Church Celebrates Milestone Birthday Of Joyful Member

By Cheryl Conway

About 50 friends and family members gathered at the Abiding Peace Lutheran Church in Budd Lake on Sun., Nov. 27, to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of its members, Emily Dunbar.

Dunbar, who lives at the House of Good Shepherd retirement community in Hackettstown, was born Nov. 25, 1916, and has been a member of Abiding Peace for the past 16 years. The kindness of its member led Dunbar to that church in 2000.

“When I first came, everyone was just so kind, and they still are,” says Dunbar. “They are like a family.”

Dunbar had joined the church with her sister-in-law at that time, the late Dorothy Pearson, who had also celebrated her 100th birthday with the church, says Vicar Serena Rice, spiritual leader of the church since September.

For Dunbar’s celebration, a church service began at 10 a.m. followed by a celebration at 11:15 a.m. with church members and her nephew, his wife, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Rice had learned about Dunbar’s upcoming milestone birthday from the Director of Services Ministry and Seniors Ministry and decided on a celebration.

“In the church, the presence of history is important,” says Rice. “It’s a community; to have a member live through a 100 years of history; it’s a celebration of our history and our community.”

Rice explains, “It’s pretty rare, not a lot of people make it to 100 anymore. It’s a big deal.”

At the celebration, Dunbar was presented with a plaque and a letter from the Bishop celebrating her life and commitment to the church. Guests ate “cheesecake with blueberries brought by her family,” and got involved in arts and crafts, two of Dunbar’s passions.

“It was a celebration; it was an expression of joy,” says Rice. “Her smile lights up a room. She values relationships. It was experiencing the joy that she lives.”

Dunbar tries to stay as active as possible at the church. She is involved in the senior group that meets once monthly for social events.

“She’s in a wheelchair; she comes whenever she can get a rise,” says Rice. “Members drive her places.”

Dunbar used to be involved in the church’s Faith Kitchen Ministry in Dover, a hot meal program. “She was involved in cooking for that,” says Rice.

“Before the church started sending out our newsletter electronically, Emily would come to the office faithfully every month to help fold, and staple the newsletter mailing,” adds Rice.

“When she moved into House of the Good Shepherd a few years ago she was distressed because she could not bring her cat,” continues Rice. “Another member at the church found a home for the cat with a friend from out of state and drove the cat there so that it would have a good home. Another story of the kind of community I have gotten to walk into here at Abiding Peace,” says Rice, with its 78 members for Mt. Olive and the surrounding area.

“The celebration of Emily is a reflection of how the community at Abiding Peace loves its members,” says Rice. “I’ve only been here three months, but it’s a beautiful thing to observe.”

Dunbar is lifelong resident of NJ. She was born in Hoboken and raised in North Bergen County. She has also been a lifelong member of the Swedish organization VASA as was in leadership for many years. She is very proud of her hard-working Swedish heritage.

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