Feb 20, 2024 | James Lee

In the serene setting of Jarrettown United Methodist Church in Dresher, PA, a groundswell of passion and purpose filled the air February 5, as over 78 clergy from the urban heartlands of Eastern Pennsylvania and Greater New Jersey gathered for an Urban Summit. The daylong retreat was designed to stir their imagination, encourage deep connections and inspire a renewed commitment to urban ministry.

The event kicked off with a palpable anticipation as participants, some reuniting with old colleagues amid new faces, shared in the joy and camaraderie that only those committed to the challenging yet rewarding call of urban ministry can truly understand.

The Rev. William D. Carter III of Franklin-St. John’s UMC in Newark leading worship. James Lee photo

The hum of conversations was replaced by the strong, joyful singing that filled the fellowship hall, led by the Rev. William D. Carter III of Franklin-St. John’s UMC in Newark.

While EPA&GNJ District Superintendents led the morning’s proceedings, a highlight was the introduction of two new Associate Superintendents, the Rev. Lorelei Toombs and Rev. Noe Gabriel (Gabe) López. López, who will be serving with EPA’s South-East Region, with a focus in Urban Ministry, delivered a thoughtful sermon that touched the hearts of many. 

Rev. Noe Gabriel (Gabe) López preaching during the Urban Summit. James Lee photo

Growing up in Philadelphia’s beleaguered Kensington neighborhood and raised by Guatemalan immigrant parents, he brought a unique perspective to his message and will likely do so in his urban ministry work and relationships. López challenged attendees to embrace urban ministry as a sacred call and a choice that disregards the “opportunity costs” of worldly alternatives.

“Friends, you and I are here today because we made a choice to be here. With us saying ‘yes’ to urban ministry, we are saying ‘no’ to a history that has discarded black and brown bodies as disposable and nonessential,” preached López. “This history is contrary to the gospel of Jesus. Will you answer the call to follow Jesus once again to the unknown and the uncomfortable?”

‘Let us go into a space of imagination’

The Rev. Evelyn Kent Clark, Dean of EPA’s Cabinet. James Lee photo

The Rev. Evelyn Kent Clark, Dean of the EPA Cabinet, led a prayer inviting all into a space of imagination and possibility. Bishop John Schol echoed that sentiment, emphasizing the critical role of visionary leadership in the church’s mission. He introduced the concept of “the law of the lid,” illustrating how the limits of leadership capacity determines organizational growth and underscoring the need for continuous leadership development.

Discussions throughout the day were vibrant and varied, touching on joys, hopes, challenges, race relations and expectations, and the urgent but often deferred needs of urban ministry. Topics ranged from the tangible—like aging, inadequate church buildings and cross-cultural language barriers—to the strategic, such as leadership development and community engagement. These conversations not only provided insights but also fostered a sense of solidarity among those gathered.

The Urban Summit ends with Holy Communion, led by EPA&GNJ Joint Cabinet members. Here, Pastor Tim Merrill (left) receives elements from the Rev. Sang Won Doh. James Lee photo

The day concluded with Holy Communion, led by Bishop Schol, who tied the day’s themes to the table of the Lord, reminding everyone that Jesus is the primary pioneer leading the way forward. This day of imagination has set the stage for what may well become a vibrant and impactful chapter in the life of urban ministry among United Methodists in Eastern PA and Greater New Jersey.

“I’m inspired by the passion and dedication I’ve seen,” concluded Bishop Schol. “Our journey doesn’t end here; it’s just beginning. Every step we take in our urban ministries is a step towards transformation—not just of our cities, but of hearts and lives. Let’s keep moving forward, together.”