Summer/Fall  2000
Volume 5 Number 1

by Kent Annan

Since 1950, 6,153 people have graduated from Princeton Seminary with an M.Div. or equivalent degree. Here are the memories of four. They came to the same campus but during different eras. And while they don’t claim to be spokespersons for their respective generations, their time at Princeton was thoroughly shaped by, well, the time during which they were here. Between Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist investigations and the announcement of the O.J. Simpson trial verdict, the times were a changin’ in the country and at the Seminary.

John Turpin is retired and lives in Berkeley, California.
John Turpin is retired and lives in Berkeley, CA.

So how much was the Princeton Seminary of 1949 like the one in 1997? The stories of these four M.Div. graduates—John Turpin (1952), Allen Brindisi (1971), Deena Candler (1981), and Nancy Conklin (1997), all four of whom are currently on the Alumni/ae Association Executive Council—tell of an institution that has changed, but whose effect on lives is still much the same. And it doesn’t stop with them. Students enroll today and will probably continue to enroll at Princeton for the next fifty years in hope that they will learn and experience—though in different times and ways—what these four alumni/ae did.

John Turpin remembers his time from 1949 to 1952 as post-war years and as Senator Joseph McCarthy years. The Vietnam War was only one of the many seismic events around the time Allen Brindisi was at Princeton, 1968–1971, that had led him to wonder whether "the world had gone crazy." In a few years, much changed, and 1976–1980 was a different era. Homosexuality was introduced as an issue at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly in 1978, but Deena Candler remembers her time at Princeton as "pretty calm"—though not musically so, with two campus rock bands and a drummer who lived down the hall from her. Nancy Conklin remembers listening with classmates to the announcement of the verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial on October 3, 1995, which she cited as symbolic of the fact that race was a dominant theme during her years, 1994 to 1997, at Princeton.

All four went from Seminary into ordained ministry as pastors. When asked whether they could have done their ministries as well without having gone to seminary, they laughed in disbelief: "No way!" "No." "Impossible!"

Nancy Conklin is interim pastor at Norwood Presbyterian Church in Norwood, New Jersey.
Nancy Conklin is interim pastor at Norwood Presbyterian church in Norwood, New Jersey.

Why? "I didn’t know the Bible before I got here," said John. "I didn’t understand the role of the church until John Mackay [PTS president from 1936 to 1959] explained it to me." Allen called his education a time "of acquiring the wisdom of the ages, being set in the corrective tradition of the church, and feeling theologically centered and grounded." Nancy realized during the first Bible study she led after seminary that, "Amazingly, I had recall of some of the historical criticism and was able to dispel some of the myths, handle some of the tough questions." She left the study grateful for her education and feeling prepared for the challenges of ministry that lay ahead.

Deena reflected more existentially and said the chance to struggle with her faith was the most crucial part of her preparing to be a pastor. Developing a deeper relationship with God and establishing a firm foundation were invaluable, she said, because "the issues change every decade and there are different courses that deal with those. I think it is most important that students take courses that lay a solid foundation in biblical studies and theology to help us become good thinkers and to respond to new things when they come up…whether Vietnam or McCarthy or whatever. I wish that I’d laid a more solid foundation of theory."

Deena Candler is associate pastor of West Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska.
Deena Chandler is associate pastor of West Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska.

Allen appreciated the solid foundation, but also remembers that it took practical, weekly involvement in the church to keep him slugging through the coursework: "I don’t know if I could have handled three years of seminary without field work every weekend. It was always great to come back on Sunday night, exhausted after a full day at church, and go out with friends and get pizza and debrief."

Students’ experience at Princeton Seminary is shaped largely by professors, and relations between students and faculty have varied over the years. Deena said she and her classmates used to invite professors to "sherry hour" in the dorm, when a couple of professors and a small group of students would share conversation, wine, crackers, and cheese. Also, students and some professors gathered at a local restaurant, the Rusty Scupper, to eat and to talk. On hearing Deena describe this camaraderie, John exclaimed, "That’s a different seminary than I went to!" He remembers a few academic discussions with Professor Otto Piper, but that is where socializing with professors stopped. Allen also remembers that student/professor interactions were restricted primarily to the lecture hall.

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