Annual Conference to hear voices of change, welcome, diversity

By John W. Coleman

The registration deadline for Annual Conference attendees and exhibitors is Friday, May 18. 

The 2018 Eastern PA Annual Conference, June 14-16, will fill its stage with diverse sights and sounds, voices and visions, styles of worship and witnessing that together demonstrate the conference’s vision statement, adopted in 2017, “United in Christ, Committed to Transformation.”

The conference’s 232nd Annual Session, returning to the familiar Expo Center in Oaks, Pa., will affirm who we are and who we are becoming—too slowly for some—as Christ’s beloved community that welcomes all. Indeed, the conference’s prophetic theme, “We Will All Be Changed,” taken from 1 Corinthians 15:51, may be a timely one for a denomination that may soon undergo dramatic changes in structure and doctrine.

Teaching session on ‘Holy Currencies’

Anchoring the busy agenda will be a Friday morning teaching session where the Rev. Eric Law will challenge members’ to change radically their churches’ perspectives and protocols to create “a holistic model for stewardship and congregational vitality.” By understanding, developing and using “holy currencies,” Dr. Law says, churches and ministry groups can “create more missional and sustainable ministries in their communities.” They can move beyond just the stewardship and sharing of time, talent, and treasure, to involve other valuable “currencies” as well, including “Gracious Leadership, Relationship, Truth, and Wellness.”

View the short video where the Rev. Eric Law discusses his Holy Currencies workshop (2013).

Law, an Episcopalian priest, founded and directs the Kaleidoscope Institute in Los Angeles, Calif., which provided anti-racism training for the Eastern PA Conference Cabinet in 2016. He spoke at the 2012 Eastern PA Annual Conference.

For over two decades, he has authored books, led trainings and produced resources to help denominations in the U.S. and Canada, including several UMC annual conferences, create transformative experiences to foster and embrace greater racial and cultural diversity and inclusiveness. That goal remains an ongoing one for our conference and others.

Worship, celebrations to highlight conference themes

Annual Conference worship services and celebrations will highlight variations on the conference theme, offering diverse voices and visions on how to become changed disciples of Jesus Christ. A deacon and two bishops will preach the traditional three services during the session.

The Rev. Justin Hancock, an ordained deacon of the North Texas Conference, will preach the opening worship service (“We Will All Be Present”) on Thursday, June 14, before the session is called to order and Holy Conferencing begins. Hancock, who has Cerebral Palsy, may be the first deacon and the first person with a significant disability to preach at Annual Conference, in recent memory. He will preach on welcoming all to the table.

A former pastor to young adults, Hancock, with his wife Lisa Hancock, leads The Julian Way, a ministry of the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF) in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area that focuses on developing intentional Christian communities with and for people with disabilities. Their goal is “to develop empowered communities of discipleship in which disability is not viewed as a hindrance to be overcome but is embraced as expressions of God’s wonderful creativity and vast diversity at work.”

Photo of Justin & Lisa Hancock by Ryan Kinlck.

Through The Julian Way, (named for 14th Century mystic Julian of Norwich) the MWF’s vision is “a fully accessible church, physically and theologically,” and an intentional community where “disabled and nondisabled persons work side-by-side, discovering and cultivating the gifts that God has given to each person.” The Julian Way also advocates externally for persons with disabilities by promoting accessible healthcare and other needed public policies.

Justin Hancock is preparing to publish his new book: The Julian Way: A Theology of Fullness for All God’s People; and Lisa is working on a PhD degree with a focus on “a theology of disability.” Hear them both talk about their lives, challenges and discoveries in a Reports from the Spiritual Frontier podcast program: Lisa and Justin Hancock, “The Spiritual Lives of a Differently Abled Couple.”

Bishop Cynthia Moore-KoiKoi, who leads the Pittsburgh Episcopal Area (Western PA Conference), will preach the Service of Ordination (“We Will All Be Sent”) on Friday evening. A school psychologist for 17 years, then a pastor and later a superintendent in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, she was one of two African American clergywomen elected to the episcopacy at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2016, a historic achievement.

Bishop Moore-Koikoi has said she sees herself as a bridge-builder, confident about what she believes but respecting others who might believe differently. She provided pivotal leadership in Baltimore in 2015 during the civil unrest incited by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. She helped organize UM churches to minister to children and families whose schools were closed while meeting other needs. Her vision is of a diverse church that embraces justice and the life-saving love of Christ.

Learn more about her in the Western PA Conference video (2016) Meet Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi.

And Presiding Bishop Peggy Johnson, now in her 10th year as episcopal leader, will preach during the Memorial Service (“We Will All Be Changed”) on Saturday morning before the session resumes. With the title “Die Like you are Living,” she will preach about resurrection living now and in the future in heaven.

As always, inspirational music will fill the conference hall during worship and during gathering moments as members take their seats. The Rev. Eric Carr, pastor of Midtown Parish and Wharton-Wesley UM churches in Philadelphia, will lead a band and praise singers onstage during worship and gathering times. The Rev. Lydia Munoz, pastor of UM Church of the Open Door and a frequent conference music leader, will perform with him.

Carr, formerly music director at Eastwick UMC Philadelphia, will also conduct the Philadelphia United Methodist Mass Choir during the ordination service. He helped form the popular concert choir, now with 45 singers from 10 Philadelphia churches, in late 2015.

Rev. Eric Carr and members of the Phila. UM Mass Choir performing at Hopewell UMC’s 2017 Planting Seeds for Ministry Growth event.

Lima UMC’s praise band will perform gathering music on Friday afternoon; and the New Life Praise Dancers, of New Life UMC Drexel Hill, will perform liturgical dance on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon.

To enhance creativity in the opening worship service, the Revs. Monica Guepet and Candy LaBar, worship coordinators, are seeking contributed visual images—including original artwork and photographs—from members to help illustrate verses of the hymn “For Everyone Born.”

“We welcome scans of artwork created by children and/or by adults,” they wrote in a widely emailed appeal. “We also welcome digital photographs (if you feature people in your photos, please seek their permission before submitting). For copyright reasons, please do not include any images that are not your own (i.e.: images that you find through internet searches).” All submissions should be sent to Lindsey Cotman at lcotman@epaumc.org by May 31.

Four Annual Conference offerings

Four Annual Conference offerings will be received to help fund undergraduate and seminary scholarships, disaster recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, and supporting youth ministries in the conference. Members are asked to bring to the session donations from their churches to the conference’s Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again hurricane recovery aid campaign.

Also, for the first time offering donations may be made to the conference directly via text message. The text codes are live now and can be used to make contributions before, during, and after the Annual Conference. Text 610-463-0244 with the desired offering code:

  1. For Board of Ordained Ministry Scholarships to support ministerial education, use code Ord.
  2. For Eastern PA Conference Scholarships to support undergraduate students, use code Sch.
  3. For Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again hurricane recovery aid, use code PR.
  4. For supporting our Youth & Young Adults, use code YYA.
Dialogue on UMC’s ‘Way Forward’

Many of the registered conference members, expected to number over 900, will likely arrive with proposals from the UMC Council of Bishops’ “Commission on a Way Forward” on their minds. And they will get a chance to dialogue on the first night about the commission’s three proposals, including the One Church Model that the bishops will recommend to the Special Called General Conference in February 2019.

The one-hour session will follow the opening worship service and some initial conference business matters. Bishop Peggy Johnson will briefly review the council’s deliberations and recommendations. Then representatives of the conservative Evangelical Connection and the progressive Reconciling Ministries Network will speak briefly, followed by about 15 minutes of table talk among conference members to share their own ideas, hopes and concerns.

“I hope these church leaders will also bring the discussion back home to their local churches for more conversations and sharing of thoughts and hearts,” said Bishop Johnson. “As we talk together in gracious Holy Conferencing, barriers can come down and bridges of understanding can be built.”

Resolutions, reports, recognitions

Members representing their local churches will also engage in Holy Conferencing to decide other conference concerns. Of 27 resolutions to be presented, some may evoke debate before members cast their votes, while others are usually administrative formalities.

Major conference boards and councils—including Trustees, Finance and Administration, Pension and Health Benefits, and Laity—will present various reports and resolutions seeking members’ approval. Meanwhile, the Office of Connectional Ministries’ will use a dramatic television news reporting format to stir audience interest and response to the annual Celebration of Conference Ministries presentation.

The session body will also be introduced to new Conference Treasurer James Brown, hired in September 2017, and to new Conference Chancellor Matthew Morley, who succeeded longtime Conference Legal Counsel Rob Shoemaker in January. Also, introduced will be Albright College’s new president, Jacqueline Fetrow, who took office in 2017.

Other Conference guests will be: the Rev. Tom Lank, Northeastern Jurisdiction UM Volunteers in Mission Coordinator; the Rev. Dai Morgan, Coordinator of United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania; and Julie Dwyer, a staff member from UM Communications.

Finally, the conference will recognize members with several special awards for exemplary evangelism, discipleship and urban ministry efforts. Two Denman Evangelism Awards will be presented to nominated clergy and lay members. The One Matters Award will be presented to a church that has grown its membership dramatically after having a year of no increase. And the Kim Jefferson Urban Ministry Award will be presented to churches and an institution that have made remarkable strides in serving and spreading Christ’s gospel in their urban communities.

See the 2018 Annual Conference public agenda and other information on our Annual Conference webpage.  Also see other pre-Annual Conference stories to be published soon, that will cover:

  • Changes in cost and amenities, plus information about experiencing Annual Conference through video livestreaming, social media and our new event mobile app.
  • Plans for the Service of Ordination and Commissioning, including a list of participants and a rare commissioning of two new Global Ministries missionaries.
  • Plans for monitoring the conference’s hospitality, diversity and inclusiveness.
  • The welcome return of the UM Men’s free distribution of donated bags of gleaned potatoes to share with churches and communities.

The registration deadline for Annual Conference attendees and exhibitors is Friday, May 18.  Register Online.

See also: Annual Conference 2018 to vote on 27 resolutions