Princeton Theological Seminary Presidential Inauguration Greeting

As prepared for delivery on Oct. 23, 2013, in the Princeton University Chapel

Good afternoon. On behalf of Princeton University, I am delighted to welcome you all here today, and I am especially delighted to welcome Craig Barnes on the occasion of his inauguration as the seventh president of the Princeton Theological Seminary.

My own installation as president of Princeton University took place one month ago, and I remain inspired by and grateful for the heartfelt welcome I received from the University and higher education communities on that day. Looking out upon today’s audience — which includes delegates from dozens of academic institutions, churches and denominations from around the world — it is clear that your appointment, Craig, is a joyous occasion for the Princeton Theological Seminary’s students, alumni, faculty and staff, as well as for scholarly and faith communities far beyond the boundaries of your campus. I hope you are able to take a few moments on this busy day to enjoy and reflect upon the outpouring of support that accompanies your inauguration today.

I am particularly delighted to welcome you here in the beautiful Princeton University Chapel. As I told Princeton’s freshmen at our Opening Exercises last month, this inspirational space invites all of its visitors to reflect upon the larger purposes that guide our personal lives and the lives of our broader community. This chapel also has, for many years, hosted the Princeton Theological Seminary’s annual Commencement exercises. The work of the Seminary’s alumni in churches; educational, healthcare and nonprofit institutions; social justice organizations; and other pursuits around the globe reflects a spirit of service to humankind that I hope this chapel inspires all of its visitors to consider and pursue in some form.

The ties between the University and the Seminary are historic and strong. Following the period of religious revival in the British American colonies known as the First Great Awakening, the University was founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey. Its founders were Presbyterian pastors who intended to create both a seminary and a liberal arts college. One founder wrote, “We hope it will be useful in other learned professions — Ornaments of the State as Well as the Church.” The College was open to students of all religious denominations, who, as the founders noted, were “to have free access to the Honours & Privileges of the College, while they behave themselves with Sobriety and Virtue.”

Although religion was a core component of student life for the early College students, its formal role in the curriculum was limited. By the early 19th century, some 20 percent of the College’s graduates went into the ministry. Leaders of the Presbyterian Church soon identified a need for a greater number of clergy to minister to growing numbers of parishes in the original 13 states and in newly settled territories in the Midwest. This led to the founding, in 1812, of the Princeton Theological Seminary just down the road — and the beginning of a cooperative, collaborative relationship between the new institution and the College that would become known as Princeton University.

The author and theologian Hugh Thomson Kerr, writing in the Princeton Seminary Bulletin, noted that in the Seminary’s early years,

“ … relations between college and seminary were not only polite but friendly, and … a vigorous two-way traffic enlivened and enriched both institutions. Instead of being estranged, there was amicable and continuing interchange among trustees, faculty, and students. For their part, college personnel at all levels and in considerable numbers moved freely and readily ‘across the street’ to visit and study on the seminary campus. This reciprocity marked the continuing development of both institutions.”

And to this day, 201 years later, the Seminary and the University remain strong civic and scholarly partners. Faculty and students of the Seminary, since its inception, have had free access to the University’s library facilities. Graduate students of the Seminary and the University benefit from reciprocal course enrollment arrangements. Faculty members from both institutions forge scholarly connections and co-sponsor lectures, conferences and symposia on both campuses. The work of Seminary faculty helps inform research and teaching in our Department of Religion, our Center for the Study of Religion and our Faith & Work Initiative, among other areas of the University.

Today’s inaugural activities, in fact, began with a lecture from University Professor Robert Wuthnow, director of our Center for the Study of Religion, who welcomed President Barnes and spoke about “Faith Communities and the Challenges of Contemporary Culture.” Professor Wuthnow touched on the longstanding connections between the University and the Seminary, and he reflected upon how issues such as globalization, cultural diversity and social ethics affect seminaries, their leaders, faculty and students and their congregations. Similarly, University faculty members across many disciplines are grappling with questions about the impact of social, cultural, economic and technological changes sweeping through our increasingly interconnected global community.

While the Seminary and University have distinct missions, at the core of both of our institutions is a commitment to examining questions that help us understand, support and strengthen our society. As fellow Princeton citizens and intellectual partners, we should continue to encourage the scholarly collaborations that have benefited both institutions for the past two centuries.

Craig, as you and I begin our presidencies of these venerable institutions, I am honored to have been invited to participate in your inauguration — and I look forward to many years of colleagueship.

On behalf of Princeton University, as your neighbor and friend, welcome!


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