GRANTHAM - Representatives of around 900 United Methodist Churches, including 19 from Wyoming County, gathered at Messiah College, just south of Harrisburg last Thursday, Friday and Saturday to conduct the business of the larger denomination during the Susquehanna Annual Conference.
Bishop Jeremiah Park’s keynote address Thursday afternoon set the tone for the challenges of many churches “stuck in neutral zone” with regard to church vitality.
“We cannot afford to lose any one out there,” Park said of the unchurched and those drifting away from the church.
He cited Pew Research Studies noting that between 2007 and 2014, individuals in the U.S. claiming Christian affiliation dropped from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent.
Bishop Park said the trend has the essence of crisis with local churches being at the crossroads of danger and opportunity.
So, much of the annual conference was focused on equipping, empowering and engaging local congregations and the communities they serve.
Rev. Marian Hartman, Wilkes-Barre District Superintendent, introduced a session on “on ramps to vitality” that higlighted seven churches with extraordinary achievements in discipleship.
This year, the clergy and lay leaders across a sprawling 24-county area of Pennsylvania that stretches from the Maryland border below York northeastward to Great Bend just below the New York state line, also had to elect delegates to the denomination’s global General Conference held every four years with next year’s set for May 10-20 in Portland, Ore.
It was a tedious process for new electronic balloting that started mid-afternoon Thursday with glitches that had to be worked out as around 1,000 delegates then tested the machinery by voting for their favorite New Testament disciples.
In between conducting the corporate business of the Susquehanna Conference, Bible studies, and worship services, delegates finally hammered out the last of a slate of delegates at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, about three hours after Friday’s business normally would have been concluded.
Clergy going forth from the conference for General Conference are Rev. Larry Leland, Rev. Matthew Lake, Rev. Beth Jones (former Scranton District Superintendent in the old Wyoming Conference), Rev. Thomas Salsgiver and Rev. Anna Layman Knox (who presently serves the Hawley Church).
Laity heading to General Conference are Lisa Bender, Eileen Vizthum, Warren Heil Jr., a member of Scranton’s Asbury Church, Milton Loyer and Layne Miller.
On Friday afternoon, when youth groups representing mostly teens in the conference gave an energetic talk, the Bishop, who turns 65 on July 4, said they were the epitome of vitality he addressed the day before, and in response to a challenge he put on them during the year, he literally got down on the floor of the gymnasium and responded with 110 pushups and more than 200 bicep curls (with 12-pound weights in each hand) before a stunned audience.
The Bishop did, however, don his more traditional robed garb for a Communion service Thursday night that honored clergy and laity who had entered glory in the past year.
Among them from Northeast Pennsylvania were Betty Lou Furman, Rev. William Nelson and Rev. Rees Waring, long-time pastor at Scranton’s Elm Park Church.
At a Friday awards lunch, the conference gave out its Harry Denman Award which recognizes outstanding evangelism during the year to Ernie King, a lay member from Tunkhannock, and to Rev. Chad Carter, who pastors a pair of churches in the Catawissa area.
On Friday evening about 40 clergy were honored as they moved into retirement. Included was Rev. Linda Bryan of the Alderson/Kunkle/Noxen charge.
On Saturday, the bishop returned to his robe during an afternoon ordination service that closed the annual conference with a celebration of new clergy, others being ordained, as well as youths who had completed confirmation.
Just before ordination, new appointments beginning July 1, were announced with 13 of Wyoming County’s 19 United Methodist Churches seeing new spiritual leadership. Rev. Val Rommel will be the new pastor at Noxen, Alderson and Kunkle. Pastor Joshua Yorks will go to Mehoopany, Jenningsville and Forkston, replacing Pastor Jay Morris who will now be serving in Tipton. Pastor Gay Irwin comes to Lake Winola and Falls, replacing Pastor Michael Baumgardner, who will serve a pair of churches near Mifflintown. Rev. Peter Raser will be the new pastor at Factoryville and Dalton, and replaces Pastor Lori Robinson who will serve the congregation at Lehman-Idetown. In a realignment of churches into a new full-time United Methodist charge, Pastor Scott Ryan comes to East Lemon, Lemon and Meshoppen, and replaces Rev. Margie McCarty who heads to Gibson and South Gibson; as well as Rev. Lenore Hosier who moves from Meshoppen to a pair of churches south of Wellsboro. The Bethel Church at Falls, as well as churches at Russell Hill and West Nicholson are to be supplied.