Aug 13, 2019

By John W. Coleman

View more 2019 Laity Academy photos in our Flickr Album.

Tacking eastward into a new, more academic setting, the Eastern PA Conference Laity Academy dropped its nets at Eastern University’s scenic, Main Line campus in St. David’s, August 2-4, and gathered in a larger catch of eager learners this year, including 40 first-timers.

The 2019 academy welcomed 167 registrants to an exciting weekend of classes, fellowship, worship, entertainment and hospitality. Most came from the nearby East and South districts, and others from the North and West.

Recent-past academies were held in Quakertown, Cedarville and Reading. Organizers have already decided to return, by popular demand, to Eastern University in 2020, August 1-2, on a new, two-day schedule.

With the theme “Cast Your Net: Gather and Grow,” the academy invited attendees to learn ways to find, grow and prepare disciples for God’s Kingdom while navigating the torrents of change in our church and society.

A mix of 14 new and returning favorite courses included:

  • Basic Christ Servant Ministry (CSM) training for members who feel a call to lay ministry and want to understand God’s presence, gifts and mission in their lives.
  • Speaking (or Hablando) I, a basic speaking, sermon preparation and preaching course offered in English and Spanish. (Also a secondary course: “Preaching by Number”)
  • Bible Study for 21st Century Learners
  • Working With Conflict: Making the Most of Diversity
  • Exploring Methodist Theology and Doctrine
  • Evangelism and Church Growth
  • Ministry in the Margins, about social justice ministry
  • Making Every Prayer Count: Moving from ME to WE
  • Empowering, engaging and nurturing our aging congregations

Other courses covered modern uses of Spiritual Gifts, Technology for Worship and “Intense Bible Study Games,” a new course on engaging “game theory, multiple intelligences, interactive teaching methods and Scripture” to develop creative adult Bible studies.

“The Laity Academy is not just for current CSMs (Christ Servant Ministers),” said Diana Wrisley, lead planner, citing the attendance of 40 first-timers, along with returning students, clergy and Certified Lay Ministers. “We encourage all people to come and experience learning and finding their place in ministry through the academy. It’s a fabulous opportunity for the conference members to spend time together learning, worshipping, and enjoying fellowship.” 

With classes held in three close-by buildings, attendees found comfort and convenience at Eastern University’s campus, including the spacious classrooms, dining hall and theater, and hospitality from student assistants. The 10 hours of classes—required for CSM credits—included focused lectures, impassioned student discourse and abundant resources.

The Threefold Blessing choral ensemble again inspired attendees on Friday night. Music producer, band-leader, vocalist and radio host Warren Cooper delighted a small theater crowd with music from his Spiritual Jazz Ensemble on Saturday night.

But the Saturday evening highlight was the surprise presentation of the annual Walter King Award to Aubrey Bates of Bethel UMC in Spring City, a highly regarded, longtime lay ministry leader and teacher across the conference.

Bishop Peggy Johnson, Conference Lay Leader Dave Koch and two District Superintendents—the Revs. Dawn Taylor-Storm and Steve Morton—attended portions of the academy, while nine clergy members taught classes. 

The Rev. Rick Wrisley, Academy Dean for the past three years, credited these and other leaders, and the planning team, for helping to “grow the academy” from eight to 14 courses and moving into a university setting, which he described as “both challenging and rewarding.  I pray that those who experienced the event this year will spread the news and their perceptions.”

Since Wrisley is now a licensed local pastor and must step aside, Diana Wrisley, his wife, will become Dean of the 2020 Laity Academy, which will offer another major change: a two-day, Saturday-to-Sunday schedule on August 1-2.

“The Laity Academy is not just an outreach ministry for us but truly an act of love,” she said. My CSM specialties are in Leadership and Education, and being able to offer an event like the Laity Academy is like planning a VBS program for adults. It is for everyone in the conference, laity and clergy. The water is deep for all of us; but knowledge, inspiration and fellowship are always available.”

If you are interested in supporting the Laity Academy as an instructor, as a member of the planning team, as musician, or as a prayer partner, contact Diana Wrisley at

View more 2019 Laity Academy photos in our Flickr Album.