May 19, 2022 | By John W. Coleman

“Now is the time” may be the clarion call heard at West Chester UMC on Friday at 8:30 AM, when the Eastern PA Conference convenes its 236th annual session. Indeed, the session’s theme is “Now,” drawn from Romans 13:11b: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now, our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

About 60 conference members, staff and volunteers will gather onsite to participate on Friday and Saturday, May 20-21. The conference proceedings will engage registered, voting clergy and lay members in video-conferencing via Zoom. Non-members can view it via video-livestream on the conference’s YouTube channel, either live or later as a recorded program.  Watch the livestream via YouTube.

Visit our Annual Conference web page to see the full agenda.

The session officially begins with Bishop John Schol’s episcopal address at 8:30 AM. But preceding that will be the Order of Saint Luke’s Communion service at 7 AM and a countdown with recorded music videos from three churches at 8:05 AM. Those videos feature praise bands from Lima UMC and New Hanover UMC, and a lively dance troupe named Grace in Motion, from Grace UMC in Philadelphia.

The main musical treat will happen at 8:20 AM, just before the session begins. It features an uplifting new recorded song specially commissioned by the EPA’s Commission on Religion and Race. “Now Is the Time” calls for and celebrates a new awakening to racial/cultural awareness, justice and reconciliation.

An ensemble sings “Now Is the Time,” led by the Rev. Lydia Munoz (left).

Now Is the Time’

It is composed and performed by a “Creative Witness Team” of CORR members and friends. They even composed a dramatic, spoken-word companion poem. Look for a future story about “Now Is the Time” and the friends who composed it together. The Rev. Lydia Munoz, who performs on the recording, is music director for this year’s conference session.

Other planned highlights of the conference to be livestreamed include Holy Conferencing over proposed legislation, reports and presentations, the Service of Commissioning and Ordination of clergy, and the Memorial Service to remember deceased clergy and clergy spouses.

William Thompson

Conference members will receive a Connectional Ministries Leadership Report, view recorded presentations of awards given annually to exemplary leaders and churches, and elect a new Conference Lay Leader. The Laity Session in April selected William Thompson to be nominated for election by the conference plenary. He will succeed David Koch, who completes eight years in that role.

The conference will receive three offerings for:

  • higher education scholarships,
  • ordained clergy educational support and
  • ministry with youth and young adults.

Members will also receive a finance report and vote on a proposed 2023 budget, hear an update on the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) settlement being negotiated by the denomination, and hear a report on nominations for election of bishops in 2024.

A Path Towards Wholeness

It cites long-term systemic racism, including segregation, endured by Black/Indigenous/People of Color (BIPOC) in The United Methodist Church from its genesis. And it notes the conference’s commitment, stated in 1996, “to end the sin of racism” and become “an interculturally competent church” that works for racial justice.

An interracial Economic Justice Council, formed in 2021 by the conference’s Commission on Religion & Race, engaged in months of intensive research, discussion and planning to forge a candid report that led to the potentially groundbreaking resolution. That report, titled A Path Towards Wholeness, is attached to the resolution. It calls for quantitative goals, strategies and yearly progress reports from conference leadership.

The resolution and Path Towards Wholeness report have been amply vetted to seek input, feedback, questions and concerns from many conference groups, including  the Connectional Table, all of which have led to its refinement and supportive endorsements from those groups. An additional document is also available to answer Frequently Asked Questions: FAQs for Resolution 2022-07 A Path Towards Wholeness

Discernment Pathways

Another potentially groundbreaking resolution, #2022-08, titled Discernment Pathways, recommends that all EPA congregations undergo a guided exploratory process to discern “what God has next for them.”  

“Over the next two years, EPA will focus on its mission and ministry with our communities,” Bishop John Schol wrote in a April 21 letter to churches and leaders. “This mission and ministry is primarily through our congregations, and therefore, our emphasis will be on assisting congregations to be healthy, vital mission congregations.”

While acknowledging that some congregations may seek to disaffiliate from the conference and denomination because of sharp philosophical and policy differences, the bishop promises that “more than 90% of our time will be spent with the congregations that seek to continue our core mission and values.” He lists at least five pathways for EPA churches to consider their future, including:

Growing a Vital Mission Congregation: Using training, planning and coaching to develop and carry out a plan to grow any one or more of the following: worship, small groups, mission engagement, new disciples and generosity.

Missional Sustainability: Understanding your congregation’s financial strengths and challenges and how to strengthen your sustainability.

A Path Towards Wholeness Training and Planning: Learning, understanding and growing to end the sin of racism.

Property Development: Assessing your church’s property for future mission, including building expansion, turning space into community ministry, selling property.

Conflict Resolution: A facilitated process for congregations experiencing conflict about direction, mission, leadership or programing.

“All are invited to discern a pathway for your congregation to emerge into God’s vision and hope for the mission and ministry of your congregation,” concludes the bishop’s letter.

Another Frequently Asked Questions document is available to help explain this resolution and garner support for it:  FAQs for Resolution 2022-08 Discernment Pathways.

Annual Conference Resources: