A Journey of Faith V: 1852-1859

This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.

The first African American woman joins, gas lights are added, the young Rev. George Batchelder attracts large crowds.

Times were changing fast, the Princeton Gas Light Company was organized in 1849, and in March 1852 it was determined to have gas in the church “if Practicable.” In September 1855 the street commissioners were asking that the trustees pave the walk in front of the church. An appeal to the Common Council managed to delay this action, since it was not until June 1857 that a committee was appointed to supervise the laying of the pavement, and the work was not actually done until September 1858.

The fall of 1855 also saw a decision to purchase a furnace for the purpose of warming the church and to purchase shades for the gas lights. When Susan Voorhees was admitted as a probational member in 1855 it was an unusual event for that time and it was considered necessary for membership records to describe her as “Colored.” She was admitted to full membership on January 2, 1856.

Pew rents were difficult to collect and there was a constant need for extra money. In May 1856 there was a plan to secure speakers to lecture for the benefit of the church, and in July of that year it was decided to rent out a room in the basement of the church. In October receipts from a Harvest Home helped to replenish the treasury. The following spring $200 was due on a $1,000 mortgage, and the treasury was $7.00 short of meeting the required amount. A committee was appointed to borrow this amount.

In 1857 horse sheds were to be built in the rear of the church lot for all members who wanted them and were willing to pay for them. Two years later Dr. Bartine was given permission to cut a gate in the fence between the church and his property, he having purchased one of the sheds to use during the week, the church to have the use of it on the Sabbath.

The Reverend George Batchelder, who served the Princeton church from 1857 to 1859 seems to ‘have been a particularly charismatic young man. Only twenty-one when he was appointed to this church, he was described as “one of the most eloquent men of American Methodism,” attracting large crowds whenever he preached. Always in frail health, he became ill enough in 1862 to be granted the superannuated relationship by Conference. After travelling west in the hope of improving his health he returned to Princeton with his wife, the sister of Oliver Bartine. He died the following year, probably of tuberculosis.

In spite of a constant scarcity of funds the trustees did their best to keep the church building in good condition. In 1858 the basement was painted and whitewashed and new curtains procured for its windows. The upper floor of the church was painted and a railing and platform built for the front of the pulpit. The following year a second bridge was built in front of the church; i.e. , a connection from the sidewalk to one ‘of the lower entries.

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A Journey of Faith IV: Dedication in 1849


This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.

With a full-time minister in Princeton, a number of the Cedar Grove Methodists had joined this congregation. On May 30, 1856 their chapel was purchased for $400 by the philanthropist Paul Tulane, the founder of Tulane University, who had been born and raised in the Cedar Grove community. He maintained the building as a community chapel for thirty years, with ministers from the Princeton Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Dutch Reformed Church of Blawenburg, and the Baptist Church of Hopewell alternating in conducting Sunday afternoon services. Eventually Tulane conveyed the property to the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton. It later passed through the hands of several private owners, before being razed so that the glass and lumber could be used in renovating the old schoolhouse into a residence.

Joseph Ashbrook was succeeded by Israel Saunders Corbit, who was thirty-two at the time of his appointment to Princeton. Corbit’s oratory was said to have been brilliant enough to attract not only townspeople to the Methodist services, but a number of the seminary students as well. He increased the membership with more than 150 new members and probationers, including over fifty adult baptisms. However, he must also have been an extremely strict disciplinarian. Several members were removed from the church rolls because of their failure to attend class meetings regularly, including Dr. Bartine who was the president of the Board of Trustees (editor’s note, he had purchased the land for the building as the ‘shell buyer’ and was the son of a previous pastor of this church!). Apparently a doctor’s busy and unpredictable schedule was not sufficient excuse for the Reverend Corbit. Bartine joined the Methodists who were meeting at Cedar Grove, and with true Christian forgiveness transferred his membership back to Princeton when Corbit was succeeded by the Reverend Samuel Monroe.

Corbit began the systematic keeping of church records. The first infant baptism that he performed was for six-year-old Louise Marion Mershon in June 1849. The first adult baptisms on September 23, 1849, were fourteen-year-old William Vandewater, and Catherine Leggett, the wife of William Leggett, who served faithfully as church sexton for many years, in spite of seldom receiving his salary on time. The first wedding Corbit recorded is that of Dr. Oliver Bartine and Mary Cottrell on May 21, 1850. Miss Cotrell lived on Cottrell Lane, which has since become Moore Street. That year Corbit also presided at the wedding of Emily Young and the Reverend Aaron E. Ballard, who was to become pastor of the Princeton church in 1852.

The trustees held many of their meetings at Dr. Bartine’s office and were kept busy checking proposals for carpentry work and plastering the interior of the church. Apparently there was no general-contractor and payments were made for bricks, stone, sand, etc. as work progressed. In May 1849 the trustees resolved to “proceed to finish the Church as soon as practicable.” Decisions were made that the seats were to be continued against the walls on each side and the walls would be wainscoted; iron columns would support the galleries if the cost were not too much. Everything needed to be in good order for the dedication of the building on October 17, 1849,

Corbit aimed high in seeking a speaker for the dedication service (in 1849). On September 24 he wrote to the Reverend Stephen Olin, President of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, inviting him to be present for the occasion. Olin had previously taught at Franklin College in Athens, Georgia, and had served as president of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. A noted orator and one of the well-known Methodists of his time, he was instrumental in organizing the Evangelical Alliance, one of the earliest ecumenical organizations. As president of two Methodist colleges he tried to arouse the denomination, both clergy and laity, to the importance of higher education. He was one of the few Methodist ministers of his time who believed in theological training for the clergy.

Excerpt’s from Corbit’s invitation read:

For more than 20 years, efforts were made to establish Methodism in this town, but without success: the great difficulty in the way was the want of a suitable place in which to hold public services; for so great was the prejudice existing against our church, that no such accommodations could be procured. However, that difficulty has been finally overcome. Our Conference at its Annual Session held in April 1847 Resolved to build a House here, and pledged itself to raise by the personal efforts of its members the sum of $3000 toward the enterprise. After tailing hard from that time until the present, we have succeeded in the erection of a neat brick edifice 48 by 65 feet at a cost of $6000. Our debt on the day of dedication will be about $1600; the greater part of which we hope to raise on that day. . . .

Princeton is one of the most beautiful and flourishing towns in our state: occupies a central position on the line of the Rail Road between New York and Philadelphia. It Contains a population of 4000 souls. For more than one hundred years, this Community has been controlled by Calvinistic influence. The Presbyterians have laboured zealously to exclude all other denominations, and especially have their efforts been directed against Methodism: they have represented our beloved Church as being a compound of ignorance and enthusiasm; but by the blessing of God we have overcome these prejudices to some extent, although we have much even now with which to contend.

You are doubtless aware of the high Literary Character of this place, and this fact renders it very desirable that a Man of Renown and acknowledged Literary acquirements should dedicate our Church.

Unfortunately, no records are available to tell us what happened at the dedication, but it seems certain that Olin did not participate. His 1849-50 Annual Report states that he had become ill shortly after the 1849 commencement, making it impossible for him to attend to his duties until the end of the fall term. We can only hope that Corbit was able to obtain the services of an equally eloquent orator and that it was a beautiful autumn day in Princeton, with the trees a riot of color. The only traffic noise from Nassau Street would have been the sounds of a few horses’ hooves. The congregation had already chosen “What hath God wrought,” as the inscription on the cornerstone, and this thought must have been much in their minds that day.

Corbit’s optimism about raising enough money to payoff the final construction costs was ill founded. In the spring of 1850 it was resolved that “the trustees approve of the females get up a fair to help in Liquidating debt of church.” The fair was apparently a success since part of the proceeds helped to payoff an outstanding note, and the remainder of the proceeds were left at the disposal of the fair committee to be used for the benefit of the church. In April of that year Conference removed Princeton from the status of Circuit and it became the Princeton Station.



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A Journey of Faith III: The First Sanctuary in 1849

This is the third in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997.

A local historian paid tribute to the ”tact, energy and enterprise” of Joseph Ashbrook as he set about his daunting task of building both a congregation and a church structure. His congregation was small and certainly not wealthy. Most lived within walking distance of the plot where the new church was to be built, with some members driving wagons or buggies from outlying farms. For many years the membership was comprised mainly of small businessmen or artisans, with the addition of a few professional men and a small number of farmers. With the exception of some teachers, the women remained at home to care for households and children.

Joseph Ashbrook took advantage of a unique opportunity to establish rapport with members of the college administration. In October of 1846 the College of New Jersey had been established for one hundred years; however the actual anniversary would have conflicted with sessions of the Presbyterian synods. The Centennial was therefore celebrated at the June 29th commencement of 1847, when the members of the one hundredth Senior Class received their degrees.

Although the college had rooms large enough to hold the meetings scheduled for the special event, there was no space large enough to comfortably seat such a large crowd while serving a meal. When Ashbrook learned of this dilemma he offered to procure a large tent, actually a camp meeting tent belonging to one of the Philadelphia Methodist churches. When the tent arrived in town Ashbrook supervised the raising of the tent, and he later oversaw the men who took it down and repacked it for its return to Philadelphia. He refused any payment for this, except for the cost of transporting the tent. However, when work was started on his church Ashbrook did not hesitate to approach the members of the College’s Centennial Committee to solicit pledges for the building fund.

At the centennial celebration, dinner was served to over 700 people “under a spacious and beautiful tent, on a verdant lawn, behind the old College edifice.” Newspaper accounts of the Centennial Celebration emphasize that all of the toasts that day were drunk in either “clear, cold water” or lemonade. This was probably not so much a bow to Methodism’s strong stand on temperance, as the great popularity of temperance societies at that time. In any case, it was fortuitous that the drinks were not any stronger, since thirteen formal toasts were proposed, followed by ten informal toasts.

The new brick church building, consisting of two stories and a basement, measured 66 by 48 feet. With a gallery, it could seat about 600 people. The lecture room in the basement could seat 225, and there were two large class rooms and a library adjoining the lecture room. The total cost of construction was $6,000 and it would serve the congregation for more than half a century.

When first constructed the church had two front entrances, one step above ground level, which led into separate vestibules. From each of these there were three steps down to the lecture room, which was used for Sunday School, prayer meetings, church suppers and various types of entertainment. Winding stairs led up to the church vestibule on the main floor. These winding stairs at each end continued up to side galleries on the second floor and the choir loft in back. At a later date a flight of outdoor stairs was added, with a central door leading directly into the sanctuary vestibule. At some time the side galleries on the top floor were removed and eventually the choir loft was moved to the northwest corner of the main floor of the sanctuary, just west of the pulpit.

After the new main entrance to the church was built only the west door to the basement was used, and the vestibule on the eastern end became a storeroom. The back entrance to the basement led to a room that may have been originally intended for the library, but for a number of years this room was rented to a private day school. Horse and carriage sheds ran along the back and part of the east side of the church lot, with an outdoor storage room in the corner where the two rows of sheds met. And, of course, there was a privy in the back of the lot.

Services were held in the new structure as soon as the basement could be utilized; however, the Reverend Ashbrook was required to leave before the interior was completed. Methodist ministers at that time were not allowed more than a two-year tenure in one church, and when Conference met in the spring of 1849 Ashbrook was assigned to his next charge in Flemington. The building that his efforts had helped to raise was dedicated the following fall. A junior preacher, C. Rutherford, assisted Ashbrook during his first year, and A. K. Street, during his second. Since these men were not members of the New Jersey Conference and since seminary training was not a requirement at that time, they were probably serving an apprenticeship under Ashbrook. They would have been assigned most of the preaching in the outlying areas of the Princeton Circuit.

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A Journey of Faith: 1847-1848: Methodists Weren’t Very Welcome


How Presbyterians Almost Kept Methodists from Buying Land

This is the second in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997. 

….The first task facing the new minister, Rev. Ashworth, was to secure a plot of land on which to build his church.

As the home of the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University in 1896) and the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton was dominated by Presbyterians. The entire faculty of the Seminary were Presbyterian clergymen, and the College had only a few non-ministerial members on its faculty. Tales of enthusiastic singing and noisy conversions at camp meetings gave the Methodists a reputation among the more sedate Presbyterians of being loud and lacking in dignity, perhaps verging on rowdyism. It was thought that these Methodists would certainly be a bad influence on the college and seminary students, and a subtle form of discrimination was exerted, making it difficult to secure a suitable plot of land on which to build.

The building that was both the home and medical office of Dr. Oliver Bartine occupied the land on what would later become the corner of Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue, although the latter street had not yet been cut through. The area of the present church building containing the Sanford Davis Room and the chapel occupies Dr. Bartine’s former lot. This property, as well as the adjoining lot which the new congregation wished to purchase, had once been part of the estate of Dr. Ebenezer Stockton, who had his home and office at Bainbridge House, the present home of the Historical Society of Princeton. All of this land had been part of the kitchen garden so necessary to homes at that time.

Stockton was the brother-in-law of the Reverend Ashbel Green, a staunch pillar of conservative Presbyterianism. During his tenure as president of the College of New Jersey, from 1812 to 1822, Green had strongly opposed any other religious groups coming into Princeton and possibly seducing his students from the straight and narrow road of Calvinism. The lot where the Methodists wished to build their church was owned by Alexander R. Boteler and his wife, Helen, descendants of Dr. Stockton, who were residing in Jefferson County, Virginia. Feeling that they might refuse to sell the land for the use of a Methodist church, they were not approached by representatives of the congregation.

Instead, Dr. Bartine purchased the property for $500 by a deed dated September 20, 1846, with the sellers probably assuming that he wished to enlarge his office. On November 30, 1848, he conveyed the property for the same price to the newly appointed Trustees of the Princeton Methodist Episcopal Church, a group which he served as president.


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Encourage families to sing with us!

The beauty of Christian music comes alive when children and youth feel what the lyrics say, according to Tom Shelton, PUMC’s director of children’s and youth choirs. Choir members learn good singing techniques and music theory (video link here); they participate in worship monthly, present a musical in the spring, and sing at special services throughout the year (video link here). “I want young singers to love music their whole life, not just for the time they are with me,” says Tom.

Encourage families you know to bring their children to PUMC’s choir. What they learn is invaluable. They enter wide-eyed and curious and leave as musical and global citizens. Invite newcomers to the first rehearsal on Wednesday, September 12, at 4:30 p.m. (kindergarten and first grade) and on Wednesday, September 12, at 5:30 p.m. (second through fifth grade). The first rehearsal for youth (grades 6-12) is Sunday, September 9, 5 p.m. Tom teaches the youngest children, ages three and four, during their Sunday School class.

There is no charge to be in a choir, and singers do not need to be church members.
Look for cards in the Sanford Davis Room, forward this blog post “15 reasons why your child should join PUMC’s choirs” , forward a video link showing how kids learn. or here is a link of the choirs singing Hosanna. 

Or encourage those interested to email Tom@princetonumc.org.

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Sermon: Hungering for God — To Life! Rev. Jenny Smith Walz

Pastor Jenny Smith Walz preached on July 29, 2018 in the sermon series “Hungering for God” on the topic “To Life.” Her text was John 15: 1-17.

For  excerpts from her message, click here. You can hear it on Facebook and the audio will be posted on the website. 

Pastor Jenny began  by suggesting — 

What you are hungry for, longing for, is a clue to our hunger for God. Our Creator brings us to fulfillment of life. 

What is alive in you today? To come more to life today?

One theme I hear as a pastor — loneliness. Half of Americans feel disconnected. They have fewer than daily or weekly conversations about something meaningful. This can shorten lives, but being connected to one another can lengthen our lives.

You were likely conceived in love and surely connected to God’s love and biologically connected to your mother. Yet we all have felt brokenness of disconnection, fears of being separate from one another. We protect ourselves. We work hard to stave off those feelings – sometimes, by being really busy. The illusion of being connected.

Or by being very active on social media (which of course can also be good and heavy users are no more lonely than home who don’t use it!)

By numbing ourselves – drinking or eating.

By preparing for all the ways we might be disappointed and never stepping into any connections.

Life and love and connections are the very things that bring us to life.

What is alive in you today? 

Are you wired? Jesus used that kind of example but his metaphor was the vine. 

Picture a vine. Jesus is the stem. God the father is the grower, tending the vine, we are rooted into this vine, this flow of love and life-giving love that moves through and around us.

The ways we disconnect ourselves: we are raised to be independent, more a me than a we. We are raised to believe that we shouldn’t need each other so much. It is scary to think we need to be rooted together. It is real to fear you will be disappointed or that YOU will disappoint someone else. ‘I must be odd, alone in this.’

To read further, click here.


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A Journey of Faith for 150 Years: 1786-1847

Nassau Street in the 1870s: Courtesy Howe Insurance

This is the first in a series of excerpts from “A Journey of Faith for 150 years: A history of the Princeton United Methodist Church” by Ruth L. Woodward, Copyright 1997. 

This excerpt features Rev. David Bartine, the ‘spiritual godfather” of the Princeton Methodist Church (and the father of Dr. Oliver Bartine, who would procure the land for the first sanctuary), 

The earliest of the hard working, circuit riding, Methodist preachers in New Jersey covered the entire state as their circuit. They found New Jersey slow to welcome Methodism. The Society of Friends was dominant in the southern part of the state and’ northern New Jersey was largely Presbyterian, with strong pockets of Dutch Reformed communities. The central part of the state contained all three groups, and none particularly welcomed any competition.

As more Methodist ministers became available the state was divided into the East Jersey and West Jersey Circuits, roughly corresponding to our Northern and Southern New Jersey Annual Conferences today. As smaller divisions were formed the Trenton Circuit was established in 1786. It seems likely that some of the circuit riders held services in Princeton, and there are suggestions that an itinerant lay preacher visited here as early as 1791.

In 1802 the Reverend Ezekiel Cooper was the first ordained Methodist minister on record as having preached in Princeton. However, we should probably consider that the real beginnings of Methodism in Princeton coincide with the appointment of the Reverend David Bartine to the Trenton Circuit, and Bartine should certainly be honored as the spiritual godfather of the Princeton Methodist Church.

Born in Westchester County, New York, in 1767, Bartine first served as an assistant to Bishop Francis Asbury, which meant preaching at no specified salary in places where there were no churches. He later received his first appointment from Bishop Asbury, who admired his wonderful oratorical power.

Bartine spent forty-one years in the Methodist ministry, many of those years on circuits that required constant travel. During this time he held twenty-nine one-year appointments and six two-year appointments. His first assigment was to “preach, form circuits and prepare the ground for permanent congregations” in “all that part of the State of New York west of Albany and as far north as Canada.”

After this grueling assignment he was moved to New Jersey where, except for a few years across the river in Pennsylvania, he spent the remainder of his ministry. He must have had a rigorous constitution, since even when assigned to an already established Methodist church he was still expected to ride a circuit to the surrounding towns and countryside.

Bishop Asbury praised Bartine for his “splendid argumentative power in compelling the enemies of Methodism to respect her.” Bartine apparently enjoyed engaging in logical debates, in what was described as “a cold steel-like manner,” without showing anger, but cooly presenting clear and logical arguments. One of his favorite gambits was to go into a store with his Bible in hand, and force a controversy on some text with the local men gathered there. Then he would calmly assert what he believed was right. He had a prodigious memory and could probably easily outquote any of his opponents.

As minister of the Trenton Circuit, Bartine first preached in Princeton in 1810 at the home of a Captain Blue, returning at intervals after that. However, it was not until 1841 or 1842 that a Methodist class was established by the Reverend C. H. Whitecar, meeting in the home of Samuel Stephens on Canal Street, now Alexander Street, with Mr. Stephens acting as the class leader.

Bartine’s second wife was Elizabeth Hunt of Cedar Grove, a small settlement several miles from the center of Princeton. Located on the Cedar Grove Road, now the Great Road, it contained a cluster of houses and farms, a one room school and a small general store. Mrs. Bartine remained in Cedar Grove, caring for the children of Bartine’s first marriage, along with their son Oliver, freeing her husband to travel more extensive and arduous circuits. Bartine finally retired to Cedar Grove in 1835.

In 1845 the Reverend T. T. Campfield held a series of revival meetings at Cedar Grove. The conversions that resulted from these meetings created enough enthusiasm to support the building of a small chapel the following year. Located about 100 yards southwest of the Great Road, it is described as a weatherboarded building painted white. David Bartine must certainly have been an enthusiastic supporter of this project, and the following year his son, Dr. Oliver Bartine, became a leading member of the group responsible for establishing a church in Princeton.

The elder Bartine’s influence probably was also felt under the leadership of the Reverend Israel Corbit, the second minister to serve Princeton, who had formerly served under Bartine in Camden, New Jersey. George Batchelder, eighth minister of the Princeton church, was not only converted under Bartine, but later became his son-in-law.

The revival meetings at Cedar Grove gave impetus to the group of Methodists already holding class meetings in Princeton to organize their own church. The New Jersey Conference had for some time been eager to establish a Methodist society to serve not only Princeton, but the surrounding area. However, the opposition of many of the townspeople had made it impossible to find a suitable location for a church at a resaonable price. Now, at the request of the local group, the Conference established a Princeton Circuit, and in April 1847 the Reverend Joseph Ashbrook was the first minister appointed to the new church, with the small congregation still meeting in members’ homes. The first task facing the new minister was to secure a plot of land on which to build his church.

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Immigration Rally Held at Elizabeth ICE Detention Center

Bishop Schol at the “We Care” immigration rally

PUMC at the immigration rally

As the national debate over immigration rages on, a rally was held Saturday at the ICE detention center in Elizabeth.

Faith leaders were rallying for immigrants’ rights as more than 400 families wait to be reunited after crossing the United State-Mexico border illegally. The ecumenical vigil aimed to protest what the activists say is inhumane treatment to immigrants and family separations by ICE.

The event, hosted by the United Methodist Church, included prayer and song.

Organizers say they want to show that they care about those separated families and for those seeking asylum who are being turned away by the Trump administration and its immigration policies.

Organizers say human rights groups have complained about maggots in food and the shower area at the Elizabeth center, as wells as bleach-tasting water that is said to be undrinkable.

Photos courtesy of Iona Harding
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Sermon: Hungering for God, July 22, 2018

What riles you up? Pastor Jenny Smith Walz asked this question on July 22, 2018. Here are some notes from her message, titled “Hungering for God” based on the story of the “rich young ruler” in  Luke 18: 18-30.

Jesus was saying you can’t stand on top of your wealth and be saved. You need a ‘We.” a whole world of We’s — and the We’s have to include God. We can find a banquet table here /for our needs and wants,  for us and many more… 

She illustrated her message with this  “Justice” video. .

And this  poem by Bishop David Lawson.

Soon, the audio of the sermon will be available on the website (Worship: Sermon Archive), and the live stream is now posted on Facebook.  Click here for some notes from this message. 

Allow the hunger to be in you. Go in peace knowing that God asks us to move from Our “Me’s” to our “We’s” with God and one another.






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Sound the Pipes! an organ fiesta!

Christopher McWilliams, organist at Princeton United Methodist Church (PrincetonUMC), will present some of his own compositions at a free farewell concert on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. at the church, on the corner of Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue.  In a program entitled “Sound the Pipes: A Pipe Organ Fiesta” he will also perform works by Bach, Franck, and Bossi.

Mc Williams majored in organ and piano performance, graduating summa cum laude from Westminster Choir College, where he also earned a master’s degree in piano pedagogy and piano performance. At Princeton UMC he accompanies multiple vocal choirs, instrumentalists, the handbell choir and the musicals presented by the youth and handbell choirs.

After seven years at Princeton UMC, McWilliams will leave to pursue his Doctorate in Musical Arts with an emphasis on music theory. At his studio in Lawrenceville, he teaches piano and music theory.

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