Fittingly on United Methodist Heritage Sunday, May 21, there was much remembrance of ministry milestones and faithful heroes of the past at our six district conferences. There were speeches and songs, prayers of thanksgiving, old photos projected onscreen, and participation by past district superintendents.
But it was also Aldersgate Sunday, honoring the night John Wesley learned to more deeply experience God’s grace. And only days later we would celebrate Jesus’ Ascension, when the risen, departing Christ assured his disciples they would receive Holy Ghost power to spread his gospel around the globe.
So there was much reason to also look and move ahead, even into the uncertain future of doing ministry in four newly configured districts. As the Rev. Alicia Julia-Stanley told the Northwest District Conference, paraphrasing poet Anthony Machado, “Paths are made as we walk them.”
Other speakers there at First UMC Pottsville recalled past glories; but as the Rev. Douglas Smith, 23-year pastor at Gravel Hill UMC in Palmyra, said, “We are moving forward….It’s going to get harder, but that’s not a reason to quit doing ministry.”
The Rev. Beverly Andrews, preaching on “What Now?” to the Southwest District, recalled Jesus’ Great Commission and said, “Whatever transitions may test our focus and resolve in ministry, let us never forget that our mission is to give birth to new life in Christ…. How we handle our transitions and the challenges they bring will be a large part of our witness to those around us.”
Members of the Central District bid a fond, celebrative farewell to both their district and their superintendent, the Rev. Anita Powell, who ends her tenure on the Appointive Cabinet and becomes Director of Connectional Ministries.
Meanwhile, the Southeast District Superintendent, the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, recalled Wesley’s conversion and encouraged her members to “trust God’s grace and blessed assurance as we move into a future of hope.”
That future seemed most assured in the testimonies and lively, multicultural music offered at several of the gatherings and in the reports of vibrant mission happening here and in Africa with generous support from the various districts.
The East District celebrated the remarkable resurrection from near-death to new life at St. James UMC in Philadelphia, thanks largely to its leadership and the financial and volunteer support it has received from other churches in their One Church at a Time District Mission Project.
The Southwest District was moved by a report from the Rev. Dorcas Kamanda about her efforts to create a children’s village for youth orphaned by Ebola in her native Sierra Leone and the crucial aid she has received from her district partners.
The Southeast District again welcomed the Rev. Jonathan Baker and Donna Baker (left), Congo Partnership missionaries, who shared good news of developments at the hospital and new pediatric clinic in Mpasa, DRC, thanks to the district’s ongoing support.
The Northeast District, which also supports a nutrition center at the mission in Mpasa and camperships for Pocono Plateau, heard reports from its various Mission Connections about other work they are doing together.
And the Central District celebrated giving more than $280,000 in total since 2012 to the Imagine No Malaria campaign, the Haiti Hot Lunch Program, Midtown Parish UMC’s church rebuilding effort, and Clean Water Initiatives to aid UMCOR and the people of Flint, Mich.
Together the districts celebrated all the ways God is moving among them, as they support mission, honor transitioning clergy, prepare new candidates for ministry, support congregations, and plant new faith communities, always walking the new paths that appear before them.