Faith Alive UMC in Bowmanstown (Palmerton), and the Northeast District, hosted on Jan. 6 the second in a series of district prayer services called to gather Eastern PA Conference members in collective prayer for the 2016 General Conference. The service occurred on Epiphany Day and also on a day when all churches in the conference were asked to engage members in one day of round-the-clock prayer as part of a separate 131-day prayer vigil requested by the United Methodist Council of Bishops on behalf of General Conference.
The quadrennial legislative meeting of 864 United Methodists from around the world will convene in Portland, Ore., May 10-20, to grapple with what may be some of the most conflictual debates and challenging decisions in the denomination’s 232-year history.
Three dozen faithful “prayer warriors”—about a third of them from other churches–came to Faith Alive’s weekly Wednesday night prayer service. But after the usual list of personal and community concerns the church regularly receives for intercessory orisons, their attention turned to a more expansive list focused primarily on the people, policies and profound deliberations over doctrine, law and structure that may well determine the future of this global church.
The Rev. Richard Wilcock, Faith Alive’s pastor, led the modest, hour-long service with calm conviction in the provocative power of prayer. He used a “tweaked” list of suggested prayers provided by the Rev. Tim Kriebel, who had called for the conference-side, district-based, six-month prayer vigil. Kriebel’s church, Bethlehem UMC in Thornton, hosted the first prayer service Dec. 6 on behalf of the Southeast District.
Wilcock guided congregants through a four-page list of prayer concerns related to the General Conference, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July, and the Eastern PA Annual Conference in May.
“We have a reputation around here as a church that prays,” he said in a later interview. “We get lots of prayer requests from all over by phone, through our Facebook page and our Prayer and Visitation teams. We take this very seriously.”
The service began with the timeless hymn “How Great Thou Art,” played by musician and Director of Christian Education and Growth Dan Propson; and it ended with “To God Be the Glory.”
“It was all very inspirational,” recalled Judy Ehninger, a General Conference delegate and member of Asbury UMC in Allentown. “To know they were praying for me, for all of us, was humbling and uplifting. The continuity and blend of spoken words and outstanding music was beautifully done, and no one seemed to get restless.”
Bishop Peggy Johnson and the Rev. Irving Cotto, Northeast District Superintendent, both attended the service.
“January 6 was our conference’s day to pray continuously on behalf of the denomination,” said the bishop, “and other conferences around the globe will immerse themselves in prayer on their chosen days leading up to General Conference. But I urge all our congregations to keep on praying vigorously—especially but not solely for our delegates–until all the deliberations, policy-making and jurisdictional electing of bishops are done and we can embark on another four years of calling and equipping disciples of Jesus Christ and participating in God’s transforming work in the world.
“General Conference will happen during our celebration of the Day of Pentecost on May 15,” she added. “It is my belief that this Spirit of God that united and anointed the early apostles in all their diversity will do the same for us as we devote ourselves now to this kind of prevailing prayer.”
By John W. Coleman
Eastern PA Conference Communications Director
Main photo by Renée DeHaven
The remaining four district-sponsored Prayer Post events to offer collective prayers for General Conference will be at: