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.


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