A quest for excellence: Church leaders brave snow seeking Tools for Ministry

A quest for excellence

Church leaders brave snow seeking Tools for Ministry

“Excellence in Church Leadership” was the challenge issued by Dr. Mary White, EPA Conference Lay Leader, to members at several Tools for Ministry district training events Jan. 25. Hundreds gathered despite forecasted and falling snow at six churches across the conference; and they embraced that challenge and the theme “Ministry for Today’s Church” in their workshops, worship, witnessing and special offerings.

Of the impressive 180 members who registered in the Northwest District about 150 came to First UMC in Schuylkill Haven to learn about the Mission Connection movement, developing relationships through global missions, becoming not just church leaders but spiritual leaders, ensuring safety in the church (from the Pottsville police chief), children’s ministries and VBS, starting a Circles Anti-Poverty Initiative and a Celebrate Recovery ministry, and encouraging stewardship during an economic recovery.

The best-attended workshop was “From Time To Time: Caring for Families, Friends, and Ourselves Through Times of Grief and Loss,” led by the Rev. John Wheatley, pastor of Ono UMC and a military chaplain and Lieutenant Colonel.

‘Best session I have ever attended’

“This was the best session I have ever attended,” read one evaluation. “The presenter informed us of so much valuable information, gave us practical words to use, multi-sensory things, emotion-evoking film clips. He knows his stuff. He is an excellent presenter, chaplain, pastor.”

The Rev. Gary Nicholson, Northwest District Superintendent, led two workshops and spoke at the opening plenary on “Spiritual Leadership: Let Your Membership Vows be Your Guide,” urging laity to be spiritual and not just institutional leaders.

Many responded by renewing their membership vows with promises of support for their churches in 2014 through their prayers (and Bible study), presence (in worship and in small groups), gifts, and their service in the church and witness in the community.  They placed their statements in sealed envelopes that will be mailed back to them July 1, as a reminder of their promises to be spiritual leaders.

Attendees also received an offering of $1,170 for Typhoon Haiyan Relief.

The Central District Tools for Ministry assembly at Phoenixville First UMC gave more than $1,180 for the Haiti Hot Lunch Project, as part of an ongoing mission aid effort with a $50,000 goal for donations by the March 31 deadline. Hundreds heard Dr. White, the Rev. Dr. Anita Adams Powell, District Superintendent, and others speak and also welcomed guests.

They attended workshops on: Engaging Whole Families in the Church (including seniors, youth and young adults); using various styles and expressions of active worship: the ministry of the Church Council; fostering evangelism and discipleship in ministries among poor and marginalized people; creating multicultural ministries in changing communities; United Methodist women and men as ministry partners; and starting wellness and hospitality ministries.

‘Giving God our best, our all’

Like her colleagues, Powell also spoke about spiritual excellence and “giving God our best, our all” as worthy leadership goals.

About 200 disciples attended the Southeast District Tools event at West Grove UMC, welcomed by the Rev. Bumkoo Chung, host pastor and future Southwest District Superintendent. The Rev. H. Joe Tyson, current Southeast superintendent commended the large attendance, the richly varied workshops and West Grove’s “incredible hospitality.” Greetings also came from Bishop Peggy A. Johnson; the Rev. Dr. Christopher Kurien, EPA Connectional Ministries Director; and future Southeast District Superintendent the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm.

District Lay Leader Joan Lawson invoked the Holy Spirit’s presence over the gathering, inspiring an offering of $1,064 for the conference’s Congo Mission Partnership. John Lafferty, CSM, of Thorndale UMC, gave an “excellent” Safe Sanctuaries plenary presentation. His PowerPoint slides will be posted on the EPA Web site soon and he is available to present the training to groups of church teams.

The Rev. Deborah Tanksley-Brown offered a heartfelt benediction and then taught a workshop on The Church’s Response to HIV/AIDS, as one of 11 expert presenters who “shared their time, knowledge and faith, conducting workshops not once but twice,” according to the Rev. Lin George, District Resource Assistant.

Other workshops focused on creating a disabilities ministry, reaching and retaining young people, engaging women and older adults creatively in the life of the church, and Native American concerns, resources and ministry opportunities, including how churches can participate in the churchwide Act of Repentance observance.

Two offerings for Imagine NO Malaria

The Southwest District Tools gathering drew 247 people to St. Mark’s UMC in Mount Joy. They gave nearly $1,500 in offerings for the United Methodist “Imagine NO Malaria” campaign.

Dr. Ron Sider, a prolific author and renowned Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary, addressed the plenary gathering about the Bible’s spiritual, social and political implications. His book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was lauded by Christianity Today as being among the top 100 books in religion in the 20th century and the 7th most influential book in the evangelical world. Sider also led a workshop titled “Getting Practical on Poverty.”

Of 25 workshops, the most popular included Conflict in the Church and Understanding Staff/Pastor Parish Relations, both led by Rev. James Todd, District Superintendent, as well as Opportunities Galore for the Golden Years, Evangelism by Introverts, and Developing Partnerships in Leadership.

The East District’s Tools for Ministry endeavor drew more than 100 learners to Bensalem UMC. A special offering donated $477 to the Imagine NO Malaria campaign. Nine workshops focused on addiction recovery, disabilities, disaster preparedness, COSROW, youth, older adults, Safe Sanctuaries, using social media for evangelism and innovating to make a big difference through small-church ministries.

Engaging multiple audiences through Webcasting

As usual, the snow came first in the Northeast District, at 8 a.m.; but leaders prepared for that near-certainty by having a limited Tools session at Asbury UMC in Allentown with three basic leadership workshops and Webcasting it for members to view at home or together in their churches. Plus they scheduled a follow-up Tools session for March 22, 8:30 am to 3:00 pm., at East Stroudsburg UMC, with a more robust menu of 14 workshops.

More than 85 clergy and laity attended worship and workshops for Staff-Parish, Finance, and Trustee committees in person and via the Web, thus engaging connected audiences in multiple venues. (Look for a future article on this site about using distance-learning technology for church events.)

“I believe we have made major inroads with this new format by allowing more people to attend trainings in real time as well as viewing these presentations after the fact at any given time,” said the Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto, District Superintendent. “To have only three workshops with more than 70 participating reflects a worthwhile event.  And we would have more than 100 present if it were not for the snow.”

There was encouraging feedback to having the session webcast. “We had more people (9) participate than would have otherwise,” reported the Rev. Tim Fisher of Chapman Quarries and Bushkill UMCs. “I especially liked being able to “chat” and interact with the assembly. This format allowed us to have private conversations…on visioning and other matters about which the presentations germinated thinking, without interrupting everyone. Overall, I think it was a great success, especially for a first try.”

District Disaster Coordinator and technical wizard Greg Ellis navigated the complexities of the first- time webcast.  “We have learned much from this experience,” he concluded. “Now we know what bugs to work out, and we can use webcasting for future trainings.”

-John Coleman, EPA Director of Communications

Note: Enjoy illustrative images taken by helpful photographers at various Tools for Ministry sites.

Tools for Ministry Photos