Monday, August 25, 2014

New video series sparks dialogue

Kristopher Sledge and John Hodges-Batzka (center left and right) sat down in the LINK Communications studio to record their conversation about the statistics and challenges facing Young Adult Ministry. Audrey Wilder (left) directs, while Ashley Brooks and Jerry Wolgemuth operate cameras. This recording was the second of six installments in the Authentic Space series being produced by the Young People’s Ministry.

The first installment of the new “Authentic Space” video series was released in August. Authentic Space is a small-group video resource created by the Young People’s Ministry to equip local congregations to engage young adults in meaningful conversation, and inspire faithful young adult ministry.

New installments will be released on the Young People’s Ministry website ( on the fifteenth of each month from August through January. Each installment will include video segments and a discussion guide designed for use in a small group setting. The material can be used by anyone considering how to be in ministry with young adults, including young adults themselves. All that is needed is an internet connection and a group of people wanting to build the kingdom of God one relationship at a time.

Anyone who has any questions about the series or would like more information, please contact Audrey Wilder, Director of Young People’s Ministry and Christian Education for the Susquehanna Conference, at

Get a group of people together and start a conversation. Download the first video and discussion guide at

Parts 1 and 2 of the "Engaging Young Adults" dialogue from the 2014 Susquehanna Annual Conference is also online at:
Engaging Young Adults ... Part 1
Engaging Young Adults ... Part 2

Transform Williamsport

In August about 300 volunteers participated in Transform Williamsport, working on a wide variety of home repair and other projects throughout the Williamsport community. Photos by Jordan Miller.

By Sandii Peiffer

Transform Williamsport, held August 11-16, 2014, was a week devoted to sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the Williamsport community.

The week-long event was started in 2013 by First Church, a United Methodist congregation in the heart of Williamsport, and church members were excited by the number of people who got involved this year — more than 315 volunteers from 22 local churches participated.

Participants could choose to work one day or work the entire week, serving in whatever capacity they were able.

First Church sought applications from the community requesting home repairs and other projects and help needed. There were 85 projects on the list including repairing houses, building handicap-access ramps, demolition, yard cleanup and landscaping, drywall repair, painting, as well as many other projects.

“Through our service, we hope to see the physical transformation of Williamsport as well as transformation in the lives of those whom we are working with and in our lives,” said Mitch Marcello, Director of College and Community Outreach at First Church.

Each work day began for all the volunteers with  breakfast at 7 a.m. and  devotions  at 7:30 a.m. at First’s Christian Life Center in downtown Williamsport.

Monday evening First Church hosted a Block Party, something of a pep rally, to which all participants were invited.

Friday night they held an appreciation dinner for homeowners and other recipients of the “love.”

“This was a time to allow us to thank them for letting us into their lives during the week,” said Marcello. It also gave the homeowners a chance to do the same.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Engaging Young Adults in Ministry: part 2

The following is part two in a series about Engaging Young Adults in Ministry. At the 2014 Susquehanna Annual Conference, we began a dialogue about the absence of young adults in the church and about how we can re-establish our relationships and ministry with them. This series is an edited transcript of that dialogue. The video of this presentation can be found at (“Young Adult Presentation”) and the full, unedited transcript can be found at

Kristopher Sledge

I am currently a seminary student at Wesley Theological Seminary, and I have the honor of being on staff at Fishing Creek Salem United Methodist Church working with young adults.

In May I participated in a local high school baccalaureate service. As I stood up to share my thoughts with the up-and-coming high school graduates, I had this deep fear rise up in me — the fear and the realization that for the very first time, the majority of those high school graduates will never walk into a church again. A bold claim, but a realistic one.

As Director of Young Adult Ministries for the past eighteen months, the plethora of conversations I have had with young adults has revealed that there is a deep disconnect between young adults and faith communities.
A survey of any of our congregations in the Susquehanna Conference will show that there is a lack of young adult presence.

Many of us have asked the questions, “Why are young adults not engaging with the church?” and “How do we get more young adults in our church?”

What I have realized over the last eighteen months is that this question cannot be answered with a simple response or through a mere blog post of the top new ways to reach young adults, because the problem is deeper and more nuanced.

There are currently fifty million young adults (ages 18-35) in the United States, which make up about 15 percent of our population.

I recently surveyed some young adults, asking them how they would identify their age group, and I got three responses: the first one was, “It’s a time period.” The second one was, “It’s a season of life.” The third response was, “I think it’s just a lifestyle.” The reality is that this age group is diverse.

This group of people consists of college students and young adults who are working full-time or seeking to work full-time. They’re married. They’re single. They’re dating. They may be parents, they may be single parents. They may be divorced, or they may already be widows or widowers.

So as I share with you some statistics about this diverse generation, I want you to keep two things in mind: The first is that there are different kinds of [church] drop-outs, as well as faithful young adults who never drop out at all. We need to be careful not to lump an entire generation together, because each story of disconnection is different. I think this is why program language is no longer effective. Number two: I believe that the drop-out problem at its core is a faith-development problem, or to use church language, a “disciple-making” problem. The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ faithfully in a rapidly changing culture.

So young adults are known as a missing generation in the church. David Kinnaman, author of You Lost Me. Why Young Adults are Leaving the Church ... and Rethinking Faith, shared these statistics:

  • 61 percent of young adult Protestants (18-29) have dropped out of attending church after going regularly. What this means is that 61 percent of our youth groups won’t be part of the church once they graduate high school.
  • 57 percent of all young adult Christians (age 18-29) say that they are less active in the church compared to at age fifteen. Once they reach fifteen, their level of involvement is significantly reduced.
    And the last statistic that I think is the most staggering: 
  • 75 percent of young adults are currently not attending church on a frequent basis. 
  • Because of this, young adults are often known as the “black hole” in faith communities/church attendance. 

The reality is that the universal church — all churches, including churches in our annual conference — is struggling with this issue. We’re struggling to be in relationship with young adults effectively.
Here are the United Methodist clergy statistics:

  • In the General United Methodist Church there were 16,290 elders in 2013. Only 932 were under age 35, or 5.91 percent.
  • In the Northeastern Jurisdiction there were 3,042 elders in 2013. Only 126 of them were under age 35, or 4.14 percent — even lower.
  • In the Susquehanna Conference, there were 529 elders, deacons, and local pastors combined in 2013, of which 41 were under age 35, which gives us a higher than average percentage of 7.75 percent.

As a result of my research and reading there are two categories I want to share with you about why young adults are disconnected and why they are not participating in the churches.

Personal Challenges:

We have friends who are not committed to Christ. 
If 75 percent of my generation is not engaged in the church, then you would expect my peers and me to have friends who aren’t Christian. And that becomes a personal hindrance for us to be in the church.
Disappointment with ecclesiastical machinery. 
I think there is some sort of distrust that we have formed with the church and the hierarchy that is established with it.
Inconsistent mentors. 
There’s either inconsistency in the mentor’s personal life, or mentors who aren’t truly invested in a relationship, so they aren’t consistent with it.
Unresolved doubts and personal fragmentation. 
In the midst of our young adult years our identity is formed — who we are and what we believe. In the midst of that we have doubts. We are an over-educated society that learns about anything and everything by going to the internet; establishing many doubts and fragments in what we believe.
Poor personal choices with ongoing impact .
The reality is that young adults make mistakes. We aren’t perfect. Because of that we keep away from the church because we have felt judged. Not that the church has judged us, but we perceive that we may be judged because of our lifestyle or because of the things that are on our bodies.
Spiritual sabotage.
You can use whatever verbage you want to use, but I think that there is an effort out there that keeps an already disengaged generation further away from the church.

Six church disconnections (from "You Lost Me")
Young adults are feeling disconnected from the church because it feels:
  1. Overprotective. Young adults sense that the church does not value their creativity or cultural engagement, which is very crucial to their lifestyle. Their creativity would produce something new and would presumably be different than traditions.
  2. Shallow. Some young adults find the church to be boring and superficial.
  3. Anti-science. With medical advances, personal technology, travel, and care of the natural world, young adults feel that the church has not helped them interact with science in a positive way. A clear example of this is the battle between the [theory of] evolution and creation.
  4. Repressive. Religious rules, particularly sexual moors, feel stifling to the individual mindset of young adults. 
  5. Exclusive. Young adults are being shaped by a culture that esteems open mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance. So, thus, Christianity’s claim to be exclusive is a hard sell. 
  6. Doubtless. Young adults find that church is not a place to openly share and express their doubts.

All of these things, both the personal and the church corporate ones, are relational barricades, and this is so crucial, because millions of young adult lives are at stake.

Millennials are the largest generation in American history. They are also a generation that are disconnecting from church and faith in larger numbers than we’ve seen in generations. The consequences of not paying attention to our disconnected relationships with this generation will have a significant impact on the church.

But more than that, I think it’s personal for you and me.

My heart breaks when I think about a few of my peers from high school — Gabe, Ariana, and Josh — who have not been able to find the church to be a healthy place for them to be, to openly wrestle with faith, and wrestle with God. And they’re not finding the church to be [relevant] to their lives.

For some of you, it’s not your peers, it’s your children, your grandchildren, or your great-grandchildren.

And in the midst of my own wrestling, in my own battling with the statistics, I am always drawn to prayer. I am drawn to prayer because that is where I need to find my hope, and I think that’s where we find our hope as a church body.

We need to pray and ask God for wisdom; wisdom in building relationships of re-connection that will allow all of us to participate in seeing God’s faithfulness extended to a new generation.

I want you to think of two young adults: one from your church, or a grandchild, or a child, who may have lost the faith. Also think of a young adult still in the church, still engaged with faith, still engaged with discipleship, and rejoice — be thankful for that life. Let us pray with urgency. God is calling us to have an urgency with this generation. There is something powerful in all of us praying for all of those young adults that came to mind.

Please pray with me.
God, we are drawn to you for hope. God, we come to you because you have first loved us. You have called each of us by name and have given each of us an abundant and full life. You, God, love and care for your entire creation, for all of your people. We are mindful today of [young adults], for a generation who is lost and falling further away from you. For this, O God, we mourn. So God, we pray to you; grant us peace, grant us grace, and grant us urgency to be in relationship with a new generation. God, give us the minds to understand, the words to affirm, and attitudes to love, because you, O God, are the ultimate source of hope in this life. God, we pray for every young adult that comes to our mind – may each of them come to know you in a deeper and more holistic way. God, we lift this up in your holy, amazing name, Amen.

Read part 1 here:
The video of this presentation can be found at (“Young Adult Presentation”) and the full, unedited transcript can be found at

The Journey

By Rev. Mike Bealla, Director of Connectional Ministries

Have you ever noticed that when you begin to pay attention to a certain word, phrase, tune, or an idea, it seems to be everywhere?! As the fall season nears I have begun to notice the frequent use of the word “goals.” Little League teams gathering in Williamsport have a goal to win it all. High school football coaches talk about the goals they have for the upcoming season. Parents talk with their school-age daughters and sons about goals for the academic year. My goal is to not pay too much attention to the shortening daylight hours as we move forward in the calendar year.

Goals are meant not to put pressure upon us, but rather to give us something to aim for … a sense that we are accomplishing something of value. In our Wesleyan heritage one could say our goal is to become perfected in Christ. That is certainly a goal that most of us could easily agree to be a worthy journey.

We are now in our second year of participating in Vital Signs. The use of the Vital Signs Dashboard is a tool that can help us see where we are heading and how well we are carrying out the task of mission and ministry. Let me thank you deeply for your effort. Nearly all of our churches are now recording their information through the dashboard. We have done mightily toward taking on this task, and after some early resistance to the concept, for most it has become a routine that takes very little time.

Our goal in using the dashboard, however, is not about compliance and whether or not the data is entered by every church. The real goal is for your local church to use the data recorded to help it move toward greater vitality. My prayer is that rather than simply recording the data, churches will use this fall season, perhaps as part of planning for church conferences, as a time to set a goal of greater vitality and use the dashboard to track the progress toward the goal.

Goals should be reasonably obtainable to be helpful and encourage effort. For instance, a local church could set a goal to increase worship attendance by five percent during 2015. Then using Vital Signs, progress toward that goal could be shared with the whole congregation on a regular basis, encouraging the effort.
What is a Vital Congregation? Vital congregations are those that are spirit-filled communities of believers which welcome all people. They are places where people continue to grow in Christian discipleship and move beyond the church to serve as Christ served through justice and mercy ministries.

How can you spot such a congregation? Vital congregations have inviting and inspiring transformational worship. They have growing disciples engaged in mission and outreach. They have gifted, empowered, and equipped lay and clergy leadership. Small group ministries are almost always present, as well as strong children’s and youth ministries.

The goal of the Connectional Ministries staff is to help local churches Equip, Empower, Engage, and Connect their faith communities in ways that help nurture their vitality for the sake of God’s kingdom.

I offer this prayer in closing:
Lord, amidst all the fear and anger, violence, and hatred apparent in the world in so many places, may we as your church set a goal not simply to make a difference in the world, but to make the world a different place. We thank you for the challenge set before us and grace that leads us to places we might not go without your calling us. In Christ’s name and for his sake … AMEN.

Editorial: Let’s be a “good” church

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. There are talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) — plus science, business, global issues, the arts, and much more.

Policy advisor Simon Anholt has dreamed up an index to get governments thinking outwardly: In a recent riveting and funny TED Talk that had 800,000 views in two weeks, Anholt presents his Good Country Index to answer the question, “Which country does the most good?”

To arrive at a conclusion, Anholt measures how much each country on earth contributes, not to its own population, but to the rest of humanity. Those contributions are then compared per capita and per dollar of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Anholt’s research seems viable; you can make your own decision after viewing his list at His conclusions may surprise you: Ireland is Number One; the U.S. is Number 21.

If you’re up to a thought-provoking exercise, turn Anholt’s research into a deliberate provocation by viewing Anholt’s 18-minute talk at

After you’ve viewed the video ask yourself questions that come to mind as you think about world issues and how they might relate to issues that face the Christian church.

Be careful! Provocations can reveal new and helpful insight. They can also lead you down the wrong roads. So, pull your discernment hat down tight.

Might some of these points made by Anholt provoke us to any new insight?:

  1. “Globalization has taken us by surprise and we have been slow to respond to it.”
  2. “The seven billion of us who caused world problems are the same seven billion who will resolve them all.”
  3. “Every country believes them-selves to be an island that exists quite happily and independently of all the others on its own little planet in its own little solar system.”
  4. A psychopath is a person who lacks the ability to empathize. They don’t see other human beings with deep, rich, three-dimensional personal lives with aims and ambitions. What they see is cardboard cutouts.”
  5. “Many thousands of years ago we discovered that if we do the same things, we wouldn’t die. So as long as we carry on doing the same things we’d be OK. It’s very sensible not to do anything new, because it might kill you.”
  6. “I used to think that I wanted to live in a rich country, a happy country, a fast-growing, competitive country. I want to live in a good country.”

You can respond below in the comments box.


Commentary: Not in charge

By Jerry Wolgemuth, Director of Communications

I remember agreeing to handle the children’s sermon one Sunday morning. I also remember my pastor’s admonition, “The first thing you need to understand is that you’re not in charge.” If you do children’s sermons, you understand what that means.

I suppose it’s a good idea for someone to be in charge most of the time. And most of us have a hankering to know who’s in charge, when they’re in charge, and the very words they’re supposed to say whilst in charge. It can get kinda’ predictable and sometimes, a little boring.

Now I really do think we should keep on printing bulletins for Sunday morning. I mean, I’ve seen folks come to church after the bulletins were all gone and they just sat there ravaged by one anxiety attack after another. It just was not a pretty sight.

I remember Mike Slaughter talking about the Sunday he left the sanctuary at Ginghamsburg Church just before his sermon was to begin, just to see what would happen. After some deadly silence folks began to share God’s goodness in music and witness and wonderful “church” happened.

Glad we could get together.

Growing Effective Churches: Starting a new worship service

By Rev. Dennis Otto, Director of Congregational Development

During the course of my ministry I have been involved in starting four or five new worship services. I can say two things with certainty. First, nothing helped the church reach new people faster and increase worship attendance more dramatically than starting a new worship service. Second, when done incorrectly it is very costly in terms of time, money, and leadership capital. I know, because of the four or five worship services that I helped start, four or five were started incorrectly. Now only one failed completely, but it would have been great to have a model for how to start well.

Paul Nixon (I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church et. al.) and Jason Moore (Midnight Oil Productions) are leading a workshop on how to start new worship services effectively. The workshop is entitled The Domino Effect. The flier and registration site are below. Paul and Jason have this to say about the workshop:

“Launching a new worship service for a new constituency is the single most helpful thing most American churches could do to unlock God’s future for their communities. It is not a silver bullet, but when done right, this pushes a church into much of the critical work necessary to reboot themselves in twenty-first century community. And it will help to bless a lot of people who have never known that ‘church could be like this.’”

Center for Spiritual Formation celebrates 20 years

Marjorie House (center) and her husband Rev. Jay House (left) talk with Bishop Jeremiah Park (right) about the history of the Center for Spiritual Formation at the Center’s twentieth anniversary celebration in August.
By Jerry Wolgemuth

The beautiful summer evening of August 17 brought 74 persons to the Orchard Hill Retreat Center near Millerstown to celebrate the first 20 years of the life of the Center for Spirtual Formation. The affair had the essence of a family gathering with hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill and tasty dishes brought by those with close ties to the program of the Center.

It was an evening of music, singing, reminiscing and a message from Bishop Jeremiah Park. “All I need to say is ‘wow!” he said. “This is simply a fantastic place that we are so proviledged to share as God’s people. The story of the transfiguration comes alive in this place. I want to build tents here and stay here. Thanks be to God for this awesome gift.”

Marjorie House has been a member of the Center’s Board of Directors since it began in 1994. “Russell Hart came to me in 1994 and said that Bishop May was very interested in a retreat center in the Conference. He asked me to serve on the Board. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time but I agreed.

The 200 acres of land was a gift to the Center by Gary Miller. “There used to orchards up here and that is why we called it Orchard Hill,” Marjorie says, “but you won’t see any sign of the orchards anymore. When we first came up here it was overgrown with weeds and trees. We had to do a lot of clearing.”

The vision for the Center for Spiritual Formation was for a place to come for retreats, not only retreats that the Center would set up but local churches would be encouraged to use for retreats.

“The intention was to keep the Center as natural as possible,” Marjorie says. The first structure to be built was a pavilion followed by a labarynth, a lodge with kitchen, living room and bedrooms for ten. Several walking trails have been opened,.

The labarynth is perhaps the most imposing feature of the Center. “It was developed by a couple of board members. who did a lot of hard work,” Marjorie says. “It’s so large it had to be layed out with ropes. It’s beautiful! People walk it slowly as they pray to the center and then they weave their way back out. Now it’s lit by solar lights.”

Rev. Russell Hart explained in his Susquehanna Xpress interview that the Center in a typical year schedules about 46 events. A sampling of several ongoing programs are: (1) training in the Ministry of Spiritual Direction which yields a certificate as a Spiritual Director, (2) the Lay Seminary which gives students a taste of what a seminary would be like if they were able to go to seminary. (Some from the Lay Seminary go on to become Certified Lay Ministers. Others go back to their local churches and become more effective laity.) and (3) the School of Prayer, four Saturday sessions in a year to explore Richard Foster’s book on prayer. There is a long list of shorter programs on topical themes.

You can find out more about these programs of the Center for Spiritual Formation through the following contacts: Phone: 717-240-0678; FAX: 717-243-2356; E-mail:; Mail: 45 South West Street, Carlisle, PA 17013. Their website will be especially helpful in learning about the programs of the Center at

The interview with Brittany Howell on Susquehanna Xpress will be webcast soon and can be found on the Susquehanna Conference website video archive at

Randy Heisley-Cato and Hank Imhof offer some spirited Appalachian old-time and bluegrass music at the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Center for Spiritual Formation.

All Things New

By Anne Horton, Director of Camp & Retreat Ministries

It has been a wonderful summer for over 1,350 children and youth, and over 500 adult volunteers. All four of our camp sites have been abuzz with activity. They have learned to look for “All Things New,” for God is doing amazing things in their lives, their local church, and in their communities. They have discovered it is important to stay open to God’s movement; that God is still creating; that they are being shaped by God; that they need to continue to grow in discipleship, and that God will always be creating in and through them.

In all of the weeks of camp the love that I observed, and felt being shared, was amazing.

Check out the new video on the camping homepage,, to see pictures from the summer.

Thank you to all the churches that sent children and youth to camp. Thanks for supporting your camps. This year the camper scholarship fund gave assistance to over one hundred campers with approximately $17,800. It is wonderful that we were able to give assistance to so many.

From these pictures, you can see what a wonderful summer it has been. Thank you so much for helping to touch lives for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!


Top Ten
Thank you to the ten churches that sent the most campers to camp this year ...

Aldersgate Mechanicsburg, Harrisburg District: 81 campers
First Mechanicsburg, Harrisburg District: 74 campers
Stewartstown, York District: 45 campers
Camp Hill, Harrisburg District: 39 campers
First Williamsport, Williamsport District: 32 campers
Christ Selinsgrove, Lewisburg District: 25 campers
Hicks Memorial Duncansville, Altoona District: 24 campers
Wesley Bloomsburg, Lewisburg District: 19 campers
Calvary Harrisburg, Harrisburg District: 18 campers
Grace Hummelstown, Harrisburg District: 15 campers
Orrtanna, York District: 15 campers

August LINK poster

Spirit of Invention: Father’s Day is drive-your-tractor-to-church Sunday!

By Connie Lauchman

On Sunday June 15, 2014,  Fairmount United Methodist Church in York, Pa., held its first annual Father’s Day “Drive your Tractor to Church.”

At least twenty participants from the community and surrounding area took the opportunity to drive their alternative transportation.  A parade of small and large tractors started at the Fellowship Hall and proceeded to the Church.

The service and hymns were led by Pastor John Bell and was enjoyed by all. A cook out after the church service was held on the parsonage grounds.


Transformational days at Mission U

By Karen Barraco

The learning, the giving, the singing, the sharing — all combined for an inspiring and transforming four days for those who participated in Mission U at Bucknell University, July 10-13.

Thursday’s one-day event, Sampler Day, brought together 126 men and women of the Susquehanna Conference for a “sample” of the study topics, “How Is It with Your Soul?” and “The Church and People with Disabilities.” Thursday was also the arrival day for 27 youth and staff for the four-day youth event.
The three-day weekend event was attended by 81 adults, with 15 children participating in the Mission U for Children classes.

Nearly $2,500 from the Tracy Ogden Scholarship Fund helped make it possible for children and youth to be a part of Mission U.

In addition to items collected and assembled for health kits, an offering of $1,965 will be divided between the Roma Mission & Community Center in Hungary and the United Methodist Women’s pledge to mission.

Look for more pictures from the event at the Susquehanna Conference website here:

A busy season at Mission Central

Mission Central staff enjoyed the third annual Elegance in The Warehouse Gala in April. Left to right: Margi Bradley, Melissa Stricker, Reverend Robert Visscher, Deb Harden, and Ray Harden. 

By Melissa Stricker

The “mission” of Mission Central is to connect God’s resources with human need. And we are doing just that.

On April 5, we raised nearly $37,000 towards our operating budget at our third annual “Elegance for the Warehouse Gala” at the West Shore Country Club.

In May, we hosted our first ever “Day of Learning, Networking, and Celebrating” for our HUB network. We currently have 29 HUBs located throughout the Northeast U.S. Each HUB is a mini-version of Mission Central.

June was a busy month for us here at Mission Central. Executive Director Rob Visscher attended Annual Conference at Messiah College and the New York Annual Conference at Hofstra University.
Also in June, 20 employees from Deloitte skipped their day jobs and spent the day volunteering at Mission Central for their Impact Day. The team painted the parking lot lights, cleaned up the woods area, and did a little gardening.

A group of hard-working volunteers helped complete a major project here at Mission Central in July. They helped remove 24 pine trees that lined the property. A few weeks later, a local company came in and removed all of the stumps for free.

In August, Pastor Noah Quarshie of Grace Baptist Mission, Ghana, and his team loaded up a container full of medical supplies, clothing, a boat, a motorcycle and other much-needed supplies to ship to Ghana, West Africa.

Mission Central counts on the generous donations of churches, individuals, and businesses. While many churches support Mission Central through volunteering and donations of kit supplies, only about 24 percent give on a monthly basis.

Please consider partnering with us to “Buy-A-Day” for $1,500. A Half-Day option is also available for $750. We would love to see 300 churches “Buy-A-Day” for 2015!

York City Race Matters receives GCORR grant

Pastor Yvette Davis

This article was reprinted with permission. View it here:

Palestinian Christian Conference Challenges United Methodists

Rev. Alex Awad, Palestinian Christian missionary, greets Lisa Bender of Susquehanna Conference at a recent conference on United Methodist’s role in the Middle East held at Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio. Photo courtesy of Lisa Bender.

By Lisa Bender, Shopes UMC, Hummelstown, Pa.

Close to 300 United Methodists and faith partners from around the world gathered recently at Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio “to join hands with fellow Christians, Palestinians, in considering how our faith commitments can contribute to holy justice and peace for all the people of Palestine and Israel,” according to Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), and co-sponsor of the conference with Rev. Mike Slaughter and the host church.

Addressing the conference’s theme, “Walking with Palestinian Christians in Holy Justice and Peace,” Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Church stressed that it is possible to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Conflicting narratives require listening with discerning ears. While there are divergent theologies of the land, Biblical theology leaves room for Palestinians and Israelis to live together in peace, she said.  Violence and violations of human rights creates insecurity on both sides.  She believes that violence doesn’t reflect the hearts of people on either side. In her many trips to Israel/Palestine, Hybels has met with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peacemakers who are working for transformation.

In response to Hybel’s keynote, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference and President of GBGM, and Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council further encouraged participants to help bring peace to the region. Rev. Abrahams, a South African, quoted poet June Jordan with “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” He encouraged us to work for “dignity, justice, and a just peace for all God’s people by using every form of non-violent means we can.”

Participants at what was called the largest gathering of United Methodists on a single social issue heard presentations from a number of Palestinian Christians, including Rev. Alex Awad, who with his wife Brenda have served as United Methodist missionaries for 25 years in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As a child he was warned not to get involved in politics, but realized that God calls the church to action. His examples included Moses, the judges, the prophets, and especially Jesus. “We must dream of a future without refugee camps, without separation walls, without separate roads. We must imagine a future living in peace with equal rights, with peace, justice and security for all.”

Other Palestinian Christians included Wissam Salsaa, one of only 42 Palestinian guides permitted to travel throughout Israel and Palestine compared to 15,000 Israeli guides with the same privilege. United Methodist Holy Land visitors are encouraged to use Palestinian guides, provided through the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem. Wissam stands in line each morning for two hours at a checkpoint on his way to work.  He refuses to travel with his young children as he doesn’t want them to see him humiliated. “We Palestinians are human too,” he said. “We love to live.  We want to live.  We are different from the way we are presented in the media.”

Zoughbi Zoughbi, director of Wi'am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, believes the occupation demoralizes both Palestinians and Israelis.  He updated the group with statistics on the current situation in Gaza, where one quarter of the population are displaced with no water, electricity or sewage.  32,000 homes have been destroyed, with nearly 2,000 persons killed and close to 10,000 wounded.  “Tell the world we need a safe haven,” he urged.

A viewing of the poignant and disturbing film “Where Should the Birds Fly” about Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, was narrated by its filmmaker, Gazan journalist Fida Qishta, who was brought to the conference and introduced by United Methodist Women Executive Harriet Olson.  Fida touched hearts with “The camera is the only weapon I have. I know if I am shot the camera will capture the bullet that kills me.”

Nora Carmi from Kairos Palestine, the group that issued Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth in 2009, explained that kairos means the right or opportune moment. The document, written by Palestinian Christian clergy, is a call for the world’s help, including use of nonviolent options like boycott, divestment and sanctions. She believes “we see the glory of God even amongst the pain and suffering.  We are called to be changed, to act, to be transformed.” Study guides are available for groups reading this document.

A plenary on United Methodist positions included thoughts from general secretaries Barbara Boigegrain of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, Susan Henry Crowe of the General Board of Church and Society and Thomas Kemper of the Board of Global Ministries.

Subdued worship experiences led by Jorge Lockward and The Ginghamsburg Band included messages from Rev. Mike Slaughter and Dr. Wendy Deichmann, President of United Seminary in Dayton. Participants held lighted candles as they prayed.

In addition, thought-provoking workshops were led by leaders of partner organizations and by general secretaries and staff of the GBGM, the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits.  Topics included Christian Zionism, how occupation changes reading of scripture, Holy Land travel, corporate engagement, boycotts and divestment, and Congressional advocacy.

Palestinian Christians invite us to come and see then go and tell.  Most participants had traveled to the Holy Land, where their hearts were captured by the plight of the Palestinians.  Several Susquehanna Conference pastors are leading upcoming trips to the Holy Land.  For more information, contact Pastor Kurt Herzberg (, Rev. Dennis Derr (, or Rev. Gary Weaver (

Immediately following the close of the conference, 86 participants gathered at the conference's partner event with United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), also held at Ginghamsburg UMC, August 8-9. UMKR is "an international peace movement in the United Methodist Church responding to the urgent call from Palestinian Christians for effective action supporting a just peace in Israel/Palestine." Participants at the UMKR Summit 2014 spent Friday evening and all day Saturday hearing more from Palestinian Christian guests and UM missionaries serving in the Holy Land, and discussing plans to expand the work of UMKR throughout the Connection. Those plans included reaching more United Methodists with the information presented at the Walking with Palestinian Christians conference and the reasons behind decades of UMC General Conference opposition to the Israeli occupation. More information about UMKR may be found at:

For general information about the conference or about the Middle East conflict, contact Lisa Bender at

The Susquehanna Conference Divestment Task Force continues their study of how best to make an impact in the region.  For questions about the Task Force, contact Rev. Phyllis Bowers, Chair, at (

To hear Alex Awad speak from Bethlehem, click on these links:
Gaza: The Real Story and Standing with Christians In Gaza

Blessed to be a blessing

By Fred Burgess, Carlisle UMC

Carlisle United Methodist Church has come up with an unusual twist to tithing. Many leaders of religious organizations, including United Methodists, urge members to consider contributing one-tenth of their income to God as outlined by the Bible. This summer Carlisle UMC leaders decided this tithing concept can work both ways, electing to contribute one-tenth of an unexpected windfall to Carlisle.

“We were unexpectedly blessed as a church with a gift of $1 million” from the estate of a former member, said the Rev. James VanZandt, lead pastor.

“One of the ways we believe our church can show our thankfulness to God for this unexpected blessing is to tithe, or give back, 10 percent to the community in which we have been planted. “To our great joy, we get to give away $100,000.”

It was split among fifteen community organizations: Carlisle CARES, Project SHARE, the Samaritan Fellowship, the Salvation Army, Safe Harbour, the faith-based youth sports program known as Upward, the Todd Baird Lindsey Foundation, Carlisle Senior Action Center, Maranatha-Carlisle, Hope Station, the YMCA’s “Strong Kids” campaign that offers discounted program fees and scholarships for at-risk youth, the YWCA’s Grandview Afterschool Homework Club, ARC of Cumberland County, Carlisle Fire & Rescue and Union Fire Co.

The checks were mailed or hand-delivered last week.

VanZandt declined to provide details about how the $100,000 was split among the organizations or to identify the benefactor. But he did say he was stunned by the size of the bequest. “It’s not often I open a letter and a $1 million check falls out of the envelope,” he said. “I took a picture of the check just to show my wife.”

He said he had an inkling that the law firm’s envelope contained news of an estate bequest, but he said he expected it to be a disbursement letter stating that the church would get a much smaller sum from someone in the future. This was the largest lump-sum estate gift he’s seen in his career, he said. He went into the Carlisle UMC files to see if he could find whether the church had gotten any advance hint about the size of the gift. There he found a copy of the benefactor’s will, which said the church should get the “remainder” of the estate after specific sums were disbursed to other beneficiaries. “No one at the church knew ‘the remainder’ would consist of a million dollars,” the pastor said.

A three-member subcommittee of the Carlisle UMC Leadership Council spent about six weeks coming up with a recommendation outlining which community organizations would get which portions of the $100,000. The full council then voted unanimously to follow the recommendation. VanZandt said the intent was to support five organizations the church regards as partners “as part of our mission to build bridges to the community.” The others are “organizations that we recognize make an immediate positive impact in the health and welfare of our community and wish we could do more to help.” The donations were made in the same spirit shown by the original benefactor – with no strings attached, the pastor said.

The letter that accompanied each check included the following: “We believe that part of our mission as a church is to bless the community of Carlisle and do our part to make it become the best it can be. We believe your organization has the same objective.” Those organizations’ leaders were quick to express appreciation. “We can’t say thank-you enough,” said Union Fire Co. President Amy Myers, who opened the envelope from the church. “I saw the check and read the letter and said ‘Wow!’” She and Carlisle Fire & Rescue President Randy Uhrich both said their organizations don’t normally get donations of that size. Both also said it’s premature to say what will be done with the church contributions, though Uhrich pointed out his organization’s “Heavy Rescue” apparatus is due to be replaced in 2016 at an anticipated cost of $700,000, not including equipment.

VanZandt said the other $900,000 of the late church member’s bequest is being set aside for now, pending a decision about a permanent home for the congregation. Carlisle United Methodist Church was formed through the July 2013 unification of the former Allison, First and Grace United Methodist congregations. The new congregation’s initial home is the former Grace UMC at the intersection of West and Pomfret streets.
The decision about a permanent home is to be made by summer 2016.