About 30 people gathered April 22 for the 2023 Eastern PA Annual Conference awards ceremony at Christ United Methodist Church in Fairless Hills—a 30-minute, video-recorded ceremony where plaques and framed certificates were given out and brief remarks were shared. A video from the award presentations will be shown at EPA’s Annual Conference in May.
They came together on a Saturday morning for a small program to celebrate great things accomplished in service to Jesus Christ. Or if not great things, then at least “small things with great love,” as Mother Teresa would describe them.
Just 30 people assembled to honor ministries that have touched and likely transformed hundreds of lives—maybe more. Just 30 minutes to honor people and congregations who have served communities for weeks, months, years, maybe lifetimes.
And yet, the humble, grateful awardees came with their colleagues and family members—several of them driving for up to two hours—to a half-hour ceremony, not just to receive their honors but to share them with the colleagues who labor alongside them to do small things with great love. They will no doubt display those trophies in places where their co-laborers and constituents can see and appreciate them.
“I dwell in possibility,” proclaimed the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm in her welcome, quoting beloved poet Emily Dickinson and reminding all of the 2023 Annual Conference theme, Possibility. “We worship a God of possibility…who saw nothingness and brought forth light and creation…who saw people with faults and foibles but saw disciples (in them). We give thanks for each of you and your congregations, who saw possibility.”
Taylor-Storm joined three district superintendents and co-chairpersons of EPA’s Congregational Development Team (CDT) and Urban Commission in giving thanks for individual and congregational champions of evangelism and urban ministry who looked beyond their inadequate resources in the midst and wake of a pandemic and found possibilities to serve needs and serve people in their communities.
One Matters Award
The Rev. Andrew Foster, East District Superintendent, presented the One Matters Award to the Rev. Joseph Martin and Fallsington UMC. The plaque and $1,000 donation, sponsored by UMC’s Discipleship Ministries agency, celebrates congregations that have increased membership by at least one new baptism or profession of faith in the previous year.
However, congregations that receive this award have typically exceeded that mark because of their creative ministries of evangelism, discipleship and outreach. Fallsington grew by 10 members in 2022, adding four baptisms. That followed seven baptisms in 2021, including one shared by a father and his son. Such growth is due largely to Martin’s personal outreach into the community—where he is well-known as Rev. Joe in diners, bars and other public spaces—and due to popular creative ministries he leads with his members.
Two of those ministries have drawn neighbors to not only visit but return and even join the church. The 13-week GriefShare groups offer much-needed compassion and friendship to those grieving loss of loved ones. And the lively, communal Karaoke Night worship gatherings, held on two Thursdays a month since last summer, draw dozens of enthusiastic attendees to the church—even on cold, rainy nights.
“Because of their resiliency and creativity, Fallsington church is reaching people through (Karaoke) microphones but also through GriefShare ministries to counsel and support people,” said Foster. “They believe that all persons matter…(and) all ministry matters, from the cradle to the grave.”
Harry Denman Evangelism Awards
The Rev. Lloyd Speer, who co-chairs CDT with Suzette James, presented the annual Harry Denman Evangelism Awards to two lay adults and a pastor. (There were no youth nominated this year.)
“Alison loves Jesus and has a living relationship with him and wants more than anything to have young people come into a relationship with Jesus as their Savior and Lord.” That’s how Speer introduced lay Denman awardee Alison Laxton of Effort UMC. “Feeling a call from God to start Effort’s youth group back up at after Covid, she set out to make sure the youth of the church had a strong biblical foundation of faith in Jesus Christ and the support of the church as they lived out their Christian Faith in their everyday lives.
“For Alison, the Bible comes alive in how it speaks to her own life. So, she wants the youth to realize how God’s Word can speak into their own lives as well.” Meeting on second and fourth Sundays, the youths are engaged in mission projects that will take them this summer to Erie, Pa., to serve people there who need home repairs.
Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck, of Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, “makes Jesus Christ known to everyone she meets,” read Speer from another lay awardee’s nomination form, “while alleviating suffering, eradicating causes of injustice, facilitating the development of full human potential and building the global community of faith.”
The first Deaconess to receive EPA’s Denman Award, DiDomineck exemplifies the religious order she is a proud member of, through in her work for justice and compassion as director of Arch Street’s nonprofit partner agency The Center. She shares Christ’s love in leading its various offerings to help unhoused/unsheltered neighbors, including showers, laundry, clothing, case management, wellness aid, a drop-in space and homemade meals.
The Rev. Samuel Kofi Ashley has positively impacted his congregation through his “limitless energy, his kindness, his ever-present smile, and his openness to all,” according to those who nominated the pastor of East Stroudsburg UMC for “his evangelistic zeal.” In the past two years, he has recruited 31 new members. “All areas of his ministry are geared toward bringing others into the fold.”
Herbert E. Palmer Urban Ministry Awards
The Rev. David Eckert, who co-chairs EPA’s Urban Commission along with the Rev. Myra Maxwell, presented five annual Herbert E. Palmer Urban Ministry Awards to pastors of urban churches in all four districts. Each of them credited their church members for the efforts and accomplishments that warranted their recognition.
Midtown Parish UMC in North Philadelphia (East District), led by the Rev. Terry Bridges, uses its facilities and energetic ministries to serve youth and families, including space for gaming, computer stations, arts and crafts, fellowship, and Christian mentoring, as well as travel outside the neighborhood. Several creative community events have increased intergenerational interaction and relationships between youth and adults.
Awarded an EPA Hope (formerly Wholeness) Center grant, the lively church tries to be a community hub to strengthen families by offering information about jobs and careers, civic events and social gatherings, workshops, coaching, outreach efforts and small group ministries.
Sayers Memorial UMC in South Philadelphia (South District), under the leadership of Rev. Audrey Blackwell Washington, has grown in membership, finances and spiritual presence while emerging from the pandemic. In addition to in-person worship, their online prayer ministries are reaching people who are homebound and living out of the state.
Church members can be heard on local radio programs promoting their active evangelism events, including community barbecues, Vacation Bible School and giveaways of backpacks with school supplies, hats and gloves, toiletries, diapers and cleaning supplies. Over a hundred youth attended Sayres’ Community Unity Day, which launched a monthly Youth4Change ministry. The church, which celebrated its 139th anniversary last fall with a three-day revival, partners with other community and civic leadership, has participated in a walk against gun violence, and hosted the traveling “Memorial to the Lost” t-shirt display.
Conyngham UMC (North District), led by the Rev. William Graham Truscott, has significantly increased involvement in its community by serving and supporting individuals and families who are facing poverty and marginalization. In addition to providing food for homeless neighbors through its church pantry and hosting community meal events, the church has also organized movie nights and pool nights as opportunities for fellowship and fun. These initiatives demonstrate the church’s commitment to building relationships and serving the needs of its community.
Lebanon UMC (West District) is a growing urban congregation serving both Anglo and Latino members and neighbors. The Rev. Andrés Torres was first appointed as an associate pastor to start outreach to the Latino community, which included a food ministry and sports ministries for local children and youth of all races. When the senior pastor retired, Torres continued as pastor serving both congregations and the community. The church recently began “English for Everyone” classes with the help of an Urban Commission Initiative grant