May 13, 2022 | By John W. Coleman

“Be purposeful and fruitful.” That creative challenge is in the last line of Bishop John Schol’s April 4 essay titled “ Direction: A Key Ingredient for Successful Leadership – Part 2: Mission.” He reminds us of the Eastern PA Conference’s mission: “Recruit and develop transformational leaders to make disciples of Jesus Christ and grow vital congregations for the transformation of the world.”

That is a big task but one that many leaders and congregations in Eastern PA are undertaking with success. They are striving to inspire and nurture life-changing discipleship in Jesus Christ, or in Jesus’ words, to “bear fruit that will last.” (John 15:16, NRSV)

Some of those leaders and congregations will be celebrated at the EPA’s Annual Conference, May 20-21, with significant awards that are presented annually. Much of the following information on 2022 Awards Recipients appears in the Pre-Conference Workbook published on our website in April. Award presentations were video-recorded to be presented during the Annual Conference session.

One Matters Award

The One Matters Award, sponsored by the UMC’s Discipleship Ministries agency, recognizes churches and their leaders who together experience turnaround growth in making disciples of Jesus Christ by achieving new professions of faith and baptisms.

Clearview UMC in Philadelphia,

Clearview UMC in Philadelphia, led by the Rev. Suzette Douglas-Brown, received the award for gaining 11 new members in the past year, despite many challenges. Most of those new members learned about the church from its online worship services and events.

The Youth and Young Adult Ministry continues to grow, even during the pandemic. The musicians are all under age 19; and the technology ministry is led by two youth, ages 13 and 16.

During the pandemic, a new Friday night Bible study for ages 18-30 was started on Zoom. Clearview’s young people invited their friends; and now young participants join them from Texas, Georgia, California, Connecticut and other states. The church pays its apportionments and monthly expenses in full.

Before the pandemic, members gathered monthly at the church for all-night prayer from midnight to 5 AM. Now, due to the pandemic, they gather for a weekly prayer and fasting ministry via conference call. Clearview remains bathed in prayer and active in vital, life-changing ministry.

Herbert E. Palmer Urban Ministry Awards

The Herbert E. Palmer Urban Ministry Awards, presented by EPA’s Urban Commission and named for a beloved, longtime pastor and leader in urban ministries, are given to encourage and support innovative, effective, outreach-focused churches in urban areas of the conference. Awards are presented to one church on each of the conference’s four districts.

North District: East Stroudsburg UMC, led by the Rev. Samuel Kofi Ashley, has for years sponsored a regular food pantry and a community meal at the church on Monday nights. Members serve about 175 people weekly, which continued onsite during the COVID pandemic.

East Stroudsburg UMC community meal

The diverse diners include church members, area residents, homeless neighbors, and the college athletes and honor students who come to help serve. Guests enjoy hot meals and take home groceries for the week.  

East Stroudsburg UMC also hosts much-appreciated, summer outdoor block parties on Thursday evenings, serving free sandwiches, chips and water to members and guests from all walks of life, while they enjoy live Christian praise music. A prayer tent also allows members to serve the spiritual needs of guests.

West District— Ross Street UMC in Lancaster, led by the Rev. Fran Keller, has fewer than 20 members in weekly worship; but the congregation is faithful and forward-thinking in its outreach to neighbors struggling with poverty. Members responded to the COVID pandemic by starting monthly food distribution in partnership with community volunteers and LUMINA, an EPAUMC-sponsored neighborhood services agency.

The church has battled growing hunger since 2020 by giving away over 96,000 pounds of food in its parking lot and delivering it to nearby homes. The 40-pound boxes from Blessings of Hope, which typically are gone in under an hour, include New Testament Bibles and encouraging messages of hope.

South District: Eastwick UMC in Southwest Philadelphia, led by the Rev. Tracy Duncan, has been helping its community in many ways during the pandemic, including hosting vaccination clinics for all ages, in partnership with Rite Aid Pharmacy and the city’s Department of Health. Its annual Walk for Hunger raises funds to support Eastwick’s food bank and other food banks related to Philabundance.

Eastwick UMC

Eastwick’s Mission House Food Bank serves about 4,000 families a year and partners with Philabundance and Giant Food Markets to assist those who are dealing with food insecurities. In the wake of Hurricane Isaias, which struck in 2020, the church was open to serve neighbors dislocated by historic flooding. It provided food and connections with the Red Cross for temporary lodging.

Today church leaders work with Eastwick United CDC, a Recognized Community Organization (RCO), to address residents’ long-term environmental justice concerns and economic recovery needs, both made much worse by the 2020 flooding. The church is also revitalizing its evangelism and prayer outreach ministries. 

East District: Holmesburg UMC in Northeast Philadelphia, led by the Rev. James LaMontagne, serves its community by offering Bible study and curbside prayer, movie nights for children and families, and distribution of free food, clothing and household items from its pantry and its popular “Ann’s Attic.” Neighbors attend the weekly Bible study, which has grown to about a dozen attendees; and two recently joined the church.

People express thanks for the food pantry, a lifeline to more than 60 families weekly, some of whom now attend Sunday worship. The church changed from giving out food and clothing to offering a more comfortable “shopping” experience, where neighbors can choose items and enjoy conversation with one another.

The curbside prayer encounters are also generating thankful testimonies and even a few new worship attendees. So are the movie nights, which draw dozens of grateful children and adults to view child-friendly, animated films.

Harry Denman Evangelism Awards

The EPAUMC Congregational Development Team annually presents Harry Denman Evangelism Awards, which honor UM lay, youth and clergy leaders who freely, devotedly share their Christian faith and the gospel with others. Denman Awards are sponsored by the UMC’s Foundation for Evangelism. Awardees chosen typically are exemplary leaders who exhibit “outstanding efforts in Christian evangelism by faithfully carrying out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Youth Denman Award: Lydia Ermer, a faithful youth member of Levittown: Emilie UMC, is demure but deeply caring and passionate about serving and sharing Christ, especially in cooperative ministry as an active leader in the EPA Conference Council on Youth Ministry. 

Lydia Ermer (left) receives the Youth Denman Award from Suzette James

“It is her sense of justice, fairness, treating others kindly and her love for Christ that makes Lydia standout among peers,” writes Associate Conference Youth Ministries Coordinator Jezerel Gutierrez, in nominating Lydia. “She is always willing to talk about her love for Jesus and her desire that others also experience the same love. 

“I watched her as she made a point to introduce herself and make sure new youth felt part of the group,” Gutierrez continues. “During meetings she listens very intently and loves to bring creative ideas to projects, rallies and events.  She is always willing to help in any capacity to make sure the events are successful and enjoyed by other youth.  While she may not always feel equipped to pray for others or lead activities, she is always willing to volunteer and try. 

“Her courage to try new things often inspires those around her to follow suit. As part of CCYM, she has packed food for the needy, planned youth rallies, participated in diversity retreats, and helped in Annual Conference.”  Gutierrez expresses confidence that Lydia “will be one of our future ministers, for she already is one.” 

Laity Denman Award: Rosalind McKelvey, a Christ Servant Minister, is a longtime servant, advocate, interpreter, leader and caregiver for Deaf persons. Known throughout the Eastern PA Conference and beyond, she attends to the physical, emotional, spiritual and communication needs of Deaf persons in many places with ardent compassion and grace.

Rosalind McKelvey (left) and the Rev. Jeffrey Weber (right), both Denman Awardees, flank Deb Knerr, who interpreted the ceremony in sign.

From volunteering at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to organizing the Germantown Deaf Ministries Fellowship, Inc. in Philadelphia to advocating before church and public policy leaders, she offers creative, sensitive, outspoken wisdom about the needs and concerns of the Deaf community. She also teaches American Sign Language to Deaf and hearing persons.

Roz has directed Deaf choirs and interpreted worship at Philadelphia: Grace UMC and other churches and events, offering many Deaf members a place to belong and to contribute their gifts.

Clergy Denman Award: The Rev. Jeffrey A. Weber, since being appointed to Reeders UMC in 2020, has welcomed 16 new members into the congregation, including a dozen this year. A lifelong member at Stroudsburg UMC, he served in the U.S. military and in state government, followed by a career in higher education at East Stroudsburg University. Upon retiring, he answered the call to ministry, becoming a Licensed Local Pastor in 2020.

Dr. Weber is known to be passionate, relational and effective in evangelism, and he is active beyond the local church, demonstrating a true servant’s heart. He brings his rich, diverse background into ministry among all ages, both young and old. He has adapted to a profound hearing impairment suffered during his military service, combining use of sign language with lipreading and new technology.