May 31, 2017

The Eastern PA Annual Conference, June 15-17, will offer a witness to all things Methodist in its inspiring worship, sermons, prayers, reports and presentations. There will also be acts of grace and generosity.

Among the several reports will be Bishop Peggy Johnson’s update on the Council of Bishops’ Special Commission on a Way Forward. She will show the Commission’s new video, talk about interpretive resources, answer questions and “explain my heart’s desire for unity in the church through Christ.”

The Council on Finance and Administration will present its 2018 budget but also speak on collaborative efforts to reduce costs, increase needed revenue and help churches improve their apportioned giving and their remittances to pay for staff benefits and insurance.

There will also be the usual reports from the Board of Trustees, the Cabinet, committees on Episcopacy and Nominations, Connectional Ministries, Lay Leader David Koch and presidents of UM Men and UM Women, along with our Conference Council on Youth Ministry and the Board of Camp & Retreat Ministries.

One usual series of reports that we won’t hear are the daily inclusiveness monitoring assessments. Leaders of conference committees on Religion and Race (CORR), Status and Role of Women (COSROW) and Disability Ministry, who annually collaborate on those reports, are trying something new. After explaining Holy Conferencing, the rules of mutual respect and the values of inclusiveness on the first day, they will let conference members do the monitoring.

Conference members will be invited to observe how and when the session seems inclusive or not and then record their observations and feelings on note cards placed on each table. The monitoring team will collect the cards and review them nightly but only report to the plenary body on concerns needing immediate attention and response.

Otherwise, they will prepare overall inclusiveness monitoring reports to share with the conference after they meet during the summer.

“The traditional monitoring reports we do every year have become counter-productive, especially during voting periods,” said the Rev. Alicia Julia-Stanley, who co-chairs CORR. “We will still monitor the session for inclusiveness but differently this time as an experiment.”

And about those acts of grace and generosity? Well, we will receive the usual offerings for undergraduate and seminary scholarships; but a third offering will go to support Methodist Services, formerly the Methodist Home for Children, located in Philadelphia next door to Simpson House. Agency President and CEO Ann Rice Burgess will bring greetings from that historic, multifaceted agency that now serves children, families and women in transition.

Meanwhile, several special visitors will enjoy Eastern PA hospitality as they come to bring greetings to the session body. The Rev. Tom Lank, a Deacon from the Greater New Jersey Conference, coordinates UM Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) for the Northeastern Jurisdiction. He recently trained team leaders in our conference and in March helped lead an NEJ UMCOR and UMVIM training event at Pocono Plateau Camp & Retreat Center. 

The Rev. Dai Morgan, our UM Witness in Pennsylvania coordinator, will greet and update us on his legislative advocacy work and concerns. Our joint Congo Partnership missionaries Rev. Jonathan and Donna Baker will join us by video with their report.

And greeting us in person will be UM Communications’ Craig Catlett, who recently led our conference training on Building Church Websites. Catlett will also teach a free Church Marketing Workshop on the eve of Annual Conference, June 14, from 6 to 8:30 PM at the Conference Office.

Finally, Bishop Claire S. Burkat of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a “full communion partner” of our denomination, will celebrate with us the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In 1517 the radical German Catholic monk and theologian Martin Luther famously nailed his critical 95 theses to a church door and started the Protestant Reformation. That momentous movement changed how many Christians viewed their relationship with God and provided an alternative to Catholic doctrine.

Burkat is the first female bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern PA Synod, where she oversees about 90,000 members and 150 congregations. As full communion partners, our denominations share a mutual recognition of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and are able to share in worship and clergy leadership.

Update: Bishop Burkat will be unable to join us at Annual Conference but will send a representative.

Herman Turnage loads potatoes into a vehicle at the 2015 Annual Conference. Thanks to UM Men, free potatoes, gleaned and delivered by the Society of St. Andrew primarily for distribution to low-income communities, will return to the 2017 Annual Conference after a hiatus last year.  John Coleman photo.