Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 37
 
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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“A Global Treasure,” SCVM Finds Satisfaction in Upgraded Facilities and “Repurposed” Goals

Ellen Gilbert

“It’s a boutique meeting facility with a state of the art conference room,” said School of Christian Vocation and Mission (SCVM) Director Charles Kalmbach while proudly leading a recent visitor around Erdman House. Located on Library Place at The Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS), Erdman House’s recent renovations allow monthly meetings and ‘webinars’ to be broadcast to over a dozen countries and states. “Participants can just sign up on the web,” said Mr. Kalmbach.

The spirit of the building’s namesake, Theology Professor Charles Rosenbury Erdman (1866-1960), is alive and well in the refurbished facility. He was a “beloved personality known for his hospitality,” observed Mr. Kalmbach. “It’s a huge blessing,” he said of the several bedrooms, library, and additional meeting space now available.

An image of the parish church in the Shetland Islands 200 miles north of Scotland where current PTS President Iaian Torrance began his ministry appears as a screensaver on Erdman House computers. With “no other buildings in sight,” it perfectly captures “the loneliness of the ministry,” said Mr. Kalmbach. In an effort to mitigate this solitude, SCVM has adopted a “new face of continuing education,” with its ministry serving as “a career long partner with pastors, lay leaders, and congregations as they follow their vocations in various expressions of mission,” according to the winter/spring issue of the school’s newsletter, inSpire. Part of this ongoing support includes a “private” Facebook site for pastors and other church leaders “to share and trust,” according to Mr. Kalmbach, who is an ordained minister as well as a lawyer. 

The response to this interest in “continuing to help pastors and lift up up the lives of congregations” has, according to Mr. Kalmbach, been “extraordinarily positive” and includes outreach to “area congregations across all Christian denominations.” He particularly looks forward, he said, to using past success in working with the Hispanic community to better understand “under-served” African and Asian communities.

A Princeton graduate, Mr. Kalmbach points to John Witherspoon as a prime example of the “pastor as a public person,” one who served as president of the then-College of New Jersey, and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Besides public service, the up-dated SCVM vision puts a premium on a “rigorous and challenging curriculum” and on the pastor as one who places a “deep focus on education.” Part of this effort includes bringing in “colleagues from the outside, who can teach from differing perspectives and experiment with topics,” offering a “mix of academics and activists” at special events.

“Until you know who you are and what you’re not, it’s hard to put together what you want,” commented Mr. Kalmbach. Only two years ago, before it underwent scrutiny for “what fit and what didn’t,” the school’s catalog looked very different, he said. In addition to being “clear about who we are,” said Mr. Kalmbach, the SCVM’s “repurposed” philosophy includes “thinking about multiple cycles,” being researched-based (the Seminary has a world-class library), and of particular note, being assessment-driven. Numbers talk: in 2008-2009 the School offered 44 events that included 1,097 participants in four locations. In 2009-2010, 2,391 individuals participated in 61 events in ten locations.

Although auditing SCVM’s highly specialized, inter-related classes is not an option for local residents, the school’s several endowed lectureships, “Meet the Author Series,” and up-to-date website (www3.ptsem.edu/offices/ConEd) offer multiple chances for the public to participate in the tradition of life-long learning. 

The school’s deep commitment to its students, Mr. Kalmbach noted, is reflected in its continuing policy of offering tuition-free instruction to 90 percent of those enrolled, making it what he described as “a global treasure.” Even so, the endowment has felt the impact of the recent economic downturn; Mr. Kalmbach cited a hiring freeze and a policy of “no pay increases for a couple years” as the school’s way of handling the pinch.

“On any given day pastors do an average of forty-one tasks and thirty-one contacts with different people,” noted a recent issue of inSpire, crediting the statistics to historian E. Brooks Holifield’s God’s Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America. In other words, Mr. Kalmbach observed — not for the first time — “being a pastor is a very hard thing.” But therein lies the essence of the School of Christian Vocation and Mission, which is there to partner clergymen and their congregations through life.

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