Annual Conference 2017 will ‘Rise Up’ in prayer

By John W. Coleman

Prayer will fill the hall and the agenda of the 2017 Eastern PA Annual Conference, June 15-17, in its return to the familiar Expo Center (100 Station Avenue, Oaks, PA). During worship, witnessing and even its work on resolutions and other conference business matters, the plenary body will emphasize timely prayer throughout its session, guided by its elevating theme “Rise up and Pray!”

Preachers, teachers, musicians, liturgists, prayer guides and prayer stations around the meeting hall will all center the gathering in the practice and power of prayer. That centering will receive particular attention when special guest the Rev. Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room Chapel in Nashville since 1999, offers a Friday teaching session on prayer.

Albin, a SLI (Spiritual Leadership, Inc.) coach and former pastor and seminary professor, has a passion for “helping individuals, teams, small groups and organizations become mature, vital, world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ.” He oversees the Upper Room’s Spiritual Formation Academy and denominational prayer efforts. “When we pray,” he says, “we can be convinced that God will hear and respond.”

Three bishops will preach during the 231st session of the Eastern PA Conference, including two familiar voices and a new voice on the Northeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops. Resident Bishop Peggy Johnson will preach for the Opening Worship and Eucharist Service on Thursday afternoon.

New Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling, who leads the neighboring Baltimore-Washington Conference, will preach for the Ordination Service on Friday night. Formerly a pastor and district superintendent in the New England Conference, she was elected a bishop at the 2016 Jurisdictional Conference.

Bishop Peter Weaver, retired, who led our Philadelphia Episcopal Area from 1996 to 2004, will preach during the Memorial Service on Saturday morning.

Special offerings will support scholarships and Methodist Services (formerly the Methodist Home for Children). The other agenda highlights—clergy and laity sessions, conference ministry reports, the 2018 conference budget, resolutions and holy conferencing—will all occur during the two-day session under the covering of prayer.

Indeed, worship and celebrations during this year’s Annual Conference will be structured around several key prayers of the Bible, according to the Rev. Candy LaBar. She co-chairs the worship team along with the Rev. Monica Guepet again this year, and both credit the many volunteers for the creative, inspirational celebrations in store for conference-goers.

The opening Communion service will remember Jesus’ anxious hour in the Garden of Gethsemane when he first prays for relief from his imminent trial and crucifixion by appealing to God to “Let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39) but then surrenders obediently to God’s will.

The service will also invoke the moments that follow when Jesus finds his unreliable disciples asleep and tells them to “Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” (Luke 22:46, KJV), a command that inspires the conference theme. Again, this year, worshipers will be seated around tables and will serve the gluten-free Communion elements to one another, a popular feature of last year’s Annual Conference.

“Rise Up for Generations” will be the theme for celebration of new clergy retirees, who again, will pass the mantle of service to new class of ordained and commissioned clergy. That always-moving ceremony will recall Jesus’ prayer of protection, in John 17, for his disciples and all those who would follow in their paths of ministry.

“Rise Up and Lead” will be the theme for the Ordination Service, when 13 clergy are ordained and commissioned. That service will lift up newly crowned King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9). “It’s an important prayer for all leaders,” said LeBar.

The conference will witness the ordination of six elders and three deacons, and the commissioning of four provisional elders. Also, four licensed local pastors will be approved for full-time service.

“Rise Up in Glory” will be the watchword for the Memorial Service to honor newly deceased clergy and clergy spouses. The ceremony fittingly will invoke venerable Simeon’s answered prayer that he would not perish until he held the Christ child in his arms. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word,” prayed the devout leader, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (Luke 2:29-31).

“Every year we offer a gift to the families of the deceased,” said LeBar. “This year we’ll offer them seed paper cut into the shape of doves.” The biodegradable paper embedded with seeds can be planted in soil to grow and yield wildflowers. “Their growth will symbolize eternal life and the lasting fruits of these lives offered in ministry.” Smaller pieces of seed paper will also be available at tables for conference members to take home and plant.