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2010 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference
June 10-13, 2010, Grove City, Pa.

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton told the 1,800 members that he sees signs of hope in the Western Pa. Conference, despite significant challenges facing the denomination. Among the hopeful signs he cited in a "State of the Church" address at the June annual conference session: formation of a laity cabinet and a "reverse mentoring" program where superintendents and laity cabinet members each recruit a younger adult to mentor them on needs in the changing culture; a clear call from a laity study team for spiritual revival, and increased giving to support mission and ministry.

The conference theme was "Lead, Connect and Resource: The Ministry of Making Disciples." Saturday afternoon workshops gave participants an opportunity to learn how to engage congregations in one of the conference's five areas of focus: poverty, global health, leadership development, creating or revitalizing communities of faith and dismantling racism.

Guest preacher was Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe, who with Bickerton signed a partnership agreement between their two episcopal areas. Nhiwatiwa emphasized the concept of "Chabadza," building relationships to encourage stopping to help a friend already at work. The partnership will address issues of global health, leadership development and evangelism.

In Bible study sessions, the Rev. Steve Cordle, founder of the multi-campus Crossroads United Methodist Church in the Pittsburgh area, used Luke 6 to focus on obedience-based discipleship and the parables in Luke 15 to illustrate the need to spend time listening to God, then going out and taking action to seek and save the lost.

Eleven new elders (average age 41) were ordained and eight provisional elders and one associate member were commissioned. The ministry of 14 retiring elders; two deacons and two associate members was recognized. Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Southwestern PA Synod preached at the ordination service.

Among legislation approved was a call for action to end racially discriminatory sentencing; remove barriers to safe, accessible and affordable housing; repeal Pennsylvania's gaming laws and encourage abstention from gambling. Resolutions also supported continuing dialogue on issues related to homosexuality. A proposal to urge the General Conference to re-evaluate it's position on evolution, theology and science was defeated. Other legislation called for creation of a task force to realign districts and conference staff and to examine a new relationship with three United Methodist homes, which despite their financial independence, are Conference corporations.

Also approved was a mission share budget for 2011 of $9.57 million, down from the current $9.95 million budget. The total budget for funding ministry for 2011 is $27.4 million, including endowment income and other funds. Legislation providing for dispersal directives if income is less than anticipated was also approved.

Denman Awards for evangelism were presented to the Rev. William Jay Blair, pastor of First UMC in Titusville and Mary Adams, a layperson in leadership at Henderson UMC, which serves people in a low-income inner city neighborhood of Erie.
The Golden Sneaker Award, given to the district whose members log the most physical activity in designated programs over the past year, went to the Kane District.

Nearly 7,200 UMCOR kits with an approximate value of $100,102 were donated and delivered to the Conference's Mission Barn, which recently became an official UMCOR facility.

Fellowship opportunities were offered each night with an outdoor "strawberry social" with music by a brass band one evening and an outdoor pizza party with a country singer to welcome Nhiwatiwa and his wife Greta the following evening.

Membership stands at 185,569, down 1,872 from the previous year. Worship attendance averaged 61,723, down 4,205 from the previous year.

-Jackie Campbell