Skip Navigation

2012 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference
June 7-10, Grove City College

"Dreaming God-Sized Dreams" was the theme of the 2012 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference session, held June 7-10 at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton described a God-sized dream as "a vision of something that you and I cannot accomplish on our own. It is bold, challenging, and just far enough out there that you can't get there without the spirit's help.

"On the way to fulfilling it," he added, "you have to be willing to accept that it may end up differently than you have first envisioned &ellipsis;because it is God's dream, not your own."
The entire story of God's people in the Holy Scriptures is a story of God-sized dreams, the bishop said. The Wesleyan movement within an 18th-century Anglican Church that had become stiff, lax and complacent was the start of a God-sized dream.

The Bible study leader, the Rev. John C. Holbert, professor at Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology, emphasized the ways God's dreams are fulfilled through ordinary people. He focused on the story of Moses, who he described as more like Woody Allen than Charlton Heston, and Ruth, the Moabite widow who he claimed was used by her mother-in-law. After colorful descriptions of Moses' interactions with God, including arguments to convince God not to destroy his people, Holbert said: "God has great dreams for us &ellipsis; and God doesn't really have a lot to work with." He explained, "These people that God chooses are just us. They are just people, but because of God's great dreams and power, even people like Moses can do the things God wants."

Bishop Bickerton urged conference members to go home and "create at least one God-sized dream for your church or charge. One vision, at least, of something you should be pursuing in your life/ministry that you realize will take more than just your abilities and resources to accomplish. What is something that needs to be changed or created that will require the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit if it is going to be pursued?"

Guest speaker Justin Muchoney, who was director of music and worship arts at Ingomar United Methodist Church when he won a contest to become "Chief Magic Official" at Disney Parks, told the members that they were all dreamers and creative people. "The key to dreaming God-sized dreams," he said, "is how you approach a blank piece of paper. " Muchoney, now entertainment manager for Epcot Atmosphere Entertainment, said childlike qualities are what is needed to dream God-sized dreams. While it's not possible to create a new beginning, he said, we all have the power to write a new ending. "Take the blank pages of your life, take what is next for you and your church and make your mark!"he said.

Two conference clergy members served as preachers.The Rev. Pam Gardner, pastor of Slippery Rock United Methodist Church, preached during opening worship on the story of Thomas, who she said does not sound like doubter but more like "a disciple asking God for exactly what they need in order to have their ministry enlivened by Jesus Christ."

Describing Jesus bursting into the room where the disciples had sealed the door in fear, she noted that Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. So today, the church should not lock itself away in fear but ask God boldly for what's needed to enliven its ministry and expect something to happen. The question is, she said, "Do we believe any more that we are the ones who God is working with intimately, allowing us to ask daring and bold questions in ministry and believing that the answer is but a moment away?" She added: "We are so entrenched in this church, expecting the institution to save us" that we don't always remember that what one person who hears God's call and develops a passion for ministry can do.

The Rev. Bill Starr, pastor of Central Highlands United Methodist in Elizabeth Township, echoed the theme of the power of one person with faith when he preached during Saturday evening's ministry night service. Focusing on the story of David and Goliath, he noted that David had faith in God and was able to defeat the giant. We face Goliaths in many shapes and forms, he said, adding, "If we tolerate a giant long enough, he is going to take over our territory."

On ministry night, five new provisional elders were commissioned. Two clergy were received as members from other denominations. Twenty-six clergy, including 16 elders and one deacon, who are retiring were recognized for their years of service.

During a Sunday morning ordination service, one deacon and six elders were ordained. The average age of the new elders, deacon and provisional members is 37. One highlight of the service was the reading of Acts 2 simultaneously in English and four other languages as the sound of wind was heard in the room, bringing the scriptural description of speaking in many tongues to life. Another was Bishop Bickerton's baptism of 4-day-old Rachel Elle Urso, the third daughter of the Rev. Jude and Emily Urso. Rachel was born the day before the start of annual conference so her father could fulfill his duties as chair of the conference sessions program team.

Members endorsed two candidates for bishop in the Northeastern Jurisdiction: Greensburg District Superintendent, the Rev. William B. Meekins Jr., and Washington District Superintendent, the Rev. Eric S. Park. Both were recommended for endorsement by the conference's delegation to the General and jurisdictional conferences, and received the endorsement of the annual conference on the first ballot.

Sharon Gregory of Pittsburgh was elected conference lay leader, replacing Harry Barbus, who did not seek re-election after serving six years in the post. Re-elected to their current conference posts were Chancellor Amy Bentz; Secretary & Statistician John R. Wilson; Treasurer Patricia Morris; and Secretary of Global Ministries Kenneth Haines.
Pam Kitner of New Brighton United Methodist Church was honored as volunteer Youth Worker of the Year and Tammy Weisner of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Allison Park was named professional Youth Worker of the Year.

Denman Awards for Evangelism went to Michael Pratt, a member of Harrisville United Methodist Church and the Rev. Debbie Hills, an ordained deacon with West Springfield United Methodist Church who leads a Wheels for the World ministry in Central America and a ramp-building ministry in the Erie-Meadville District.

Members of the annual conference approved an updated sexual harassment policy for members and clergy, declaring that a clergyperson or member shall not engage in harassment. It includes definitions as well as directions for reporting harassment and processing complaints.

Through legislation, the members voted to encourage the Pennsylvania General Assembly to oppose a bill that would allow predatory "payday loans" with annual interest as high as 300 percent. They voted to support:

  • A bill that would allow the state courts to consider evidence of racism when reviewing death sentences

  • A Juvenile Justice Bill that would allow resentencing of an individual who was less than 18 years old when sentenced to prison for no less than 10 years to based on certain factors

  • An increase in Pennsylvania's tax on beer, which is the eighth lowest in the U.S., to fund alcohol treatment and programs to assist the most vulnerable citizens.

An apportionment budget of $9.06 million, which represents a $200,000 increase over the 2012 connectional budget, was approved for 2013. It does not include funding to publish a Conference Journal for every member. Instead, Conference Secretary John Wilson said the Journal would be available online, with a small number of required printed copies.

Annual conference members also approved a restructuring proposal that streamlines the Conference Connectional Network, into a smaller body that will oversee the work of boards and agencies, grouped into four ministry areas (Nurture, Outreach and Witness) between sessions of the annual conference.

Conference membership stands at 177,219, down 2,453 from the previous year. Worship attendance is at 58,321, down 1,359 from the previous year. Sunday school attendance is 17,939, down 1,368.

  • Jackie Campbell, news and information specialist, Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference