Bishops to Oversee UMAdvocacyPA

Steve Drachler announced that changes are coming for UM Advocacy in PA, the advocacy arm of the three Pennsylvania annual conferences in the state capital.  For 20 years UM Advocacy in PA has been related to, but not part of the annual conferences.  With the changes, there will be a place at the table within each AC to engage together in advocacy ministry, and to work more efficiently and more effectively.  Drachler announced that Advocacy Action Teams will be formed within each Annual Conference.

Strengthening Conference Connections

Beginning July 1 United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania will enter into a new relationship with Pennsylvania’s three annual conferences and begin a new era of seeking justice in the halls of power in Harrisburg.

On that date, UMAdvocacyPA will move from being an organization affiliated with the annual conferences to becoming a ministry under the direct guidance and oversight of Pennsylvania’s three bishops. It will move from being an affiliated ministry to becoming a part of each of the annual conferences.

“I am excited about this change,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson, leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. “United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania offers an important voice for the people who have none in the halls of power in Harrisburg. Our advocacy efforts are Christ-centered, and Christ-driven. This new way forward is good for everyone.”

The change in governance and status comes at a crucial time in the lives of every Pennsylvanian and in the ministry of the annual conferences.

“United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania has created a strong voice of faith in Harrisburg. We are relevant, and we are being heard, ” said Bishop Thomas Bickerton, leader of the Western Pennsylvania Conference. “Yet as we look at financial and administrative models in the 21st Century, it’s clear that changes need to be made.  A new, more effective administrative model is needed for UMAdvocacyPA to continue.”

“We cannot hope to make Christ’s transformational vision for us – serving the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned – become real by continuing to pour new wine into an old wineskin,” Bishop Bickerton added, quoting the report outlining the changes taking place on July 1.

Since its creation, first as A United Methodist Witness in Pennsylvania during the mid-1980s and in recent years as United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania, the organization has operated as a non-profit separate from the annual conferences. It had its own board of directors and budget. It maintained a consultative relationship with bishops across the state.

“United Methodist Advocacy PA is unique in The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Mark Reisinger of Mechanicsburg, Pa., chair of the board of directors. “Since the mid-1980s our conferences have joined to offer a voice of faith, a voice that is based upon Christ’s teachings and John Wesley’s ministries. As times change, we must change. This change is needed to ensure the ministry continues, and does so in a relevant, cost-effective manner.”

In this new configuration, the non-profit corporation will be dissolved, and the board of directors will no longer exist. In its place will be an Advocacy Action Team named by the bishops in consultation with each annual conference’s Church and Society agency. A half-time executive director will continue to be employed. The budget for the organization will be shared between the three annual conferences.

The Advocacy Action Team’s role will be to educate Pennsylvania United Methodists on the key issues facing the Commonwealth and to organize and carry out grass roots advocacy in legislative districts.

“Advocacy is an important part of our DNA as United Methodists,” said Bishop Jeremiah Park of the Susquehanna Conference. “John Wesley not only ministered with the poor, he stood up and spoke out for society’s marginalized. This is a vital piece of what it means to be a United Methodist. United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania is that voice. Not only is it a voice for United Methodists, it works closely with other Christian and interfaith groups who seek justice for the voiceless.”

Work on this this change in status and relationship began about a year ago when executive director Stephen Drachler initiated conversations between the board of directors and the bishops. The conversations turned into serious discussions in the fall of 2012, with the bishops and UMAdvocacyPA’s board agreeing on a strategy to move forward in early April.

Drachler will stay on as executive director through the transition process.

Bishop Johnson will serve as a supervisor of the executive director. Under direction of Bishop Park, the Susquehanna Conference will provide administrative services, and under Bishop Bickerton, the Western Pennsylvania Conference will provide communication/internet services.

Featured photo: Stephen Drachler speaks to the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference about the upcoming changes for UM Advocacy in PA.