Oct 14, 2022 | By John W. Coleman

William Preston “Bill” Thompson, our new Eastern PA Conference Lay Leader, wants to speak up for the concerns of laity. But first he wants to listen.  

He likes to share a favorite maxim of his dad’s about having two ears and two eyes, but only one mouth for a reason. “Listen and make sure your brain is engaged before you put your mouth in motion.” While his professional career in consulting and training people to use computer software involves much teaching, he still believes that the best way to build an essential rapport is to “listen and try to see the world through the other person’s eyes.”

Thompson added his new conference role to many others in July, after serving years as a South District Co-Lay Leader, along with Jennifer Lafferty, CLM, and also serving on EPA’s Episcopacy Committee and Metro Ministry Board (its longest serving member), the South District Committee on Ministry, and other responsibilities.

Raised in West Philadelphia in “a Methodist household” with four siblings, he is the brother of Lenora Thompson, who was EPA’s first African American Conference Lay Leader. She now chairs the EPA Connectional Table. Both are still leaders in their family’s historic church, Wharton-Wesley UMC in West Philly. He was married his wife Carolyn there 29 years ago. They have three adult children and a grandson.

Thompson, who describes himself as “Christ-centered,” spent much time in prayer and discernment before agreeing to seek the Conference Lay Leader position, encouraged by his friend and predecessor David Koch. He already had so much on his plate and was planning to slow down, he said. “But I felt God’s call and decided to give my best effort to offer some needed leadership and to help laity in our conference.”

‘Cultivate a team approach to ministry’

Thompson wants to use his knowledge of leadership and organizational dynamics to help laity discover and develop their abilities in advocacy, discipleship and service, while making the best use of their time, talents and resources. He also wants to help “cultivate a team approach to ministry,” based on his long experience of “motivating people and establishing meaningful relationships with diverse laity and clergy.”

He appreciates the team approach he sees among the conference cabinet and staff, as well as the many leaders, boards and committees he has met with in his busy onboarding journey. He said he has come to know Bishop John Schol personally from his service on EPA’s Episcopacy Committee. “I have a lot of respect for him. He wants to make a difference; and he speaks forthrightly and eloquently about the church’s need to understand the importance of ministry sustainability.”

‘I am here to listen, share, report and inspire’

“I am here to listen, share, report and inspire,” said Thompson, an avid, skilled photographer who loves to share his art. “I want to be a sincere advocate for the needs of laity, to prioritize the wellbeingof lay members and to inspire more joy and fellowship within our congregations.”

He is concerned about the time and task demands weighing on many laity, especially those who must balance church meetings and duties with their jobs and home responsibilities. He and Lafferty led two well-attended South District trainings to help lay leaders learn how to manage their duties, delegate responsibilities, cultivate relationships and prevent silent mission killers like burnout.

Thompson also wants to “support the value of having youth and young adults as leaders in the church.” Indeed, he has been researching the views and values of young people, both online and in probing conversations.  He is deeply concerned about the dissatisfaction and frustration of many who see most church leaders as out of touch and even callous toward their needs and concerns. He also wants to see the church become more focused on openly extending Christ’s love and less on its own restrictive laws and traditions.

‘These young people are our hope for the future’

“These young people are our hope for the future,” he said. “They are our future talking back to us.”

“My goal is to help create a 21st century approach to the delivery of ministry, especially among the Millennial, Gen X & Gen Z generations, because therein lies our future,” said Thompson. “I am asking the EPA Conference to pray for me, just as I am in continuous prayer for our churches. I know this job won’t be easy; but I know all things are possible with God.”

Share your celebration of Laity Sunday Oct. 16 

EPA Conference Lay Leader Bill Thompson asks churches to make Laity Sunday, Oct. 16, a special celebration and to please share their celebrations with him in words and pictures. Please send brief summaries and photos to him at conflayleader@epaumc.org for possible publication and use in displays. Please submit the following: 

  • The names of your church, district, pastor and lay leader. 
  • Three (3) to five (5) pictures.   
  • A brief summary (1-2 paragraphs) of your Laity Day celebration.
  • Identification of persons featured in any pictures (named in order from left to right). 
  • A contact email address and phone number and a good time to call with any questions