The Rev. Peter Stimpson will retire after a quarter century as executive director of the Trinity Counseling Service (TCS) in Princeton. His successor Dr. Whitney Ross will take up her post formally on July 1 but will work alongside Mr. Stimpson during May and June to ensure a smooth transition.
As one steps into Mr. Stimpson’s office at 22 Stockton Street, there is an immediate feeling of calm, The pastel-colored walls are decorated with landscape paintings. Soft lighting and cushioned furnishings create a welcoming ambiance. The ticking clock, a gift from Mr. Stimpson’s first wife to remind her husband to come home, provides a soothing rhythm. And then there’s Pumpkin, Mr. Stimpson’s small canine companion. Now 11, Pumpkin will also retire with Mr. Stimpson, who turns 68 in May.
For more than 30 years Mr. Stimpson has published a popular family advice column in several media outlets, including, since 1996, this newspaper. “I started the column as a way to help people, to increase understanding. It became popular very quickly; people suggested I publish it, and so I did,” said Mr. Stimpson in an interview Monday. His collection was published in 2008 under the title Map to Happiness.
Offering “straightforward advice on everyday issues,” the book addresses questions that have been asked for generations about life’s purpose and approaches to happiness. While Mr. Stimpson doesn’t claim to have all the answers, he draws upon expertise and a store of wisdom after more than 35 years of listening to people and ministering to them. Map to Happiness introduces three principles as the key to unlocking the mind of anyone journeying toward happiness: insecurity, power, and success. As its author explains, by understanding that everyone is insecure, individuals can take back from others the power to define self-worth and realize that happiness is more about personal growth than about impressing others. “The really important thing is not what you attain in life, but who you become,” said Mr. Stimpson.
As a self-help book, the 187-page Map to Happiness looks at love and relationships, children, and stress related to work, illness, anger, and death. Its author is a certified counselor and a married Episcopal priest and draws upon a lifetime of experiences, including physical pain and painful decisions as well as the illness, death, and loss of a spouse. Mr. Stimpson brings both spiritual and psychological perspectives to bear upon specific topics such as stress, old age, illness, youth suicide, caring for parents, depression, panic attacks, jealousy, adultery, among a plethora of others.
His own life has not been stress-free. First ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1972, when he transitioned to the Episcopal Church, his Irish Catholic mother refused to let him in her house for seven years. “And the Catholic Church wasn’t too friendly either,” he recalled.
In 2004, Mr. Stimpson’s first wife Nicki died after a long illness. He remarried in 2005. Lauren Stimpson is a former school teacher who now works in the engineering department for the municipality of Princeton. The couple’s home in Lawrenceville is up for sale. “If it sells, we’ll move to Williamsburg, Virginia, if not, we’ll see,” said Mr. Stimpson.
With an inclination toward being a workaholic, Mr. Stimpson has worked on weekends as a priest and during the summer months as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Spring Lake, where he conducts numerous weddings.
The only time he considered leaving TCS was when he was a candidate for Bishop of New Jersey in 2003. “When I came to TCS in 1989, I had two other job offers, one was to become Arch Deacon of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., the other was to become Rector of a wealthy parish. My logic was that someone would want the power of the first and someone would want the wealth of the second. I felt I could be most useful here at TCS. What would God want me to do? This job is a ministry for me, I wanted to devote myself to caring for the Princeton community and do what I could to make people happier,” he said, which might explain the long hours he devotes to it. In the past, he was on the job from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. These days, he’s cut back to 7 p.m.
How does the counselor stay stress-free? “”Prayer, daily meditation, golf, and his dog,” he said. He might also add the hour he spends each morning doing 300 sit ups and 100 push ups to keep back pain from a car accident at bay. “Pain is a powerful motivator,” he said.
Mr. Stimpson has counseled people from all walks of life, from corporate executives to construction workers, from atheists to devout believers, from the wealthy to the poor. He has advised the Church and conducted workshops on sexual matters and created Trinity Counseling Service’s Childhood Intervention Initiative, which treats at risk kids from low-income families for whom therapy would otherwise be an expensive luxury. TCS provides services free of charge to children at the Princeton Nursery School and in Princeton Public Schools.
Founded by E. Rugby Auer in 1968, Trinity Couseling Service is located on the grounds of Trinity Church at 22 Stockton Street. “We have 27 clinicians and serve some 350 people each week; the average number of years of experience of our clinicians is 26 years,” said Mr. Stimpson.
In retirement, he plans to write another book. His two fields of counseling expertise are adult depression and marriage counseling and he feels that he has much to contribute on the latter, which he describes as “the most powerful relationship there is. The mother/child relationship is powerful too, but it is unequal. The husband/wife vow is like a protective bubble that keeps interference out and intensity in; that intensity nurtures growth,” he said.
Asked what he will miss most, he said: “People, the board members, the clients, the volunteers, the graduate interns, the staff, and the clinicians.” Recently, on a whim, he compiled a list of all of the people he had come into contact with through Trinity Counseling. Together with the list of all of the churches where he has preached and celebrated, the result is a formidable single-spaced 15 page document.
In recognition of Mr. Stimpson’s years of service as well as his love of golf, Trinity Counseling has created an annual Stimpson Cup and will hold the third event this year on May 9 at Bedens Brook Country Club. The “Nine and Dine” fundraiser will have a 3 p.m. tee-off for a nine-hole scramble followed by a cocktail reception and dinner at 7 p.m. For more information and tickets ($150, or $100 dinner only), contact Amanda Blount at (609) 924-0060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.