Sarah Jean Barton

Pediatric Occupational Therapist and Doctor of Theology Student at Duke University Health System and Duke Divinity School

Durham, North Carolina

Class of 2009, Biology major

Occupational therapist by day, theologian by night — Sarah Jean Barton describes herself as a bivocational person who couldn’t imagine either half of her career without the other.

Of her work as a pediatric occupational therapist at Duke University Medical Center, Barton says, “It’s all about improving someone’s participation to enjoy the activities of life they wish to enjoy.” For some children with multiple developmental disabilities, those activities might be self-feeding or getting dressed, while for others it might be working on regulating their emotions.

Meanwhile, as a doctoral student in theology at Duke Divinity School, she is beginning work on a dissertation that connects a theology of baptism with the academic discipline of disability studies.
“I see my work as an occupational therapist as so critically important to writing as a theologian with any kind of integrity,” she says.

Barton credits the late Associate Professor of Biology Cindy Fitch for affirming her dual vocation. She told her, “Just because you want to be an OT doesn’t mean you have to put theology aside.”

Friendships and collaboration in activism alongside individuals with disabilities have also informed Barton’s thinking. “It’s been a huge gift to be welcomed into that community, while knowing that I am not fully a member.” Noting that churches are not always welcoming to all, she says she’s learning to see the gospel as a vision of “radical interdependence” as the body of Christ, affirming the gifts of all people.

— Hannah Notess

Sarah Jean Barton
Photo by Justin Cook

How does your time at SPU connect to what you’re doing today?

My time at SPU grounded me in a perspective that seeks to see the whole of my life as Christian vocation. My call to be a disciple of Jesus is my primary identity in all aspects of my life — my clinical work, my academic work, my marriage, and my ministry within the church.

Which SPU faculty or staff member made a difference in your education?

The late Cindy Fitch was my biggest encourager and supporter in my undergraduate career. I am indebted to Dr. Fitch especially for her encouragement of my interest in theology and biblical studies. She believed that I could excel in both my biology courses and as a future clinician, as well as delve deeply into theological questions.

What advice would you give to current SPU students?

Pursue a life that gives you life — something that fuels your flourishing and roots you deeply in community.