About a hundred people came out to West Lawn UMC August 8 to learn, talk and pray about the seismic changes and considerations that will be proposed to a special session of the UMC’s General Conference next February—changes that could alter the foundational Discipline and structure of the denomination. The event, open to anyone in the conference, was hosted by the Reading Mission Connection.
“Prayer of Unity, Dialogue of Hope” was the apt name for the gathering to examine and lift in prayer the “Way Forward for the UMC.” It mirrored dialogues with PowerPoint presentations that occurred at Annual Conference in June and at Asbury UMC in Allentown in April. Other dialogues have happened in other places, including one led by Bishop Peggy Johnson in the spring that drew a mostly black audience to Tindley Temple UMC in Philadelphia. And more will follow.
South District clergy will convene for “A Time for Prayer and Dialogue” Sept. 12, 10 AM to 1 PM, at Berwyn UMC. Co-facilitated by the Rev. Anita Powell, Connectional Ministries Director, and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, District Superintendent, the gathering will seek “God’s vision for our future,” said Taylor-Storm. “We will reflect on our contexts, as we share our hopes, questions and our faith with one another. We will review the information released by the Council of Bishops, offer resources for local church dialogue and spend time in prayer.”
Bishop Johnson will update conference members on the Way Forward and respond to their questions at four town hall meetings, one in each district, in September and October. (See schedule and locations on page 3.)
The Rev. Jeff Raffauf, West Lawn’s pastor, and Judy Ehninger—both General Conference delegates from Eastern PA—co-led the August 8 event, along with the Rev. Jean Howe of West Lawn’s pastoral staff. They guided an attentive audience through the PowerPoint report on decisions facing the Special General Conference session and actions being taken before that worldwide body convenes in St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 23-26.
While they extended the UM Council of Bishops’ request for daily prayer and its oft-repeated advice for all to maintain “a non-anxious presence,” Raffauf reminded the crowd that such wisdom is easier said than done.
“We have people here at West Lawn who don’t know if they want to join our church,” he admitted. “They’re waiting to see which way the (UM) church will go before they decide. I get it, but frankly, it breaks my heart.”
The trio offered three questions and respectful communication guidelines, as they ushered the assembled body into an hour of table talks. “I pray your comments will be music to our Lord’s ears,” Ehninger the audience.
Comments were briefly summarized in a report-out session afterward. Among them: “Don’t give up,” “Pray for discernment,” “Love is the key,” and “We must examine our values and convictions before we change the Book of Discipline.” Also, “The church must focus on the power and purpose of its unity.”
NOTE: A full list of comments from the discussions will be posted on the conference website’s Way Forward for The UMC page, found under the Resources tab. Also, Bishop Johnson’s new PowerPoint presentation, prepared for the upcoming district town hall meetings, will be posted in early September. Other resources located there include: