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2009 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference
June 11-14, 2009, Grove City, Pa.

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton challenged the 1,800 members of the Western Pennsylvania. Annual Conference to "take the church out on the open road, give it the gas and see what the old baby can do." The old mainline denominational church of today needs to be set on fire like the First-Century church, he said. The conference theme was to ignite and sustain a passionate spiritual connection with Christ among all people.

The guest preacher, Bishop William Willimon of North Alabama, reinforced the need to light some fires, noting that while the early Methodists went where people were, "at some point our church decided to content itself with what it was and it stopped going to the people. Churches are where the people used to be and&ellipsis;we seem to love our buildings more than people."

Willimon pointed out that the average United Methodist is 59 years old and said, "Woe to our church if we limit our ministry to the spiritual lives of people over 50. Woe unto us if we make ministry more cool and calm and collected than Jesus means it to be."

In Bible study sessions, the Rev. Lisa Grant, director of connectional ministries, tied the story of Elijah to issues of igniting a passionate connection with God. "I don't ignite or sustain anything. God does," she said. "But I cannot sit here passively. God invites and I have the opportunity to actively respond."

Conference members approved a partnership with the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, with an initial focus on health issues. The partnership will build on efforts to combat malaria and extend relationships established through The Nyadire Connection (TNC). Launched in the Pittsburgh District and supported by several congregations, schools and other organizations, the connection supports ministry in and around The Nyadire United Methodist Mission. One focus of TNC and the new partnership is to strengthen the network of rural clinics in the Nyadire region.

The Rev. Morais Quissico, who heads the Africa Office at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, preached on Mission Night and described difficult conditions in Africa. Wondering "how some people can sleep at night, while other people, even in America, go hungry," he said, "It's not a problem of money." Offerings and donations given during the conference to the Global Health Initiative totaled more than $21,000.

Among other legislation approved was a call for human immigration reform and efforts to welcome the sojourner; a call for death penalty reform and a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania; improvements in standards for clergy housing; and Conference rule changes including procedures for electing delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences.

Also approved was a mission share budget for 2010 of $9.95 million, down from the current $10 million budget. The total budget for funding ministry for 2010 is $23.58 million, including endowment income and other funds.

Members voted on 32 constitutional amendments and ballots were forwarded to the Council of Bishops, but results were not announced.

Eleven new elders were ordained and another was received from the Korean Methodist Church. The conference also received 21 provisional members and one associate member. The ministry of 14 retiring elders; three associates and 12 local pastors was recognized.

Three trailer-loads of UMCOR kits were collected and delivered to the conference's new Mission Barn where volunteers processed and stored them.

Fire and passion for some earthly creatures was evident among members at the close of Mission Night on June 12. Bickerton led several hundred who remained in the plenary room devouring 80 pizzas and popcorn as they cheered the Pittsburgh Penguins to victory in the deciding game of the National Hockey League championship series.

Membership stands at 185,591, down 1,850 from the previous year. Worship attendance averaged 63,728, down 900 from the previous year.

-Jackie Campbell