In this series, we asked alumni to update us on their path to ministry since graduation. They reflect on how their time at Princeton Seminary prepared them for leadership, while sharing some of the surprises and challenges they’ve experienced along the way.
Nathan Sell ’15 MDiv talks about why he chose to attend Princeton Seminary, the lessons that continue to shape his ministry, and how he overcomes challenges.
Q: Tell us about yourself. How did you end up where you are now?
A: Before seminary, I had lived in six different states, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, worked as a canoe guide, and worked in a church. The church has always been a big part of my life (I am the son of an alum and a Presbyterian minister), and somewhere along the line I got an unshakeable sense that God was calling me to seminary, even though I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a pastor. I went to Princeton Seminary because I knew it was a seminary that opened up doors to many different vocations.
“I love that I am embedded in the daily lives of my students and that I am able to pursue and share many of my loves in the process.”
Q: Tell us your title and something about the organization you work for. What does your current role involve?
A: I was recently ordained in the PC(USA). It turns out I wanted to be a pastor after all! I am serving as the upper school chaplain at an all-boys school in Baltimore, Maryland. I love this calling, because it allows me to connect with students on many different levels. I run our chapel program, direct our service learning, teach, coach lacrosse, lead summer mission trips, and even take students on the occasional backpacking trip. I love that I am embedded in the daily lives of my students and that I am able to pursue and share many of my loves in the process.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you in your ministry? What has been the biggest surprise?
A: One of my biggest challenges and greatest privileges is trying to connect with students from many different faith backgrounds. I want to be a faithful Christian and I want our chapel program to reflect God’s love. I also want to be a chaplain to students who are of different faiths or no faith, and I want to be hospitable. Sometimes it feels like these things are in tension, but when I think about Christ’s love, I remember that this is a hospitable, non-coercive type of love, and I try to reflect that.
I am often surprised in my work. For example, a student who is not stellar in the classroom might turn out to be an amazing leader on a service trip. It is wonderful to be around people in so many different capacities. I get to know them in a deep way, and they are always surprising me.
“Attending Princeton Seminary was one of the best experiences of my life, and the lessons I learned there continue to shape me.”
Q: Looking back, how do you think Princeton Seminary prepared you for the work you’re doing?
A: Attending Princeton Seminary was one of the best experiences of my life, and the lessons I learned there continue to shape me. I think about my pastoral care classes with Bob Dykstra, and how I now use counseling techniques I learned. I think of my field education experience with Kenda Creasy Dean, and how she constantly exemplified possibility and enthusiasm—the backbone of working with youth. I think about taking theology classes with Mark Edwards and how he explained things like the Trinity using Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lyrics—translating theology in approachable ways. I often dig through ethics notes from John Bowlin’s classes, as I teach ethics to my students. And I think about Nate Stucky and how he modeled the importance of experiential education. I could go on and on. Princeton Seminary is a place that models community, and I try to bring those lessons to my current community.
Q: What’s next for you in your work?
A: I am currently in the process of planning two summer service trips for close to forty students. I love these trips, because they bring out the best in the students. I push them to see the world in new ways.
“Preaching is one of the most important things we do as pastors because it’s one of the last places in our society where people will actually listen, perhaps to things they may not agree with.”