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2013 Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference

May 16-18, 2013
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, Oaks, Pa.
Theme: "Wholeness: Physical, Spiritual, Relational"

Nearly 1,000 annual conference attendees opened with celebrations of church and ministry outreach efforts on each of the six districts. Bishop Peggy Johnson led opening devotions, noting the 275th anniversary of Aldersgate Day on May 24, when John Wesley's heart was "strangely warmed." She said, "Be fired up and ready to spread the good news to the ends of the Earth."

Dr. Mary White, conference lay leader, presented the laity report, saying, "It's time to get up out of the pews and reach out to those that are unchurched in the community."

The Rev. Jim Todd presented the superintendents' report, calling for all to be "relentlessly outwardly focused."

The conference welcomed Gary Harke, executive director, Pennsylvania Council of Churches. Steve Drachler announced organizational changes for United Methodist Advocacy in Pennsylvania, effective July 1, when it will come under the direct guidance and oversight of Pennsylvania's three bishops.

The Denman Award for outstanding evangelism efforts went to Aaron Smith (laity honoree), Woxall Tabor United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Ralph Stevenson, Bethany UMC.

The Kim Jefferson Award for 2013, presented by the Office of Urban Ministry, went to New Vision United Methodist Church, Philadelphia.

Bishop Violet Fisher preached for the memorial service on the evening of Thursday, May 16, when the conference remembered deceased bishops, clergy, spouses, lay members and staff. "Tonight we stand on the giant shoulders of those who have gone before us," she exclaimed. "God, I thank you that they were faithful when they received $40 a month; that they were faithful preaching on the street corners; that they were faithful serving in the soup kitchens. Question is: do we have the same zeal - the same zest - or do we do it because somebody expects it?"

Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference spoke on the morning of Friday, May 17. "Scripture longs to be put into action," he said of the United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria ministry whose purpose is to eliminate malaria death in Africa by 2015. To date, $50 million has been raised toward the goal of $75 million, which will provide resources, delivery systems and support in fighting malaria. "It's not just about malaria; it's (also) about evangelism and giving people hope," he said.

The Rev. Christopher Kurien, director of connectional ministries, led the Celebration of Ministries, spoke about evangelism training and the recent missions celebration, and introduced new and returning program coordinators, who spoke of their conference ministry. The four camp directors shared an inspiring video to promote summer camp.

In a Service of Recognition, the conference honored 17 retiring clergy, representing 535 years of ministry. Retirees placed a handmade prayer shawl over the shoulders of 2013 ordinands and anointed and prayed with them.

On the evening of Friday, May 17, the Service of Ordination included the preaching of Johnson. "Tonight we ordain and commission souls for ministry," she said. "It is the highest and most holy night of the conference year in my opinion. Lives are being offered up to God for holy service and true personal sacrifice. I am here to tell you what you already know: you will encounter a goodly number of trials on the journey (you have already, I'm sure) but God, OUR GOD, is surely your strength and your song.Strengthen yourself through prayer, through time away with God and through the heart of worship and service."

One person was commissioned for deacons orders, eight for elders orders;one person was ordained deacon, three elders. Johnson noted the absence of the late Rev. Joyce Anderson, who was to have been ordained this year.

On the morning of Saturday, May 18, the Rev. Kirk B. Jones gave an inspiring message on "Self-Care Strategies" as part of the conference wholeness theme.Jones realized at one point in ministry that he was in personal burnout.He shared three strategies to "burn bright without burning out": get to the back of the boat more often (to get away from the pressures of ministry), live at a sacred pace and be as purposeful about your leisure as you are about your ministry.

Wholeness theme:

Five deacons and one elder took an HIV test to raise awareness that June is HIV Awareness Month. Tai-chi classes and a prayer labyrinth offered times for physical and spiritual wholeness. Penn-Jersey Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross held a blood drive, and 37 donors participated.

Delegates packaged 19,848 dehydrated, high protein and highly nutritious meals to be distributed to schools and orphanages in Haiti by Stop Hunger Now.

Lydia Munoz led music for worship, along with a team of musicians, including Irving Cotto, Esdras Seda, Sheila Milz and Andreas Cotto.

Communications included live video streaming, posts on the conference website, Facebook, Twitter and Picasa. Services included American Sign Language translation, assistive listening devices, on-screen transcription of the spoken word and a big-screen reader. Prior to the opening, the Eastern Pennsylvania Renewal Fellowship led a prayer walk.The Order of St. Luke held morning Communion in the Prayer Room.

Offerings received:

  • Project Tariro: $3,235.52
  • Scholarships: $ 3,939.81
  • Imagine No Malaria (collected by a pesky mosquito):$1,242.22
  • Imagine No Malaria offering: $ 9,037.28
  • Camping envelopes: $2,690.00

Business

Conference members voted on four Constitutional Amendments and 18 resolutions. Among the approved resolutions were creating a Mission ConneXion (missional clusters) and second-mile giving for 28 ministries.Not approved was a reduction to four districts, recommended by the Blue Ribbon Committee.

The 2014 approved budget (for six districts) includes $2,899,339 for conference ministry and $2,395,272 for General Conference ministry, totaling $5,294,611.

2012 Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Summary Membership/Attendance

  • Membership stands at 113,192, down 2606 from 2011.
  • Worship Attendance stands at 41,819 down 908 from 2011.
  • Sunday School attendance stands at 13,592, down 841 from 2011.

- Suzy Keenan, coordinator of communications, Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference