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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,

and prayers.

"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

member denomination.

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

lasting impression."

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.

Carols of Many Nations, Miller Chapel, Princeton

Theological Seminary, Wednesday, December 15, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. No

charge. Call 609-497-7890.

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