District conferences lift up ministries, mission and milestones

Inspirational music and messages, prayers and praise reports, clergy comings and goings, important information-sharing and generous offerings for mission—these and other highlights filled the busy agendas of four district conferences for two hours on Sunday, May 6.

From about 3:00 to 5:00 PM, nearly 700 clergy and lay members congregated simultaneously in four churches spread across the broad expanse of the Eastern PA Conference. They congratulated, welcomed, bid farewell to and prayed for transitioning leaders. And while lifting up area ministries of special concern, they also gave nearly $6,000 in total to mission.

North District

More than 120 North District members convened at Faith Alive UMC in Palmerton. The popular Free Spirit Band led worship, encouraging attendees to hold hands in unity while singing “Bind Us Together.”  The Rev. Irving Cotto, District Superintendent, inspired the crowd by preaching on “Shout for Joy” and reported on his February visit to Puerto Rico and the hurricane recovery efforts going on there.

Then Rev. Ron Schane, Director of Pocono Plateau Camp & Retreat Center, updated members on retreats, facilities and plans for summer camp.  A total of $876.78 was received in the offering, to be divided between scholarships for children whose families cannot pay the full summer camp fee and ongoing recovery and rehabilitation efforts from last summer’s hurricanes Harvey and Maria that struck hardest in Texas, Louisiana and Puerto Rico.

District Resource Assistant Sheila Milz, who leaves her position June 30 due to relocation of the district office, presented a financial update on these North District mission projects. The district’s goal for 2017-2018 is to raise $100,000 for hurricane relief and $5,000 for camperships. With this latest offering, the current totals are $68,588.77 and $3,255.22, respectively. The campaign continues until June 22, 2018. (For more information, please email the District Office at nesuper@rcn.com.)

Dr. Cotto recognized longtime pastor the Rev. Jim Brashear as a new clergy retiree, the three District Lay Leaders–Patricia Wilson, Debra Forney and Rob Ensinger–Lay Supply Pastors, Certified Lay Ministers, Christ Servant Ministers, and the Rev. H. Joe Tyson for his service as assisting elder to the North District this past year.

West District

With up to 170 in attendance, the West District Conference based its agenda on the four Annual Conference themes. The Rev. Marcia Lincoln-Heinz and her Manheim church’s choir, the Salem (UMC) Singers, opened with the subtheme “We Will All Be Present” messaged in music that included the hymn “On Eagles Wings.”

The Rev. Cheryl Zegers, of Mt. Zion UMC Peach Bottom, preached a moving message on the main theme: “We Will All Be Changed.” The district recognized seven retiring and re-retiring pastors, three clergy to be ordained, one to be commissioned toward elder and two toward deacon, plus several new local pastors and certified lay ministers.

Nearly $1,500 was given to the Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again recovery assistance fund, as the assembly sang “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” symbolizing the Annual Conference subtheme “We Will All Be Connected.”

The Rev. Joe DiPaolo, of First UMC Lancaster, and BK Chung, District Superintendent, briefly offered glimpses of the UMC’s “Way Forward” proposals, followed by a brief questions and answers session. District Lay Leader Susan Grimm Mattox reported on the upcoming events and thanked both the district staff and Lay Resource Team members who helped with Tools for Ministry and District Conference arrangements.

Attendees were treated to a slide presentation set to music depicting special ministries, activities and events at district churches. And the final hymn, “Go Make of All Disciples,” evoked the final Annual Conference subtheme, “We Will All Be Sent.”

South District

Nearly 200 members of the South District gathered at First UMC Phoenixville, where the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, District Superintendent, offered a passionate message about love related to the UMC’s search for a Way Forward. Members showed their love in action by giving $2,770 to support the district’s 2018 mission project, “Giving Sight to the Blind.”

Other highlights included inspirational music from the host church’s bell choir and the West Philadelphia Mission Connection Choir. The Rev. Eric Carr, who directed the latter group, will also lead music at Annual Conference.

The Rev. Sherry Lantz, DCOM Co-Chair, John Paylor, Co-Lay Leader, and the Rev. Jeffrey Raffauf, Jeremiah 29 Team Chair, were thanked for their outstanding recent work with district teams. The body prayed for the Revs. Mercedes Case and Diana Esposito, as they prepare for ordination. And six retiring clergy, two new Certified Lay Ministers and Deaconess Barbara Drake were all affirmed for their faithful achievements.

East District

The East District gathered at Lighthouse Fellowship UMC Glenside, which provided hospitality, music from its choir and a warm welcome from the Rev. Cindy Brubaker, pastor. Members heard reports on the work of their active Mission Connections from the Revs. Gary Nicholson, strategic team leader. The Rev. Tracy Bass, District Superintendent introduced the four urban UM churches that would be the district’s local mission focus in 2018: Haven-Peniel, MidtownParish and St. James—all African American churches in Philadelphia—and Haws Avenue, a multiracial church in Norristown.

District members gave $819 to the Helping Puerto Rico Rise Again recovery assistance fund. Conference Board of Pension & Health Benefits Executive Director Jo Fielding introduced them to the HealthFlex health insurance plan the conference will propose changing to in 2019. And they recognized and prayed for two retiring pastors, six clergy to be commissioned and 11 pastors joining, leaving or changing appointments within the district.

All District Conference attendees received packets with resolutions for Annual Conference and voted for equalizing lay members to participate with clergy in the upcoming Annual Conference. On June 14-16 they will gather in session at the Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks once again, where, in the spirit of e pluribis unum (our U.S. national motto), the many will become one.  

Thanks to District Resource Assistants Kristin Reifsnyder, Sheila Milz, Rev. Lin George and Michael Yancey for providing information for this article. Thanks to the Rev. James Mundell for photos of the South District Conference.