By John W. Coleman
After the COVID-19 pandemic led to a mostly quiet summer with few events, the Eastern PA Conference calendar recovered and has bustled since September, creating an online university of sorts on Zoom. With a full curriculum of leadership courses, the Connectional Ministries Office and its various ministry groups have been offering workshops and dialogues extending from half-day to one- and two-day sessions.
Addressing racism and diversity, emotional intelligence, domestic violence, baptism, church bullies, and even how to celebrate Christmas in the midst of COVID, the online educational events have been diverse and well-attended, the topics and speakers compelling, and CEUs (Continuing Education Units) available for all those who need them.
A half-day Dismantling Racism Level II workshop kicked off the recent spate of courses with a focus on “The Experience and Impact of Racism on People of Asian Ancestry” Sept. 19. The Conference’s Healing the Wounds of Racism Core Team welcomed The Rev. Doris Kung Chi Pui Dalton, a Deacon and former conference staff member now working in the New York Conference, to present a fascinating personal and cultural history and lead an enlightening discussion.
Connectional Ministries’ annual Leadership Launch training event for church and conference leaders followed Oct. 3, with the theme “Bearing Fruitful Ministry.” The Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Connectional Ministries Director, led the half-day session, urging leaders to focus on mission over meetings, on real accomplishments over mere activities, on starting small but thinking big, and on seeing adaptive, transformational opportunities as being both/and rather than either/or.
A lively Oct. 5 conversation on celebrating “Christmas amid COVID” spurred encouraging ideas, questions and answers about working through safety protocols to still celebrate Advent and Christmas in “COVID-tide.” Those ideas ranged from drive-through live nativity scenes complete with angels, shepherds and livestock, to outdoor Christmas Eve services using FM radio transmitters; from porch visits and caroling with instruments in lieu of voices, to Advent wreath-making parties for children offered on Zoom.
The Domestic Violence Committee’s annual seminar, Oct. 9-10, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, focused this year on how children and families are impacted “When Home Hurts.” Pastors, counselors, advocates and survivors all shared wisdom from experience about this destructive social crisis that hurts individuals, families and communities, and how churches can best respond to protect human life and promote healthy families. Partnership between churches and community DV services providers was emphasized, especially the importance of counseling referrals by pastors who are often the first to learn of abuse.
A frank discussion on “Racism, Trauma and Transformation,” Oct. 17, attended by people of color and led by minister and trauma therapist Dr. Dandridge Collins, delved into historical, psychological and sociological aspects of the often indelible pain, fear, anger and other emotions felt by those who have borne the brunt of racial prejudice and mistreatment. But participants—including some clergy serving in cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments—also shared beliefs, experiences and strategies that have helped them find transformation out of their post-traumatic stress from racist encounters.
Like the Racial Trauma dialogue, the annual Emotional Intelligence and Diversity workshop, held Oct. 31 and Nov. 7, was also sponsored by the Conference Commission on Religion and Race (CORR). Through lecture, readings, dialogue and exercises, participants gained a poignant awareness of hidden feelings, ignorance and beliefs about race, culture, privilege and internalized oppression, and how to develop a mature understanding of themselves and others in these contexts.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know or even how to ask,” said one attendee. “But I thank the Conference for offering programs like this because there are things I’m learning that I need to know.”
The Conference Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) presented a video-conference on “Race-Based Mascots” Nov. 8 about the abuse of Native American culture and identities through offensive stereotypes used for sports team names and symbols.
And the Congregational Development Team (CDT) has increased its educational offerings this fall and into next year with weekly book study groups and several learning events. That included a helpful discussion on “How to Recognize and Deal with Church Bullies” Nov. 11, led by the Rev. David Woolverton, who addresses that high-interest topic in a new book to be published in July 2021.
CDT will also sponsor “Digital Ministry for the Rest of Us,” Dec. 5. The session will cover: understanding the Foundations of Church Technology; the pros and cons of using livestreamed or recorded programs; and “DIY (Do It Yourself) Livestreaming & Recording.”
The Urban Commission sponsored “Fight for Floyd and Beyond,” Oct. 29, its second meeting of conference members concerned about racial injustice in policing. (See related story.)
And the Prison Ministries and Restorative Justice Team led a three-session Healing Communities Training, Oct. 21, 24 and 28, for the West Chester Mission Link, designed to help churches become “stations of hope” for “those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.”
Beyond Connectional Ministries, the Board of Ordained Ministry sponsored a two-session Zoom workshop titled “By Water and the Spirit: Theology & Practice of Baptism” Nov. 7 and 21. BOOM also sponsored a Basic Sexual Ethics training Oct. 17 and 24, addressing relational, ethical boundaries for persons in ministry. Another session is scheduled for Jan. 30, 2021.
The Order of Deacons explored “The Role of Anger in the Work of Justice and Love,” Nov. 7. And the Order of Elders learned about using digital media strategically for ministry, Nov.18, from Phil Cooke, a Hollywood producer and expert in creating and marketing Christian media.
Looking ahead, the Conference’s Women in Professional Ministry (WIP) and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) will jointly sponsor a talk on Zoom with author Susan Beaumont about “Leading in a Liminal Season,” Dec. 8. The discussion may explore Beaumont’s new book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season. The event will be part of WIP’s annual Advent gathering with Bishop Peggy Johnson.
Finally, CORR will help folks enjoy the Christmas break from “EPA Conference University” with some fun and festivities—on Zoom, of course—when it sponsors its Celebrating our Cultures at Christmas event, Dec. 13, a virtual follow-up to its 2019 outdoor picnic. The multicultural program will feature music, poetry, storytelling, a slideshow of nativities from around the world, and more.
The Conference’s 2021 calendar is already starting to fill with more learning events, once “school” is back in session. That includes:
The Rev. Leah Schade, a Lutheran clergywoman (ELCA) and author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide, will lead us in a timely, interactive discussion on “Discovering our ‘Theologies of Conflict’: Finding Our Way in the Post-Election Season and Beyond” Jan. 12, on Zoom. “As we prepare for the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, we need to seek ways to bridge divides in our churches and communities,” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm.
And Bishop Peggy Johnson will host a 2021 Transfiguration Day Apart Zoom webinar Feb. 10 for all clergy and Certified Lay Ministers serving congregations. The Rev. Deborah Appler, who teaches at Moravian Theological Seminary will speak on “The Transfiguration from an Old Testament Perspective.”
And the annual Tools for Ministry will happen March 13 offering courses online and conference-wide, rather than onsite in individual districts