Laity Academy inspires joyful learning, music, fellowship

The joyful energy and communal spirit of the 35th annual Laity Academy, held August 3-5, seemed to fill the classrooms, corridors, dining/fellowship hall and even the sanctuary of Quakertown UMC, where Caribbean-style steel drums and a lengthening conga dance line climaxed Saturday night’s entertainment.

Among the diverse student body of about 170 laity from all districts of the Eastern PA Conference, love and laughter seemed to abound; and so did learning. Nearly a quarter of attendees were first-timers. Along with their more seasoned peers, they filled tables around the cozy classrooms to hear faculty presentations, view materials, engage in enlightening discussions and offer insightful testimonies of their experiences.

Some evaluation form comments affirmed the value of the 10 hours of instruction required for a coveted lay ministry training certificate:

  • “For the first time, I wrote and delivered a sermon. Maybe I can pursue this.”
  • I learned the importance or working and abiding in community.
  • Our church needs to market itself to the community. These tools can help us achieve that goal.
  • I learned that there is much to learn about our church and becoming more engaged.
  • I can start a prison ministry in my church.
  • Everything I learned I plan to take back to my church.
  • Knowing and controlling your own emotions first is most important.
  • Best course ever (Making Every Prayer Count). I would take it again.

“This academy did its job of ‘Passing it on’,” said first-time academy dean Rick Wrisley, drawing from the 2018 academy theme, “Pass It On: Spreading God’s Word through Action,” inspired by 2 Timothy 2:2. “The word was shared and passed onto many that weekend,” he said. “There was a level of energy present that neither I nor longtime instructors had seen in recent memory.”

“God, Christ and the Holy Spirit were at work throughout the event,” recalled West District Lay Leader Sue Grimm Mattox. “There were tears of joy and sorrow, hugs and smiles. Yes, the energy was overflowing! I will continue to encourage laity from the West District to participate in Laity Academy.”

The planning team, including some new members, chose a new location and offered several new courses and instructors.
The 12 courses fit within the Christ Servant Ministry (CSM) categories, including the Basic Course and Leading, Caring and Speaking advanced courses.

The Basic Course (”The Journey Begins”), taught by Judy Ehninger, is a first step in the Christ Servant Ministry program for those who are ready to explore God’s call in their lives and may even be interested in becoming a Certified Lay Minister.

About 1,400 people have taken the Basic Course in Eastern PA over the years, according to Ehninger, and about 550 are Christ Servant Ministers currently. There are 71 trained Certified Lay Ministers in the conference, 52 of them active, and 14 are serving as pastors.

Other courses included:

  • Speaking 1 and 2, which teaches preaching skills.
  • The Speaking 1 course was also offered in Spanish (Hablando 1) for the first time ever.
  • Emotional Intelligence: A Blueprint for Your Spiritual Path.
  • Timeless Spiritual Gifts in a 21st Century Context
  • Let Your Light So Shine: Maximize your Message and Ministry through Media and Marketing
  • Making Every Prayer Count: Moving from ME to WE,
  • Disability Ministry and the Body of Christ
  • Pastoral Care: What to Say to People Who Are Hurting
  • Addiction Recovery through the Power of Prayer
  • Restorative Justice: Creating Stations of Hope

Two nights of diverse sounds of praise music entertained and inspired attendees. Threefold Blessing, a local vocal ensemble, opened the event on Friday night. The family and friends were close-knit members of the Praise and Worship Team at historic Alice Focht Memorial UMC in Birdsboro, which closed in April 2017. Despite their disappointment, they have continued to share their ministry in song and testimony.

The popular, local Caribbean Steel Rhythms enthused the gathering with their upbeat, celebrative musical sound on Saturday night. They played a variety of hymns and other uplifting songs, inspiring listeners to join in dance and even form a conga line that snaked around the sanctuary. They rehearse and play monthly at Christ UMC in Easton, where they were formed in 2007.

The Academy announced that their Walter King Award, given annually to a dedicated Christ Servant Minister, would go to Jean Kershaw of New Vision UMC in Philadelphia.

And students from the Speaking 2 class joined their instructor, the Rev. Lloyd Speer, and Quakertown UMC’s praise band in leading worship, participating in a dramatic sermon and serving Communion on Sunday morning before the gathering adjourned.

Be sure to view more photos in our conference Flickr page’s Academy for Laity photo album.