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2016 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference

2016 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference Report

Grove City College, Grove City, PA.

June 9-12 plus Day of Preparation with a two-session seminar with Phil Maynard entitled From Membership to Discipleship, a prayer walk and healing service on June 8.

Officiating Bishop:  Thomas J. Bickerton

Guest speakers: Adam Hamilton; retired Bishop George W. Bashore

Memorable points or quotes by speakers:

BISHOP BICKERTON: In both the opening worship service and his State of the Church address, Bishop Bickerton talked about the discord and divisions in politics, the church and the world. He  offered familiar words from the prophet Micah to help point the way through these turbulent times: “Do justice; Love kindness and Walk Humbly with our God.”

In the State of the Church address, he noted that those on the extremes are calling for a split in the denomination. He called on any present who are working toward a separation to stop and instead work “to preserve our greatest witness – an outward expression of an inward and deeply spiritual grace that honors our diversity, loves all of God’s created children equally, and longs for unity at all costs in the body of Christ!”
“Our role is to lead the church in times of worship, study, discernment, confession and prayer for God’s guidance rather than our own,” he said.  “We must preach, teach, and live as a demonstration of the unity that is only possible through Jesus Christ our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst!”

ADAM HAMILTON: “The approach the generation coming up is most likely to respond to is the Wesleyan approach to the Gospel,” Hamilton said. He explained that young adults are looking for authenticity and for opportunities to make a difference, put beliefs into action and be part of something greater than themselves.   

Leaders, Hamilton said, set the tone for the organization. Their role is not to manage, but to inspire and lead. Churches should regularly conduct 360 evaluations and see how to improve.  "Leaders don’t give up,” if something doesn’t work.  But church leaders must “change, innovate, improve or die.”
It’s important for leaders to know and show their people what a disciple looks like, then figure out how we are going to help them get there, Hamilton said.  “Be willing to do whatever it takes to accommodate needs.”
Hamilton offered five ways to connect with people through preaching:

  1. Teach them something they didn’t know before.
  2. Inspire them; speak to their hearts.
  3. Issue a call to action.
  4. Make lessons relevant to their daily life. Take practical everyday things and relate them to the spiritual.
  5. Preaching has to be biblical and relate to the human condition. 

“There is power in preaching when you get out of the way and let God work,” he said.
To reach the unchurched, Hamilton said, “You have to figure out what is beautiful about this church – not just The United Methodist Church, your church. … Leaders need to be able to say to everyone, ‘This is what I love about our church.’”
In his final session, he said, “If your church exists to be the body of Christ, it seeks to reach the least and the lost,” he said. After telling a story of a young woman who now is part of the Church of the Resurrection, he asked, “Are you still the church that will accept a divorced, single mom, barmaid who is leaving Wicca? Because if not, then I don't know if I want to be a part of this church anymore.”

Main actions enacted by the conference 

Members of the annual conference approved a connectional apportionment budget of $9.68 million for 2017. Before the vote, they agreed to refer a proposed amendment to reduce the base percentage for calculating apportionments (and cutting the budget accordingly) to the Council on Finance and Administration for a report for the 2018 budget. An additional action charged the Connectional Leadership Team, in consultation with the Personnel Committee, to complete a comprehensive study of the Conference staffing structure to address its efficacy, sustainability and utilization of the staff and Cabinet members’ gifts to benefit the local church.

Members supported a resolution to call on Pennsylvania elected officials to reform the ways political campaigns are financed in the state, to require full disclosure of contributors and reduce the “undue influence of money in our political process or social system.”  Another resolution directed leaders to call on elected officials to eliminate gerrymandering in the way legislative and Congressional districts are drawn.
Other legislative action redefined policies and practices for WPAUMC Conference Global Mission Partnerships, set Special Sundays within the Conference and approved three General Evangelists – Rev. Christine Rogan, Rev. John Zimmerman and Luella Krieger. 

What did your annual conference do to reinforce the Four Areas of Focus, and what commitments has the conference made for the coming year?: 

Besides Adam Hamilton’s teaching on how to reach Beyond the Walls, the following addressed areas of focus:

NEW PLACES FOR NEW PEOPLE: Five videos demonstrating how new faith communities have been launched, mostly from existing congregations or groups of congregations, were shown through the annual conference sessions.  One showed how Fijian immigrants who moved to a low-income area in rural Fayette County (Appalachian region) have become active members and revitalized Point Marion UMC.  Another focused on how Fox Chapel UMC, located in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Pittsburgh, through using demographic information and conducting prayer walks in adjacent Sharpsburg, launched the growing Roots of Faith community, which offers worship, fellowship, small group Bible study, weekly meals, and other outreach ministries.  A third focused on a recovery ministry and technical college student outreach that is helping to grow the new Connect Church, launched by churches of the Blairsville charge in a business corridor running through the area.  Funding in the connectional ministry budget will continue a New Church Academy and training for potential new church leaders.

GLOBAL HEALTH: In celebrating Bishop Bickerton’s ministry, especially with Imagine No Malaria, gifts were made for INM/the new Global Health Initiative totaling $75,638.51

DEVELOPING PRINCIPLED CHRISTIAN LEADERS: The Conference celebrated commissioning of the largest class of provisional members in at least 12 years. Noting this, Bishop Bickerton said: “The reason for this is there has been a culture of call developed here. There has been a convergence of efforts . . .the camping program, the Board of Ordained Ministry and people in the local churches with a depth of spirit who are unafraid to approach someone and say that they believe God is calling them into ministry.  I have to say that before I recognized my own call to ministry someone in the church saw it first and told me.”

Ordination, Commissioning, Retirement Stats

Six new elders were ordained (average age 45.5); one received from another denomination; 22 provisional members were commissioned (average age 35.6, but 15 were under age 35); one associate member received.

Number of people retired: 27, representing 763 years of service

Membership stands at 168,185, down 3,157 from the previous year.

Worship attendance stands at 54,085, down 1,968 from the previous year.

Church school attendance stands at 15,960, down 302.

Professions or reaffirmations of faith totaled 2,244, down 410 from previous year.

Adults and young adults in small groups: 25,466, up 464.

Worshippers engaged in mission: 11,288, up 3,756 from previous year.