Apr 25, 2014

After all the preliminaries—registration, rehearsals, a prayer walk to consecrate the arena, and separate clergy and laity meetings—the 2014 session of the EPA Annual Conference gets underway Thursday, May 15, at 2 p.m., at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa.

It will begin appropriately with worship. Barry Lee, a local musician and co-leader of the popular Native American band Spirit Wing (shown here standing with his wife and band partner Barbara Christy), will offer a ceremonial “blessing of the ground” in honor of those indigenous people who first occupied that ground. Then worship will follow with Holy Communion and preaching by Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, leader of Africa’s new East Congo Episcopal Area.

And finally, after the traditional singing of Charles Wesley’s anthem “And Are We Yet Alive?” the roughly 990 conference members will get down to business,

heeding John Wesley’s rules for Holy Conferencing, under the guidance of Presiding Bishop Peggy A. Johnson. Throughout the busy two days, ending Saturday, May 17, many will try to keep focused on their core purpose, expressed by the conference’s missional theme, “Growing Vital Congregations.”

New Conference Secretary the Rev. Lloyd Speer

New Conference Secretary the Rev. Lloyd Speer will lead the body through initial procedures, followed by the introduction of guests, nominations for conference leadership, a Statistical Report on the state of the conference and the first resolutions to be considered. One of those resolutions will call for a yearlong commemoration of the former, all-black Delaware Conference—its beginning 150 years ago in 1864 and its dissolution 50 years ago in 1964, followed in 1965 by the establishment of the present-day racially integrated Eastern Pa. Conference.

Then will come the much-awaited keynote address by the Rev. Mike Slaughter, popular, visionary pastor of the influential megachurch Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, near Dayton, Ohio. He will conclude his keynote message with a Q & A session Friday morning.

Also on Friday the conference will recognize new clergy retirees, who numbered 19 as of mid-April, and hear a celebratory report on the Capital Campaign to pay off pension obligations for pre-1982 retirees. The campaign, approved at the 2013 annual conference, surpassed its ambitious goal to raise $3 million in pledges by January.

Conference members will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of Simpson House, the conference-affiliated assisted living and nursing home facility where many retired clergy have resided over the years.  

Celebration of Ministry

In the Celebration of Ministry, scheduled for Friday afternoon, the conference Connectional Ministries staff will report on their efforts to aid and partner with churches on a broad array of events and ongoing ministries over the past year. They will report on the 2014 Faith Sharing and Mission Celebration training events, and other diverse conference-wide ministries that include congregational development, camp and retreat centers, youth and young adults, and urban and Latino congregational ministries.

There will also be an update on the resolution approved at the denomination’s 2012 General Conference that calls upon annual conferences to work toward healing relationships with Native Americans, or indigenous persons, and to hold Act of Repentance services during their 2015 conference sessions.

Dr. Mary White will present her final Annual Conference Lay Leader’s report, the day after the session body honors her for eight years of distinguished service as Conference Lay Leader. Bishop Peggy Johnson will preach and preside over the service of ordination, always a high moment of any annual conference session.

Saturday agenda includes youth presentation, memorial service

Saturday’s scheduled agenda includes what should be an uplifting presentation by EPA youth, including a report by those who journeyed to South Africa for three weeks through mid-January on the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s annual Mission of Peace.

The conference will also recognize Certified Lay Ministers and memorialize lay and clergy members who have passed on since the last session. The Rev. Byung Woo Cho, founding pastor of EPA’s Lighthouse Korean UMC in Glenside, Pa., will preach the memorial service.

There will be additional presentations by United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men, who will also provide 50-pound bags of potatoes donated by the Society of St. Andrew for conference members to take and share with neighbors in need among their communities.

Three special offerings will be received during the two-day conference to provide higher education scholarships for lay and clergy students, and to support the EPA Conference’s Congo Partnership that funds medical, educational and economic development mission efforts in Central Congo.

Finally, the conference’s business sessions will include election of new conference board and committee members and a new Conference Lay Leader for 2014-2018. Members will also deliberate and decide on a proposed 2015 conference operating budget.

Throughout the session members will also debate and vote on 24 resolutions proposed to the body. They range from global justice concerns and church trials for clergy, to clergy housing and retiree health insurance.

What time the session will end Saturday is anyone’s guess. But when all is said and done, conference leaders hope that all the worship, witnessing and work will somehow edify the people and evoke the promise of “Growing Vital Congregations.”

By John Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director