2021 Susquehanna Annual Conference

The 12th session of the Susquehanna Conference began on Friday, June 18, 2021. Bishop Jeremiah Park opened the session with a greeting message, that spoke of the theme for this year’s Conference: A Vision of the Beloved Community. Bishop Park went on to say “Our world, our nation, and our church are going through a profoundly liminal time with lots of uncertainties and anxieties. We hear seriously concerned voices of frustration, despair, and fear from all over the place. However, this unprecedented time we are living through could be a once in a lifetime moment for God’s people to catch up with the new things that God is doing among us and in the world. This may be a revolutionary moment of opportunity when history and hope and dreams meet together.” Bishop Park continued with a message of love, community, and Christ. “This is the time and we are the people to be a living witness of ‘A Vision of the Beloved Community of Christ’. Once again, we are the people of a vision of the Beloved Community: ‘Alive in Christ together, Susquehanna Conference will embody the Beloved Community of disciple-making congregations.’ Amen and Amen” said Bishop Park.

The Conference Session continued with worship. Opening with youth from across the connection reciting “Cultivating Beloved Community” which was adapted by Rev. Nathan Decker. Followed a rendition of the song “The Gift of Love”. The sermon was delivered by Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and Peninsula-Delaware Conference. Continuing the message of love and community Bishop Johnson said, “Jesus saw the heart of people: The woman at the well, Nicodemus at night, Peter by the charcoal fire after the resurrection. He patiently listened, engaged and looked at them with the eyes of God’s love and kindness…Sometimes we are so busy or so sure we know what a person is like ahead of time that we don’t really see them, hear their hearts and understand their backgrounds. Pope Francis recently wrote, ‘This haste, this everything-right-now, does not come from God. If we get worked up about the right-now, we forget what remains forever, and we follow the passing clouds and lose sight of the sky.’ Love has patience and sees the sky.” After Bishop Johnson, Rev. Kris Sledge, Rev. Anna Layman-Knox, and Rev. Paul Amara spoke about the Beloved Community Fund. Followed by the song “High Above”. The service was closed by Rev. Larry Leland.

After the opening business of the Conference, we viewed part 1 of the Leadership Report. The report featured churches throughout the connection and their various ministries that serve their congregations and communities. These ministries included a growing online ministry, vibrant youth ministries, and impactful community service.

The first report of the day was the Council on Finance and Administration, led by Council Chair Rev. Timothy Baer. It is noted that this report does not include the 2022 financial plan, which will be voted on in a Special Session in the fall of 2021. The report included Benevolent Goals, Special Sunday Offerings, and General Recommendations. The motion to accept the report was passed.

Next, Joyce Davis, Conference Lay Leader, delivered the Lay Ministry Report. Davis, spoke about the new Laity Board, which includes five young people to bring new ideas to the table. She expressed her excitement about the new Laity Board and the new collaboration with the Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia Conferences. And offered words of encouragement to our conference laity and urging them to be valuable resources for their clergy and congregations.

Bishop Park then introduced Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball. He voiced his excitement for this new vision. And, he spoke of the great ministry of these Bishops. Bishop Moore-Koikoi said “To the Annual Conference, in case you haven’t yet heard, I am excited beyond measure that Bishop Steiner Ball and I will be working together to provide episcopal coverage for the Susquehanna Conference, Western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia Annual Conferences. We believe that through the words of Isaiah 43:19, God is saying to our three annual conferences, today, I’m about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it.” She went on to talk about her love for the Annual Conference theme and the importance of the beloved community. Bishop Steiner Ball said, “I think of you Susquehanna Conference, and the opportunities, the new thing that God is bringing forth among the West Virginia Annual Conference, the Western Pennsylvania Conference, and the Susquehanna Conference. Indeed, the world is our parish, and I am looking so forward to getting to know you better and to being in mission and ministry alongside you.”

Then, Rev. Nick Kinney, Associate Director of the United Methodist Stewardship Foundation, gave the report for the foundation. The report consists of 2 resolutions. The first resolution was the United Methodist Stewardship Foundation merger with United Methodist Foundation of Western Pennsylvania. The second resolution set the parameters of agreement and plan of merger. Both resolutions were passed.

The Nominations Committee report was next and was given by committee Chair, Teryl Cartwright. The Nominations report was approved. After the Nominations, Rev. John Bondhus, from the Conference Board of Global Ministries presented the Advanced Specials. The motion to accept the Advanced Specials was approved.

Following the reports, a video of a conversation between Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball was shared. The conversation discussion parts of the new vision, encouragement of collaboration, and opportunities for innovation.

After a break for lunch, Rev. Michelle Bodle, Chair of the Board of Pension and Health, presented the Board’s report. There were 5 motions presented: 1) Annuity rate for pre-1982 years of service, 2) Retirement approvals, 3) Rental/housing for disabled or retired clergy, 4) Comprehensive benefit funding plan, 5) Discontinuation of retirement HRA for those retiring after June 30, 2021. All motions were approved.

Next were the resolutions, presented by Rev. Andrew Burd-Harris, Chair of the Conference Board of Global Ministries.

1) Mental Health: It includes three actions. The first, asks members to observe Mental Health Awareness Month on the third Sunday in May. The second, asks the conference to recognize September as Suicide Prevention Month and National Recovery Month. The third, asks the conference to observe Mental Illness Awareness Week during the first week of October and to hold a day of prayer on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. Amendment vote to remove lines 7 and 12, not approved. Amendment to add reference to the resolution accepted by Rev. Evelyn Madison. The resolution was approved.

2) Disability Awareness Sunday: It asks for this action, beginning on line 37: that members of the Susquehanna United Methodist Conference celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday as the second Sunday in October (October 10, 2021). The resolution was approved.

3) A Call to Work Toward Unity: It calls for five actions. The first, asks the members to work toward unity and creating space for every church, lay person, and clergyperson to live out their convictions, as we wrestle with different understandings of human sexuality and sin. The second, asks conference members to commit to do no harm in words or actions toward our fellow United Methodists in the Susquehanna Conference in the midst of our disagreements. The third, asks conference members to commit to do the most good possible through words and actions toward our fellow United Methodists in the Susquehanna Conference in the midst of our disagreements. The fourth, asks conference members to that we commit to attend to the ordinances of God together with intention as a witness to our faith in Jesus. The fifth, calls conference members to commit to undertake our work towards unity with charity and grace where possible and without malice when not. Amendment vote to change line 9 to remove “their convictions as we wrestle with different” and replace with “the ordinances of God on the” was not approved. Motion to call for the question vote was approved. The resolution was approved.

4) Reaching People with the Good News of Jesus Christ, Hope of the World: It calls for this action, which begins on line 41: that we, the people of the Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church, renew our commitment, for such a time as this, to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen from the dead, the Living Lord of history and the Hope of the world. Amendment to add the word “all” to resolution so it would state “to reach all people” accepted by Rev. Andrew Burd-Harris. The resolution was approved.

5) Unity in Mission: It calls for four actions. The first, asks the conference to resolve to desire to be an Annual Conference that lives out unity in diversity for the sake of our mission and as an answer to Jesus’ prayer that we may be one. The second, asks the conference to resolve to desire to stay in relationship with The United Methodist Church and in mission together. The third, asks the conference to resolve that, if the United Methodist General Conference amends The Book of Discipline, we aspire to become an Annual Conference that protects diversity of conviction and practice among our local churches and our clergy, including that we would hope to become an Annual Conference which permits, but does not require, performing of same-sex marriages. The fourth, requests that the leadership and local churches of the Susquehanna Annual Conference work towards practical frameworks for living together in connection as The United Methodist Church continues to discern its future path. Motion to table Resolution #5 was approved. Point of order was called. Parliamentarian, Rev. Jennifer Williams, ruled that ruling stands.

6) A Call to End Conversion Therapy: It calls for the action, that members of the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church urge the Pennsylvania State Legislature to ban conversion therapy in the state of Pennsylvania to protect and uphold the dignity, rights, and liberty of LBGTQA+ persons in this commonwealth. Motion to table Resolution #6 was not approved. Motion to call for the question was approved. The resolution was approved.

7) The Susquehanna Declaration: The first action, asks the conference to apologize to the LGBTQ+ persons in this conference and its predecessors who felt God’s call to ministry but were unable to pursue it due to discriminatory church laws. The second action, calls the conference to apologize to LGBTQ+ persons who have felt marginalized within their own churches, including those denied the blessing of a church wedding. The third action, calls the conference to pray that God would forgive our straying away from the Greatest Commandment, where Jesus commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The fourth action, asks the conference to pledge to engage in processes that require active engagement and a commitment to showing grace rather than expressing anger, given that not all in the United Methodist Church embrace LGBTQ+ equality. The fifth action asks the conference to commit to work towards a future church, here in the Susquehanna Conference, and in the broader United Methodist Church that is fully accepting of our LGBTQ+ siblings in all aspects of church life, including ordination, as well as marriage officiated by United Methodist clergypersons in United Methodist churches. Motion to table Resolution #7 was not approved. Motion to call for the question was approved. The resolution was not approved.

After the resolutions, we moved into a time of worship. Rev. Brenda Leigey, opened the COVID-19 Memorial Service with words of grief and comfort. Essential workers and youth then read scripture and gave brief messages of hope. Rev. Barry Robison, delivered the sermon “Mending the Nets of God”.  “The nets of our lives, individually and congregationally, have been torn and the task of mending them is before us. COVID has torn the nets of our lives in different ways. It has affected the physical, mental, and spiritual health of some people in ongoing ways.  It has affected others through loss of income or employment. It has caused folks to feel isolated through the loss of relationships, both personally and congregationally. COVID has torn the nets of the ways we live life, at home, in public, and at church” said Rev. Robison. He talked about the time it takes to mend and finding hope in Christ to help us through that time. Rev. Robison, went on to speak about how when the net is mended it will not be the same and how our churches and their ministries will never be the same. He called on churches to embrace these changes. “And so today, as important as mending nets can be, I encourage you to resist the temptation to think that all you can or should do at this time is mend your nets by trying to put your lives back together the way they were. God may be calling all of us away from those efforts to some other purpose” said Rev. Robison. The service continued with a time of prayerful reflection. The service concluded with the song “New Wine” and a benediction from Rev. Barry Robison.

Day 2

On June 19, 2021, the 2nd day of the 12th Session of the Susquehanna Annual Conference was called back to order by Bishop Jeremiah Park. The day began with a Juneteenth worship service. Rev. Kris Sledge started the service with a brief history of Juneteenth and the importance of the holiday. Rev. Sledge was followed by members of the connection singing “Oh Freedom”. The poem Juneteenth by Noah Griffin was then recited. Bishop Park then introduced Bishop Jane Middleton, formerly of the Susquehanna Conference. He noted her many accolades and great history of ministry. Bishop Middleton, then took time to offer her appreciation for the conference and the honor of speaking on this day. Rev. Mindi Gochnaur, then read 1 John 4:11-16, 19-21 and Luke 10:25-37.

Bishop Middleton, began her message with words of love for all, no matter your difference, no matter how hard it is. “The kind of love Jesus is calling for is a profound love in which the Christ in me sees the Christ in the other, every other. The power of love Christ requires of us is its all-inclusiveness. The most impossible reality of that love is its all-inclusiveness. How can we love knowing our own frailties? We cannot love in this radically inclusive way through our own power. Only by surrendering our will, our idiosyncrasies, our disfunction, our prejudices to God can we even begin to love with radical inclusiveness. Perhaps even most important, if we can accept with every part of our being that we ourselves are unconditionally loved by God, perhaps then we can truly love,” she said.

Bishop Middleton, went on to talk about the Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre in 1921, and the effect it had on generations. She closed with thoughts on 1 John “The words of first John remind us that the source of this love is God in Christ Jesus. We can’t do this by our own power but by God’s gift. It’s a wondrous circle of love. ‘If we love each other, God remains perfect in us.’ Only by God’s grace can we even hope to live a life of love. The proof of our capacity to love is in our relationships with the near one and the far one, with those closest to us as well as those who are unlike us, our opposites. ‘If anyone says I love God and hates their brother or sister he or she is a liar.’ We must love with every fiber of our being. We must love because God first loved us. How can we do this? By allowing the Christ in me, to recognize the Christ in you,” Bishop Middleton said.

Following Bishop Middleton’s message, Rev. Catherine Boileau, spoke about the Cup of Water Fund. Next came the song “We Shall Overcome”. Rev. Kris Sledge closed the service.

The Trustees report was the first business of the day. Rev. Mark Shover, President of the Board of Trustees presented the report. The Trustees motions and actions are as follows:

1. Convene corporate session. The motion was approved.

2. Approval of the minutes from the October 2020 meeting. The motion was approved.

3. The adoption of the reports of the Board of Trustees and the Property & Casualty Committee. Rev. Shover had 3 corrections to the Trustees' report. Rev. Barry Robison, confirmed and affirmed those corrections. The motion was approved.

4. Disaffiliation of Bethel-Marysville church. Motion to call for the question was approved. The motion was approved.

5. Confirmation of the new trustees just elected in ecclesiastical session. The motion was approved.

6. Adoption of the full report of the trustees. The motion was approved.

7. A resolution to approve all acts of the board of trustees from October 3, 2020, to and including June 19, 2021. The motion was approved.

8. Adjourn corporate session. The motion was approved.

9. Motion that in ecclesiastical session, the conference approve the actions taken at the 2021 meeting. The motion was approved.

Next was Rev. John Overman, Chair of the Commission on Equitable Compensation, who delivered the Commission’s report. Motion to amend line 23: 2022 minimum salary increase from 2% to 3% was not approved. The report was approved.

Following that was the 2nd part of the Leadership Report. The ministries featured today exemplified the conference’s mission of growing transformational leaders, equipping vital congregations, and connecting with each other and the world. Rev. Kevin Witt and Kim Shockley, spoke about the Grow Curriculum.  Then the conference got a look inside how one church used the curriculum and how impacted the congregation. The Camp and Retreat Ministry followed. They talked about coming back to camp after the pandemic and how it was made possible through donor support. Next, was some insight into Fresh Expressions through the experience of First UMC in Williamsport and Camp Hill UMC. Then the conference learned more about multi-site churches with Linglestown Life/ Rockville UMC and Spry/Pine Grove UMC. Following that, Disaster Response Coordinator, Doug Hoy. He talked about what Disaster Response does and how churches can get involved. Michelle Schwartzman, Volunteers in Missions Coordinator, then spoke about the different things that missions do and how it impacts people.

Next, there was a motion to return to Resolution #5 from day 1 of session. The motion was approved. The resolution was as follows: Unity in Mission: It calls for four actions. The first, asks the conference to resolve to desire to be an Annual Conference that lives out unity in diversity for the sake of our mission and as an answer to Jesus’ prayer that we may be one. The second, asks the conference to resolve to desire to stay in relationship with The United Methodist Church and in mission together. The third, asks the conference to resolve that, if the United Methodist General Conference amends The Book of Discipline, we aspire to become an Annual Conference that protects diversity of conviction and practice among our local churches and our clergy, including that we would hope to become an Annual Conference which permits, but does not require, performing of same-sex marriages. The fourth, requests that the leadership and local churches of the Susquehanna Annual Conference work towards practical frameworks for living together in connection as The United Methodist Church continues to discern its future path. The resolution was approved.

Next, the Young People’s Ministry Council presented their report. They talked about the program Lead Now, which is an internship program for senior high students that helps them develop their gifts and learn leadership skills that was piloted at Aldersgate UMC in Mechanicsburg. The students worked with Vacation Bible School, built websites, and video production for their churches. They are also mentored by church staff.

Bishop Park, then took time to recognize conference chancellor Ray Hamil, who will be retiring later this year. Bishop Park then recognized Bob Force who has been committed to the conference for 30 years in the finance ministry, he will be retiring this year but will still serve on the Seedling Financial Board. He then recognized Rev. Greg Myers, for his service on conference staff, cabinet, and Board of Ordained Ministry, he will be retiring this year. Bishop Park then recognized Christy Mackey, who served as the Executive Assistant to the Bishop for many years. Christy will be leaving in July.

After the lunch break, the conference heard from those who will be ordained as elders this year through Wesley’s historic questions. Those examined were Rev. David Layser, Rev. Jason Schwartzman, Rev. Kristopher Sledge, and Rev. Daniel Wilt.

Following that we took time to honor those who will be retiring this year (24 in total), by members of Cabinet reading the names. Followed by honoring those who have passed away since the last Annual Conference, through members of Cabinet reading the names. Bishop Park then set the appointments for 2021.

Then came a time to honor Bishop Park, who will be retiring effective on Aug. 31. Members of the Transition team Rev. Barry Robison and Lisa Bender spoke on the team’s behalf. They thanked Bishop Park for his ministry. As well as shared that many people have donated the Beloved Community Fun on his behalf raising thousands of dollars. Then a video was played of many across the conference connection thanking Bishop Park.

Bishop Park then went on to thank members of the staff, the cabinet, clergy, and laity who worked to plan this year’s conference session. He then made some important announcements: Conference session will come to order again on Oct. 5, 2021, for a special called session. The conference will be voting on the budget at that time. The next Annual Conference will take place in person on June 1-3, 2022, at the Hershey Lodge. We then entered a time of worship.

Closing worship was opened by Rev. Grey Myers. He thanked Bishop Park, talked about his ministry, and praised his steadfast service. Next was the song “How Great Thou Art”. Bishop Park delivered the message for this service. He began by recounting being assigned to the Susquehanna Conference. He went on to thank the conference, “Please accept my ‘Thank you! Thank you! And Thank you!’ from the bottom of my heart for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. God’s people of the Susquehanna Conference, clergy, and laity alike, your commitment to discipleship and stewardship, dedication to mission and outreach, and diligence in ministry and service are truly exemplary and exceptional; and you remain committed to all of these things even in the midst of an unprecedented season of multiple challenges. Your faithfulness is outstanding and exemplary. No wonder, I was told, that the Susquehanna Conference was number one among all annual conferences in the United States for 2019 shares of ministry collection. You honored the general church shares of ministry 100% even last year, the most financially challenging year! Mission Central, Seedling Ministry as a loan fund, and the Stewardship Foundation are all in a much stronger place ready to serve more people and congregations! Thanks, and praises be to God! No matter what, our people are determined to continue to touch and serve and transform lives with the love of God in the name of Jesus Christ. In the midst of the unprecedented challenges all around us, we see our pastors and congregations continue to offer new and creative ministries as they expand their presence and connection with the people in the community and beyond with determination, courage, and grace for the sake of the good news of God. Indeed, our people remain steadfast and serve with their time, talents, and treasurers to represent the presence of healing and hope for such a time as this. Thanks be to God for you!”

Bishop Park then went to say goodbye, “So with confidence, I commit you to God and God’s grace for such a time as this. Indeed, the God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:6). He continued to talk of his love for worship, “I have been most richly blessed to have traveled the hills and valleys, the farmland, and the rural areas, small towns, suburban, and the cities of the Susquehanna Conference to visit our churches and people. Lisa and I immensely enjoyed the times we had in worship and fellowship all over the place in our conference. Wherever I visited I shared with our people a message that we are a church alive in Christ together. We worship and serve the living God. As God’s people, there is no other way to be, but alive!”

He then went on to take a moment of personal privilege, expressing his love for his wife, “Lisa, you’re the best dance partner I can ask for. I am privileged to have the best wife and you are the best mom for Cathy and Matthew, and their spouses George and Joyce, and you are the best grandma Gemma, Penelope, Eugenie, and Eli can have, you are a blessing to all of us beyond description. Lisa, how can I thank my God enough for the joy I have because of you? With you, I know that the best days of our lives are yet to come and am looking forward to our common journey ahead in joy and peace with gratitude.” He closed his message by singing the song “For I Have Touched the Hem of His Garment.”

Bishop Park then spoke about the Mongolian Mission fund and some of the history of the mission. Next came the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Rev. Matthew Lake then offered a prayer for our Bishops during the transition. The Chi Rho singers then led a time of worship. Rev. Mindi Gochnaur, offer the benediction to close the service.

Closing out the live portion of the session, Rev. Barry Robison, motioned to adjourn the conference session. The motion was approved.

 

Clergy Delegates

Rev. Matthew E. Lake

Rev. Janice F. Hughes

Rev. Dr. Thomas Salsgiver

Rev. Dr. Kathleen E. Kind

Rev. Jason R. Mackey

Rev. Dr. Kenneth M. Loyer

 

Laity Delegates

Christina McDermott

Craig Brennecke

Kaytlynn Hughes

William Leight

Dr. Milton Loyer

Spencer Ross (age 19)

 

Alternate Clergy Delegates

Rev. Mark F. Reisinger

Rev. Dr. Gary D. Weaver

Alternate Laity Delegates

Dr. Kim Garris (LeGore)

Raymond Hamill

 

Membership stands at 133,312, down 3% from the previous year.

Worship attendance stands at 34,646, down 29%.

Church school attendance stands at 12,353, down 27%.

Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2020 279, from 2019 down 62%.

Adults and young adults in small groups for 2020 Adults (21,314); Young Adults (1,833), from 2019 Adults-down 7%; Young adults-down 18%.

Worshippers engaged in missions for 2020 20,960, from 2019 down 30%.

 

—Janelle L. Walker, director of communications

 


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