Embracing that expansive theme, borrowed from 2 Corinthians 6:13, the Eastern PA Annual Conference will seek to open hearts, minds and doors of welcome and witnessing during its 230th annual session, June 16-18, at the Lancaster (Pa.) Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in historic Penn Square.
|*In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, the Apostle Paul urges his reticent followers to recognize his boundless love and passion in sharing the gospel of salvation with them. He implores them to not restrain their affection for him nor their acceptance of God’s gift of grace, but to embrace both with full, open and willing hearts. Indeed, “Open Wide Your Hearts!” is a theme of passionate outreach and perfect love that casts out fear. It seeks repentance and reconciliation for the past, and the promise of rebirth for the future, a future with hope. Logo design by Lindsey Cotman|
Escaping the accessible but austere Expo Center in Oaks this year, the conference will journey to its western horizon, crossing sleepy, rolling hills and farms steeped in Amish culture right into bustling downtown Lancaster, cited as America’s oldest inland city.
At this crossroads our Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren heritages intersect. And true to our theme, here is where escaped slaves yearning for freedom found open hearts and safe passage on the Underground Railroad, along with aid from a Pennsylvania U.S. Congressman. The home and office of Thaddeus Stevens, vehement abolitionist and author of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, was located just blocks from where the Annual Conference will meet.
Indeed, the conference’s packed agenda will have members looking both ways—to the past and future. They will learn and repent for the historic oppression of Native American peoples, but also prepare to embark on a new quadrennium, challenged by defining decisions made at the denomination’s 2016 General Conference in May.
The Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, a member of the Seneca tribe and a long-respected voice for justice among United Methodists, will open the conference by preaching, celebrating the Eucharist and leading the body in its Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous People.
All annual conferences were asked by the 2012 General Conference to hold such Acts of Repentance ceremonies to acknowledge and seek an end to centuries of painful oppression inflicted upon Native peoples by other Americans. Much of that historic suffering—some of it caused by Methodist leaders—still haunts and hinders the lives of indigenous peoples in our region and across the continent.
A former superintendent and retired clergyman in the Upper New York Conference and also Emeritus General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society, Fassett will also teach about racism from a Native American perspective on Thursday evening. In 2008 he authored the book Giving Our Hearts Away: Native American Survival, used by United Methodist Women as a key mission study resource. He has been a renowned champion of human and civil rights in the U.S. and internationally, serving on forums, faculties, study commissions and as a delegate to the United Nations Summit on Social Development.
Continuing the conference’s heart-opening focus on dismantling racism, retired United Methodist Bishop Linda Lee will lecture Friday morning on “Creating a Church for All People.” She will discuss how we as persons, churches and institutions can transform and open wide our organizational structures through honest, vigilant assessment, commitment and accountability.
In 2000 Lee became the first African American woman to be elected a bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction and served terms in her home area of Michigan and in Wisconsin. She has chaired the General Commission on Religion and Race and served as Bishop-in-Residence at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. A sought-after preacher, she has published writings and spoken on spirituality, race and culture, and other topics.
Resident Bishop Peggy Johnson will preach about the vision of a multicultural church of the future during the annual Service of Ordination and Commissioning, before she consecrates the 2016 class of elders and deacons for ministry. The service will take place at historic First UMC Lancaster Friday evening; and if logistics can be arranged it may involve a public procession of clergy in white robes and red stoles marching the four blocks from the Marriott Hotel to the church.
Finally, we will welcome back Bishop Marcus Matthews, who served the Philadelphia Episcopal Area as a new bishop in 2004-2008. He will preach during the Memorial Service to honor clergy and clergy spouses who died in the past conference year.
Bishop Matthews currently leads the Washington Episcopal Area, serving his home conference, the Baltimore-Washington Conference, where he will retire this year. He chairs the Northeastern Jurisdiction Vision Table, the Africa University Development Committee and the Council of Bishops Leadership Team.
Story by John Coleman