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John and Sara Barton and their children - Pepperdine Magazine

Finding Her Passion

Pepperdines new chaplain reflects on her call to ministry and her hopes for her future at the university.

"I am energized by opportunities to contribute to spiritual formation in the lives of university students,” explains Sara Barton as she prepares to take on the role of chaplain of Pepperdine University.

At Pepperdine Barton will lead campus-wide worship services and provide pastoral care for students, faculty, and staff, a calling she first realized as a student at Harding University. It was at Harding where she was first challenged to consider mission work after meeting others, including her now-husband John, with similar convictions. “We all wanted to do something with our lives that would be of service to the world,” she says. “We considered a lot of different things in different parts of the world, but we were especially drawn to Uganda.”

In the late 1980s the east African nation was opening up and allowing foreign visitors back into the country again after many years of civil war. The Bartons seized the opportunity to be part of the Churches of Christ-initiated work that emphasized local communities of faith and leadership development among local leaders. The two worked on community sanitation and women’s empowerment projects in partnership with the local population and took on projects that helped address extreme poverty. They returned to Uganda in 1994 along with their two children, Nate and Brynn, and, until 2002, served there as missionaries.

Upon concluding her work in Uganda, Barton pursued her call to ministry at Rochester College and served as both a campus minister and a professor in the religion department. She especially enjoyed studying the Bible with her students and plans to bring her passion for ministry to Pepperdine to help students, faculty, and staff think about God’s plan for their lives.

“I believe something powerful happens when we gather expectantly around God’s word,” she says. “One semester after another, the story of scripture drew us in and compelled us to join God’s work in the world. I look forward to those same experiences with Pepperdine students. I am especially passionate about helping students discern their call, the call God has on their lives as they prepare for service in the world.”

Barton’s vision for the new role is to be of service to the entire community and act as a voice for how they may serve God. As part of Pepperdine’s newly created Spiritual Life Committee, she will join a group of representatives from each of Pepperdine’s five schools and various University departments that meet regularly to shape the vision for spiritual life at Pepperdine.

“Pepperdine is unique in that it is an institution where students develop critical-thinking skills and gain knowledge, as well as learn to connect the heart and soul to live a holistic life,” she explains. “That’s a unique niche, and I’m drawn to the way Pepperdine balances academics and Christian mission.”

Barton’s connection to the University runs deep. At the 2013 Pepperdine Bible Lectures she presented “Praising God When We Realize We’ve Been Wrong,” part of a morning worship series in which she emphasized coming to terms with the surprises in God’s plan for us. Her husband John, who served as provost and professor of philosophy and religion at Rochester College, will teach courses in religion at Seaver College and work with the Center for Faith and Learning as the associate director. Their son Nate is an undergraduate at Seaver College and daughter Brynn will begin as a first-year at Abilene Christian University in the fall.

As Barton begins her new role at Pepperdine, she plans to spend time building partnerships by listening to the needs of the University community. “I want to be a catalyst for bringing the community together,” she says, “especially at the different schools of Pepperdine. I hope to be a voice for how we may serve God with our hearts and souls and minds.”