Communiversity is April 30

Youth will lead the 9:30 a.m. service, under the direction of Skitch Matson, and Tom Shelton will direct musical selections from the Youth Choir.

At 1 p.m. the Communiversity fun begins. The Feed Truck Cafe begins to serve espresso, and the ASP bake sale begins. At 2 p.m. enjoy the musical, directed by Thomas Shelton. Lots of folks will be able to access PUMC rest rooms and enjoy the seating in the Feed Truck Cafe.  A prize wheel will entice passersby, and we host two charities — the birds from Woman, Cradle of Abundance, and Womanspace.

Join us! we need volunteers!



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See them, hear them — youths talk about race relations

Youth from Princeton and around the nation will talk about race on Saturday morning, April 23. Grace Penn, who attends PrincetonUMC, is the administrator for the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, which has its national conference here. Anyone may attend.  Meanwhile students at Princeton High School discuss “See Me, Hear Me,” an open, honest dialogue with today’s youth. Reservations are needed. Details here.

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Handbells: May 7

“How can I keep from singing,” a concert at Princeton United Methodist Church on Sunday, May 7, at 5 p.m., might well be entitled “How can I keep from ringing” because the musicians are handbell artists. Hyosang Park will direct the handbell choir and ensembles. With pianist Julia Hanna, she will also be featured as a solo handbell artist. The concert is free, and donations will benefit the Appalachia Service Project mission team.

The handbell choir plays at the 9:30 and 11 a.m. services on third Sundays including Easter Sunday, April 16.

Handbell concerts are rare, and even rarer are solo artists — fewer than a dozen concertize with four octaves of handbells in the Eastern United States. “We aim, not only to bring the sound of handbells to a wider public, but to also enable nonprofit organizations help those who are in need,” says Park. As the director of music at Princeton United Methodist Church, she has master’s degrees in both sacred music and piano performance from Westminster Choir College of Rider University. She has private piano students and also teaches at St. Jerome Catholic School in West Long Branch.

For 40 years Princeton United Methodist Church has sent teen and adult volunteers to the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to make homes warmer, safer, and drier. ASP is a Christian ministry, but it is open to those of any faith. It aims to inspire hope and service — instilling compassion for other people and a fresh appreciation for one’s place and purpose in the world.

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Learning from Children and Trees


Tom Shelton and the Children’s Choirs prepare to sing on Palm Sunday

The Children’s Choirs will present their musical, The Tale of Three Trees, on Sunday, April 23, at 9:30 and 11 a.m.  Written by Allen Pote and Tom Lang, and directed by Tom Shelton, this musical brings to life the traditional story of some trees with a dream and God with a plan.

The Youth Choir will present a series of skits, vignettes, solos, and anthems for Youth Sunday, April 30. Because of Communiversity there will be one service that day, at 9:30 a.m. Both choirs will reprise their musicals for Communiversity at 2 p.m.

The children’s musical follows the adventures of three trees — bringing to life the traditional story of some trees with a dream and God with a plan. The first tree dreams of holding great treasure; the second tree longs to become a mighty ship, and the third tree just wants to stay in the forest and point people to God. Told through story and song, the congregation is reminded that even when we can’t see the forest for the trees, there is no prayer that is too small for God.

It’s a good story but trees can’t possibly have social relationships, right? We grownups would scoff at that idea and say merely that this musical is an imaginative way to present Christian truths.

Yet in “The Hidden Life of Trees,” an international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers.

As we learn more about our world, we learn that God has amazing plans. We look forward to April 23, when the children will teach us about God.

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John Kuhlthau: Faith and Works

The Honorable John S. Kuhlthau, a PUMC member, will speak at the breakfast sponsored by the United Methodist Men on Sunday, April 9, at 8 a.m. He will give a talk titled “Faith and Works — as Judge and Layman.“  All are welcome, a $5 donation is encouraged.

John and Carol Kuhlthau

John is a Methodist through and through. A graduate of Princeton University (Class of 1958) he went to Wesley Foundation meetings at Princeton UMC, and later served as Trustee Chair. He and Carol Collier Kuhlthau were married here. He attended Drew Theological Seminary, earned his J.D. at Rutgers University Law School, and served as Public Defender and as Middlesex County Prosecutor. But he felt called to resign and devote full-time, on behalf of the Methodist Church, to the bipartisan ‘Casinos – No Dice’ campaign, working closely with Rev. Jack Johnson in church meetings and shopping malls with youth volunteers.”Casino gambling was defeated on its first referendum, but of course, it was re-designed and the voters approved,” says John.

Meanwhile his law firm helped shepherd the union of three UMC churches in New Brunswick. Returning to public service, he sat as a Judge for 22 years, most recently in Superior Court. He and Carol moved to Princeton and joined PrincetonUMC. when he retired. Among his current projects is the annual John Suydam Kuhlthau Bioethics Conference at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. His most recent honor is the Order of the Tower at The Pennington School. 

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Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Temptation

Finding your unique life path takes courage, imagination, instinct, and a little nudging from the Holy Spirit, said Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash in a sermon Sunday, April 2, 2017, Princeton United Methodist Church.

Her text was II Corinthians 5: 16-19    17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come: (Good News Bible). It was part of a sermon series based on the book by Eric Elnes: Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), a guidebook for spirituality in a post-Christian world. Here is a summary of her sermon:

As Elnes points out, to tempt someone you have to convince that person you are on his side.

In Luke 4, The Devil tried to be Jesus’ friend in the wilderness.  In the llustration by William Blake, the pious looking man next to Jesus has no horns or pitchforks. He might be a Hebrew prophet. Blake realized that Jesus would reject an overtly evil tempter and that all temptations would have to be about doing good, like turning stones into bread to feed the hungry, ruling the world, or performing impressive miracles.

But there is a big difference between ‘doing good’ and ‘doing the good we are called to do.’ If we walk the path that brings us the feeling of being most alive, we might have to say no to doing a lot of good things. Jesus did feed the hungry, change the political equation, and perform miracles — later. His higher calling was to live more fully into his humanity.

In both Jewish and Christian mythology, Jesus’ adversary, Lucifer, started out on God’s side. (Note that these stories are NOT in the bible). As Elnes says, pride and shame convince us we are separated from god. If we are proud, we think we are smarter than God. Or we are shamed, we call ourselves unworthy. As humans, we long for the path that leads to the dark wood but we think we can find our own way — or we are too shamed to go.

Meanwhile the Adversary makes wide roads that provide an easy path but lead away from being human. Roadside taverns serve beer that mimics the feeling of joy. Some taverns take the form of churches serving a brew of self righteousness. We humans feel we have no need to venture into the dark wood — we can come back to the tavern, or the tavern/churches.

Despair is the gift God planted a gift in people’s souls, and it is accessible only when deep in the woods. Then — God created a moment in each day, a moment of grace, that gives a glimpse of how it could be if we break free.

Venture out into howling wind on edge of dark wood. Those who follow the path will be certain it is their path. It will evoke a sense of peace and joy never experienced on the brightly-lit roads. It will lead them to — home.

Have the courage to step into the path of the dark wood and find your home.

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Organ and Trumpet: This Joyful Eastertide

Christopher McWilliams , with guest artist Michael Carl Green, will present This Joyful Eastertide — a joyous selection of works for organ –– on Sunday, April 23 at 2 p.m.  at Princeton United Methodist Church. The concert is free, and an offering will be taken to benefit the Appalachia Service Project.

The program spans four centuries of music for trumpet and organ. It includes The  Trumpet Tune No. 1 in C major by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751),  Sarabande (For the morning of Easter) by Herbert Howells from Six Pieces for Organ (1892-1983), Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29 “Wir Danken Dir, Gott, Wir Danken Dir”  by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) arranged by Alexandre Guilmant, Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui desire le ciel  (Serene Alleluias from a soul longing for Heaven)  by  Olivier Messiaen  (1908-1992), Sonata for Trumpet and Organ in F major by George Friedrich Handel,  Partita on Duke Street by Charles Callahan, and Trumpet Tune on “This Joyful Eastertide” for organ by David Lasky (1979-).

Both McWilliams and Green are on the faculty at Westminster Conservatory of Music.  A Vermont native, McWilliams has a Bachelor of Music in Piano and Organ Performance and a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy and Performance from Westminster Choir College of Rider University, where he studied with Phyllis Lehrer, Matthew Lewis, and Kenneth Cowan. He teaches private lessons in piano at the Westminster Conservatory of  Music, at PUMC, and in students’ homes, and is a frequent accompanist at the Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church.

Michael Carl Green

As a composer and arranger, Green orchestrated a Broadway show and co-wrote and performed on the score for documentary films. A pianist as well as a trumpet player, he plays in area orchestras, chamber and jazz ensembles, concert and brass bands, and pit orchestras.

For 40 years Princeton United Methodist Church has sent teen and adult volunteers to the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to make homes warmer, safer, and drier. ASP is a Christian ministry, but it is open to those of any faith. It aims to inspire hope and service — instilling compassion for other people and a fresh appreciation for one’s place and purpose in the world.

Located at the corner of Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue, PUMC is a diverse congregation, whose members come from many surrounding communities, backgrounds, and faith histories. Parking is free on Sundays, and the church is wheelchair accessible. For further information, call 609-924-2613, email, or visit



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Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

For the Circle of Friends on Tuesday, April 11, at 10:30 a.m., Sandra Stein, Ed.D and Louise Weston, PhD will present an illustrated lecture on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, relating sites in Israel and Palestine to Jesus’ life.

Sandra is an educational psychologist. She  taught at the University of South Carolina, Northern Illinois University and Rider University.  While at Rider she taught for 17 1/2 years in the undergraduate teacher preparation program and 17 1/2 years in the graduate program teaching research, statistics and measurements.

Sandra enjoyed traveling even early in her career, traveling with Louise Weston to  Russia, China, & Denmark in the 1970’s.  Since retirement she’s touched a Pacific gray whale mother & baby, seen the polar bears near Hudson Bay, seen the Big Five animals in South Africa, traveled in Europe, North, Central & South America & most recently on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.

Louise Weston is a sociologist, working as a research consultant with a focus on population trends and consumer behavior.  In her research and marketing career, she has held positions as Manager of Environmental Research at Kraft/General Foods in White Plains, NY and Research Manager at Response Analysis Corporation in Princeton.

Louise started as an academic, holding faculty positions at Fordham University in NY,Rider University and Slippery Rock State University in PA.  She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Fordham and a B.A. in English from Holy Family College in Philadelphia.

Louise has traveled extensively, including a few trips with Sandy over Christmas break when they were both teaching at Rider – including Russia in December ‘74 and China in December ‘79.

Based on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Sandra and Louise will discuss the geography of the area and in historical order  present the places that follow the life of Jesus.

All are welcome. Bring your own lunch. Dessert, coffee, and tea will be provided. Please RSVP by April 9 to Beth Perrine or Carline Kimble.



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Listening to Holy Week

Joyful music begins the Easter season at Princeton United Methodist Church  on Palm Sunday, April 9, at the 9:30 and 11 a.m. services. Tom Shelton directs the children’s choir at the 9:30 service.

For Holy Thursday Communion, April 13, at 7:30 p.m., a sextet will sing works by Byrd, Lassus, and Victoria. On Good Friday, an excerpt from Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” will be sung at the noon service, and Hyosang Park will direct Anton Bruckner’s Requiem with soloists, choir, and chamber ensemble at 7:30 p.m.

Easter Sunday, April 16, begins with a sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. on the lawn, followed by a continental breakfast. At 9:30 and 11 a.m. traditional Services of the Resurrection feature the Chancel and Handbell Choirs and a brass quartet.

On April 23, Tom Shelton directs the Children’s Choirs in “The Tale of the Three Trees” musical at the 9:30 and 11 a.m. service and Christopher McWilliams presents a free organ concert “This Joyful Eastertide” at 2 p.m. An offering will be taken.

On April 30, Communiversity Sunday, Tom Shelton directs the Youth Choir in a musical at 9:30 a.m. There is no 11 a.m. service that day, but at 2 p.m. the children and youth present their musicals inside the sanctuary.

As composer Nico Muhly says, church choir singing is  “meant for worship…to be heard in a state of quiet meditation.. to guide the mind out of the building into unseen heights and depths.”


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Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Being Lost

Sermon by Cynthia Gordon, Sunday, March 26,  2017, Princeton United Methodist Church. Part of a sermon series based on the book by Eric Elnes: Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), a guidebook for spirituality in a post-Christian world.

Have you ever been on a trip and found yourself totally lost? Preparing for this sermon I was reminded of a time when as a child my family and I went to visit some family friends.  After spending a lovely evening in Summit, New Jersey we began our trip home.  Over the next 2 hours we seemed to be going in circles making no progress.  The dark rural roads made it difficult find our bearings.  At that time there were no cell phones with GPS or cars with navigation systems.  Only maps were available.  At some point a patrol car approached us from behind with lights flashing.  My father pulled over and the officer came to the car and asked if we were lost.  Much to our relief he led us back to the main highway and we were finally on our way home.

Being physically lost is not the only way we can enter a Dark Wood and become lost.  We can become both emotionally and spiritually lost as well.  Each of us enters the Dark Wood at some point in our lives causing us to become disoriented and confused.  The loss of a relationship or job; the diagnosis of a serious illness; financial worries can all lead us to being lost.  I entered my Dark Wood on April 7, 2014 when I was diagnosed with late stage cancer.  Laying in the emergency room my mind became overwhelmed with a flood of thoughts and worries.  What kind of cancer; was there a treatment and cure; what about the cost of treatment; would this cost me my job; and most importantly, the toll this would take on my husband and children.  All of these thoughts were vying for control.

I am reminded of the story in Luke 14:7 where Jesus instructs his disciples about the seating order at a wedding banquet.  He instructs them to take the lowest position thereby allowing the host to invite them to a better place: the place of honor.  In his book Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elnes reminds his readers that each one of us has an internal banquet table.  Our guests are doubt, fear,pain, failure, pride and denial to name a few.  Seated at the lowest place is the Holy Spirit waiting for us to invite it to the place of honor.

God and his agent the Holy Spirit speak to us today just as they spoke to Moses and the prophets of old.  Their method of communication may not be through a burning bush as was done with Moses or on a blanket covered with forbidden food in a dream to Peter.  In Psalm 46:10 we are called to be still and remember that God is exalted among the nations and in the earth.  It is only when we become still and willing to listen that the soft whispers of God and the Holy Spirit can be heard.  Often God speaks to us through a hunch, a gut feeling or a soft spot leading us to the right path.  A soft spot is the serendipitous moment when a hunch or intuition becomes clear as the result of an incident or the voice of another.

These supernatural communications can take us by surprise making us realize that God and the Spirit know us better than we know ourselves.  By paying attention to these whispers we allow the Holy Spirit to move to the place of honor at our internal banquet table.

Sometimes the moments of intuition or gut feelings call us to respond to the needs of others; to come to the aid of someone lost and traversing a Dark Wood.  Dr. Elnes relates such an incident when one night he was suddenly awakened with a feeling of foreboding for his friend Bruce.  After waking his wife Dr. Elnes begins a 2 to 3 hour drive to see his friend Bruce.  It is 1:30 in the morning.  Standing on Bruce’s doorstep Dr. Elnes begins to question whether he is over-reacting to his premonition.  After knocking on the door several times and receiving no answer he begins to feel a bit foolish.  Finally Bruce answers the door and the two enjoy hot coffee and good conversation.  Assured that all is well Dr. Elnes leaves for home now convinced he had overreacted and been foolish.  It would be several months later that Bruce would reveal to his friend that he had been seated at the dining room table with a loaded pistol ready to end his life.  It was Dr. Elnes’ unexpected arrival, guided by the Holy Spirit, that saved Bruce’s life.

Another example of the means by which God and the Holy Spirit speak to us is recorded in the Book of Acts Chapters 10 and 11.  During testimony before the high council in Jerusalem Peter tells of a series of three dreams in which a blanket containing food forbidden by the Levitical rules appears.  In Peter’s time consuming these foods would have been an abomination.  During the 3rd dream Peter is interrupted by the visit of 3 Gentiles who request Peter to join them on a journey to Caesarea.  Jewish social mores of the time forbid the association of a Jew with Gentiles. News of Peter’s journey and eating with Gentiles resulted in his being summoned to Jerusalem where he proclaimed God’s word that Gentiles were not be excluded from Christ’s church. It is the combination of these events that lead Peter to understand that Christ’s Church was meant for all thus leading Peter into a Dark Wood: following God in defiance of the high council in Jerusalem and the social mores of the day.

Little did I know that my years of study to become a Lay Minister not only prepared me for a life of service to God it was also preparing me for a journey to and through a Dark Wood.  I stand before you this morning as a witness of God’s presence and faithfulness at a time when being lost in a Dark Wood feels overwhelming.  Inviting the Holy Spirit to the place of honor at my internal banquet table gave me the courage and will to hear God’s whispers.  In Jeremiah 33:3 the scripture reminds us that if we call on God in our time of need he will answer us. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

God will also reveal the great and hidden things that have yet to be revealed to us.  We are given the promise of a future that provides for healing, prosperity and joy beyond our present circumstances.  We must surrender our will to control the events we find ourselves in and trust in God that he will see us through. In life and life beyond death God has promised to be with us.

Life is a journey with many twists and turns.  The future is unknown to us and at some point we all will enter the Dark Wood and become lost.  Instead of running from it, the Dark Wood can become a place of healing and spiritual growth.  For most of us entering into a Dark Wood can be a very frightening circumstance.  Our need for control,  and fear of the unknown or being alone causes us to resist entering such a place.  In Joshua 1:9    ?God issues a command: Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

By giving up our need to control and letting our faith in God and the Holy Spirit guide us we can emerge from the Dark Wood with a better understanding of who we are, our place in this world, and a stronger relationship with God.  We become more responsive to the intuitions, gut reactions, or soft spots God provides.  Just as the police officer guided my family home, we can be assured that God and the Holy Spirit will guide us safely through the Dark Woods of life.

In closing I leave you with this prayer.

             May the Spirit of the living God,

Made known to us fully within life’s Dark Wood:

Go before you to show you the way;

Go above you to watch over you;

Go behind you to push you into places you may not

necessarily go yourself;

Go beneath you to uphold and uplift you;

Go beside you to be your strong and constant companion;

And dwell within you to remind you that you are surely not


And that you are loved-loved beyond your wildest


And may the fire of God’s blessing burn brightly

Upon you, and within you,

Now and always.



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