Laity Spotlight: Gillian Bartels-Quansah

As another school year comes to an end, we once again say “goodbye for now” to our graduating seniors. Among them is Gillian Bartels-Quansah. Frequent Sunday service attendees may recognize her from the many times she’s sung with her sister, Reanna, and in the youth choir. Gillian has been attending PUMC for the past three years, along with her mom and sister. She says it was her mom who first got them involved. “I was part of another church in East Brunswick. My mom was drawn to the church first as she had grown up in a Methodist church. After a few weeks of bothering us about it, [my sister and I] finally visited and I just fell in love with the people and the loving atmosphere. Before we knew it, we were completely roped into the Princeton UMC community.”

In addition to the PUMC youth choir, she also sings in the Princeton High School choir and spent seven years as a member of the Princeton Girl Choir. Gillian is a self-described book worm, a Girl Scout, a lacrosse and ice hockey player, a co- instructor for Girls Who Code, and the director of Outreach for her school hackathon, hackPHS. Needless to say, she likes to stay busy!

With respect to this unusual senior year, Gillian says, “This year was challenging because we did- n’t get the fun traditional senior year that we had been dreaming of for 12 years! Not being able to see our friends, especially when it is going to be the last time we are all together was tough.” She also felt the frustration of isolation as political and racial unrest spread across the country. “We couldn’t support our friends and go out to pro- test in the traditional way. Amid the pandemic, we didn’t have access to our cultural/identity support groups. Virtually meeting is not the same. While we were together in an online setting, we were still technically alone.”

Even though this past year brought many challenges, Gillian found joy in it too. “I had more time for self-care, reflection and education. I had more time to learn about God and to spend time with my family. I had the time to educate myself on the various ways humans walk through life and my global footprint. These lessons were the best take away. Especially with the pandemic and everything that was happening in society, I feel as if I walked away with more attention to the world around me, how it impacted me, how I influenced it, and how I can make it better.”

In the fall, Gillian will be attending Barnard College, the women’s college of Columbia University. She will be studying computer science with a focus in computational biology and she’s planning to minor in science and public policy. She says, “I hope to work in the computational bio- medical field and help eliminate algorithmic dis- crimination and increase diversity in clinical trial research.”

It’s very clear that Gillian Bartels-Quansah is a special young woman with a bright future ahead of her. While that future is currently in the Big Apple itself, she will always have a home here at Princeton UMC. Gillian and her sister Reanna will be baptized during worship, June 27, and will be welcomed into professing membership alongside their mother Medina.

Gillian performs here (left) with her sister Reanna at the recent confirmation service on May 23.

Prayer of Examen

Were you unable to participate in the Selah Prayer Practices small group earlier this year? Our intern Tayler Necoechea shares one of the practices from the group here: the Prayer of Examen. The prayer of Examen’s origins might come from St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. When Tayler uses the prayer of Examen, she likes to take a few moments of silence in between each part. This is a great exercise for daily use, and you can choose to sit with these words in silence, respond out loud, or journal.

Do you want to learn about more spiritual practices? Email Tayler to get access to the self-paced Selah Prayer Practices group on Mighty Networks.

Getting to Know Princeton UMC’s Newest Leaders

On May 23, after months of confirmation preparation, some of our confirmands—William Ponder, Thomas Germán, and Jax Obe— claimed ownership of their faith in a glorious outdoor ceremony at the home of Andrew and Jie Hayes. Lena Hamilton, who was ill, will be confirmed after worship on May 30. Confirmation, a Christian rite of passage, carries with it three expectations of the confirmands: that they participate in ministry, that they remain faithful members of God’s church, and that they occupy more of a leadership role in the church. Before the ceremony, each of the four took some time to answer a few questions about their spiritual journeys…

Why is it important to you to be confirmed? (William) It is important for me to be confirmed because it truly establishes my relationship with God and my religion. It is me truly coming to terms/accepting myself and my faith. (Thomas) It’s important for me to be confirmed to strengthen my knowledge and belief in Christianity. (Lena) It was important for me to get confirmed so that I could fully dedicate my life to building a stronger connection with God. (Jax) To become an official member of the church.

What aspect of preparing for confirmation impacted you the most? (William) Talking about the Bible and what it means to me. It really showed me how much these stories truly have a meaning on us and our lives. Another thing it did was also bring me closer with my fellow confirmands. (Thomas) I was a little nervous [at the start] wondering if this is for me or not, but after the weeks of classes and discussion, I came to know it was. (Lena) Learning about church history impacted me the most because I feel like it is important for me to know more about my church before fully committing to it. (Jax) Speaking about real life issues and how they affect us. It was very meaningful.

Can you explain how your relationship with God and with your faith has been changed through the confirmation process? (William) My relationship with God has changed simply on the basis of how I don’t feel like I’m developing a relationship for other people but for myself. Throughout this confirmation process, I have seen how God looks out for me and cares about me. That is all a person really needs. (Thomas) My relationship with God before confirmation was unsteady, but after going through all this I have learned the deeper meanings and parts of Christianity. I now have a solid belief and understanding in God due to this process. (Lena) My relationship with God has stayed the same, but I look forward to strengthening my relationship with God throughout my long lasting faith journey. (Jax) I realize that I can feel closer to God through things like praying for others in need.

During the May 23 service, you pledged to take more of a leadership role in the church. What does leadership look like for you? What would you like to get involved with? (William) Leadership to me is showing people how God loves us. Being the messenger of that message is very huge to me because I want everyone to know how much God loves them. I would like to get involved with speaking to the congregation, making it known that everyone in the church is loved by our Holy Savior. (Thomas) I simply think leadership is leading or teaching younger people about certain things. Something I would like to do with the church in the future is help with youth group or even future confirmands when it is their turn. (Lena) For me, leadership looks like helping others while also participating in the church more. Participating could look like doing more missionary work for the church and also volunteering during worship service. (Jax) Leadership is taking initiative and actively participating with others. Working with kids in the church would be fun.

Their leadership roles began during the worship service prior to the confirmation ceremony. Virtually and in person, all four confirmands served as worship leaders in reading words of assurance, in prayer, and in reading scripture. From this collective leadership experience, each confirmand will lead future worship services (see schedule below). During each of these services, a confirmand will share their faith story with the congregation through video and read their original Lord’s Prayer.

May 30 William Ponder – June 20 Thomas Germán

July 11 Lena Hamilton – July 18 Jax Obe

Pastor Jenny, Sarah, and Iona lay hands on Lena during her confirmation service in the PUMC sanctuary on May 30.

 

Breaking Bread with Mt. Pisgah AME Church

 

Rev. Dr. Deborah Blanks

What a joy it was to welcome Rev. Dr. Deborah Blanks, pastor of Mt. Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church, as guest preacher on April 25. “If there is a temptation to be someone other than ourselves, that would be a monumental mistake,” she said, preaching on the Good Shepherd theme in the Gospel of John. “God wants us to be the people that God has redeemed us to be.”

Her inspirational message represents a step toward a partnership that Princeton UMC is developing with Mt. Pisgah AME, located on Witherspoon Street. This project was sparked by Professor Emeritus Albert Raboteau, in answer to the question, “What can (one) do to help improve race relations?” shortly after the racially charged events at Charlottesville, VA. His answer was, “Sit down together and share a meal.”

“We proceed in that spirit of fellowship,” says Dana Dreibelbis, who co-chairs the project – a Juneteenth celebration picnic — with Rev. Dr. Blanks. Brenda A. Allen, president of Lincoln University, the oldest of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), is a consultant on this effort.

Juneteenth is celebrated around the nation as the day (June 19, 1865) when freedom for enslaved people was finally and belatedly announced in Galveston, Texas, by Union authorities. Celebrations began the following year mainly as church-centered events and have evolved ever since.

PUMC will join Mt. Pisgah AME for the Juneteenth celebration picnic on the actual day, Saturday, June 19, at noon (Covid conditions permitting). Space has been reserved at Community Park South, and Rev. Dr. Blanks and Dana are assembling a volunteer team.

As United Methodists we have so much in common with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. According to the A.M.E. website, it split from the main branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1787, not because of doctrinal differences “but rather the result of a time period that was marked by man’s intolerance of his fellow man, based on the color of his skin.” It has grown from one church in Philadelphia to gaining members in 39 countries on five conti- nents.

President Allen suggests the Juneteenth project can “ultimately provide opportunities for diverse groups to build relationships towards the common goals of learning about each other and to come together to fight racial injustice. We agreed that this is not a one and done. Rather we envision a series of activities that bring communities together to build these relationships and develop cross-cultural trust and respect.”

“To this end we envision events throughout the year to keep the goal of genuine equality, respect and fellowship front and center,” says Dana.

Can you help? Email danadreibelbis@gmail.com .

Faith Formation Toolkit

Immanuel Journaling

Were you unable to participate in the Selah Prayer Practices small group earlier this year? Our intern Tayler Necoechea shares one of the practices from the group here: Immanuel Journaling.

Tayler first learned about Immanuel Journaling through Pastor Anna Kang, one of the authors of this practice, while doing ministry in Los Angeles. What makes this journaling exercise so lovely is the emphasis on the “mutual state of mind” between the individual and God. Take a few minutes in between your part and God’s response to invite the Holy Spirit into your space. Remember that God is loving, not shaming.

Use this Immanuel Journaling Worksheet to guide you in your practice.

Do you want to learn about more spiritual practices? Email tayler@princetonumc.org to get access to the self-paced Selah Prayer Practices group on Mighty Networks.

Laity Spotlight: Lori Pantaleo

Earlier this year, the Greater New Jersey Conference recognized Lori Pantaleo’s work with Maker’s Place by bestowing upon her their Lay Ministry Recognition Award. Maker’s Place distributes diapers to over 500 struggling families at five locations in the Trenton area. While she marks two years volunteering with Maker’s Place this summer, Lori’s involvement in ministry spans decades.

Picture of Lori Pantaleo in a red shirt, standing in front of the Sanford Davis Room windows.
Lori Pantaleo stands in the Sanford Davis Room.

Lori spent her junior year at Skidmore College studying abroad in Spain. After graduating from college with a double major in Spanish and music, Lori spent the next 16 years in Madrid teaching ESL, marrying, and raising two children. A life-long Methodist, Lori began attending the Church Without Walls, a Methodist congregation started by a pastor from Teaneck NJ. “We were a small group of really dedicated people who worked with the disadvantaged,” she recalled. While volunteering at a clothes closet run by two churches, Lori gained an early lesson in a core value of volunteering: shattering stereotypes about the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised. “In the early nineties, there was an influx of Liberian refugees into Spain. I recall one man who came to shop; he was articulate and poised from a middle class family in Liberia. I thought what it must have taken for him to come to the church to pick through used clothing,” she remembered. “We tend to stereotype the poor and homeless as uneducated and unmotivated. That they are somehow solely responsible for their situation. He challenged that perception,” she added.

When Lori was ready to return to the States, she called her sister Tari, who lives in Plainsboro. Tari found the perfect house for Lori and the kids and Lori found the perfect church – PUMC – and the perfect job: teaching at The Chapin School, first as a long-term sub and then as a full-time teacher. For the next 20 years until her retirement in 2016, Lori immersed her K-8 students in all things Spanish.

One of the programs Lori appreciated at Chapin was its student community service program for the 8th graders. From the on-campus Runathon fundraiser to the monthly visits to St. Mary’s Loaves and Fishes program, and the Adult Day Care Center in Trenton, Lori joined the school’s eighth graders in community outreach ministering to the needy. She loved watching the changes in interactions the students had with the poor and the aged. “To see our students playing bingo and balloon volleyball with the people at the daycare center or serving meals to the hungry at St. Mary’s was wonderful,” Lori said. There is so much value in getting privileged kids “out of their comfort zone and in busting stereotypes about the poor and the elderly,” she added.

Over her 25 years as a member of Princeton UMC, Lori has supported many of the church’s ministries, including Worship and the Puerto Rican Mission Trips. She currently heads Trustees, sings in the choir, serves on the altar guild, and co-directs the Cornerstone Community Kitchen’s Clothing Closet. Additionally, she is the de facto church archivist.

Outside church, Lori recently began volunteering with Solidaridad New Jersey, a group that tries to find asylum for refugees from Spanish-speaking countries. By definition, volunteerism is the practice of providing time and skills to benefit others, but volunteers also reap benefits from giving of their time and talents. Lori feels called to ministry for many reasons. “It’s easy to get discouraged when you see so many people who need help, but when I see how generous others are with their time, it renews my faith and hope,” she shared. Beyond that, “volunteering is a reminder of how fortunate we are and how we can change things for others,” she concluded.

Written by Kate Lasko