Moving day, August 8, as the Johnsons leave the former episcopal residence—due to be sold—and move to the nearby parsonage of Otterbein UMC in Mont Clare. Photo courtesy of Bishop Peggy Johnson.

Conference bids farewell to staff, bishop’s residence

Gloria Knoeller receives flowers and accolades at Annual Conference, celebrating her 38 years on the conference’s administrative staff, before her imminent retirement July 31. Rev. James Mundell photo

The Eastern PA Conference said goodbye this summer to some special people and to one place that was special because of the people who lived and visited there.

We bid a fond farewell to two beloved staff members during Annual Conference and during several staff celebrations. Gloria Knoeller, who joined the conference staff in 1979, retired July 31 after 38 years as an administrative assistant.

The Rev. Esdras Seda (left) is honored in June by the Rev. Christopher Kurien, Director of Connectional Ministries, for his work as Coordinator of Latino Ministries since 2014. He now serves Emmanual and La Trinidad UMCs in Allentown. John Coleman photo

The Rev. Christopher J. Kurien returns to the pastorate in August—at First UMC Lansdale—after serving six years as Director of Connectional Ministries and six years as a District Superintendent. The Rev. Anita Powell succeeds him as Director of Connectional Ministries.

Also leaving us in July was the Rev. Esdras Seda, part-time Conference Latino Ministries Coordinator for three years while also serving part-time at Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit) UMC in Philadelphia. He is now the fulltime pastor of Emmanuel and La Trinidad UMCs in Allentown. The Rev. Brunilda Martinez is the new Latino Ministries Coordinator.

Bishop Peggy Johnson and conference staff bid farewell June 1 to the Rev. Christopher Kurien, Director of Connectional Ministries since 2011, as he returns to the local church to serve First UMC Lansdale. John Coleman photo

Bishop on the move

Bishop Peggy Johnson is also on the move, literally. The conference’s efforts to reduce expenses and pay off the pre-1982 clergy retirement unfunded liability by 2021 led to a decision to sell the episcopal residence in Phoenixville that was purchased in 2006. She and her husband, the Rev. Michael Johnson, have lived there since 2008, but they moved in August to the vacant parsonage of Otterbein UMC in nearby Mont Clare.

The 2016 General Conference voted that bishops no longer have to live in an episcopal residence and can receive a housing allowance instead. Our spacious episcopal residence, with its six bathrooms, five bedrooms, three living rooms and two dining rooms, has been “the site of many opportunities for hospitality,” said the bishop. 

Pastors in cross-racial and cross-cultural church appointments gather at the episcopal residence May 15 to enjoy a time apart for food, fellowship and dialogue. Bishop Johnson hosts them there each year, as well as many other groups.

“I have hosted clergywomen, retired pastors, the Korean Caucus and Latino Commission, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Committee on Native Americans, new clergy retirees, young adult pastors and their families, pastors in cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments, the Cabinet Christmas party, staff summer get-togethers, and a number of dinners for bishops, dignitaries and committees. It has been a place of much good conversation and connectivity.”

Indeed, the residence has at times seemed like “the people’s house,” as the White House was often described by former U.S. President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. Especially welcome for visits with food and fellowship were small groups that needed a place to nurture collegiality in ministry.

The pre-1982 clergy retirement unfunded liability is still short by $3.2 million, even after our successful capital campaign. Besides freeing up money to help pay off that expense by 2021, the home’s sale will also save the conference “an enormous amount of money” on utilities, property taxes, repairs and community association fees, said Bishop Johnson. “In addition, we will be able to pay off the remaining mortgage from the proceeds.”

What about the fellowship and hospitality offered in her home over the years? “I will continue to connect with people at churches and at the conference center for food, conversation and connection,” said Johnson. “It is who I am.”

As for what happens in 2020 when her tenure ends, the next bishop will choose whether to have an episcopal residence or a housing allowance.

“I have enjoyed living in this house,” said Johnson, “and I appreciate the care and support that the residence committee and the episcopacy committee have given to it through the years.”  

The Rev. Michael Johnson (right) says a blessing, as conference staff gather June 29 for their annual summer indoor picnic at the episcopal residence. Former staff and retired clergy also came to honor Gloria Knoeller (left) as she prepared to retire after 38 years. This was the last group event hosted at the episcopal residence as Bishop and Rev. Johnson prepared to move. John Coleman photo

Another fond farewell…

Alice Focht UMC in Birdsboro, one of four Conference churches to close this year, celebrated 180 years of faithful service to God and its community in a bittersweet final service on April 30. The Rev. Pat Goshert, pastor, followed three former pastors–(from right) the Revs. Richard Andrews, Alicia Julia-Stanley and Maxime Jaouen–in reminiscing and saying farewell to a packed sanctuary of members and friends. The Rev. Anita Powell (far left), District Superintendent, led the deconsecration ceremony as church members, some in tears, removed sacramental items from the chancel.  John Coleman photo