District Conferences to celebrate past and future with hope

By John W. Coleman

When Eastern PA Conference members gather in their six District Conferences on Sunday afternoon, May 21, it may be bittersweet for some. Members will celebrate their past accomplishments and their outlook for the future. But also they will bid farewell to that past and anticipate a future with new district configurations, leadership groups and church relationships, as six districts become four starting July 1.

“Celebrating Our Past as We Look Forward to Our Future” is the theme for the Central District’s celebration at Berwyn UMC (140 Waterloo Road, Berwyn), following their brief business meeting. Indeed, they will celebrate not only the end of their district, but also the departure of their superintendent, the Rev. Anita Powell, as she ends her six-year tenure on the Cabinet and becomes the conference’s Director of Connectional Ministries in July.

The business meeting, as in other districts, will include election of Equalizing Lay Delegates to Annual Conference and reviews of new United Methodist constitutional amendments and Annual Conference resolutions needing to be debated and voted on at the June session. Districts will also recognize churches that fulfilled their connectional giving obligations last year and clergy and churches who are receiving new pastoral appointments.

Then the Central District will honor Powell’s ministry while recognizing District Resource Assistants who have served with her and also pastors and deacons who served the churches she oversaw—including active, merged, reorganized and closed churches.

The celebration will also spotlight district committees, teams and mission conneXions, and missional themes the district emphasized each year. And it will celebrate various mission projects for which the district raised nearly $300,000 since 2012, including Imagine No Malaria, the Haiti Hot Lunch Program, the Midtown Parish UMC building project and currently, Clean Water Initiatives.

District members will begin their conference by singing the venerable hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”—and apt choice—and then end their celebration by singing another timely hymn: “This is a Day of New Beginnings.”

The Northwest District Conference, from 3 to 5 PM, will also include a celebration. Members will hold their final district session at historic First UMC Pottsville (330 W Market St, Pottsville), the site of previous Annual Conferences and District Conferences. In addition to regular business, they will hear reflections and reminiscences by: the Rev. J. Dennis Williams, a former superintendent; Lay Leader Debra Forney; and the Rev. Douglas Smith, pastor of Gravel Hill UMC in Palmyra for the past 23 years, the longest serving pastor currently on the district.

The Rev. Alicia Julia-Stanley will lead worship, just hours after her church, Covenant UMC in Lebanon, will have celebrated its bicentennial, with Bishop Peggy Johnson preaching.

A special thanksgiving litany will use the Ecclesiastes 3 scripture, “For everything there is a season…” and end with this statement of unity and vision:

For a time, the Northwest District was organized together to serve God’s people. We are thankful for the candidates who were nurtured in this district, for the churches who have been in connection together, for the many ways the mission of the church was lived out through the laity and clergy of the Northwest District. Now we trust God as we enter into a new season. May God continue to bless our ministry as we join with our brothers and sisters in the new districts.

The Northeast District will celebrate its dozen years during its final conference, at Covenant UMC in Bath (2715 Mountain View Drive, Bath in Moore Township), from 3 to 5:30 PM. Members will worship with “not one but two bands”: Caribbean Steel Rhythms and Free Spirit. The latter group, comprising musically gifted clergy, has played at many district events.

Members will also receive an offering for camperships, hear a Mission ConneXion highlights presentation, handle pre-Annual Conference business, and recognize new retirees and clergy to be ordained, commissioned or licensed as local pastors.

The Southeast District Conference will be called to order to manage business matters at Lima UMC (209. N. Middletown Road, Lima) at 3 PM. But in addition, members will welcome back the Rev. Jonathan Baker and his wife, nurse Donna Baker, both Congo Partnership missionaries. Together, they will celebrate and report updates on the district’s generous support for the Mpasa Pediatric Clinic, part of a United Methodist-affiliated, mission-supported medical center in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We have successfully completed Phases I and II of the project,” reports the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, District Superintendent. “The beautiful and functional building is a reality, and it is furnished and equipped with brand new medical equipment.”

The district is now raising funds for Phase III of the project, to provide solar power and add a much-needed blood bank.

The Southwest District Conference will take place at Faith UMC in Manheim Township (1290 Fruitville Pike, Lititz). This district, like others, will recognize retiring and soon to be ordained clergy, along with new licensed local pastors. But it will also welcome a homecoming visit by one clergy member whom God called back to her native homeland, Sierra Leone, last December to start building a children’s village to care for the many children orphaned by the disease Ebola.

The district conference will hear the Rev. Dorcas Kamanda, formerly pastor of Newtown UMC in Columbia, Pa., speak briefly on her mission efforts, progress and needs in Sierra Leone. So far, thanks to donors, the district has packed three barrels of medical supplies and clothing to be shipped there, while also collecting over $800 for shipping costs and extra supplies.

The East District Conference will congregate at Huntingdon Valley UMC (3470 Huntingdon Pike, Huntingdon Valley) at 4 PM. In addition to the aforementioned common business matters, the district will hear a report on success of the “One Church at a Time” collaborative mission focus on helping to restore the facilities of St. James UMC  in Philadelphia (above) to support transformational ministry in its community.

District conferences will also present to their members the conference’s new vision and mission statements: United in Christ, Committed to Transformation: Creating Disciples, Celebrating Diversity, Connecting Communities, Committing to Love and Justice.”