Jun 19, 2014

One of the many highlights of the Eastern PA Annual Conference in May was an oral and video report from the Connectional Ministries Office with the theme Works of Faith, Labors of Love: Growing Vital Congregations.  The 21-minute video portion of that report is now viewable in the conference Web site’s Video Gallery.

Works of Faith, Labors of Love, based on the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, recounts a handful of ministries and events that have occurred over the past six months, representative of the  diverse array of ministries transpiring in our conference over the past year. It features dynamic scenes, activities and comments from Connectional Ministries staff and other ministry participants.

The video, produced by Conference Communications Director John Coleman, opens with highlights from the Faith-Sharing Training Event that drew several hundred people to Bethany UMC in Wescosville March 8. They came to hear compelling wisdom and wit about evangelism from The Rev. Eddie Fox, (left) who returned for a second year by popular demand. Fox will retire this summer as longtime Executive Director of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute.

The video also features the second annual Celebration of Mission, April 5, at Coatesville UMC. There the Rev. Patrick Friday, of the General Board of Global Ministries, demonstrated a real-time video chat with missionaries in two foreign locations, including Turkistan, Central Asia, using Oovoo, the online videophone service. Friday, head of the board’s In Mission Together program, suggested to the audience ways to use this technology for shared, long-distance worship and educational events with mission partners around the world.

Evangelism and mission go hand in hand

“Having evangelism and mission go hand in hand,” says the Rev. Christopher Kurien, Director of Connectional Ministries, in the video, “working together to give that experience to people and to train them to do mission and evangelism is so vital for the life of the annual conference.”

Also depicted are volunteers on the conference’s Disaster Response Team working hard to clear mold-tainted refuse out of a storm-damaged home in Coatesville. Disaster Response Coordinator Debra DePrinzio describes the benefit of this ministry to storm survivors whose homes are rendered unlivable.

The Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Coordinator of Congregational Development talks in the video about sharing and replicating the DNA of successful growing churches. “One of the neat things we’re trying to do is find churches that are really large churches and that have a great DNA, that know how to grow,” he says. “New Birth (Nuevo Nacimiento UMC in Lebanon–below-right), which has started six house-churches) is the largest in the Northeast Jurisdiction among Latino churches; and Bethany, in Wescosville, is the largest Anglo church. Both of these churches know how to grow.”

Hendrickson’s work involves helping to develop not only churches but also leaders. “People who have a passion to start new churches or redevelop churches are the people we want to work with…. When they show us what they’re accomplishing, we come along and say ‘How can we help you, how can we work with you?”

Learning how to grow a church

“My background has been in developing leadership through the local pastor route–people who can’t go to seminary,” he says, citing efforts to organize later this year a new “local pastors licensing school that will focus on how you grow a church.”

The Rev. Esdras Seda, Latino Ministries Coordinator, is shown leading the Hispanic Ministries Training for Non-Latino Churches, March 15, at Haws Avenue UMC in Norristown. “I want everybody to see the Latino Ministries Coordinator as a resource for their churches, all the churches,” he says. “There are so many (Latino) families in non-Latino churches that are coming because they feel that is their home. The families are saying, ‘Look, look, I’m learning, but I just feel so at home here. These people love me. They care for me.’ Wow! That’s what needs to happen.” The next training is scheduled for October 17-18, at a location to be announced.

Connection youth with one another

Matthew Davis, Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, explains the importance of interactions among youth from different churches and communities. “That is why connecting them with other youth around the conference is so important because they are able to then see… how other youth groups are doing, what other youth groups are doing in other places. They’re able to experience this group knowledge.”

Apryl Miller, Director of Gretna Glen Camp and Retreat Center describes the importance and value of camping for all ages. “We really need to stay focused on getting our children, youth and adults outside to enjoy these great spaces that are set aside for God’s work.

“There’s no doubt that to fall in love with nature, you have to be in nature, and we know that kids are staying inside more and more each day,” she explains.  “And so it’s our responsibility, as adults, to make sure they have opportunities every day to be out, to fall in love with God’s creation, so they can really learn about themselves.”

Dr. Kurien ends the video by crediting faithful leaders and volunteers for the many vital ministries that occur collaboratively conference-wide. “We are grateful to…members of boards and agencies who work so hard for ministries to happen, because we can only do so much as staff,” he says. “People are involved in helping others to… share the love of Christ. And that ought to be happening in every setting, every community, every congregation.”