Mission u teaches about people but draws fewer of them

More than 100 “students” attended the Eastern PA Conference United Methodist Women’s Mission u in Reading, Pa., in July to learn about people with disabilities, people of Latin America and people who are, or want to be, happy. Organizers of the annual academy–meeting July 24-26 at the Inn at Reading for the second year–also sought feedback to help them address declining attendance by planning possible changes in future Mission u events.

The usual trio of study topics this year focused on:

  • The Church and People with Disabilities” for the issue study;
  • “Latin America: People of Faith” for the geographical study
  • “Created for Happiness: Understanding Your Life in God” for the spiritual growth study; and
  • “Latin America: Places, Culture and Faith” for the youth study.

The Disabilities class featured the text Disabilities and the Church: Awareness, Accessibility and Advocacy, authored by Bishop Peggy Johnson, and Speaking Out, another book written by members of the UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities. Led by the Rev. David Goss, class members learned biblical and modern perspectives on disabled persons, attitudinal and architectural barriers they face, accessibility measures that churches can affordably implement, and advocacy needed to help the church and society become more welcoming to disabled persons.

The class also conducted an Accessibility Awareness Tour inside and outside the hotel, examining, with a checklist, every aspect of the building’s design and furnishings and their possible impact on people with mobility and other forms of disability.

Both the adult and youth classes on Latin America learned about its geography, history, diverse cultures, lifestyles, resources and challenges. The adult class, taught by mission educator Diane Miller, and the youth class, taught by Georgeanne Toner and Patrice Matthews, explored appropriate social and religious perspectives on the region.

Glory Dhamaraj, former UMW Director of Spiritual Formation and Mission Theology, and the Rev. Michael Johnson, a certified spiritual director, both led spiritual growth study classes on our understanding of and quest for happiness from Christian and Wesleyan perspectives.

Mission u also featured worship and prayer, fellowship over meals, updates on local and national UMW news, packing of donated school supplies for distribution at two community agencies, and a presentation by service dog trainers from the Seeing Eye agency, which has placed more than 16,000 canine companions with 8,000 blind clients.

UMW leaders surveyed attendees for their feedback and suggestions, as they consider new sites and a new schedule, possibly Friday-to-Saturday, for Mission u in 2016. The school has also met in Allentown, Lancaster and Morgantown.

There have been significant changes over the past few years, according to Susan Dziuk, who has served as Dean during that time. That includes a name change from Conference School of Christian Mission and reduced orientation for deans and study leaders who no longer attend regional Schools of Christian Mission first for extensive preparation.

“Our conference is experiencing declining UMW membership and declining numbers…at Mission u,” wrote Dzuik in her welcome message to attendees. “This year is the smallest school in memory.”

Participants are encouraged to share the expertise gained from their eight hours of certified instruction by teaching aspects of the courses they took in their churches, districts and communities.

By John W. Coleman, Eastern PA Conference Communications Director

Photo: The Anointed Dancers of LaTrinidad UMC in Allentown, led by Jensy Gonzalez, performed at Mission u.