

She did her field work at the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and after earning her degree, she accepted an offer to return to work with the congregation’s youth.

“One of the things I gained from Princeton Seminary was an enduring curiosity about how God can show up in the world,” Florvil said. “Alfred Street then gave me the opportunity to take what I learned academically and put it into action.”

“I am thrilled to be here. It’s a church with a great history and a great prophetic presence in the world.”

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“The faculty and staff at Princeton Seminary took my interests in science and theology and gave them real direction.”