By John W. Coleman
Beyond their open hearts, United Methodists strive all year long to fill their open minds with new wisdom, much of it focused on finding new ways to open their doors to new people.
The Eastern PA Conference, its six districts and some of its teaching churches together sponsor learning events throughout the year, welcoming anyone to come and learn how to make disciples and help change the world. There are the perennial training events, some of them required of clergy and staff, including ones in Sexual Ethics, Changing Racism and Safe Sanctuaries.
Then there are events to introduce or advance knowledge in various ministry arenas and situations–like the Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Appointments open forum offered by the Central District and annual retreats held by Deacons and by the Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members.
There is the fertile Planting Seeds for Ministry training offered by Hopewell UMC each November, and other upcoming opportunities, like the Radical Discipleship training by Bill Easum’s group, which Thorndale UMC will host Oct. 8.
Moreover, there are always district-sponsored clergy breakfasts and luncheons with guest speakers. In April the East District welcomed back former conference staffer Yvette Davis to teach proposal writing strategies. In May the Southwest and Northeast districts each welcomed leadership coach Ken Willard to teach time management skills. And the Southeast District will host church visionary Reggie Neal when he headlines Hopewell UMC’s next Planting Seeds for Ministry event Oct. 22.
The Northwest District recently invested in intensive learning events with cutting-edge thinkers for clergy and laity. David Oliver led a two-part Soul Care workshop on tending the spiritual health of both pastors and congregations. And sociologist Josh Packard shared from his published, in-depth study, Church Refugees: People Done with Church But Not Their Faith.
Annual Tools for Ministry training events, hosted by each district for church leaders, mostly rely on local talent to provide high-quality instruction. But the Southwest District’s Tools session in March featured the Rev. Mike Mather, pastor of Broadway UMC in Indianapolis, who taught on the “Death and Resurrection of a Church,” about revitalizing the church through an asset-based community development approach.
For three years now, the conference has sponsored in March its Faith-Sharing Seminar to encourage evangelism, choosing this year an unconventional but dynamic, forward-thinking guest presenter in the Rev. Romal Tune. And the conference Congregational Development Office annually offers seminars on using Mission InSite demographics and lifestyle research strategically to help churches grow and become more relevant by addressing real needs and interests in their communities.
Congregational Development has now launched values-and relationship-based Spiritual Leadership (SLI) training for the Cabinet and for leaders of large-membership churches, who meet at New Hanover UMC. Alternative training for medium and smaller-size is being considered.
Meanwhile, this summer will again feature two annual, multi-day learning events intended for everyone, but primarily for laity: Mission u, July 22-23, sponsored by UM Women; and the Academy for Laity, August 13-14, sponsored by the Board of Laity. Both will again take place at The Inn at Reading.
And just in time for kids to return to school, the conference Children’s Ministries Team will sponsor “Connecting Children with Christ,” Sept. 10, at West Lawn UMC in Reading. They invite all leaders, teachers, staff and volunteers who work with children to come learn and share best practices and great ideas for nurturing children’s faith. Keynote speaker will be Melanie C. Gordon, Director of Ministry with Children at Discipleship Ministries.
Mike Mather at Tools for Ministry photo by the Rev. Jim Goudie
All other photos by John Coleman