It wasn’t exactly March Madness, but several districts celebrated their best attendance ever at Tools for Ministry leadership training events in March, enjoying a more temperate climate than the cold, often-snowy January gatherings of the past. High attendance produced some full classrooms and generous offerings for mission, along with rich learning experiences offered by an array of interesting, well-taught courses.
“It was our best attended Tools event ever!” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Southeast District Superintendent, citing the 216 leaders enrolled in 17 workshops at West Grove UMC on March 5.
There seemed to be something for everyone there–for attendees who wanted to start a Celebrate Recovery Ministry or a Lifetree Cafe, manage safe sanctuaries or church cemeteries, foster Restorative Justice or healing ministries, write grant applications or experience the depths of prayer, take on homelessness or learn about the hopes, needs and concerns of youth, young adults or Native American peoples. The Tools academy offered all those options and more, in addition to basic instruction for church trustees and Staff Parish Relations Committee leaders.
The district also collected $947.32 in its offering to support its MPASA Mission Project II with a goal to furnish and equip the MPASA Clinic near Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Southwest District’s Tools for Ministry session convened 155 people also on March 5, at Lititz UMC. They welcomed as keynote speaker the Rev. Mike Mather, the inspirational pastor of Broadway UMC in Indianapolis, a once vibrant downtown church that is revitalizing after years of decline. He spoke and led a workshop on “Death and Resurrection of a Church,” revealing the process and impact of doing church and community ministry differently, of making the most of people’s human assets rather than focusing on their deficits.
Other workshop topics explored: ministries with children, youth and seniors; church hospitality; cultural diversity and alternative forms of worship; restorative justice; and Safe Sanctuaries. Plus, there was more basic, nuts and bolts training for leaders of Church Councils, Finance Committees and other church bodies, and a collegial Lay Leaders Round Table.
In addition, attendees raised $916 to be split between the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria campaign and LUMINA, the district’s collaborative local missions project that serves residents of low-income communities.
At the East District’s Tools for Ministry academy an “all-time record” of 160 attendees met March 5 at Bensalem UMC, and their hunger for knowledge kept school in session until 3 PM.
The two most popular, eye-opening workshops were the basic training for Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees and Grant Writing, both lasting four hours. The Rev. Yvette Davis, the conference’s former Director of Urban and Global Ministries and now a Local Pastor in the Susquehanna Conference, returned to teach the Grant Writing workshop. Other workshops included “Beyond Hospitality,” “Effective Visitation: The Older Adult and You,” “Electronic/Social/Multi-Media,” “Learning Things in a Good Way: The Journey Toward Healing with Native Americans in our Communities,” “Partnering with the Local Schools,” “Stewardship/Finance (Including Electronic Giving,” “The Nuts and Bolts of Being a Church Trustee,” and “Youth Ministries: Does Yours Speak to Your Youth?”
In their evaluations many students shared their surprise at what they learned about keys to successful proposal writing, accessing helpful resources, promoting stewardship to the congregation and helping pastors to serve not only the church but also its surrounding community.
The Central District’s Tools for Ministry session on March 5, at Cedarville UMC, greeted more than 140 laypeople with the joyful music of the host church’s praise band and treated them to a light breakfast prepared by its food ministry. The plenary praise and worship time featured an inspiring talk by Lawrence Lee, a leader at Mother Zoar UMC in Philadelphia (and chair of the conference BMCR caucus), who spoke on the theme, “Serving Effectively in God’s World.”
The district offering collected $654 for its 2015-2016 mission project, supporting Mid-Town Parish UMC’s efforts to establish a new place of worship and ministry in its economically challenged Philadelphia community.
Attendees spread throughout the building to attend 13 workshops. Popular choices included “Trends in American Church and Culture,” a study of the book Autopsy of a Deceased Church, “Personal Prayer Pathways,” Evangelism and Faith Sharing, “What Is Social Media and Why Should My Church Use It?” and Technology in Worship.
The usual menu of Tools classes on church leadership roles will be offered instead at the Central District’s Intensive Training Day on Saturday, April 2, at St. Matthew’s UMC of Valley Forge. Those classes will provide an in-depth look at the responsibilities of Lay Leaders, Trustees, Church Council members, and committees on Staff/Parish Relations, Finance and Nominations. Additional topics will include the demographics planning resource MissionInSite, Safe Sanctuary policies, and Identifying Resources for Ministry, which includes principles of effectively seeking grants for ministry projects.
The Northeast District Tools for Ministry met March 12, also until 3 PM, at Grace UMC in Pen Argyl. With a focus on Ministry with the Poor, one of the denomination’s four mission foci, the morning plenary session featured a Poverty Simulation exercise, where many participants played unfamiliar roles as low-income family members struggling to navigate and overcome the rigors and restraints of poverty in America.
A stressful, kinetic hour of simulation represented one month in the life of a poor family that struggles to survive while its members seek needed social services, education, gainful employment, medical care and solutions to inevitable crises. The Pocono Alliance facilitated the eye-opening simulation exercise and an extensive debriefing session with help from graduates of its Getting Ahead program that provides resources, training and networking for people trying to escape poverty.
Remarkably, the poverty focus continued in afternoon workshops that helped leaders view worship, staff-pastor relations, trustees, finance, and ministries with children and youth–all in the context of doing Ministry with the Poor.
The Northwest District, which sponsored a two-part Soul Care workshop for pastors and laity March 4-5, will hold its Tools for Ministry session on Saturday morning, April 30, at Ono UMC. Workshops will feature “The Rise of the Nones” (persons with no church affiliation) and “Final Generation or Founding Generation? The Choice Is Ours,” a class taught by District Superintendent Gary Nicholson that will help leaders perceive the imminent fate of their churches and whether “Vital Mergers” to create new congregations might be the solution for survival.
“Asking the Right Questions” will examine essential aspects of a church’s identity, mission outlook and relationships. “Are We Meeting the Challenge” will assess progress in improving the status and role of women in the church.
Other planned workshops will teach:
By John Coleman, Eastern PA Conference Communications Director
Communications thanks our District Superintendents and District Resource Assistants for providing information for this article.