“Anchored in Christ,” based on Hebrews 6:19, was the theme for the 2022 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. The annual conference met June 2-4 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. The session included ordination, Bible studies and plenary sessions, concluding on Saturday with a memorial service. Masks were required at all times due to an upswing in COVID transmission in the region. The event was streamed live. Clergy session was held late in May at Dutilh United Methodist Church.
During opening worship, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi spoke to the gathered body on diversity of thought and beliefs. “As followers of Christ, we are not called to think the same thing about every matter but rather we are called to approach every matter in the same way,” she explained. “We are called to do everything in love. We are called to go about things in a loving way, not a combative way. We are called to think about matters in ways that unite us, not that divide us.” She further emphasized this is not easy work and it calls for complete surrender and the consideration of others.
Paul Huey was elected as the new conference lay leader. He had served for the past year as co-lay leader with Sharon Gregory, who served for several years in the position. In a message on Saturday morning, he reminded laity that they too are called into ministry and if they accept the call may effectively minister in their communities and beyond. He honored Sharon Gregory for mentoring him in the role and for her years of leadership.
The vice-chair of General and jurisdictional conference delegation Vicki Stahlman, joined by the co-chairs of the episcopal nomination team Janet Lord and Katherine Fehl, requested suspension of conference rule 22.214.171.124 (the procedure for episcopal endorsement and nomination) to allow two elders to be brought forth for consideration. This rule was suspended and Revs. Alyce Weaver Dunn and Robert F. Zilhaver were elected as episcopal candidates. This was the first time a woman has been elected as an episcopal candidate in Western Pennsylvania.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi shared her State of the Church Address through a video highlighting ministry and faith throughout the churches of the annual conference. Ministries showcased included a new senior center, a district partnership with a district in Zimbabwe, an anti-poverty campaign and other ministries.
In her video address, the bishop said:
“I stand here at the foot of the Jumonville cross thanking and praising God for you and your faithfulness. I stand here humbly thanking God for the privilege of being your bishop, for the gift of being a part of this annual conference and for the sense of family I feel being among you. I stand here at the cross to declare that the evidence is in and there is no doubt; God is near. God has got us. And we have got a mighty God. I stand here to declare, God is not through with us yet. God continues to use this annual conference in miraculous ways to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And I am convinced that as long as we stay anchored in Christ, God will continue to use us in a mighty way.”
The Rev. Asa Lee, president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, preached at the ordination service on Thursday evening, June 2. His sermon titled “Invited to Fish” focused on Matthew 4:19. He offered a word of encouragement to the ordinands, saying:
“I pray that you will always be faithful to what God calls you to do in your life in ministry, for faithfulness is the common denominator. Faithfulness is what it means to follow. Faithfulness knows the sound of the savior. Faithfulness may take you to your own rugged cross, but in Christ you will have a sure foundation. Faithfulness is what we are called to and while we are not always successful when we are faithful, God will be glorified. And you will be edified. There is only one person inviting you to go fishing. That is Jesus. You better bring your own pole and your own net.”
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi ordained five elders; commissioned one provisional elder and one provisional deacon; and received one new associate member. The average age of the ordained elders is 37.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi led Bible study on both Friday and Saturday mornings before the plenary sessions, reflecting on the Book of Hebrews.
Reports from each of the conference’s Five Areas of Focus were presented. View these videos on the conference website.
Poonam Patodia, United Methodist Communications chief marketing officer, presented an award for Jackie Campbell, director of communications, honoring her commitment and service to the United Methodist Church in the field of communications. Campbell will retire on June 30.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi recognized the service of 29 retirees who had a combined total of 633.5 years of service. Seventeen retirees who were present, and their spouses were honored at a luncheon.
Outgoing Conference Lay Leader Sharon Gregory opened worship. After song and prayer, 20 clergy, 18 clergy spouses, laity in leadership, and other individuals who had passed away since the 2021 annual conference were recognized as a candle was lit for each. The names of 10 churches closed over the past year were read and Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi prayed for these churches and released their assets to bless others.
The churches closed are: Bethany United Methodist Church in Holbrook; Bethel United Methodist Church in Franklin; Brandy Camp United Methodist Church; Bridgewater United Methodist Church in Beaver; Christ United Methodist Church in Johnstown; First United Methodist Church in Koppel; First United Methodist Church in Clairton; Garfield Street in Johnstown; Mann’s Choice; and Osweyo United Methodist Church in Coudersport. These churches closed due to declining membership predating COVID.
The Rev. Rob Wilson preached a powerful message titled “Hanging on to the Line,” emphasizing the importance of disciples casting nets and anchoring in Christ’s love in the midst of grief. He preached from personal experience, both as a pastor and as someone who grew up in a family of commercial fishermen.
Members of the annual conference approved through the consent calendar legislation focused on: accountable reimbursement and clergy allowances; nominations; special weekends; conference evangelists; and benefits for retired clergy.
The most notable piece of legislation passed was the “Actively Waiting Task Force Petition for an Intentional Missional Alignment Process.” This resolution calls for establishment of “three households” within the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference:
- ●The Continuing United Methodist Household will be available to those who aspire to be working in the mission field with members of differing perspectives on human sexuality. This household aspires to: remove sexual orientation as a consideration for fitness for ministry; allow each clergy person to discern if they will or will not officiate for same-gender marriages; allow local churches to independently decide whether to host same-gender marriages or not; and invite the bishop to use these considerations when making appointments.
- ●The Traditional Household will be available to those who aspire to be working in the mission field only with members having a more traditional perspective on human sexuality. Therefore, this household would aspire to maintain ordination standards pertaining to human sexuality, including prohibition of homosexual practice, and prohibit all clergy and churches from celebrating same-gender marriages.
- ●The Progressive Household will be available to those who aspire to be working in the mission field only with members who have a progressive perspective on human sexuality. Therefore, this household would aspire to have the full inclusion of, full affirmation of, and full participation by all people in all aspects of the life of this household and in the lives of its churches, including the ordination and appointment of persons without respect to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, it would have the celebration of same-gender marriages by all clergy and in all churches in this household.
Further, the resolution designates phases as elements of the Intentional Missional Alignment Process, with detailed processes defined to assist local churches, laity, and clergy as they move into households within the Western Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church or potentially make decisions to become a part of other expressions of Methodism. It also ensures that this transition is handled smoothly and responsibly by designating functions, which will specifically need to be active throughout the entire process. Lastly, it sets up an Intentional Missional Alignment Task Force to lead, plan, coordinate and manage aspects over the next few years.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi determined that one piece of legislation, “For Disaffiliation Agreement Pursuant To ¶2553,” was not properly before the body, giving a ruling of the chair on this item as a decision of law, which will be forwarded to the Judicial Council.
Legislation pulled from the consent calendar, brought to the floor for discussion and ultimately approved by the body included: base compensation; a bylaw amendment for in-person meetings; a motion urging the General Council on Finance and Administration to stop offering non-binary as a gender option on reporting forms; and a motion urging action from various agencies regarding transgender athletes.
A connectional budget of $8,338,004, an increase of $61,464 over the 2022 budget, was approved.
Find links to legislation, budgets and other reports at wpaumc.org/AC.
STATISTICAL DATA for 2021
Number of retiring clergy: 29
Membership stands at 138,200, down 5,568 from 2020.
Worship attendance stands at 28,777, down 1,614 from 2020.
Church school attendance stands at 7,427, down 2,974 from 2020.
Professions of faith for 2021 were at 421, up 126 from 2020. Reaffirmations were 316, up seven from 2020.
Young adults in small groups for 2021 was 1,196, down 211 from 2020. Adults were at 14,383, down 764 from 2020.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2021 at 16,057, up 764 from 2020.
- —Liz Lennox, conference communicator
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