The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference is one of the more racially and ethnically diverse conferences in The United Methodist Church. We have nine Latino/Hispanic churches, four Korean-American churches and about 25 African American churches, including at least one with a significant African membership. There are also many persons of color who attend, belong to or even serve as pastors of predominantly white congregations. Such diversity can be seen among participants in many district and conference-wide events and among various leadership boards and committees.
The EPA Conference has a number of administrative, programmatic and constituency groups and initiatives that serve to enhance our racial-ethnic diversity in ministry and to address critical concerns that affect our diversity. These include the annual Changing Racism workshops, our Commission on Religion and Race, the Task Force for Cross-Cultural/Cross-Racial Appointments, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Black United Methodist Preachers, the Latino Plan and Ministries Commission, the Committee on Native American Ministries, and the Korean Clergy Association of Philadelphia and Delaware.
These groups and others strive to nudge and shape The United Methodist Church in Eastern PA into becoming the multi-racial-ethnic, beloved Christian community, the Kingdom of God, that many of us envision and expect. For example, the Latino Commission is training non-Latino churches to effectively evangelize and welcome their Latino neighbors whose presence is growing in many communities.
The Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) sponsors events and offers experiences to teach conference members about Native American heritage, culture and concerns. The CONAM will also help us participate in the denomination-wide observance of Acts of Repentance in reconciliation for the historic harm and injustices committed against Native people.
Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) led a team that presented an approved resolution to the 2014 Annual Conference calling for observance of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the former segregated Delaware Annual Conference in 1864 and the 50th anniversary of its vote to dissolve in 1964. The first of many racially segregated conferences in early Methodism, it resulted from oppressed African Americans’ yearning for dignity and self-determination through black leadership and more control of their own churches and ecclesial affairs. Members and churches of the Delaware Conference located in the Eastern Pa. area officially merged with the white Philadelphia Conference in 1965. Eventually, the racially integrated EPA Conference was formed, as part of the desegregation and merger that produced The United Methodist Church in 1968.
Our many racial-ethnic churches and ministries, despite the struggles that some endure, are vital and valued contributors and change-agents, both in their communities and in the life of our conference. Indeed, our goal as a conference is to become not only more racially and culturally diverse but also more inclusive in our leadership, our perspectives, our experiences and our overall life together.