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This article by Fran Ianacone was prepared for the December 15,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Carols Beyond the Borders
Newly instated Princeton Theological Seminary president Iain R.
Torrance will begin the Carols of Many Nations service on Wednesday,
December 15, by saying benediction for those who gather in Miller
Chapel on the Seminary Campus.
"The service is very international," says Torrance. "We will be
celebrating in the first language of many of our students. So there
will be carols interspersed with bible readings in their own language,
"My family always looks forward to hearing Christmas music," he says.
"When I was studying at Oxford, we would always take our children to
the choral Christmas service at Christ Church Cathedral. It is a
beautiful building where people have worshipped for at least a
thousand years. In such a lovely setting with beautiful music, one can
reflect, give thanks, and take stock."
Torrance’s experience working, traveling, studying, and praying with
people all over the world makes him perfectly suited to open the
Carols of Many Nations program. With 65 foreign students currently
attending the seminary, the program honors and celebrates the many
nationalities present in the seminary’s student body: South Africa,
Ghana, Nigeria, India, Korea, Brazil, Myanmar, and Hungary, among
Martin Tell, director of music at the seminary, says that "the Carols
of Many Nations program is a fresh and new way of thinking outside of
the box about Christmas carols."
Tell leads the seminary’s Cantate Domino and Jubilate Deo Choirs in
carols from China, France, England, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Zambia, and
Korea, among other countries. Some are sung by the whole choir and
some by soloists in their native language, including Mandarin,
Spanish, and Korean. Handouts containing English translations help the
audience follow along. After each of the two performances, the choirs
lead the audience out onto the lawn by candlelight and continue
singing several more songs that are familiar to the audience. "It’s a
another way to experience singing," says Tell, "not only inside the
warm chapel, but out in the chilly night air as well!"
The international nature of the seminary is one of the things that
tempted Torrance to leave his native Scotland and become the sixth
president in the Seminary’s history last March.
Torrance holds a bachelor of divinity from St. Andrews University, a
master’s from the University of Edinburgh, and a doctorate in
philosophy from Oxford University. He began his ministry in a parish
church in the Shetland Islands.
A pastor, scholar, teacher, and administrator, Torrance is ordained in
the Church of Scotland and serves as a chaplain to Her Majesty the
Queen in Scotland. Prior to coming to the seminary, he served as the
dean of the faculty of arts and divinity at the University of
Aberdeen. For the past 22 years he has edited the Scottish Journal of
Theology, and like his father before him, served as moderator of the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
In assuming the presidency, Dr. Torrance heads the first seminary
founded by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, and
the largest of the 10 theological seminaries of that 2.5 million
Though newly arrived, Torrance is no stranger to Princeton. His
father, Thomas F. Torrance, one of the leading Reformed theologians of
the last century, brought his family to Princeton in 1959 to live in
Tennant Hall while he worked on his book, Theological Science.
"I well remember when we arrived in March of 1959, " Torrance recalls.
"We came just in time to enjoy spring. It was lovely and it made a
Twenty years earlier, Torrance’s father had been offered, and had
actually accepted, the chair of religion at Princeton University. He
asked to be excused when it became apparent that war was imminent.
Fearing he would be cut off from Europe – and his family – if he
stayed, he returned to Britain and volunteered to serve as a chaplain
in the British army.
During the war Torrance’s mother, Margaret, who is English, did her
part by serving as a nurse in St. Thomas Hospital in London, located
directly opposite the Houses of Parliament. Due to its location, the
hospital was bombed repeatedly. She was a nurse there throughout the
infamous bombing of London. Both of Torrance’s parents, as well as the
parents of his wife, Morag, along with their two children, Hew and
Robyn, live in Scotland.
Following his father’s example, for more than 20 years Torrance served
as a reservist chaplain. He visited troops in Bosnia just before the
war ended there. "I am committed to the role of the Christian minister
in ambiguous situations," he says. "If you are expecting soldiers to
uncover mass graves, as we did in Bosnia, it is good if there is a
chaplain for them to talk to. People need to talk. Soldiers are people
who feel threatened, who are doing things that are unfamiliar, under
the compulsion of someone’s orders. They have a great deal of things
to sort out. So chaplaincy is a crucial role that’s really at the
forefront of ministry. Chaplains minister to solders in difficult
situations, and have a great deal of contact, privileged contact, with
people who don’t normally go to church."
Torrance points out that not only have the seminary grounds changed
since he last lived here, with the addition of both Scheide and
Templeton halls, but the nature of the ministry itself has changed.
Since the time of the Reformation in Scotland in 1560, the Reformed
churches have aimed to put a school and a church in every parish.
While the church prided itself on having a highly educated ministry,
the practice led to an authoritarian style, where only the minister
spoke and conducted all the worship. Now, increasingly, ministry is
much more collaborative and enabling. More of a partnership exists
between a minister, or team of ministers, church elders, and members
of the congregation and together they form the ministry.
"We are well aware of these changes and we are attempting, I think
successfully, to change the model of ministry," says Torrance.
"Seminary graduates now are people who are collaborative and who help
form other people in their faith, and are not merely people who want
to be the solo voice."
Another change in the Presbyterian church has been the welcoming of
women to the ministry. "When I taught theology in British universities
for 19 years, increasingly I found that those in theology were second
career students. The number of students going to seminary straight
from university is diminishing."
Both men and women come to ministry as a second career, partly because
of today’s patterns of employment. "It’s common now for people to go
through two, three, or four careers in their lives, and I think that
has benefited women," he says. "There was a time when women who had
children suffered from the break in their careers. In a sense this
disabled them because they had to back off the ladder."
But today the Reformed churches are more flexible in how and when one
attends seminary. "With today’s flexibility of modern living, and
different patterns of mobility, the workplace has become much more
inclusive for women," notes Torrance. "Married women with children,
and single women with children, have more careers for the choosing.
The ministry has benefited vastly from the gifts that women bring to
It is a grand career, indeed, in Torrance’s experience. "The ministry
enables people to express a series of gifts which actually can not be
brought out anywhere except in that context," he says.
In the course of getting a divinity degree, seminary students study
philosophy, history, theology, and sociology. They gain a familiarity
with a multiplicity of different methodologies. Exposing them to a
range of methodologies enables students to be aware of the "otherness"
of other people, and take seriously their difference.
"You can’t read your own thoughts into another person," says Torrance.
"Instead, you listen to them and allow them to express themselves.
These are the type of skills a person acquires when they pursue a
theology degree. A number of our graduates find, if they do not have a
vocation to parish ministry or chaplaincy, that there are other forms
of ministry that they can discharge."
Torrance refers to Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew
Congregations, who argues that the supreme religious challenge is to
see God’s image in one who is not in our image. "If our students leave
here with that vision and that particular pastoral skill, then I
believe we are doing something very worthwhile."
Although Torrance never planned on coming back to Princeton, he hopes
to remain for a long time. "To return as president is entirely
unexpected and seems almost miraculous," he says. "It is a position I
did not seek, but which I believed to be God’s calling to me. I
thought and prayed about it, and talked with my wife. I felt that if I
were chosen, or I were not chosen, I would accept the decision as
being God’s word to me. So, here I am. God willing, I will commit the
rest of my working life to the Seminary."
Of all of the tasks in his new position, surely providing the lead-in
to the seminary’s international carol concert is among the most
joyous. It is a celebration of the miraculous, made broad enough to
include the farthest reaches of his church’s evolving global ministry.
Theological Seminary, Wednesday, December 15, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. No
charge. Call 609-497-7890.
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