July 26, 2022
Sally A. Brown, PhD ’01, Elizabeth M. Engle Professor of Preaching and Worship Emerita, retired in December 2021 following 20 ½ years of teaching. After a semester away from Princeton Theological Seminary, Brown shares her deep appreciation for the seminarians and her colleagues here.
“Our students are interesting and interested people who want to learn the why and how of doing justice and loving mercy in this world in the name of God. Their willingness to take on the hard work of cultivating Spirit-driven hope in a murky future kept me inspired, whether at my desk or in the classroom,” says Brown.
Regarding the faculty, teaching assistants, administrators, Board members, and staff, she reflects “it would be hard to imagine a more stimulating, hard-working set of colleagues than the ones I’ve known in these past twenty-plus years. When the new catalogue would come out each year, I’d be struck sometimes by the sheer coordinated human effort it would take, from the chapel to the classroom, from the conference room to the kitchen, to make good on that catalogue’s promises.”
Brown herself helped bring the catalogue’s promises to fruition. When she joined Princeton Seminary’s faculty in 2001, Brown possessed a wealth of real-world pastoral experience from serving in parish and non-parish ministries at Eastern College (now Eastern University), the Presbytery of Elizabeth, and as a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Prior to becoming a member of the Seminary’s faculty, she had also taught at Lancaster Theological Seminary, Columbia Theological Seminary, and Moravian Seminary.
This experience was evident in Brown’s classes, where her gifts as a professor and a pastor helped shape countless students during a tenure that spanned more than two decades. Brown greatly enjoyed her time in the classroom, sharing “smaller, seminar-sized classes were especially satisfying. The students and I got to know one another fairly well, and everyone had more time to integrate the subject matter with pastoral praxis and personal experience.” Introduction to Preaching was “endlessly interesting” for Brown, as the students’ personal experiences shaped the nature of the course, making each cohort unique.
“My goal was to help each group become a community of learners who trusted one another enough to take risks, and also trusted each other enough to receive constructive feedback. I never tired of assisting students in developing their own theologically grounded vision of preaching, and then building a set of preaching skills that had integrity with that vision.”
Brown’s intellect and integrity were also assets for those in her courses and in the Seminary community. She carefully explored the dynamics of pressing issues in today’s world, wrestling with topics like systemic racism, tribalism, and greed in our society. She also helped students thoughtfully navigate sensitive subjects and articulate their own ideas with care. In doing so, she created an environment that empowered and strengthened younger scholars.
Outside the classroom, Brown is a gifted author whose books are geared toward helping those in ministry — or those who are aiming to be — preach weekly sermons tailored to the needs of their communities. Brown’s Sunday's Sermon for Monday's World: Preaching to Shape Daring Witness (Eerdman’s, 2020) earned a Jesus Creed 2020 Book Award from Christianity Today in recognition of the work’s ability to profoundly alter how preachers connect with their congregations. Brown explored this topic in depth during a profile published in 2021, where she said “Every person and situation is different, so we have to be inventive in the way we give expression to our faith. I explore how to preach to help people look at the everyday spaces of their lives as places where God is active and to see hope.”
Adam Hearlson, PhD ’13, MDiv ‘08, adjunct professor of practical theology at Princeton Seminary and pastor of Overbrook Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, shares high praises for Brown’s commitment to the Seminary, its students, and the field of homiletics. As a Master of Divinity student, Hearlson took courses with Brown, who then served as his dissertation advisor during his PhD studies. Hearlson describes Brown as “a model of compassion, grace, and dignity,” with a wry wit and subtle sense of humor. “She cares deeply about the discipline of homiletics and has worked really hard to make sure it has the intellectual rigor to stand up to the attention of other fields,” he says. “She brings a deep theology and philosophy to homiletics. There’s a critical thinking in her work that can, on the one hand, make sense of all of the literature that’s come before her within the field, but also bring to bear critical theory that’s around us.”
As she plans for the future, Brown is taking time to discern what is next for her. She is enjoying life, accepting invitations to preach and teach, and continuing to engage with the complex topics she helped students and pastors explore in their work.
“The rooting of justice in our spiritual formation in Christ requires careful thought and teaching. I was equipped to lead in this way through my time at PTS.”