May 03, 2023 | John W. Coleman

“…With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) The United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania may hear Jesus Christ’s words of blessed assurance spoken often during their 2023 Annual Conference May 18-20, as they convene onsite rather than online for the first time since 2019. With the Covid pandemic behind them, they will look forward, focused on the theme Possibility, as they meet at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa.

The annual gathering begins on Thursday, May 18, at 2:30 p.m., following opening worship and separate Clergy and Laity sessions in the morning. It will end Saturday, May 20, at noon before a celebration reception. Online registration, which is strongly recommended, ends May 8; but onsite registration is available May 18, at 8:00 a.m. The registration fee is $290 per person (includes 3 meals), and $75 for clergy retirees.

The conference agenda, registration and Pre-Conference Workbook are available on the Eastern PA website’s Annual Conference page. Members should receive printed copies of the workbook by mail in the first two weeks of May. To prepare for the conference, members should review legislation and ask questions in advance, primarily at one of two Pre-Conference Sessions offered May 9, at 3 p.m., and May 10 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Those sessions will provide Q&As with presenters of legislation.

Resident Bishop John Schol will offer his Episcopal Address to begin the conference session, recalling strides made in the past conference year and highlighting plans and possibilities for the path forward. And he will preach at the Service of Ordination and Commissioning of clergy.

“As we gather, God’s possibilities continue to bless us,” the bishop writes in his Pre-Conference Workbook greeting. “We celebrate the work of Project Restoration, as we work to restore our communities following Hurricane Ida. We give thanks for the relaunch of our Camp and Retreat Ministries and the IGNITE conference.

“Our work to end the sin of racism continues through the building of the Journey of Hope into the policies, procedures and systems of EPA. We are excited about affiliation with Greater New Jersey, which helps us further our mission and be good stewards of our resources. A new Strategic Direction will lead us into God’s next possibilities.”

The Rev. James Lee, Director of Communications for the United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania and Greater New Jersey, will preach at the opening worship service. Lee leads the affiliated EPA&GNJ communications team serving both conferences, and he will supervise the conference’s media operations. A passionate and creative communicator, he has been a pastor in GNJ and previously managed the conference’s audio-video productions.

The Rev. Enger Muteteke, Senior Director of Programs and Education at the UMC’s General Commission on Religion and Race, will lead the conference’s traditional Teaching Session Friday morning, May 19. An Elder and former Deacon in the UMC’s Baltimore Washington Conference, she previously served the Greater New Jersey Conference on loan for four years as a pastor, Director of Resourcing and project leader for the Journey of Hope anti-racism work. She also facilitated cohorts of leaders in cross racial/cross cultural ministry.

Muteteke has served nearly all her pastoral ministry in cross racial/cross cultural appointments, which is a significant anti-racism initiative in EPA, led by its Commission on Religion and Race. She feels deeply called to this work having seen the Spirit of God work in small and mighty ways in local churches and communities.

The conference will be grounded in praise and worship from beginning to end, including the traditional Service of Ordination and Commissioning and Service of Remembrance to honor the saints we have lost in the past year. A Service of Passage with Anointing will celebrate both those clergy who are retiring and those who are fully entering the vocation of ministry. Special offerings will be received for Youth and Young Adults Ministries and for higher education and seminary scholarships.

The Rev. Eunice Vega-Perez, Superintendent of Greater New Jersey’s Skylands District, will preach at the Memorial Service Friday. The Puerto Rico native, longtime professional nurse and second-career clergywoman, has served in four cross-cultural/cross-racial appointments and is passionate about social justice and missions. Multiple mission trips have taken her to Kentucky, Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica and twice to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. She has been a leader of MARCHA (Methodists Associated Represent the Cause of Hispanic Americans) and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

And the Rev. Alice Cook, pastor of Paoli UMC, will give the charge in the Service of Passage with Anointing for retirees and ordinands, as she herself retires from active pastoral ministry after 39 years.  

The traditional awards celebrating exemplary lives and local churches committed to ministry will continue, although their presentation will again be shown on recorded video.

Harry Denman Awards, from the Foundation for Evangelism, recognize leaders who eagerly invite others to know and follow Jesus Christ. The 2023 awardees are: Alison Laxton of Effort UMC (youth); 
the Rev. Samuel Kofi Ashley, pastor of East Stroudsburg UMC (clergy); and Deaconess Darlene Didomineck of Arch Street UMC (layperson).

The One Matters Award is presented by the UMC’s Discipleship Ministries agency to recognize churches that have grown by at least one new profession-of-faith member. The 2023 award goes to Fallsington UMC for its membership growth due to creative community engagement ministries. The Rev, Joseph Martin, pastor, will accept the award with church leaders.

The Herbert E. Palmer Urban Ministry Awards for each district will be presented to Philadelphia:  Midtown Parish UMC (East); Philadelphia: Sayers Memorial UMC (South); Conyngham UMC (North); and Lebanon: Bethany UMC (West).

Finally, conference members and guests can engage in an onsite mission project together during breaks by assembling disaster response supplies to be sent to the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La.

Prior to the session, individuals, groups and churches are asked to purchase online from Amazon much-needed cleaning kits, general hygiene kits and feminine hygiene kits to be delivered to the Conference Office. These items are needed more than ever throughout the world in places where disasters continue to impact God’s people. Volunteers will assemble the kits during breaks in the conference session.