The Eastern PA Conference’s long-awaited celebration of the former Delaware Annual Conference will commence this Saturday, May 30, at 9:45 AM, with the upbeat processional anthem “We’re Marching to Zion” and the traditional annual conference opening hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive,” played by Theodore Thomas on Tindley Temple UMC’s majestic organ and sung by a congregation of hundreds.
What follows will animate the theme “A Century of Commitment, A Legacy of Love,” as celebration and worship leader Dr. Mary White leads us through a two-hour program of music, dance, poetry, powerful oratory, and historical remembrances and videos. Three bishops will address the congregation, two of them once youth in the old Delaware Conference.
Bishop Ernest Lyght (right), who lives in New Jersey, will speak on “A Century of Commitment,” sharing from the history he is currently writing about the former, all-African American conference–from its genesis in 1864 to its dissolution through mergers in 1965. His father was a clergy leader in the conference, which included churches and clergy from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the tip of Virginia, up through Delaware, Eastern PA, New Jersey and New York.
Bishop Gregory Palmer of the Ohio West Area was born in Philadelphia to a father and mother who raised in him the church during the days of the old Delaware Conference, and from which he grew into a leader of The United Methodist Church that formed in 1968. His father, the Rev. Herbert Palmer, will proudly introduce him as our featured preacher on Saturday.
Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson will offer greetings and announce the occasion, along with Tindley Temple’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Johnson, who came up in this historic church that hosted the last session of the Delaware Conference in 1965. (Its original predecessor congregation at John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church also hosted the first session of the conference in 1864.)
Former Delaware Conference members in attendance will be recognized. Scripture will be read, and brief videos about the “Birth of the Delaware Conference” and about Tindley Temple and its nearby mother church, Mother African Zoar UMC, will be viewed. The Rev. David Briddell, a retired clergyman, author and church communications executive who now lives in Berlin, Md., the hometown of Charles A. Tindley, will evoke memories of “A Legacy of Love,” as he shares recollections of being a Delaware Conference youth and adult leader and pastor of Philadelphia’s Emmanuel Methodist Church in the early 1960s.
Other remembrances will be shared on video from several interviewed lay members of the former conference. One of them, the Rev. Leon Frisby, now 93, later became an ordained pastor after merger. He and the Rev. Herbert Palmer, who turned 90 in March, are regarded as the most senior African American elders in the Eastern PA Conference, and both are still occasionally active in limited ministry.
But sounds of the present and future will also fill the vast sanctuary through the voices of young spoken-word poet Anthony Washington of New Vision UMC in Philadelphia, the Zoar Youth Choir, and Sounds of Joy, another large, dynamic youth choir led by Tindley Temple music director Theodore Thomas. Tindley Temple’s choir will also sing, as well as a choir from Grace UMC Philadelphia, which will also offer its popular, energetic young dance troupe, Grace in Motion, to perform.
The Rev. Tracy Ann Duncan and Theodore Thomas will both render piano solos. And two noted church historians and Philadelphia area clergy, the Rev. Joseph DiPaolo and the Rev. Fred Day, will bring official greetings on behalf of the Conference and General Commissions on Archives and History, respectively. Day became General Secretary of the General Commission last July, after serving as pastor of historic St. George’s UMC, the mother-church of Zoar and other congregations.
The congregation will sing an appropriate recessional hymn, “We’ve Come this Far by Faith.” Then a reception in the downstairs fellowship hall will follow the worship celebration to keep the party going, so to speak, offering free-flowing fellowship amid light, savory fare and celebrative music.
Relatives of the late William C. Jason will be on hand to sell copies of his new, posthumously published comprehensive history of the Delaware Annual Conference, titled The Methodist Trail. They will sell the two-volume book for a discount price of $35.
Planning for the worship celebration and reception involved conference staff, Dr. Mary White, the Rev. Robert Johnson and Tindley Temple staff and members, the Rev. David W. Brown (Deacon), and Lawrence Lee and the Rev. Herbert Coe, respectively conference leaders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and Black United Methodist Pastors. Additional help came from members of Mother African Zoar and other historic black churches that will participate.
The program will be video recorded and then edited and made available for viewing during the summer. A brief history of the former Delaware Conference is also available on our Website .
Featured photo: Bishop Gregory Palmer celebrates the 90th birthday of his father, the Rev. Herbert Palmer, regarded as an elder statesman in the Eastern PA Conference, March 22, at Mother African Zoar UMC. Both will participate in the Delaware Conference Celebration.