Jun 05, 2024 | John W. Coleman

At their annual Laity Session, May 21, Eastern PA Conference lay members learned about how both the conference and the emerging Fresh Expressions movement are inviting and helping church laity to grow and thrive in discipleship and community engagement. Convening just before the 2024 Annual Conference, May 21-23, at the Wildwoods Convention Center, members also honored one of their own, former Conference Lay Leader David Koch, who helped lead Eastern PA through the challenging Covid years.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Beck Michelle Cygan photo

The Rev. Dr. Michael Beck is a leading scholar, practitioner and champion of the growing Fresh Expressions movement. An author, innovator, professor and guide in various settings, he also serves as co-pastor of Wildwood UMC in Florida with his wife Jill. There they direct addiction recovery programs, a jail ministry, a food pantry, an interracial unity movement and a network of 13 fresh expressions that gather in tattoo parlors, dog parks, salons, running tracks, community centers and a burrito joint.”

Beck shared insights about those ministries with the Laity Session, and with others in a later, well-attended workshop. He dispensed creative, empirical wisdom, through words and illustrative PowerPoint slides, about starting new, accessible types of faith formation with fellowship communities for an increasingly unchurched culture. Fresh Expressions—true to their early Wesleyan roots—are primarily designed to reach plain people who seek truth and relationships but are not connected to or interested in traditional churches.

Brenda Binns, Dean of Laity Academy
Paul Davis photo

“It was wonderful to hear Michael Beck in person after attending a Fresh Expressions event online several years ago,” said Brenda Binns, Dean of EPA’s Laity Academy. Her church Salem UMC in Orwigsburg started a new community-focused ministry “that is still going strong,” she said. 

“Through the sharing his own story, Michael Beck reminded us that we’re all broken in some way; yet through Jesus we have a way to become whole,” said Binns. “And with that gift comes the responsibility to share Jesus with others who, for many reasons, may not venture through our church doors on Sunday mornings.”   

Laity Session honors David Koch

The Laity Session’s special recognition of former Conference Lay Leader and Certified Lay Minister David Koch was “long overdue” said Judy Ehninger, who coordinates EPA’s Certified Lay Ministry (CLM) program. “He served us in difficult times and did so with grace and poise.”  

Laity Board members presented Koch with a $100 donation inside a small wooden crate like those containing donated, gently used books placed in laundromats by the Laundromat Library League (LLL) in West Chester. The all-volunteer LLL promotes reading and literacy among children, youth and families. Koch, a member of Grove UMC in West Chester, is a longtime, ardent supporter of that local charity that began in 2014 and has now spread to 265 sites in 35 states.

Conference Lay Leader William “Bill” Thompson Sr. (left) and other Board of Laity members recognize former Conference Lay Leader Dave Koch (center) for his past leadership and his ardent support of the Laundromat Library League of West Chester Michelle Cygan photo

“I was completely surprised and greatly honored,” he said later. “The focus was on my work with the Laundromat Library League (LLL). I never thought it would grow the way it has. I learned about it at my local church through a member, Arlene Rengert, who is a co-founder. I was so impressed that my wife and I became involved. 

“I wanted to spread the news to the annual conference, so I invited Arlene to be the keynote speaker at our 2017 Laity Session (Read “Laity to learn about laundromat library ministry.”) I then gave Arlene’s presentation to an annual meeting of Annual Conference Lay Leaders. The news spread across United Methodism.  At the recent General Conference Laity Dinner, the LLL was cited as one of two great accomplishments by UM laity. Today it continues to grow, managed by Arlene and volunteers.”  

An inspiring, informative event

The EPA Laity Board wanted this session to be “an inspiring and informative event, embodying our dedication to a Christ-centered approach in all our activities,” said current Conference Lay Leader William “Bill” Thompson Sr., who convened the gathering.

He visits and promotes laity-involved events and ministries around the conference, including the annual Tools for Ministry district/regional trainings and the Laity Academy. “We aim to empower our members with the necessary tools to effectively contribute to our church’s mission and to make a meaningful impact on the broader community.”

Thompson was joined onstage by his board members who serve laity around the conference:

  • Suzette James, vice-chairperson
  • North District: Dr. Dennis Booher
  • South District: Patrice Wilson, Jennifer Lafferty and Frances Whittington
  • East District: Carol Gibson
  • West District: Susan Grimm Mattox
  • Brenda Binns, Dean of the Laity Academy, and
  • Aubrey Bates, member
  • Judy Ehninger, Coordinator of EPA’s Certified Lay Ministry (CLM) program
  • George Hollick, Director of the Christ Servant Ministry (CSM) program

Ehninger also introduced the 2024 class of new CLMs:

  • Michelle Carter, of Bickley’s New Beginning UMC in Philadelphia;
  • Cornelia Damon, of Jarrettown UMC;
  • Barbara Revere, of First UMC Germantown in Philadelphia;
  • Gloria Speer, of Johnson Memorial UMC in Philadelphia;
  • Margaret Kropp, of Grace UMC in Port Carbon;
  • Rosalie Foster, of Hamorton UMC; and
  • Athlene Jermia, of Fletcher, UMC
George Hollick (right), Director of the Christ Servant Ministry (CSM) program, and Judy Ehninger, Coordinator of the Certified Lay Ministry (CLM) program addressed the Laity Session. Paul Davis photo

Hollick honored new CSMs. And Carol Gibson honored lay members to Annual Conference who have died since the 2023 session.

The session also featured informative remarks by leaders to interpret and promote various and programs and initiatives of the conference and its EPA&GNJ collaborative partnership:

  • Lenora Thompson spoke about EPA’s scholarships for undergraduate education.
  • The Rev. Dr. Juel Nelson spoke about the EPA&GNJ Leadership Academy and the Breakthrough series worship resources.
  • The Rev. Gina Yeske spoke about the EPA&GNJ Pathways for Congregational Fruitfulness & Health to help congregations in both conferences survive and thrive.
  • Brenda Binns promoted the next Laity Academy, set for August.
  • Apryl Miller, Director of Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center, promoted Camp & Retreat Ministries.
  • Mary Cranwell, Program Coordinator of EPA&GNJ’s new Leadership Academy Preaching Institute, introduced the institute funded by the Lilly Foundation, Inc., and set to launch in February 2025. It will benefit both preachers and congregational listeners.
  • Ronda Rea, President of EPA’s United Women in Faith, promoted Mission u in July and other UWF events and endeavors.
  • Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck described the work of the Center-Philadelphia, an outreach nonprofit helping unhoused neighbors and affiliated with Arch Street United Methodist Church.
  • The Rev. Deb Coulbourn, who chairs EPA’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women, promoted their focus on sexual ethics, monitoring and education to foster gender inclusiveness, and equitable leadership for women in the church. Coulbourn also promoted a new COSROW seminar program titled “Women of Excellence,” where prominent women leaders discuss via Zoom their “trials and tribulations in getting ahead in life and in the church.”