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2007 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

June 7-10, Grove City, PA

The Rev. Vance Ross of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship led 1,800 members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference through a process of spiritual discernment during the 2007 annual session at Grove City College.

The theme was "God Will Make a Way." Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton called on members to demonstrate "grace, love and joy in the midst of issues and events where we might disagree."

Finding common ground "has always been a struggle for God's people," he noted. "It is a struggle that is deeply rooted in our desire to see our way accomplished and our firm conviction that the way we believe is surely the way God believes! Yet none of us has the assurance of that. What we do have is the knowledge that God loves us all and desires us to do more surrendering than we do fighting."

The sometimes lively, sometimes soulful music of musicians led by the Rev. Chris Heckert, associate general secretary for the Advance at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, enabled members to complete balloting for General Conference delegates and discuss legislation in a loving, respectful atmosphere.

The mood also was elevated by interludes when Bishop Bickerton shot basketballs from the stage to raise funds for Nothing But Nets, the anti-malaria campaign providing bed nets for families in Africa. The Bishop managed to sink 100 shots to increase the amount received in per-basket pledges made during the conference. A regulation net was set up on a half-court in the back of the plenary hall to allow individual Nothing But Nets challenges. In all, nearly $80,000 was received for the campaign during the event.

An offering for Nothing But Nets during the closing ordination and celebration of appointments netted $45,556. The congregation laughed and smiled as they danced up the aisles to lively African music to give their offerings. It was in sharp contrast with the receipt of offerings in most churches, the Bishop noted.

At the service, the Bishop ordained nine full elders; granted full membership to one elder from another denomination; received three associate members and commissioned 11 new probationary members. Twenty-four pastors retired and were honored during Ministry Night.

The conference adopted a resolution requiring all appointed clergy to attend conference-sponsored training that will address racism and strategies for its eradication. It also approved strengthening the conference council to include representatives of all boards and agencies and changing its name to the Conference Connectional Network. Both actions are in line with the Believe Again! Plan for Ministry adopted in 2006.

After reports that Mission Share (apportionment) giving from local churches hit record levels last year --and that contributions and pledges to fund the Believe Again! Plan exceeded the goal -- members approved a 2008 Mission Share budget of $9.3 million, a 4 percent increase, without debate.

Also approved was a Northeastern Jurisdiction petition to include Bermuda within NEJ boundaries. Petitions to change language in the Discipline relating to homosexuality were defeated, as was a resolution endorsing the Council of Bishops' call for a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The resolution also was voted down last year.

Denman awards for Evangelism went to the Rev. Brad Lauster, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Indiana, Pa., and Luella Kreiger, an itinerant lay evangelist who offers a clown ministry and dramatic portrayals of religious figures.

Lay delegates elected to the 2008 General Conference are Laura Zilhaver of DuBois; Nyle Hershberger of Johnstown; Luella Kreiger of DuBois, Matt Johnson of Wilmore, Ky.; Joe Emigh of Utica; Richard Hoffman of Greensburg; Patricia Morris of Beaver Falls; and Tracy Merrick of Wexford.

Clergy delegates to the 2008 General Conference are John Ciampa of Harrison City; Sharon Schwab of Punxsutawney; Robert Zilhaver of DuBois; Eric Park of Elizabeth; Joan Reasinge of Pittsburgh; Larry Homitsky of Cranberry Township; William B. Meekins Jr. of Irwin; and John Seth of Murrysville.

Lay delegates elected to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference are Tina Whitehead of Oakmont; Diane Miller of New Castle; Jim Donner of Erie; Heather Aul of Kane; Donna Burkhart of Erie; Mike Bill of Elizabeth; Sharon Gregory of Pittsburgh; and Peggy Ward of Pittsburgh.

Clergy delegates to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference are Mark Stewart of Bakerstown; Joel Garrett of Holiday Park; Dale Shunk of New Wilmington; Alyce Weaver Dunn of Natrona Heights; Arnie Rhodes of Clarion; Roy Gearhart of Mahaffey; Chris Livermore of Youngwood; and David Hampson of Franklin.

Matt Johnson will serve as chairperson; William B. Meekins, Jr., vice chairperson; and Joan Reasinger, secretary of the delegation.

Membership stands at 187,296, down 2,617 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 67,334, down 927. Church school attendance stands at 24.397, down 824.

--Jackie Campbell