Preaching1 Class

35th Laity Academy: ‘Spreading God’s Word through Action’

By John W. Coleman

Some see 35 years of age as the prime of life. If that is true then the 35th Eastern PA Conference Academy for Laity, August 3-5, is in its prime.  With a new dean, a new location and a few new courses and instructors, this annual learning adventure for lay members (and for clergy who also attend) will sharpen minds eager to learn much about doing ministry in new ways.

But Sunday, July 29, is the final registration deadline. So if you want to attend, Register Online Now, so you won’t miss it.

New Dean of the Academy, Rick Wrisley, aided by a cadre of new and experienced event planners, will welcome attendees to the spacious Quakertown UMC (1875 Freier Rd, Quakertown, PA), a new site, for a weekend of intensive courses—totally 10 hours of instruction in each.

“This is our conference’s second largest gathering of the year, exceeded only by Annual Conference,” said Dean Wrisley, who expects close to 200 attendees. “I’m confident that all will have an enjoyable educational experience.”

This year’s theme is “Pass It On: Spreading God’s Word through Action,” inspired by 2 Timothy 2:2. It signifies the academy as an opportunity to connect with fellow Christians, “passing on everything that we can about our faith” and enabling others to do the same. This is “servant leadership that emphasizes relationships.”

Bishop Peggy Johnson notes in her welcome letter that the past three years’ themes “have woven a beautiful progression from “Follow the Star, Make it Happen” to  “Embrace the Journey, Step Up, Step Out”  to  “Pass it On, Spread God’s Word through Action.”

“I pray that this time together will encourage you as you reflect on the tangible ways you share your faith,” she writes to attendees, “and will motivate you to see new and exciting ways to use your gifts to build up the Kingdom.”

See 2018 Laity Academy Course Descriptions to learn about the 12 courses being offered. Each fits within the Christ Servant Ministry (CSM) categories, including the Basic Course and Leading, Caring and Speaking courses. And there is a great selection of popular, returning courses and instructors, along with a few new courses and new faces among the faculty.

The Basic Course (”The Journey Begins”) is a first step in the Christ Servant Ministry program for those who are ready to explore God’s call in their lives. It provides a foundational understanding of God’s presence in the meaning and mission of the church, and insight into how and where God-given gifts can be applied. This course is the first step towards further development as a Certified Lay Speaker or Certified Lay Minister. (There are prerequisites to registering for this course.) Instructor: Judy Ehninger, CLM.

Speaking 1: Preaching to be Heard is the basic course for those who wish to preach or enhance their speaking abilities. This class examines the focus of preaching and the development of sermons, offering opportunities for participants to develop and present “mini” sermons to the class and receive supportive feedback. For CSM participants, this course is recognized as an advanced course in speaking. Successful completion of Speaking 1 is one of the requirements to receive Certified Lay Speaker credentials. Instructor: The Rev Harold Burkett.

The Preaching to be Heard course will also be offered in Spanish as Hablando 1: Predicando para ser Escuchado. Instructor: Kevin Kresge.

Speaking 2: Preaching by Number, also an advanced course for CSM participants, is designed for those who have already learned how to craft an individual sermon. It will look at the overall process of preaching, how to coordinate preaching topics with other aspects of ministry, and how to ensure that the preaching program has a purpose. Instructor:  Rev. Lloyd F. Speer III.

Emotional Intelligence: A Blueprint for Your Spiritual Path can help you get ‘unstuck’ on your spiritual journey. Are you frustrated at times by not understanding how to use your faith? Do you struggle in your relationships with God, your friends or family?   This course can offer a roadmap toward living your faith. It teaches how to control and express one’s emotions, and to how to navigate interpersonal relationships wisely and empathetically, starting with oneself. The wisdom gained may improve communication, teamwork, conflict management and lead to peak performances in worship planning,  youth and young adult ministries, and other areas of ministry. Instructor: Dave Piltz, CLM.

Timeless Spiritual Gifts in a 21st Century Context can help every believer in Jesus Christ to recognize and access extraordinary abilities given by the Holy Spirit to ordinary folks, through God’s grace, to be utilized in church and community ministries in many places.  This class will explore the Bible’s teachings about ancient, unchanging gifts and how they can be used and strengthened to improve lives and advance the Kingdom of God, while deepening our relationships with God. A Spiritual Gifts Test will be made available in advance. And the class will foster relationships because spiritual gifts, like faith, are best practiced in community. Instructor: the Rev. Missy Fuller.

Let Your Light So Shine: Maximize your Message and Ministry through Media and Marketing is a new but much-anticipated course on using today’s online communication tools—websites, social media, e-mail, video, etc.—to put your church’s digital lamp on its lampstand (Matthew 5:15-16).  It will cover ways to mobilize community awareness and response to your church’s message and ministries through media and marketing. The course will explore development and strategic uses of marketing plans, Web ministry, storytelling, social media, video, and more tools and tactics and where churches can find help and online resources from United Methodist Communications (UMCom) and elsewhere. Instructors: John Haney, UMCom’s Senior Training Specialist, assisted by John Coleman, Conference Communications Director.

Making Every Prayer Count:  Moving from ME to WE, an always popular course, is designed to be a powerful resource aimed at making your personal prayer life more effective and thus, equipping you to impact your church and community. The course will explore our God-given identity, intimacy with Jesus, forgiveness, and how our belief system influences every aspect of our lives.   Participants will learn how to develop a church prayer ministry and simple but effective prayer models that can call others into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.  This course is full of laughter, hand’s-on activation, Q&A, and God surprises. Instructor:  Ruth Hendrickson of Washington Crossing UMC’s prayer ministry.


Disability Ministry and the Body of Christ will explore information and insights about disabilities, including theological. ethical and biblical perspectives, and how to be in active ministry with people with disabilities. The course will prepared attendees to use what they learn in ministries that involve people with disabilities as full participants in inclusive beloved communities. Instructor: Deaconess Barbara Skarbowski

Pastoral Care: What to Say to People Who Are Hurting  will teach pastoral care ministry to help equip uncertain lay visitors who search for the right words to say, especially when Illness causes physical, emotional and spiritual crises. The class will teach how to offer a reassuring presence when visiting hospitals, nursing homes and homebound members. Instructor: Laurie Lewis, CSM

Addiction Recovery through the Power of Prayer will explore addiction to alcohol, opioids and other drugs as a disease that runs rampant in our society today. This course looks at the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of addiction that can destroy the body, mind, soul, and relationships. We will examine how a prayercentered support system can affect treatments and their successes and failures, and how the ‘Power of Prayer’ can help deliver addicts. Professional intervention, 12-step programs, and rehabilitation facilities will be discussed, as well as co-dependency, dual diagnoses, societal and behavioral aspects of addictions and chemical dependency, and helpful resources available outside the church. Instructor: Jon Kirkbride Sr., CLM.

Restorative Justice: Creating Stations of Hope  will teach core, biblically-based values, including respect, openness, interconnectedness and particularity that can help hold people accountable, including  returning citizens, while finding resolution agreeable to all parties to repair harm committed. This new Laity Academy course will focus on what people can do to develop restorative justice initiatives when they return home.  Instructors: Linda Van Til and Scott Johnson of the conference Prison Ministry & Restorative Justice Team.

As usual, there will be dinner, entertainment and an award recognition on Saturday night. Caribbean Steel Rhythms, comprising musicians from the Caribbean and the Lehigh Valley, will enliven the gathering with their upbeat musical sound. The only known steel drum band in the area, they were originally the Valley Steel Drum Ensemble, organized in 2007 at Christ UMC in Easton.

The talented band has performed varied music genres at popular venues including Musikfest, the Crayola Factory, Allentown Symphony Hall and Berks Jazzfest, as well as street fairs, schools and even the Eastern PA Annual Conference.

Another Saturday evening highlight will the Academy’s Walter King Award, given to a dedicated Christ Servant Minister in memory of King, who was a very active lay leader in the conference. The Academy planning team selected an awardee from solicited nominations and will reveal that person’s name at the ceremony.

And Threefold Blessing, a local singing group, will perform on Friday night. The family and friends were close-knit members of the Praise and Worship Team at historic Alice Focht Memorial UMC in Birdsboro, which closed in April 2017.


The Academy for Laity Planning Team
Mike Bacsick, Aubrey Bates, Brenda Bauer, Brenda Binns, Betsy Booker, Sandy Borders, Eileen Boyle, Teresa Burgess, Sabrina Daluisio, Aneita Duglas, Donna deVillers, Cheryl Faust, Sue Kiefner, Jon Kirkbride, Sr., Dave Koch, Nancy Langerfeld , John Paylor, Kris Purcell , Joe Skarbowski, Anna Taylor, Frances Whittington, Diana Wrisley, Rick Wrisley.

Main photo: The Rev Harold Burkett (right) helps Gary Daum receive feedback to his mini-sermon during the Preaching to be Heard course at the 2017 Laity Academy. All photos by John Coleman.