Those two-out-of-a-hundred individuals might be today’s presidents of the respective seminaries, Iain Torrance and Brian Blount. Ask either of them about 2012 and they will blurt from memory a long list of initiatives and events being planned to commemorate their schools’ rich histories and to build for the future. They also will brag about the faculty and students who fill the classrooms today in preparation for a lifetime of service to Christ and the church.
The celebration at Princeton already commenced with the development of a $100 million bicentennial campaign, to include funding for construction of a new library. The Speer Library holds the world’s second largest freestanding collection of theological books, and the board determined to enhance its distinction by making it brighter for students and greener for the environment. Furthermore, the board aimed to make the library “accessible to congregations and colleges not only all across the United States of America but all across the world where Christianity is growing rapidly,” says Torrance. Designs led to demolition and then to groundbreaking; now the new construction hurtles toward a late 2012 dedication. Construction of new student housing is also included in the project.
The celebration at Union Seminary also involves raising a bicentennial fund, this one aiming for $75 million to build the Charlotte, N.C., campus, to completely renovate Richmond Hall on the Richmond campus as a global ministry center (training for mission service), to build 100 student housing units in place of existing ones and to broaden leadership development programs.
The actual celebration at Union begins on Bicentennial Convocation Weekend, coming this September when a troop of students, faculty, alums and friends will bicycle 75 miles from the campus of Hampden-Sydney College in Farmville, Va., to the present-day Union campus in Richmond, thereby retracing the seminary’s eastward migration in 1898.
Many opportunities for learning and worship will fill the months to follow, including a series of workshops on the use of technology in worship and teaching and communal worship events to be organized with neighboring presbyteries in Roanoke, Charlotte and Richmond. The spring of 2012 will bring events commemorating Union’s history of mission in Korea and of working with the African-American communities here in the U.S. Much attention will be given to Union’s role in the changing shape of southern Presbyterianism since the seminary’s founding.
The history of the seminary is being written by Ph.D. graduate Bill Sweetser, pastor of First Church, Spruce Pine, N.C. It will be published by Westminster-John Knox Press.
A new history of Princeton Seminary will be published by Harper Books upon its completion by James Morehead, the Mary McIntosh Bridge Professor of American Church History at the seminary.
Two commemorative worship gatherings will mark the celebratory year. The first, to be held in March, 2012, will be led by Robert Bohl, board chair and former moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). The second, to be held at the Princeton University chapel in October, 2012, will be led by distinguished alumna Marilyn McCord Adams, who has taught the philosophy of religion at Yale and Oxford universities and now is a distinguished research professor in the philosophy department at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
When asked about the strengths of their respective seminaries, both presidents mentioned their faculty and schools’ convergence of disciplines.
Blount points out that these are the only Presbyterian seminaries that have offered Ph.D. programs, “so we’ve not only trained a great many of the pastors and leaders of congregations and leaders in denominational life and leaders in mission, we’ve also trained some of the strong scholars, professors who have been teachers and professors of leaders of the church.” Quickly he adds, “We combine that with the federation of rich resources and legacy of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education” to stand as “one complete and strong institution here in the present.”
Torrance explains that Princeton Seminary “was founded to be a hybrid institution, to bring together learning and piety. And we still strive for that. We have, we think, a strong M.Div. program, taking in 130, 140 students per year. And we also have 109 Ph.D. students. We send more Ph.D. graduates to more seminaries than any other seminary.”
Torrance also stresses the value of being a residential community. While quickly acknowledging the value of distance-taught courses, he says, “We remain a residential community, and we believe that this is important for formation. We believe that it is good for our students to meet together, eat together, study together, and that we worship together.”
Both also brag of this year’s graduating class members. Torrance says, “They are part of the millennial generation: they tend to be masters of multi-tasking. These are passionate, gifted and committed people.”
As president of the smaller of the two schools, Blount is quick to say of the graduating seniors, “I know most of them personally. … There are people who want to be educators, people who want to be pastors, people who want to work in different areas of ministry, not just one type of ministry.”
1812 … 2012: 200 and counting.