Global Impact Starts in Local Communities - Princeton Theological Seminary

When Ben Immanuel, ThM ‘24, arrived on Princeton Theological Seminary’s campus in August to pursue theology, he did so with ecumenism in mind. It’s a principle that the Coonoor, India native is passionate about — promoting unity among Christian churches globally. It’s an interest that’s always been at the forefront for Immanuel, who considers himself an interdenominational Christian.

“I’ve always been interested in working beyond denominational and church structures and Princeton Seminary offers that space where you could come in from various backgrounds and denominations,” he says. “At the heart of it is a call to being very passionate about work in the church, because these days we unfortunately see the dwindling influence of the church in society.”

As that influence diminishes, Immanuel’s hope is to change the tide through his collaborative work to reform the church and community. This is what led him to Princeton Seminary. “It sort of brings the head and heart together in some ways, not only thinking about theology, but what we practically need to be doing in community,” he says.

For Immanuel, the church’s role in society is to influence world culture. “We still have a place in which we ought to be influencing our culture because the gospel is far too true for us to run away from,” he says. “We need to be more connected to each other because though we are different, have different traditions and different lines of thought that we come from, at the heart of it, we still want to be a community of disciples of Jesus.”

At a time when the world is enduring many wars and exclusions amongst people, the church has a great role to play in bringing unity and spreading love, he adds. It’s a difficult feat but the church must first make conscious steps to work within our local communities. If a neighborhood has five churches, there should be reconciliation among the churches despite differences and a consensus of discovering ways to love one another in practical ways, such as collaborating on events, exchanging clergy, preachers, and resources.

“When we are able to reconcile with each other, then our scope of ministry will grow and we will be able to do better together than we could ever do when we are alone,” Immanuel says. “I would advocate for a local neighborhood model of unity before we can ever think of other forms of ecumenism.”

Immanuel’s been working to accomplish practical work within the church in the years since graduating from Madras Christian College in Chennai, India. Driven by questions regarding contrasting views of Christian theology during his time there, he answered God’s call and entered seminary in India at the United Theological College in Bengaluru, a renowned theological college in India. It is here that he gained an understanding of his own identity, community, and his role in it.

Following Immanuel’s studies, he worked with Student Christian Movement of India, a student ministry. Eventually, he returned to India Sunday School Union, to teach and train Sunday school teachers and develop curriculums and creative teaching modules for the churches.

“When we are able to reconcile with each other, then our scope of ministry will grow and we will be able to do better together than we could ever do when we are alone”

After graduation, Immanuel plans to reunite with his wife and daughter and return to serve in the same capacity as he did prior to attending Princeton Seminary. Pursuing a PhD within the next decade is another possibility.

“I do have a lot of questions in my heart that I would love to pursue as a possible PhD topic, but I am also aware that the real questions will come only in connection with people,” he says. “As of now, my plans are to go back and continue to serve the Indian church at large through different forms of teaching, focusing on Sunday school ministry and Bible studies. I’m going to be spending at least the next few years doing that before I can explore PhD studies.”

Immanuel admits that it’s been tough being away from his family and being in America for the first time has been a culture shock. However, he’s grateful for the community he’s built in such a short time here.

“Community life is something that I really enjoy because I’ve been able to pick up a lot of friends from different cultures and backgrounds, especially within the international community here at PTS,” he says. “There is space for us to grow together as a community and we’ve been taken care of by the larger community. I like the space provided. It’s been very enriching as I discern God’s will.”

Studying under four different faculty members is a highlight for Immanuel because of the diverse expertise that each brings to the table. “It’s leading me in the direction that I think God is calling me to in terms of where I want to be putting in my energy to focus my ministry in certain ways. Even though the scope is large, I’m still able to understand where I need to be because I’m passionate about Christian education.”

Currently, Immanuel is enrolled in vastly diverse and practical courses, such as Laboratory in Entrepreneurial Ministry, which consists of exploring entrepreneurial ways of engaging in ministry. “I’m already feeling very encouraged to go back and get involved in re-envisioning certain things and also launching new projects,” he says. “At the same time, I’m engaged in courses here where I’m being trained to be theologically sound by going in depth into matters of faith, especially in systematic theology.”

For Immanuel, attending Princeton Seminary has been a full circle experience, he says. From a very young age, he’s heard the word Princeton a lot, and he’s met several alums from Princeton because of a partnership with the India Sunday School Union. “In many ways, I have followed PTS covertly over the years and it feels like a dream come true that I’m here and exploring this opportunity,” he says. “I’m very certain that it’s definitely God who brought me here. I’m grateful and I’m hoping for the best.”