This post is part of a series of interviews with our participants for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Sarah Ann Bixler is earning her PhD in practical theology and Christian education at Princeton Theological Seminary. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.
Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?
Sarah Ann Bixler: Raised in southeastern Pennsylvania, I spent my adult life in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (Harrisonburg) until moving to Princeton, NJ in 2013 to attend graduate school.
VW: Tell me about your research.
SAB: Research areas: a) Young people’s experiences in congregations. Having worked for 8 years of my career as a youth minister, I became interested in the diverse faith experiences of young people and how they find meaning through connecting to God within communities of faith. My research seeks to interpret the ways young people “attach” to God, congregations and individuals within the faith community through the lens of the psychological theory of attachment. I believe that understanding attachment to the church from the Aristotelian perspective of a constitutive good provides a theologically robust conception of ecclesiology.
b) Leadership of new church plants and revitalization efforts. As a founding member of a 2010 church plant, I am curious about how the church adapts and thrives in changing cultural contexts yet remains faithful to the gospel it holds dear. The formation of leaders who initiate new congregations, and leaders who guide congregations in decline through deep change and revitalization, is particularly important to me as someone with a professional background in church leadership. I currently have the opportunity to engage this research interest as the assistant to the pioneer missional theologian Dr. Darrell Guder, who directs Princeton Seminary’s new Center for Church Planting and Revitalization.
VW: What are your non-academic interests?
SAB: Outside of my scholarship, I find meaning in spending time with my biological and church family and in the outdoors. My spouse, Benjamin, and I have three children ages 10, 6 and 4. Together we enjoy camping, hiking and bicycling. I am also a jogger. We enjoy gardening and preserving our own produce through canning and freezing. I am also a committed member of a diverse urban church in Philadelphia, Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.
VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar?
SAB: I most look forward to developing my research ideas amid colleagues who will push me to think about topics from new angles, because they have studied particular themes that overlap with those I am exploring. I expect Fr. Brock’s session on friendship, Dr. Frey’s session on self-love and self-transcendence and Dr. McAdam’s work from a psychological perspective hold the most promise for my work. I am interested in working through the nuances of my research interests more through these sessions.