Mission u: Learning, living in ‘right relationship’

By John W. Coleman

“Learning Together for the Transformation of the World.” Nearly a hundred registered Eastern PA Conference members of all ages will both explore and exemplify that theme when they gather at the United Methodist Women’s (UMW) annual Mission u event next weekend, July 21-22. That gathering will happen once again at The Inn at Reading in Wyomissing, Pa.

They will examine Living in Covenantal Community (Spiritual Growth Study), Missionary Conferences (Geographical Study), and Climate Justice (Issue Study) as their key study topics and perhaps discover the single thread that runs through all three: living in right relationship with others. “Are we living in right relationship with God,” teachers will ask, “right relationship with our neighbor and right relationship with Creation?”

The purpose of Mission u is to help church members—lay and clergy, women and men, youth and children:

  • to understand and interpret the global mission of the church and the responsibility of Christians within that mission;
  • to learn about the work of UMW; and
  • to benefit from an integrated program of mission education, Christian social action, and program planning.

The expected attendance will include a half-dozen each of youth and children in classes designed for them. Both groups will study Missionary Conferences of the UMC, which are the Red Bird Missionary Conference in Kentucky, the Alaska Missionary Conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

“We are delighted to have a children’s class this year after not having one for several years,” said Mission u Dean Barbara Drake. Assistant Dean Jean Twardzik will oversee Friday’s program, while Drake returns from a weeklong UM Deaconess training class in Oklahoma City.

Bishop Peggy Johnson will bring greetings during Friday’s opening welcome and worship plenary at 6 PM, before attendees disperse into their four class sessions, which end Saturday afternoon at 4 PM. A second worship service will follow lunch on Saturday and will begin with a Native American hymn from the Muscogee tribe. Both worship services will feature creative liturgies, music and powerful storytelling.

A new program highlight this year will be optional, pre-event fellowship activities on Friday, from 2 to 4 PM, prior to dinner. Early-comers can choose from a menu of mission and social action projects, videos to view, and visits to the prayer room and book room.

The mission project is to organize donated children’s books and school supplies the UMW is collecting to distribute to under-resourced communities. The video will feature a mission endeavor to make sleeping mats for homeless persons.

And the social action focus will offer information about the process and injustice of political gerrymandering, in which electoral districts are manipulated every 10 years after a census is taken, often into absurd configurations, to ensure a controlling political party an electoral advantage for continued dominance. The Annual Conference in June approved a resolution opposing gerrymandering and calling for fair measures to end it before the next census in 2020.

UMW members will gather in their new North, South, East and West district groupings from 5 to 6 PM, offering a chance for members to meet one another in their new configurations. The UMW’s six districts will not coincide with the conference’s four new districts until January 2018, due to the way their financial pledge operations are organized.

Teachers of the topical studies will be:

Climate Justice: John Hill, head of the General Board of Church and Society’s advocacy and organizing work, as well as its economic and environmental justice program focus.

Spiritual Growth—Living as a Covenant Community: The Rev. Miguel Arenas and Judy Kennedy. Arenas, a pastor in the Susquehanna Conference, served as a missionary in Uruguay and worked for the Methodist Church in his native Chile, coordinating their ministries with youth, laity, music and liturgy. He is editor of the Chilean church’s current hymnal and led the Student Christian Movement there, as well as the Mission u Latin American Study in 2015.

Kennedy, a former jurisdictional and conference UMW president, is a retreat leader who has taught Schools of Christian Mission around the UM connection. She is a UMW district and unit leader, a church lay leader and a case manager for an interfaith human services agency.

Geographic Study—Missionary Conferences of the UMC: Glory Dharmaraj and Diane Miller. Dr. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., a national and regional Mission u study leader for 25 years, is a retired director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the global UMW organization. She directed the UM Seminar Program on National and International Affairs at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York and has conducted research, taught courses and authored several books, while also speaking to major conferences on Christian mission, interfaith affairs, and media and gender justice.

Miller has taught geography at the University of Pittsburgh and led mission trips to Russia, Paraguay, Israel/Palestine, Zimbabwe, Haiti and other countries. An award-winning, public school teacher, she was a Latin America Study leader at our Mission u in 2015 and serves as the Western PA Conference’s UMW President and Volunteers in Mission Coordinator.

Youth Class on Missionary Conferences: Georgeanne Toner is Scottsville UMC’s (Feasterville, Pa.) Lay Leader and UMW President. She has been teaching children and adults in Sunday school for over 30 years and been a counselor at Camp Innabah’s Praise and Worship Camp for 16 years. She led a program for 40 teenage girls in 2014, and has taught Mission u children’s and youth classes for several years.

Children’s Study on Missionary Conferences: Joy Frazier is a longtime leader of the Eastern PA Conference UMW and leader at Scottsville UMC. She co-leads the UMW’s annual Girls on the Go teen girls camp at Gretna Glen.

Patrice Matthews, an active Christ Servant Minister and mission leader at Scottsville UMC, will also assist in teaching.