God of the Storm, God of the Calm

Hawaii_wave_EKVOn September 22, Alison Van Buskirk Philip  based her sermon on the story of the disciples waking Jesus up to calm the storm in Mark 4:35-41.  “God’s attention to us is greater than our scattered attention to God,” she said. “Doubt, after the storm, turned to faith. Disappointment, after the crucifixion, turned to hope. The disciples knew something about God and community that they had not know before.”  Here is an excerpt from her sermon: 

As disciples we are invited and called to believe that:

  • No fear can change the reality that we are marked by God and claimed by God as God’s own.
  • No uncertainty can change the reality that God is in control of the sea and wind.
  • No disappointment or criticism or failing or frustration can change the reality of who we are as God’s children.

And because of that reality, because God has claimed us as children, we are free. We are free to risk. We are free to listen, to really listen, to our neighbors. We are free to start fresh over and over again. We are free to be who we are and to give ourselves to the community where God has placed us. Because God claims us and holds us and loves us, we are free to love more fully and to grow in our love.

I think that is the point, really. The point is not always about getting rid of fear, getting rid of uncertainty, getting rid of disappointment. No, the point is about becoming people with an ever-increasing capacity to love God and an ever-increasing capacity to love our neighbors. The God we worship here together is a God who can use any storm, any disappointment, any cross to increase us in love. Of course, God needs our cooperation, which can be hard, and that’s also why we need each other. We come here together as a community to help each other grow toward that love of God and neighbor –through our worship, through our fellowship, through our service.

And so whatever disappointment may befall us, the cross, which forms our community and holds our community together, that cross is a hinge that tells us there is more to the story. The cross is a hinge that opens our disappointments, uncertainties, and fears into something new in ways that increase us in our love. Through the storms Christ still comes to us and says, “Peace, be still.” Through the cross Christ comes and says, “I am with you.” Through all things, Christ comes and says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Let us give all of our thanks and our praise to this God who is God of the storm and God of the calm!

Photo by Elizabeh Van Buskirk

Bill Fairbanks: Doing the Hard Thing

bill fairfieldRev. Jana Purkis-Brash challenged the congregation, on Sunday, in her sermon “Fitting In or Becoming Fit.” Taking the spiritual gifts passage from I Corinthians 12, she helped us remember times when we had play the part we didn’t want to play, when we wanted to “fit in.”

“Pressure squashes our particular gifts,” she warned.”To fit in, we hide away what God has given us to be gifts to others. Do the hard things,” she urged. Don’t “put a basket over your light.” Don’t resist the very things that make us uniquely situated to help others and work for good. “We have choices,” said Jana, “to simply fit in or become fit. May God bless us as we choose to do the hard thing.”

She cited how Nancy Brinker pushed uphill to make sense of her sister’s death by cancer. You may not know Nancy, but you will recognize the name of her sister, Susan G. Komen, and the millions of dollars raised in her name to combat breast cancer.

Jana offered an excerpt from Do Hard Things” A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris, two young men who challenge young Christians:

  • Do things outside your comfort zone
  • Do things that go beyond what is required
  • Do things too big to accomplish alone — organize a team
  • Do things that don’t earn an immediate payoff, but that are the right thing to d
  • Do things that don’t fit in

As if to illustrate, some of us met a couple who are living those rules, going outside their comfort zone, doing something that doesn’t fit in. They joined us at the All Church Picnic. Bill Fairbanks-– a cultural anthropologist from California — is walking across the United States, just “to do it.” He’s gotten as far as Princeton, en route to Boston. His wife, Carol, drops him off in the morning and picks him up at night. They show us that anyone of any age can take up a challenge.

May God bless us as we choose to do the hard thing.

Pictured above, Reggie C speaking with the Fairbanks at the church picnic.


I’m an idealist and I must always be

idealistI’m an idealist.  I’m afraid I must be.  For, smack dab in the middle of idealism, there is hope, firmly rooted.

If I say I am committed to pursuing a life centered in love, and since love hopes in all things, then I must continue in the hope that the truest essence of Humanity is found in loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self.

We don’t see many examples of this notion in the media on a daily basis. We see images of violence, we hear stories of greed and depravity, and we watch “reality shows” that denigrate and leave little room for hope in our future.

As an artist, part of what I believe I am charged to do in “holding a mirror up to nature” is to show things as they are. But I cannot leave it there. I believe the arts must also, in addition to showing things as they are, give our imaginations a chance to dream about and hope in what could be.

I want to share this video with you. It is a beautiful story that gives me hope in the possibility of what could be and what already is. After I watched it for the first time, I wondered how this story might play out in my own life. What “reality show” could I star in where this type of plot would unfold in its own way?

So, I give you some remarkable story telling. Enjoy!




Christians Need No Alter Ego

batman dc comicsFor PUMC’s Labor Day family service, with more than the usual number of children in the congregation, Cathie Capp opened her September 1 sermon with the “scandal” over the casting of Ben Affleck as the superhero Batman. She brought new meaning to the day’s parable, the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11-32.” (Catherine Williams had animatedly told that story for the children’s sermon.)

For more than 70 years, Batman has been the alter ego of playboy/philanthropist Bruce Wayne. “His identity changes with what he is doing at any given time.”

Our personal identities — how we think of ourselves — also change according to what we are doing and where we find ourselves in life. Cathie pointed out that, as adolescents from age 12 to 19, we struggle to establish our identities. Later, we label ourselves according to our position in the family (wife, mother, daughter) or our jobs (where we work or if we are not working outside the home). “Labels blur the line between who we are, and what we do begins to define how we perceive ourselves.”

In this parable, both young men have an identity crisis. The younger son tries unsuccessfully to establish his identity as a playboy and ends up with a job feeding pigs — surely an identity problem for a Jew who is observant re dietary laws. He thought his identity had been erased, that he was no longer belonged to his father’s family, and he wanted merely to work for his father.

The elder son had his own identity crisis.

“The father is the only person who does not base his identity on the circumstances of his life as a father or a wealthy landowner —  or on what he did or what his sons did. The father grounds his identity on what he truly IS.”

How do we become secure? How do we identify who we are, so that we don’t need an altar ego or a costume change? By understanding that we are all uniquely equipped without aliases, for a divine purpose — because we are unconditionally loved. We can choose to ignore it, but nothing we can do will change our identity as beloved children of God. This unconditional love is given recklessly, and we are 100 percent secure. She quoted Romans 8:38-39, that neither death nor life nor …anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“We cannot earn it, but we become worthy by WHOSE we are, by looking only one place for validation,” she said, by grounding our identity in such activities as prayer, scripture study, worship, participating in small groups — and Holy Communion.

And with that, Cathie Capp invited us to the Communion table.

Image from DC comics.


Sanford and Davis: Who Were They?

sanfordThe Sanford Davis room at Princeton United Methodist Church hosts everything from after-church coffees to community meetings. Who was it named after, anyway? Charles H. Sanford made quite a lot of money — $1 million was a fortune in Victorian times — and did good things with it. The book, pictured above, is a “tribute volume.”  given to him in thanks by the orphanage he founded in Argentina. In June, 2013, it sold at auction for $542.

Charles H. Sanford was a Presbyterian. but his father was a Methodist, a country doctor. In the late 1800s Princeton United Methodist church met in a building much smaller than the present structure. Entreated by his father’s former pastor, Charles Sanford donated $10,000 toward a larger building to be erected in 1910.

Sanford had visited Cuba when he was a teenager in order to learn Spanish and he parlayed that knowledge of the language into a fortune. At age 25 he joined an American bank in Argentina and according to a New Zealand newspaper, made $1 million. The newspaper said he was a “Yankee drummer for the sale of pills and toilet preparations.

However, in the history A Journey of Faith for 150 Years, written by a PUMC member, the late Ruth Woodward, he was also a banker.

Woodward writes: “The Republic of Argentina was still quite young and Sanford arrived on the scene as a banker in time to help finance the growth of both the country and the city of Buenos Aires, which was little more than a village when he arrived. He accumulated a vast fortune in the process, owning thousands of acres in the city. He was noted for his philanthropy in Buenos Aires, especially as the founder of a home for children.  Able to retire at an early age, he spent most of his time in London, with several months of each year in Freehold.”

Sanford family bequests include the bell tower, the bells, the triple window of Christ blessing the children, and the windows in the Vandeventer Avenue entry.

As for the Davis part of the name, B. Woodhull Davis was “an active and faithful member of the church,” wrote Woodward. According to a 1938 newspaper, he went to Wesleyan College, Class of 1919, had a master’s degree from Columbia, and came to Princeton as principal of Princeton High School in 1929.

How his name is on room built in 1910 — when he didn’t come to town until 1929 — that’s a question yet to be answered.



‘Do You Understand All This?’


On the day before the U.S. Open began, Rev. Jana tapped a tennis topic for the  “Stories That Change the World” series. She described the Venus Rosewater dish, made in 1864 and inscribed with mythological figures. The woman who wins first place at Wimbledon gets to hold the trophy and receives a replica plus $1.4 million. Jana went on to name other sports trophies for, for instance, the Indy 500, the Boston Marathon, the America’s Cup, and the PGA Masters in Atlanta.

The text for her sermon involved several parables of Jesus from Matthew 13:34-35 and Matthew 13: 44-52, the ones about the hidden treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. Are we pursuing the Kingdom of God as if we were trying to win the America’s Cup, she challenged. “What is your Venus Rosewater dish?”

She cited A.J. Jacobs, an editor at Esquire, who threw caution to the winds and spent a year trying to live according to the Bible. For Jacobs, who has a Jewish heritage, that meant not shaving and not wearing clothes of mixed fiber. He wrote about it in The Year of Living Biblically.

As Christians we can challenge ourselves to be more grounded in our faith bit by bit. By taking time for thanking God every morning. Or by trying to live our lives according to the Sermon on the Mount. Or — as Ken Morrison sang this morning in an anthem that he wrote himself —  “I want the mind of Jesus in me…I want to share his faith and live his hope so everyone can see…”

Imagine pursuing that goal with a fraction of the intensity summoned by a runner training for a marathon or an ice skater training for the Olympics.

As for the Wimbledon trophy — do you think it’s possible that a certain five-time winner of the Wimbledon women’s singles title was named after it?





The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

We welcome this post by Jeanette Timmons, who wrote it for the newsletter of the Jewish Center of Princeton, and we celebrate the cooperation and support between the congregations:

The Jewish Center has offered support to the Cornerstone Community Kitchen, an outreach program that feeds Princeton area residents a hot dinner every Wednesday evening at the Princeton United Methodist Church. PUMC congregant Larry Apperson conceived and implemented the program in June 2012, which serves 60 meals each week. Currently, TASK delivers the main course and CCK volunteers prepare side dishes and serve the meal in a restaurant-style environment.

TJC congregants Jeanette and Forrest Timmons began volunteering at CCK in August 2012 as part of Forrest’s Hesed project. Jeanette enjoyed the experience so much, she has volunteered weekly ever since. Other TJC families, including the Glassers and Zinders, have since volunteered too.

In August 2013, PUMC began a renovation of its kitchen so that the CCK can prepare its entire weekly meal on-site. TJC offered the use of its dairy kitchen so that CCK could continue its food preparation uninterrupted during the nine-month-long project. While forging this relationship, PUMC donated its 10-burner Vulcan stove with double oven to TJC. This timely act of generosity came just as the oven in TJC’s meat kitchen broke down.

Both guests and volunteers come to CCK’s Wednesday dinners for a variety of reasons, be it need-based, for companionship, or the feeling of camaraderie that pervades the environment. Friendships have formed as many volunteers and guests are regulars. “The greatest unexpected pleasure that’s come from our service has been the coming together of people from throughout the community to serve,” says Apperson. Guests sit at tables decorated with centerpieces, are served by volunteers, and are entertained by a pianist. The relaxed atmosphere invites lively conversation. Besides the dinner meal, bagels, sandwiches, children’s breakfast bags and gently used clothing are available for guests to take home.

The CCK is truly an interfaith, community-wide effort. Besides congregants from TJC and PUMC, CCK has welcomed volunteers and support from Beth Chaim, St. Paul’s, and Queenship of Mary Roman Catholic churches, Quaker Friends, Princeton University, local Girl Scout troops, and the Princeton Historical Society. Local businesses such as Panera and the Bagel Hole regularly donate baked goods, and Zorba’s Brother and the Rocky Hill Tavern have provided an entire meal. For more information about CCK or to get involved, please email cck@princetonumc.org.

Jeanette Timmons



Follow the Yellow Brick Road – Fourth Saturday Fun

Join your PUMC friends for some silly (free! ) fun at tonight’s Wizard of Oz Sing-a-Along (Saturday, July 27). Come to the Sanford Davis room at 6 and bring a potluck dish, dessert and beverage will be provided.
You’ll get to watch the Judy Garland movie and belt out “If I Only Had a Brain” and that always popular “the Wicked Witch is Dead.” (Anybody want to wax philosophic about the theology of that one?)
It’s supposed to be over by 8, so I guess this must be a shortened version of the movie. When you get those vocal cords tuned up — or even if you didn’t — come to NEXT month’s Fellowship night, Karaoke night, August 24. Trey Gillette will be our DJ.
Why the photo of the five year old in a blue dress? it’s my granddaughter Annie, dressed as Dorothy. Did I mention that you are encouraged to come in costume? We went to the Wizard of Oz sing-a-long at MCCC’s Kelsey Theatre last summer, and she had a wonderful time. (Any excuse to print a photo of grandchildren, right?)
Thanks to our new Christian Ed director, Cathie Capp, for thinking up the fourth Saturday Fellowship Nights, and for making them happen!  Questions? Reach her at


— Barbara Fox

Step Right Up and Spin the Wheel

2013-7-16 B and Iona chamberThough it was 100 degrees in the shade, PUMC’s Growth Committee took its message “Help Us to Help Others” to the Princeton Regional Chamber’s “Plaza Palooza” networking event on July 16. From 4 to 7 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library’s Hinds Plaza, folks “spun the wheel” at the PUMC table.

This was the third year that PUMC’s wooden wheel, crafted by Tim Ewer, had a workout at the chamber’s mid-summer marketing expo. Local businesses  (hotels, restaurants, contractors, laywers)  gave out all kinds of free stuff, plus a limited number of nonprofit members of the chamber (such as Morven, State Theatre, and Habitat for Humanity) were represented.

Iona Harding prepared the wheel this year to include six charities that the church supports: Womanspace, Crisis Ministry, Appalachia Service Project, Cornerstone Community Kitchen, and United Front  Against Riverblindness, with its sister organization, Women of Abundance. Also staffing the table were Elsie McKee (from Women of Abundance and UFAR),  Lindsey Donaldson, and  yours truly.

The wheel makes satisfying clicks, and we took the role of carnival shills. “Step right up and spin the wheel,”  we called, “wherever it stops, there’s where your money goes.” We told the spinners about the charity they “won” and they were invited to contribute  $1 to it. If it stopped on “Free Gift” they chose from the basket of UFAR T-shirts, cute fabric purses made by FEBA, UFAR bookmarks made by Susan Lidstone, or a bar of chocolate. Everybody went away with a brochure about the  charity they “won.” Kids got to spin for free and choose one of the beautiful bookmarks.

We met lots of folks we knew, made many new friends — and were heartened that lots of them already knew about UFAR and Cornerstone Community Kitchen. The word is getting out there!

Barbara Fox

PS: The Growth Committee can use volunteers — as Greeters and as Poster Put-er-upers — and more!. Talk to Iona.




Cornerstone Community Kitchen: One Year Old

1 2013 cck Apperson Berger Glasser Zeitler
Larry Apperson (left) and Beth Zeitler (far right) speak with a mother/daughter team, Jackie Berger and Emma Glasser.

Just inside the doors of Princeton United Methodist Church, on a recent Wednesday, geraniums decorated the red-and-white covered tables, and napkins were tied with matching red ribbons. A dozen volunteers donned aprons and disposable gloves, ready to serve at Cornerstone Community Kitchen, When Emma Glasser arrived, Nicole Oliver, a high school sophomore from PUMC, showed her how to serve the trays – entrees and vegetables from the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, plus a green salad, a fruit salad, juice, bread, and a dessert.


Larry Apperson had the vision for Cornerstone Community Kitchen (CCK), and it will celebrate its first anniversary on June 5. In partnership with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) every Wednesday, no matter what, volunteers from the church and the community have served a free and nutritious meal from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the church on the corner of Nassau and Vandeventer. All are welcome, no questions asked.
Some come for the food, some for the fellowship. Mothers come with children, and several people are here to practice speaking English.
Among the diners on this particular Wednesday is a woman who takes the bus to a job in Princeton. “Some of us who have jobs, we can’t get help from the government, but we still have trouble paying our bills,” she says.
2 2013 cck judy miller
“The members of Princeton United Methodist church have a strong commitment to service,” says Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, PUMC’s senior pastor. People from the community have also been eager to help – preparing the greens, the fruit, and the eggs, and donating baked desserts – plus working as servers and hosts. Judy Miller coordinates the décor and Beth Zeitler organizers the volunteers. “Brownie troops donate cupcakes, and we have had an entire office pitch in,” says Zeitler.  “CCK is also popular as a bar or bat mitzvah project for teens from the Jewish Center. Our greatest need is for people to prepare salads and fruit.”
Panera Bread and the Bagel Hole regularly donate baked goods, and Zorba’s Brother donated a turkey dinner during the holidays. “We’re grateful for the in-kind donations,” says Apperson, “and also for cash donations to cover our costs. Egg salad sandwiches are a favorite take-home item, and children leave with breakfast in a bag.”
3 2013 cck animal at the table
As she helps clear the tables, Glasser, a John Witherspoon Middle School student who is volunteering as part of her bat mitzvah Hesed Project, says that her experience was just what she had hoped it would be. “It was like a community here,” she says. “Everybody was so friendly, so happy to be here. I am glad to have helped.”
To volunteer or inquire about donations to Cornerstone Community Kitchen, emailCCK@princetonumc.org, go towww.princetonumc.org, or call 609-924-2613.