Communicating with Care:
Janet Weathers Finds Her Place at PTS
by Hope Andersen
Photos by Chrissie Knight
You can tell a lot about
people by looking at the spaces in which they live. This seems particularly true in the
case of Janet Weathers, assistant professor of speech communication in ministry, who
joined the Princeton Seminary faculty in 1994. Her dining room is occupied by a shiny
black baby grand piano; her windows are framed in soft, translucent drapes; and everywhere
books and fragile momentos co-exist. Beauty matters to her.
"Beauty is spiritually powerful," she explains. "It is one of the ways
that God feeds us. I am always inspired and humbled by creation. Flowers, art, music,
light-they are all lifegiving."
Weathers is the fortunate occupant of 102 Mercer Street, also known as the Carriage
House, which was recently renovated by the Seminary and which received a Princeton
Historical Society Award for "adaptive use of a historical space."
For Weathers, who has been on sabbatical since September 1996, the house has provided
her not only with a sanctuary but also with a space for many phases of her life to be on
And Weathers has had many phases in her life. Born and raised in Oklahoma and Kansas,
she attended Oklahoma State University and began exploring her interest in the dynamics of
human communication. Having earned her B.A., she then went on to Ohio State University to
pursue her master's degree in literature.
It was during her college years that she experienced her first spiritual upheaval.
Active on the university debate team, she often took her spiritual questions to her debate
coach, Dale Stockton, who was also a pastor. He helped her wrestle with the challenges of
analytic philosophy and atheistic existentialism. The year after she graduated from
Oklahoma State, Stockton, a young man dedicated to causes of justice and peace and a
father of two small children and another one on the way, was randomly and brutally
murdered. For Weathers, who was only twenty-one at the time, the trauma of this event
shattered the still fragile scaffolding he had been helping her build to sustain her faith
in the face of intellectual challenges and the reality of immense evil in the world.
For most of the next decade, Weathers was estranged from the church, yet many of her
close friends were deeply religious people. "I never wanted to talk about God,"
she recalls, "but I always kept them close."
One of these friends was Dr. Francis Hayward, the pastor who had baptized her in the
First Presbyterian Church in Winfield, KS, when she was a child. He took a pastorate in
another state when she was in the fourth grade, and her family returned to Oklahoma, yet
they have maintained contact ever since. He remains for her a powerful model of faithful
ministry. Although she was just a child when he was her pastor, she knew that he deeply
loved, enjoyed, and respected the children in the church.
Weathers learned during a recent visit with Hayward that while in Winfield in the '50s,
he started a local chapter of the NAACP. She believes that many of her deepest theological
convictions about the power of God's love for all and God's demand that we live just lives
comes from hearing him preach during those early years. "Children stayed in church
for the sermon in those years," she says, "and I never remember wanting to be
excused." She credits him with giving her strong roots in the faith that never quit
influencing her, even during the years she turned her back on God.
After completing an M.A. at Ohio State, she began teaching in 1970, first at the
National College of Education in Evanston, IL, and then at a junior high school in
Arcadia, CA. During this period, she explored secular humanism and existentialism and
tried, as she says, to live a constructive life within that mindset. But always there was
a deeper yearning, and as she neared thirty, she began to re-explore her faith life,
though not without an unusual prod.
A pivotal event occurred on Weathers's thirtieth birthday. She recalls that she went to
see a secular psychologist to help her work through the residue of the trauma of her
mentor's death. The woman observed that Weathers didn't seem to have her relationship with
God right, to which Weathers replied, "I'm not sure there is a God."
"Ah," remarked the psychologist, "so there's the problem."
At first shocked by the therapist's comment, Weathers found herself sitting in church
again on Christmas Sunday a few weeks later and joining the church on Easter. She chose a
non-denominational church that provided her with wide-ranging, open discussions of
Christianity. "I was not yet ready to tackle the confessional statements of the
church of my youth," she reflects. A couple of years later she began to study with a
Christian yogi, Graham Ledgerwood. It was through his guidance that she began to return to
an understanding of Jesus as the incarnation of God rather than thinking of him only as a
good model for human life. It was also from Ledgerwood that she learned to approach the
Bible through contemplation and meditation rather than only with the critical tools of
"I did not start studying with him because of the depth and devotion of his
commitment to Christ, but as I look back on that time seventeen years ago, it seems to me
that God used this man to teach me many things about God and about Jesus Christ that I
would not have been willing to hear from the pulpit of a Presbyterian church," she
says. "I marvel at the wonderful and diverse ways God works with our pain and
confusion to offer us the loving truth of the Gospel."
Over the next ten years Ledgerwood contributed significantly to Weathers's spiritual
development and strongly encouraged her to respond to the call to ministry and enter
seminary. "I might never have been able to return to the Presby-terian church without
his guidance and teaching," she says.
Despite the skepticism of many of her academic colleagues, Weathers enrolled in
Claremont School of Theology. "My initial years of study culminated in the
realization that to do what I felt called to do, I would need to complete a second
Ph.D.," she recalls. Weathers earned her first Ph.D. in speech communication from the
University of Southern California in 1979 and then taught at a variety of institutions,
including ten years at the University of California, Los Angeles, and several years at the
University of Southern California. She is currently finishing her dissertation for a Ph.D.
in theology and personality from Claremont where, in 1992, she received an M.A. in
Weathers's work at Princeton is
concerned with bringing the disciplines of communication, education, and theology
together. How can she help people to better communicate the Word? How can she help people
to appreciate the theological significance of their daily interactions? How can she help
people to better communicate with one another and avoid creating unnecessary problems
through their communication?
"It is not that we can eliminate problems and conflicts if we communicate
effectively," Weathers observes. "We will always have the pain of real conflict
to challenge us, but there is so much unnecessary pain and suffering created because of
communication problems that could have been avoided. Such problems erode trust and eat
away at the fabric of our communities, in our churches, in our seminaries, and throughout
In reflecting on her situation at Princeton, Weathers acknowledges that she is being
presented with an extraordinary opportunity. "PTS is special," she says,
"because no other seminary has a communication area as fully developed as this. No
other seminary could provide this growing edge."
She is finding that she is able to integrate her love of music, poetry, and art not
only into her teaching, where she uses poetry to help students to understand the
experiences of others and to instruct students in reflecting on and communicating
Scripture, but also in her personal life. An accomplished pianist who has played since she
was five years old, Weathers has recently started taking lessons again. "I love
music," she says. "I find it relaxing and inspiring. I also think we can gain
insights into life by experiencing the ways composers explore and share harmony,
dissonance, and rhythm in their music."
She loves, too, the yellow color on the walls in the Carriage House, a color that she
feels is both comforting and energizing. "I would never have known to choose
it," she says. "I would have settled for white." But Weathers, who gives
careful thought to all aspects of her life, whether she is working on her dissertation or
deciding which perennials to plant in her backyard, doesn't seem like someone who settles
for anything. Rather, she seems to bring to life a grace that enables her to thrive on
whatever life gives her.
in the Field