Yes, seminaries supply pastors. But the relationship between church and seminary can be even deeper and richer for local congregations. Consider the partnership between four New Jersey congregations and Princeton Seminary.
Clifton Black, the Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology at PTS, led a four-part series titled “Pondering Jesus’ Parables” this past summer at four Delaware River Valley churches in New Jersey. The first three nights of the series, a partnership of the Presbyterian congregations in Titusville, Mt. Airy, Lambertville, and Stockton, were structured to allow participants to study each synoptic gospel’s particular theological lens by looking at their use of Jesus’ parabolic sayings. On the last night of the series, Black guided participants through sayings and parables in John’s gospel, as well as the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, that highlight Jesus’ own life and work as a parable for the Kingdom of God.
“Since we studied parables, I would say Dr. Black was like a skilled server who had also prepared the dishes for a mix of customers,” said the Reverend Merle Wilson (’07B), pastor of the Mt. Airy Presbyterian church, and a former student of Black’s. “He warmly invited those who were new to extracanonical writings and ideas to take a sip, and he challenged those already familiar with them to cut across the grain and perhaps find different flavors. His gifts of teaching and understanding were equal parts first-century cultural context and contemporary American Southern idiom, seasoned with helpful Greek asterisks. We are grateful to God for providing the opportunity to learn from and fellowship with him.”
This was the second summer education series cohosted by the First Presbyterian Church of Titusville, Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church, Lambertville Presbyterian Church, and Stockton Presbyterian Church. The idea germinated in 2009 with a series on Old Testament prophets and prophecies by then-assistant professor Jeremy Hutton. The concept is designed to provide Christian education opportunities to the congregations and their communities. It has drawn participants from across Mercer and Hunterdon Counties in New Jersey and Bucks County in Pennsylvania to the four churches, which host each night of the series on a rotating basis.
“Projects like this represent, I think, the best of connectional ministry,” said the Reverend Will Shurley (‘07B), pastor of the Titusville congregation and another former student of Black’s. “By combining our resources, we are able to provide our members and communities with opportunities for shared learning and fellowship that we simply cannot provide on our own. And we are grateful to the Seminary and to Dr. Black for this gift.”