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By Kelly Morgan (Whetstone Staff Writer)
“I had a nudge from God,” says Mark Michael Pruett-Barnett, Wesley College chaplain.
Sometimes a nudge is all you need.
For Pruett-Barnett, 57, that nudge has pushed him along a 35-year career as a Methodist minister.
For six years, Pruett-Barnett has been chaplain of Wesley College at the United Methodist Church.
His office is on the first floor, where he seems to hide, but beyond the stained-glass windows, he conducts seminars, ceremonies and services.
“He’s like a ghost because he’s here, but you never see him unless you go into the Chapel,” said Sontia Biggus, media arts major.
When they do see him, he probably will be wearing his blue Chicago Cubs hat.
”I’m not much of a sports fan, but they needed help,” he said, his pale cheeks smiling.
Those cheeks, however, will not be familiar ones to Wesley’s incoming class of 2014.
In June, Pruett-Barnett’s bishop, Peggy Johnson, will send him to another church.
“United Methodist Ministers go where they’re sent,” he said. “My bishop is currently deciding where to send me. I have no idea where that is yet.”
He hopes to be transferred to up-state Delaware. His wife, Anne, is a senior pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Wilmington.
Pruett-Barnett has served seven churches. A familiar face in Delaware, he’s worked at churches from Wilmington to Georgetown and in nearby Worcester County, Maryland.
Pruett-Barnett had not always been on the ministry path.
“I was an army brat,” he said.
His father, Andrew Barnett, was in the Navy Supply Corps for 35 years.
“He was responsible for making sure people got what they needed,” Pruett-Barnett said. “He was the naval officer on the naval carrier, the John F. Kennedy. He was responsible for making sure 5,000 people got fed three times a day, making sure the planes had its parts and making sure people had what they needed. It was a complex job.”
Pruett-Barnett was the first in his family to step out of the Navy line.
”Before my father, the men in my family were in the Coast Guard,” he said. “I never had any thoughts of going into the Navy, myself, which is kind of strange.”
Even so, because Pruett-Barnett’s father was in the Navy, he got the opportunity to travel a lot. He went from state to state, living at each place for only three to seven years at a time.
Some of his traveling experiences weren’t enjoyable, especially when he lived in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the early 1960s.
“My mom, sister and I were evacuated in 1962 during the missile crisis,” he said. ”It happened very suddenly. My mom wisped us out of school and we sailed to Norfolk, Va.”
Annapolis proved to be his favorite home.
“The setting was beautiful for one thing,” he said. “The base was a small base across from the Naval Academy. We had our own orchard. It was very pretty.”
Pruett-Barnett entered college in 1971, and decided to focus on history.
“History was walking around for myself,” Pruett said. “My great grandfather saw the Wright Brothers’ airplane take off.”
He received his B.A. in history from the University of Virginia in 1975.
This was the same year, while working at a dead-end computer job, he realized his calling was in the ministry.
Pruett-Barnett earned his PhD. from Drew University in Methodist Studies in 1981.
Pruett-Barnett is also interested in science.
“I’ve always been interested in astronomy and physics,” he said. “I don’t think of the world in mathematical terms, but [science and religion share] common grounds: origins. My own Christian faith deals with origins of things, but the ‘whys’ of things.”
Pruett has taught religion classes at Wesley, provided worship services at the United Methodist Church, and sponsored service trips and events.
“The service aspect has been most successful,” Pruett said. “Hope Closet has been going on for 5 years, now. Within the last year, interest on campus has picked up. I’m really happy about.”
The Hope Closet provides supplies to people who are jobless and homeless.
Ashleigh Maser, a freshman RA in Roe Hall, donates her time to the Hope Closet, and said Pruett-Barnett and the organization have made an impact on her life.
“Growing up, I took things for granted,” she said. “This has opened my eyes because I see people I know who depend on getting this stuff.”
Ryan Hubble, a senior RA in Zimmerman Hall, also has been working with Pruett-Barnett through the Hope Closet.
”He’s willing to help people that he doesn’t know,” Hubble said. “If he doesn’t know you and you go up to him for help, he’ll help you.”
Hubble thinks Pruett-Barnett’s departure from Wesley is a huge loss.
“He should have received more support from the college,” Hubble said. “I never saw much advertising for his [events.] If advertised properly, he could have impacted Wesley better.”
As music director, Professor Jonathan Emmons connected with Pruett-Barnett even before he worked at Wesley.
“Mark was on the committee that hired me [three years ago,]” Emmons said. “He feels the place of music in worship is important.”
Emmons said he always will have fond memories of the pastor.
“What I’ll remember the best is the e-mails we send back and forth,” he said. “We have stupid jokes we pass between one another. We make each other laugh. [It’s] neat to have that.”
Dr. Jeffrey Mask, Professor of Religion, Philosophy and American Studies, is sorry to see Pruett-Barnett leave Wesley.
“He’s been a good chaplain and friend,” he said. “Mark’s really tried to be a chaplain to the whole campus, not to just 1 group of people.”