Friday, June 24, 2016

Laity Session - We are better together

By Deb Steransky

“We are … the church! We are … better together!” Those were the cheers led by Andra Haverstock and then modified by Jon Konieczny during the Laity Session Thursday morning in Hitchcock Arena.

John Konieczny, our conference lay leader, welcomed the laity to Annual Conference and opened the session with devotions. He read from Jeremiah 17:5-8 and Psalm 37:3-7. Both passages reminded God’s people that when we trust Him, we will be replenished when troubles come. Konieczny then asked, “Where were you on December 31, 1999?” He reminded us that, at that time some people were a little worried that the moment the clock ticked to the year 2000 that there would be catastrophe and that the world would end. He likened that date to May 20, 2016, because that’s the date that General Conference adjourned. People were worried that the moment of adjournment would be the end of a unified United Methodist Church. But it wasn’t. Bishop Jeremiah J. Parks’ letter to our Annual Conference summed up the feeling of General Conference, that the attendees didn’t want a divided church, and therefore found a way forward toward unity.

Konieczny played a short video of highlights of General Conference that showed a lot of praying and hands held high together toward heaven. Interviews were woven into the video of people expressing their hope that the leaders would find a way through God to lead us forward together. For our Annual Conference, Konieczny said, it means we need to trust God, because He is able. We are still together, and we will move forward with Christ.

Konieczny then introduced Matt Wensel, a four-year veteran as the Annual Conference’s music director. Wensel gave a brief description of the music we will have this year. It promises to be as inspiring as always.

Kristen Beckert was introduced next. Beckert serves as a mission strategist and trainer for Fresh Expressions US. Fresh Expressions US is a movement that empowers and equips existing congregations to develop creative expressions of church that can reach our changing culture. Both laity and clergy can take part in cultivating new forms of church that can connect with people wherever they are, from steeple to the street. Beckert explained that Fresh Expressions US started in England where only two percent of the population attends church. So they looked at some options. They could let the church stay where it was - in its building hoping that people will come. Or they could invite people to dinners and activities to get people in their doors. Or the church could go where the people are, which is what happened. With Fresh Expressions US, there have been 21,000 converts, and they are most often led by laity.

The next speaker was Cathy Berkey, president of our conference’s United Methodist Women. Listing over 800,000 members, United Methodist Women is the largest denominational group of women in the world. She shared the many missions and women’s advocacy causes United Methodist Women supports throughout the world. (For more information about United Methodist Women visit (global) or (conference.))

Andra Haverstock, conference treasurer, reminded us that as a church and annual conference, our Shares of Ministry do more than we think. Ministry Shares fund Discovery Place, our conference video and book library, E-tours, Safe Sanctuaries training, MissionInsite, and Susquehanna LINK, to name just a few. A DVD interpreting our connectional ministries was made available for each church.

Anne Horton, director of Camp and Retreat Ministries, thanked all who attended the Senators Baseball game, which raised over $1,000 for camperships. Horton said there are still openings for camps this year, and encouraged Conference members to invite children in their church and neighborhood to enroll in a camping event. (

Horton also invited lay members to Camp Penn on Saturday, August 13, to celebrate the camp’s seventieth anniversary.

Break out groups were created after the presentations so that laity could get to know each other better and share their church’s mission.

Laity was reminded to provide a written report to their churches. Konieczny encouraged lay members to use the Daily Link as a sort of “Cliff Notes” for their report.

Finally, Konieczny asked the laity to promise they would never say “I’m just a lay person” when God calls. “We are all in this together,” he said. “We are better together.”

Video of the Laity Session can be found in the archive at

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