Annual Conference will spotlight stewardship and 2016

The agenda and schedule for our 2015 Annual Conference is set…well, not in stone, but close enough. The roughly 3-day annual session, from Thursday to Saturday, May 14-16, will convene at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa.

Online and mail-in advance registration for all members are starting to pick up with a deadline of April 27. Clergy and Laity will gather for their separate annual sessions Thursday morning at 10 AM. The opening worship will follow at 1:15 PM, with the Rev. Susan Henry Crowe, General Secretary of the Board of Church and Society, preaching perspectives on environmental stewardship.

The conference will officially open at 3 PM with an organizing actions, adoption of the agenda and a chance for members to train and practice on using the new electronic voting devices, instituted primarily to vote for nominees to the 2016 General Conference. Those nominees, seeking to be delegates to the denomination’s worldwide legislative assembly in Portland, Ore., will be presented and voted on before the opening session adjourns and again thereafter until the full slate of delegates is approved.

The conference will elect four lay and four clergy delegates to General Conference. Those elected will also represent us at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in July 2016 (which the Eastern PA Conference will host), along with four more lay and four more clergy delegates. Conference members will also elect six reserve delegates–three laity and three clergy. (If you’re tallying totals, that’s eight to General Conference, 16 to Jurisdictional Conference and six reserves. Each total is divided evenly between clergy and laity.)

Financial stewardship guru Clif Christopher will deliver his keynote address Thursday at 6:30 PM. For those who haven’t heard him or need to hear him again, he will expound with wit and wisdom on the basics of Christian financial stewardship, emphasizing tithing as the foundation, and offer practical advice that church leaders can take home and share with their congregations. Always in high demand as a speaker and consultant, Christopher was invited by Bishop Peggy Johnson, as all guest speakers are, to share his stewardship expertise for such a time as this.

But he will also precede the conference session with a free one-hour talk on Wednesday evening at 6:30 at the Oaks Expo Center. Christopher will use that time to offer helpful perspectives and field questions on how to survive and thrive in ministry in today’s financially challenging environment. He will draw insights from his popular book Rich Church, Poor Church. Like the entire Annual Conference, this pre-event may also be viewable online via live-streamed video, according to Jack Brooks, CEO of the Mid-Atlantic UM Foundation, which is sponsoring Christopher’s visit.

Friday morning will feature a lively Celebration of Ministry report presented by the Office of Connectional Ministries and involving leaders and participants of various program ministries across the conference. Lay Ministry reports will follow, delivered by Conference Lay Leader David Koch, UM Men’s President Ross Brightwell and UM Women’s President Barbara Drake.

The mantle of active clergy service will be passed Friday afternoon when new clergy retirees are recognized for their years of dedicated active service, and then John Wesley’s Historic Questions are posed by the Board or Ordained Ministry to new candidates for ordination. New proposed changes in Pension and Health Benefits policies for 2016 will be explained by that board’s leadership and then voted on Saturday after members have had a chance to ponder them carefully.

Friday evening’s annual Service of Ordination, always a highlight of the conference, will feature the inspired preaching of Bishop James Swanson of the Mississippi Conference. The highpoint of the service, however, will likely be the ordination of new full Elders and Deacons and the commissioning of provisional Elders and Deacons, witnessed by their proud families, friends and mentors.

Saturday’s session will begin with the Act of Repentance Toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous People service, a special presentation sponsored by the Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM) and mandated for every annual conference by the denomination’s 2012 General Conference. Awards for dynamic leadership in evangelism and urban ministry will follow, honoring recipients of the Harry Denman and Kim Jefferson awards, respectively.  New Certified Lay Ministers will also be recognized, followed by a lively presentation by the Conference Council on Youth Ministry.

The gathering will next turn solemn in reverence and reflection when it closes out Saturday morning with the annual Memorial Service to remember clergy and clergy spouses who have passed onto their eternal reward during the past conference year. Bishop Peggy Johnson will preach a message to honor the memory of their service and sacrifices.

Holy Conferencing–a Christian form of legislative discussion and debate–will continue Saturday afternoon and evening, as is has throughout the three days until all resolutions are acted upon and all 2016 General and Jurisdictional conference delegates are elected. Dismissal is scheduled to happen by 9 PM at the latest, although, no doubt, most if not all members will yearn for adjournment to come much sooner.

There will be other important actions and announcements throughout the conference:

  • a Cabinet report that will include recent church closures and new clergy appointments among other matters;
  • a report from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration that includes a recommended change in 2016 apportioned giving rates;
  • greetings from the presidents of conference-related Lebanon Valley College, Moravian College and Albright College;
  • a third offering to support the conference’s Congo Partnership mission involvement;
  • two offerings to support higher education and seminary scholarships;
  • a 150th anniversary celebration of Simpson House, the oldest Methodist-affiliated retirement institution;
  • monitoring reports to assess inclusiveness in conference debates, actions and arrangements; and
  • morning prayers and Holy Communion at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday, offered by the Society of St. Luke.

Here is a printable agenda. For updates visit our Website’s Annual Conference page. A reminder: the 2016 Annual Conference session will take place in Lancaster, Pa.

By John W. Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director

CHILD CARE AT ANNUAL CONFERENCE

If you require childcare at annual conference, please contact Amy Botti at
610-666-1442 or abotti@epaumc.org for more information.