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2011 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference
June 9-12, 2011
Grove City College, Grove City, Penn.

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton told 1,600 members of the Western PA Annual Conference gathered that churches can no longer afford to conduct business as usual. During the conference at Grove City College from June 9-12, he said, it's time to focus on "what we need to do to equip ourselves for making new disciples, providing renewed opportunities for strengthening existing disciples and discovering once again what God's REAL call is for our church in ministry and mission to the communities where we are placed?"

The theme of the conference was "Hungers of the Heart," the spiritual hungers within each person.Bible study leader was the Rev. Shane Stanford, author and pastor who will begin serving Christ UMC in Memphis, Tenn., on July 1. Stanford, a hemophiliac who contracted AIDS as a young adult, used the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to remind members not to fear running into the fire, for God would be with them. Looking at the early church in Acts 2, he pointed out that members have varying gifts that, when used together, changed history.

Guest preacher was Bishop Sally Dyck of Minnesota, who said, "If you want to change the world, change a life." To change a life, you have to build relationships, she said. And you must have a servant's heart.

Bishops Bickerton and Dyck ordained 19 new elders and one deacon (average age 40) and received two associate members. They also commissioned seven new provisional members.

Lay delegates elected to General Conference were: Patricia Morris of Beaver Falls; Tina Whitehead of Oakmont; Diane Miller of Kennerdell; Larry Beatty of Hopwood; Luella Krieger of Sykesville; Donna Burkhart of Erie and Rebekah Swineford of Gibsonia.

Clergy elected were: Eric Park of Washington, Penn.; Robert Zilhaver of DuBois; Alyce Weaver Dunn of Johnstown; William B. Meekins Jr. of Irwin; Sharon Schwab of Punxsutawney; the Rev. Seth McPherson of Holsopple and John Ciampa of Harrison City. Park will lead the delegation.

Laity elected to Jurisdictional Conference were: Sharon Gregory of Pittsburgh; Tracy R. Merrick of Pittsburgh; Joseph Emigh of Cochranton; Faith Geer of Allison Park; Peggy Ward of Bellevue; Vicki Stahlman of Brookville and Louise Patterson of Elizabeth. Clergy elected to Jurisdictional Conference were: John Seth of Galloway; Dale Shunk of Somerset; Stephanie Gottschalk of Pittsburgh; Roy Gearhart of Mahaffey; Joan Reasinger of Pittsburgh; Gregory Cox of Cranberry Twp. and Mark A. Stewart of McMurray.

Three individuals were honored with Harry Denman Awards for Evangelism. They are: the Rev. Craig Smith, a retired local pastor; Jesse Geyer, a youth active in Christ UMC in Scottdale and Bob Green, lay leader of Christ UMC in Youngwood.

Shelly Rhodes, director of youth ministries at First UMC in Clarion, received the Youth Worker of the Year Award.

Following a dramatic presentation depicting the effect of the Imagine No Malaria campaign on a mother in Africa and two church members in Pennsylvania, Laura Meengs, who served as field coordinator for Imagine No Malaria in Western Penn., held up a "brick" of 1,000 one-dollar bills and gave it as her personal donation, challenging others at the conference to donate. By the next day, $130,000 in cash and pledges had been received.

In legislative action, the conference voted to forward a petition to the General Conference calling for a constitutional amendment to permit episcopal term limits as an option in U.S. jurisdictions. It also proposed that pastoral appointments be guaranteed in any jurisdiction without episcopal term limits.

The conference also approved action calling for a tax on natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and a moratorium on permits for drilling new wells into the Marcellus Shale formation until environmental and infrastructure concerns are addressed.

The 2012 apportionment budget of $8.98 million was approved. The budget is almost $6 million less than the 2011 apportionment budget, but leaders said it was based on more realistic income estimates. The total budget for funding ministry in 2012, including endowment and other income, is $32.35 million.

Members collected 4,929 UMCOR kits, valued at $82,932.

Conference membership stands at 179,656, down 2,727 from 2009. Average worship attendance was 59,680, down 2,137. Sunday school attendance stands at 19,307, down 852.

--Jackie Campbell