BY JOHN W. COLEMAN
At five conference-wide district meetings, Sept. 23 to Oct. 2*, Bishop Peggy Johnson will urge churches to engage their communities in outreach for Christ, as the thematic focus of our 2020 Annual Conference. She will also discuss General Conference 2020 legislative concerns.
Beginning with a devotion based on Acts 1:7-8, 12-14, the episcopal leader will emphasize the spiritual undergirding of intentional discipleship for effective evangelism and the need to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and fortitude. But she will also stress the practical significance of a congregation knowing the many assets, needs, ministry opportunities and challenges in its community.
That knowledge requires attending community meetings and events, and learning about local leaders, resources, institutions, businesses, services, and potential partners, including other faith communities.
And just as important as learning about the community is giving the community ways to learn about your church—primarily through promoted events, outreach activities, conversations and online media—including your church’s website and use of social media.
“There is no end to the possibilities when you get out into the community,” Bishop Johnson will say, according to her PowerPoint script.** She will recommend block parties, free food distribution, education for homeowners, doing home repairs for neighbors, outdoor prayer and worship, tutoring and volunteering in the community, and other forms of community engagement.
All present fertile opportunities to foster relationships and share the love of Christ in words and deeds, which is the heart of evangelism.
Bishop Johnson will then briefly preview expectations and concerns for the likely history-making General Conference in 2020, to be held May 5-15, in Minneapolis, Minn. “And Know that I Am God,” taken from Psalm 46, is the chosen General Conference theme.
The 864 delegates will include Eastern PA’s eight (plus reserves). Fifty-six percent will be from the U.S., and 44 percent will be from other countries in Europe, Africa and the Philippines.
The bishop will share thoughts on key issues to be addressed, including:
Eastern PA’s delegation will hold four listening sessions to hear concerns and update members on GC2020 plans and issues:
Bishop Johnson will hold two review sessions after General Conference for the Philadelphia Episcopal Area: May 23, 10 AM to 12 PM, at West Lawn UMC in Reading; and May 30, 10 AM to 12 PM, at Aldersgate UMC in Wilmington, Del.
The quadrennial Northeastern Jurisdiction (NEJ) Conference will be held July 13-17, at the Delta Hotel in Hunt Valley, Maryland, near Baltimore. Eastern PA will have 16 delegates at that conference, which convenes primarily to elect bishops and other jurisdictional leaders.
Two NEJ bishops, Sudarshana Devadhar and Jeremiah Park, plan to retire in 2020. But it is uncertain how many bishops will be elected and where they will be assigned. It depends on whether there will be changes made in the number of bishops and the number and alignment of episcopal areas.
At the District Meetings, members will also get a preview of highlights planned for the 2020 Annual Conference, June 18-20, at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, Oaks, PA.
The conference’s Latino/Hispanic members will lead the opening worship celebration. The Rev. Junius Dotson, who heads the UMC’s Discipleship Ministries agency, will keynote the annual session, speaking on its theme, community outreach and evangelism. He led his agency to create the popular multi-media campaign “See All the People,” which promotes that same emphasis to foster church relevance and revitalization.
Bishop Mark Webb, leader of the Upper New York Area, will preach at the Ordination Service. And Bishop Peggy Johnson will preach for the Memorial Service. The annual conference likely will bid farewell to her, as her maximum 12-year term as bishop ends.
Yet, while “the future is uncertain, the love of God is never ending,” Bishop Johnson will say to end her illustrative presentation at the District Meetings. “The ministry of the church of Jesus Christ goes on!”
All District meetings will begin at 6:30 pm. The Bishop will be speaking about GC 2020 and evangelism in the community.
Conference Leadership Committee members also urged members to use and help promote the online Leadership and Service Interest Form so that more lay and clergy members will identify their interest in serving on elected conference committees, councils, teams and other bodies. New members of those groups are urgently being sought to serve in the next, 2020-2024 quadrennium.
Bishop Johnson and Leadership Committee or Connectional Ministries staff members will address the East and South districts next Monday and Tuesday. Conference Pension and Health Benefits Director Jo Fielding is also attending the annual district meetings to share information from her office and respond to questions.