The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist met June 15-17 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center in Erie, PA to worship, celebrate and conduct the business of the annual conference. Pressing on to Higher Ground, based on Philippians 3:14, was the theme for the 2023 conference and was evident in the music, stage design, logo, and worship themes. The session included worship, ordination, Bible studies and plenary sessions, concluding on Saturday with a memorial service.
To read the Daily Journals from each day's proceedings, download documents, and see videos from each session, visit https://www.wpaumc.org/AC .
Worship was an integral part of the Annual Conference, opening and closing the three day session and as part of each special celebration. Music performed by Christ Church Bethel Park’s various praise teams was intertwined with business, and Vicky Stahlman led the singing of multiple hymns throughout the conference.
Ordination and Commissioning
The service for Ordination and Commissioning was emotional and spirit-filled. Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, who shares episcopal leadership of the Susquehanna Conference with Bishop Moore-Koikoi, preached a sermon about the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds Christ-followers who are running the race of life and ministry. She spoke of new opportunities and new people to reach, reminding that in this race Jesus is not a spectator but runs alongside. “Tonight is about igniting light and hope so that you and we together can live and teach fellow runners who are invited and called into this race,” she encouraged. “So, on this ordination day, run this race with Jesus.”
Seven were ordained as elders and one as deacon, while five were commissioned as provisional members to become elders and one as a provisional member to become a deacon.
The final worship was the Memorial Service, honoring the clergy, clergy spouses, and other laity that have died in the past year. Acolytes lit candles as the names of the honored dead were read aloud. The Rev. Jodie Smith then preached a sermon titled “Through the Storm with Hope”, which focused on the miracle of Jesus calming the storm. She spoke of the times of difficulty and pain, illness and death when many ask, “Why isn’t God doing something?” But in the midst of those storms, Rev. Smith reminds of the existence of hope.
“Our hope in Jesus Christ is a living breathing hope,” she said. “It’s an active force in our lives no matter what storm may come our way. The loved ones we honor today are living out their heavenly inheritance. Thanks be to God for the hope of heaven.”
Bishop Moore-Koikoi led Bible study on both Friday and Saturday mornings before the plenary sessions. Reports from each of the Conference’s Five Areas of Focus were presented, which can be viewed on YouTube and used in the local church.
She also delivered her State of the Church Address, highlighting the work of local congregations in mission and ministry. Videos included 91 year old Shirley Schmunk playing the hymn “Higher Ground"; 14 year old Akeemah Lee sharing her experience with combating racism in her middle school; news clips from the Mission Barn; and the experience of pastors whose churches have become designated Lighthouse Congregations.
The Board of Pensions awarded their annual wellness champion award to two recipients who both focus on mental health. The first recipient was Rev. Karen Slusser, who leads a mental health ministry in her local church, and the second was Hannah Empfield and her facility dog Quinn, who provides emotional support at our camps and other events.
Bishop Moore-Koikoi recognized the service of 63 retirees who had a combined total of 1,694.25 years of service!
Election of Delegates
Because of transitions of delegates off the General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation, there were two vacancies on the Jurisdictional Conference delegation. Mallory Miles and Jerra Jenrette were elected as lay delegates.
Members of the Annual Conference approved the Consent Calendar, with legislation focused on: accountable reimbursement and clergy allowances; nominations; special weekends; Conference evangelists; benefits for retired clergy; and more. Read all legislation.
A Connectional Budget for 2024 of $4,752,662.00 was approved, reflecting a decrease of $3,585,342.00 from the 2023 budget.
RS 611 Prioritizing Ethnic/Racial Ministries:This legislation charges the Director of Connectional Ministries, Conference Treasurer, Coordinating Cabinet, and structures of the annual conference to mitigate the additional risks posed to Ethnic/Racial ministries during this present time of systemic change by prioritizing the funding and resourcing of Ethnic/Racial ministries within our conference. In addition to allocating financial resources, The Western PA Conference will prioritize providing support for the identified new and existing Ethnic/Racial ministries at the conference, district, and local church levels including spiritual and prayer support, advertising and promotion, administrative assistance, training for clergy and laity, and facilitating appropriate conference and general agency staff engagement.
RS 309: Congregations To Pay Royalties When Using Negro Spirituals in Worship Congregations are strongly encouraged to establish a Negro Spirituals Royalties Project by identifying and tracking all music used by the congregation that is considered to be a Negro Spiritual; offering the opportunity to collect a financial offering every time a Negro Spiritual is used in worship or other church gatherings; identify a partner organization to receive the offering, preferably one committed to teaching and developing African American musicians and/or performing artists, and to provide educational opportunities. Discussed on the floor, amended, and passed.
Legislation Pulled from the Consent Calendar:
P5: To Proactively Care for laity, clergy, and churches remaining in The United Methodist Church following the completion of the Disaffiliation Process: Amended and ultimately referred to the IMAP Task Force for report back to Annual Conference 2024.
RS 403, which aimed to establish the IMAP Household Alignment plan, was tabled until Annual Conference 2024. The reasoning for this action was to allow time and space for grief and healing. The IMAP task force was approved to continue its work.
P1: To Retain ¶2553 petitions General Conference to retain ¶2553 past the sunset date of December 2023: Amended and passed
YOUTH AND MISSION
As is the case every year, the youth made there presence known and participated in every aspect of worship and business. They served as acolytes, tellers, worship leaders, ushers, bag stuffers, presenters, and energy givers.
During their presentation, the Youth Ministry Team presented Bishop Moore-Koikoi with animal ears which she wore for the remainder of the plenary session. They shared with the conference all the work they've done in the past year and the exciting plans they have for the future.
Prior to the start of Annual Conference, individuals came together in mission to clean medical equipment, put together hygiene kits, and tour local mission facilities. This Mission Impact Event was featured on the local TV news - watch below!
The Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church ratified the disaffiliation agreements for 298 churches during a special session in Erie, PA on June 14, 2023. Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi presided. Voting on churches in blocks by districts, the body overwhelmingly affirmed all the disaffiliation agreements with no contestations. Churches must fulfill their settlement obligations in order to complete the disaffiliation process, which many did immediately following the session.
In an emotional show of gratitude after the completion of voting, Bishop Moore-Koikoi thanked the Board of Trustees for the difficult work they’ve done through this process. “This has been difficult work to do,” she began. “It has been challenging spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. These persons before you were here for such a time as this. Because of their deep spirituality, their deep faith, because of their trust in God, they were able to carry out this painful process.”
Bishop Moore-Koikoi urged everyone to leave the special session with a spirit of peace and to bless each other. “I am begging us to show the world who God is through the actions of those who are remaining in the conference and the actions of those who have disaffiliated,” she said during remarks following the final vote. “Begging us to show the world who God is through how we will love each other and choose the better way.”