South District, this has been a busy month!
In the midst of the disruptions of Covid-19, the confusion about changing protocols, plans for moving back into our church buildings, strategies for improving and updating virtual or hybrid worship, the 236th session of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference began. The Annual Conference was virtual again this year, though this is still a new undertaking for many conferences across the denomination. This past year has been fragile at best, and the struggles and difficulties of COVID-19 have turned our norms upside down. Yet, the faithful clergy and laity of the Eastern PA Conference courageously entered the realm of virtual reality to come together for Holy Conferencing and to expedite the business of the conference. This year was special, as it was the last Annual Conference session under the leadership of Bishop Peggy A. Johnson. She and her husband, the Reverend Michael Johnson, will retire in August. Though we are joyful for their much-deserved retirement, we miss them even before their official departure. Rev. Michael Johnson has pastored many churches in EPA, the most recent being Radnor UMC, and he is known as an exceptional liturgy writer.
With the theme “Come to the Water,” the opening worship guest preacher was the Reverend Dolimar Lebron Malave, pastor of First Spanish UMC in New York City, also known as “The People’s Church.” Our worship was spiritual, dynamic and passionate, and that can be difficult to achieve in a virtual setting. The Reverend Jacqueline King, who is no stranger in our conference, was the Laity Session keynoter leading with authenticity and knowledge. The Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglas Powe, Jr. taught us on the topic “Church Revitalization through Community Outreach,” exactly what we needed. As COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, our attention should be turning even more toward new and vital ways to evangelize and reach out to our community and beyond. His teaching was clear and easy to understand and follow. His books are well-read by many in this conference.
As we consider how the Holy Spirit moves in our conference, let us not forget both the Memorial Service and the Service of Ordination and Commissioning, in which participants, virtual and in person, were filled with God’s grace and presence. Bishop Johnson celebrated Holy Communion during the Memorial Service and preached using St. John 14:1-6 as her text, encouraging us not to let our hearts be troubled. We participated in a time of sweet remembrance of our clergy and clergy spouses who have been called to their eternal reward. And we gave thanks and praise to God for those churches that have served God and humanity but have been discontinued. Bishop Mark Webb, leader of the Upper New York Episcopal Area, preached from the story of Martha and Mary in St. Luke 10:38-42, teaching us the importance of our position in Christ. The Reverend Karen Bartkowski of the South District, serving Lima UMC part time and Maris Grove Senior Living Community, was commissioned as an elder in the UMC. We are proud of Karen and praying for God’s continued empowerment in her life. We congratulate all those who were ordained and commissioned throughout the Conference this year. May their steps be ordered by the Lord.
We anticipate September 1, 2021 when we will welcome our new episcopal leader, Bishop John R. Schol. Bishop Schol was raised in the Olney section of Philadelphia and strengthened in the faith in the churches of EPA. He pastored in the Frankford section of the city as well as West Chester, PA. Bishop Schol is coming back home!
This is truly a time of excitement and transition! Let us look forward with great expectation for the new and great things God is preparing us to accomplish in His name and for His glory!
“Behold, I will do a new thing; Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness.” (NKJV)
DS Evelyn Kent Clark