United Methodists from across central and northeast Pennsylvania, including all 19 United Methodist Churches in Wyoming County, finally got a chance to meet in the Susquehanna Annual Conference on Saturday.
Unfortunately, it was virtually by way of Zoom technology.
“We Methodists like to sing our lungs out, and unfortunately this is not the time and place to do that for all of our safety,” Pastor Robin Fillmore said from her Harveys Lake home, not long after voting on a nominations report to staff the committees that work behind the scenes that take care of the business of the church.
Fillmore, who pastors churches in Eatonville and Evans Falls, said there were a few things not to like by packing what typically takes three days into six or seven hours, like not being able to see old friends up close or make new ones who share a kindred spirit.
Instead of morning sessions for worship to center one’s heart on Jesus Christ, the denomination’s reason for being, emphasis this go round was more on ‘’essential business” stuff for the clergy and laity representing more than 800 United Methodist churches.
Acknowledging “This will be our first virtual annual conference,” Bishop Jeremiah Park opened the day reminding participants of words from Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “God is about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
To make sure the voting technology was working he threw out a test question, “Do you like social distancing?” to get the day started.
Seventy-four percent said they disapproved.
It was not surprising, as Bishop Park said, “We are called to love our neighbor.”
He added, “COVID-19 cannot be conquered when we are divided. Now more than ever our hurting communities and the world are in need to see God’s church united in offering Christ’s ministry of healing, hope, and the vision of the Beloved Community for all.”
With that focus, those gathered were invited to participate in just one offering for the day to go toward ‘Building the Beloved Community’ fund to tackle one of the conference’s most important priorities “of dismantling racism in our communities and in our churches.”
Bishop Park said, “Our world and our churches are going through unprecedented times of challenge. For such a time as this we must be attuned first and foremost to the will and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Your continued prayers for God’s grace to surround us to be a church faithful and alive in ministry to all the world would be deeply appreciated.”
In the afternoon, the body addressed ‘Advance Specials,’ ongoing missions the conference supports, one of which being the Haiti Partnership, which lay person Barb Gay oversees as part of the Tunkhannock UMC congregation.
The afternoon also acknowledged ministers retiring, including Linda Eckersley, Helen Learn and Val Rommel; as well as persons “gone on to glory” in the past year, such as Rev. Betty Reilly who once shepherded the churches Fillmore now serves.
Of Reilly, Fillmore said, “She was a trailblazer for God, and set an example for us all.”
Usually the next-to-last thing happening at a typical 3-day annual conference is the naming of appointments to various churches. That had already taken place last spring by way of internet announcements on the Susquehanna Conference’s internet page.
In addition to Pastor Fillmore, those returned to Wyoming County assignments as of July 1 are: Harold Schorr at Center Moreland; Jean Blackie at Factoryville, Scott Ryan at Lemon, Meshoppen and Russell Hill; Jon Buxton at Tunkhannock, Nick McMichael at Falls and Lake Winola; and Julie Rosensteel at Mehoopany, Jenningsville and Forkston.
New appointments include Jerry Post at East Lemon, Kenneth Brown at Noxen, Ronald Fork at Skinners Eddy, John Whitehead at Nicholson, and Linda Eckersley pulled out of retirement to serve Bethel at Falls, with West Nicholson to be supplied locally.
The last thing of a typical annual conference is an ordination service. An online ordination service will be taking place Nov. 7.