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Presbyterian Partners in Faith Celebrate 250 Years in Princeton

Stuart Mitchner

A year of events celebrating the 250-year Presbyterian presence in Princeton began with a joint service of the Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street congregations Sunday morning at McCarter Theatre.

"Thicker Than Water" was the title of the morning's sermon, which was given by the Rev. Dr. Brian Blount, Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Princeton Theological Seminary. The sermon reflected the Partners in Faith theme. Himself a member of the Witherspoon congregation, Dr. Blount is a 1981 M. Div. graduate of the Princeton Thelogical Seminary, to which he returned in 1992, the same year he received his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Emory University. In 1998 he became the first African American to be tenured in the Seminary's Department of Bible.

The concept of a partnership in faith was carried out on every level. Elders from both churches served communion; the communion tablecloth and paraments were from Witherspoon Street and the baptismal font was provided by Nassau; and the Communion Procession was led by Nassau's Nancy Prince and Witherspoon's Benjamin Colbert, co-chairpersons of the Celebration Steering Committee.

The liturgists were Nassau's Rev. David A. Davis and Witherspoon's Rev. M. Muriel Burrows. There was singing from the combined Adult Choir, directed by Nassau's James Litton and Witherspoon's Beverly Owens, and the Combined Children and Youth Choir directed by Nassau's Sue Ellen Page, along with the People's Verse Speaking Choir, which was directed by Cecelia B. Hodges. Music was also provided by the Trenton Brass Quartet.

Four banners designed and sewn by women from both churches under the direction of Nassau Presbyterian's Joy Saville were carried into the service by Nassau and Witherspoon youths. Panels stitched into each banner represented different aspects of the subject of the year-long event, such as "The Tree of Life" (a symbol for the Nassau and Witherspoon Churches as partners in faith), Nassau Hall (where Presbyterians worshiped from 1756 through 1766), Alexander Hall (the first American structure built as a seminary by the Presbyterian Church), and Women's Association (symbolized by three encircled figures representing Christian mission, study, and praise stitched in honor of generations of Presbyterian women). Explaining how her own contribution was inspired by the phrase she came up with to describe the celebration, Partners in Faith, Witherspoon Church's Shirley Satterfield said, "I decided to prepare a panel that features the two churches with the theme connecting the buildings and thus the congregations who worship within them." Throughout the celebration year, each of the churches will display two of the banners during events connected with the 250th anniversary. All four will not be seen together again, however, until the September 30, 2006 service that will conclude the year of celebration.

There were also "flying banners" borne by Princeton University students. The first in a series of anniversary lectures will begin at 6 p.m. on October 9 with a Nassau at Six concert by the American Boychoir. At 2 p.m. on October 16, Mark Noll will speak on "Princeton and the Founding of the Republic" at Miller Chapel on the Princeton Theological Seminary campus.

Presbyterian Presidents

Presbyterians began worshipping in Princeton in 1756, when the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, moved to town. Before then, Presbyterians had to travel to Lawrenceville, Pennington, and Kingston for services. Presbyterian ministers who were also presidents of Princeton include Aaron Burr, Jonathan Edwards, Jacob Green, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, William Tennent, John Blair, John Witherspoon, and Samuel Stanhope Smith.


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