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2013 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference
June 13-16, 2013, Grove City College

Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference members were blessed by dynamic preaching, insightful creative presentations on disciple-making and the joyful participation of church leaders from Zimbabwe during its 2013 session at Grove City College. The theme was "Disciples Making Disciples."

In his State of the Church report, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton urged leaders to make disciple-making the top priority in their congregations. He said clergy must lead by example and invite people into the heart of God, making it part of every conversation; laity must witness, and congregations must raise their level of expectation and state clearly what it means to be a disciple. Congregational leaders should be people who have walked the Emmaus Road and met Jesus, he added.

To make disciples, it's important to share life-changing stories, the bishop said. "Potential disciples are hunting for hope, joy, peace, a place of acceptance and love."

Bickerton encouraged members to do community evangelism during the conference. Several reported back on their experiences.

In the Laity Address, Conference Lay Leader Sharon Gregory declared that just as spark plugs provide power for engines, the Holy Spirit can be the spark plug for Christian lives. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she said, it is possible to be a living, functioning disciple.

The Rev. Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston, preached at a Friday evening worship service, as well as the Saturday morning commissioning service for four new provisional members. He said most of what he knows about disciple-making he learned when he was 8 years old: The only way it will happen is through relationships. "You can't make a disciple by yourself," he said. It requires collaboration - and love. Most people "are not going to ask what your doctrine or your polity is," he said. "What they really want to know is: Can you love them?"

In his sermon during the service of ordination for seven new elders, Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe, said disciples are made by creating community. The church comes out of community.

"Even when people saw Jesus, they doubted. That did not stop the Resurrection! The Resurrection will always be there," he declared. "It is the power that will bring people to Christ!"

The ministry of 34 retiring clergy representing a total of 917 years in ministry was recognized. The average age of the four new provisional members and seven new elders is 47.

Annual conference members packaged 25,000 meals for Stop Hunger NOW in the first two days of the gathering. The simple, yet nutritious pre-packaged meals will be delivered throughout the world to meet the needs of the hungry. Eastbrook Mission Barn volunteers at Grove City received 4,507 UMCOR kits.

Denman Awards for Evangelism went to the Rev. Steve Cordle, who founded Crossroads United Methodist Church in 1991, and Jeff Patton of Harmony-Zelienople United Methodist Church.

The Youth Ministry Team presented the volunteer Youth Worker of the Year award to Amy Scott of First Bethel United Methodist Church in Bethel Park and the Professional Youth Worker award to Johnstown District Superintendent the Rev. Alyce Weaver Dunn and her husband, the Rev. Keith Dunn, pastor of Belmont United Methodist Church in Johnstown.

Golden Sneaker Awards, for holistic health activity, were presented by Susanna Wesley (portrayed by evangelist Luella Krieger). First place went to the Washington District.

The conference approved a 2014 connectional (apportionment) budget of $9.55 million, a slight increase over the $9.06 million 2013 budget, but a decrease of more than $1 million from the budget originally proposed for 2014. The major difference came in the amount allocated for conference reserve funds. The total budget for the conference, which includes endowment and other income, was set at $38.09 million.
Other legislative action included:

  • Support for a Racial Justice Act encouraging the Pennsylvania General Assembly to enact legislation that would require courts to consider evidence of racism in sentencing;

  • Support for a Juvenile Justice Act that would allow resentencing of juveniles facing five years to life in prison based on a number of factors and would change the practice of collective culpability in favor of individual culpability for crimes committed by juveniles.

  • Legislation growing out of a Judicial Council decision on use of funds given by the former Pittsburgh East District to the East Africa Annual Conference included resolutions asking both the General Council on Finance and Administration and the General Board of Global Ministries to provide guidelines and insight to the Conference Board of Global Ministries to establish healthy direct partnerships and ensure financial accountability in use of funds. A related petition seeking to recoup funds intended for a church and a maize mill in Uganda was referred to the Conference Board of Global Ministries.

Conference membership stands at 173,928, down 3,291 from the previous year. Worship attendance is at 56,192, down 2,129 from the previous year. Sunday school attendance is 17,542, down 397.

  • Jackie Campbell