Shadyside Presbyterian pastor to lead Princeton Theological Seminary

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Princeton Theological Seminary has chosen the Rev. M. Craig Barnes, pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church and a professor of pastoral ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to be its next president.

The 200-year-old seminary in New Jersey is the largest in the Presbyterian Church (USA), with about 540 students and an influence far beyond its own denomination. Rev. Barnes, a graduate and trustee of the school, was the unanimous choice of its board and will step into the post Jan. 1. His goal is to ensure it is training students for ministry in a rapidly changing church.

"It's not like it was in the 20th century, when the church was simply part of the fabric of society and all you had to do was open the doors and expect people to come in. Mainline denominations are diminishing in size while new, emergent church forms are thriving," he said.

"Churches have to take seriously that they are conducting their ministry in an increasingly secularized culture. In order for pastors to lead churches in this new culture, they have to be adequately trained for it, and that is the role of the seminary."

Rev. Barnes was raised on Long Island in New York and graduated from King's College and Princeton Theological Seminary before earning his doctorate in church history at the University of Chicago. He was ordained in 1981 into what is now the Presbyterian Church (USA). His first churches were in Colorado and Wisconsin, but he emerged as a high-profile national speaker and leader as pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., in 1992-2002.

His congregation there included many powerful politicians from across the political spectrum. He built a reputation as a spellbinding preacher who could frame classical theology in ways that engaged people both inside and outside the evangelical wing of the church. His eight books include "When God Interrupts," "Sacred Thirst" and "Searching for Home." He is in demand nationwide as a speaker.

In 2002 he joined the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary as professor of pastoral ministry and leadership. The next year he took on additional duties as pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, which he built back to a membership of 1,100 after internal disputes in the late 1990s caused hundreds of people to leave. He has long said that seminary education must be closely connected to congregational life and that his work in the congregation informs his teaching. He will continue to teach pastoral ministry at Princeton.

The reason he did a doctorate in church history was to understand how theology impacts real life, so he could better serve the church, he said.

"Craig is a model of generous orthodoxy," said the Rev. Sheldon Sorge, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery, speaking of his ability to stay centered in classical doctrine while building good relationships with those across a wide theological spectrum and eschewing divisiveness.

His preaching and his columns for The Christian Century magazine are compelling because he vividly describes how God is manifest in everyday lives, Rev. Sorge said. "He's an excellent theologian, but he's accessible because he tells human stories as the window into theological insight," he said.

His classes at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary are always packed and "under his leadership Shadyside Church has been growing at a time when mainline Christianity is seeing a different trend. He's been the model not only of a good pastor, but a successful pastor, any way you want to cut it."

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Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.


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