I live in Corwin’s house. The Reverend Edward Tanjore Corwin (1834-1914) compiled The Manual of the Reformed Church. It went through five editions. He served as pastor of the Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone from 1853-1888.
In addition to being an incredible historian and researcher of our churches and the Reformed Church in America, he hosted in this house the first Asian students to attend Princeton when Japan opened to the outside world. Many of the Japanese students hosted here attended Rutgers. We know that those Rutgers students loved to come stay here with the Reverend and his wife, Mary, whenever they could. They loved the cherry blossom trees here in the spring which made their hearts ache with homesickness for Japan. They loved games of croquet the Reverend set upon the front lawn. They loved swimming and boating in the Millstone River. They loved the warm hospitality of the Corwin family. One of those students who lived in this house for four years prior to Princeton returned to Japan to establish a modern educational system in Japan. A bust of him graces the Kyoto University Campus.
He was a humble man, excellent pastor, notable scholar, prolific writer and generous. I consider it a high honor to live in this old parsonage and to preach from the pulpit once occupied by Corwin. Among the artifacts we have of his is the sermon he preached the Sunday after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (in those days sermons were published in the newspapers). It is in a collection of other sermons and essays from the weeks after the untimely death of Lincoln. Corwin’s sermon is far and away the best of them all.
This old house! There has been a price to living here. In my nineteen years of service, I have suffered four major floods which have swept into the house. Those of you in other parts of the country probably heard about the misery caused here by Hurricane Ida. The house is now in the floodplain. The house didn’t move. The flood plain has expanded since Corwin.
Four years ago the church took action, and, along with the other houses on Millstone River Road, raised the house five feet. Now when the river rises, it enters the basement through strategically built vents. When it subsides, the river gently drains through the vents. Our members contributed all the money!
It works. The main floors of the house stay high and dry, though the pastor lives for a couple of days on an island. The water in the front reaches chest level. I have a small jon boat I use to row back and forth till the Millstone behaves itself.
You are probably expecting some discussion of global climate change. I will leave that to others. My beef is with development. Approval was just granted for over a hundred new apartment units and for the building of commercial buildings and their accompanying parking lots. Where is that water supposed to go?
I’ll tell you where it will go – into Corwin’s house.
But that is not what I wanted to say here. I wanted to talk about the tragedy that occurred around me in places like Manville and Somerville. It was bad enough that it earned a visit by the president of the United States.
I cannot describe the misery of the people whose homes were flooded, to say nothing of the disbelief of families who lost loved ones to drowning in their own apartments and in cars.
It is heartening to see the outpouring of gifts and help to the victims. As always, churches are leading the way in giving (someone tell me what is wrong with “organized religion”) Only “organized religion” can respond the way churches do.
What point do I want to make? I don’t know. Just to say that the floods came and the house did not fall. To say that development in these times must be done with great caution. But most of all I guess to say something about love.
I look at the misery in Haiti and Louisiana and my neighborhood here in central Jersey. We have churches here passing their 300th anniversaries. These churches have been helping those in need for thirty decades. The gospel has been proclaimed in word and deed.
It is impossible to relate the misery these catastrophes cause. To know more, ask the Reformed Churches in Prattsville and Schoharie, New York, and the Christian Reformed Churches in Alberta or the Reformed Church in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands about the hurricane damage.
Giving to local missions in my congregation has exploded this year. People know the crushing need from the pandemic and natural disasters. The church has always led the way in helping.
Jesus never said the floods wouldn’t come but did instruct us that houses built on the rock, that is the Word, will not fall.