December 18, 2020
NEWS & VIEWS
Final 2020 NEWSpirit Digest today
This is our final 2020 issue of NEWSpirit Digest, although we may publish brief NEWSpirit Alert eblasts next week and over the holidays if necessary. You can find past issues of this publication and NEWSpirit Alert on our website. 

Thank you to all of our readers and news contributors. We at NEWSpirit Communications wish you, your families, your congregations and communities a blessed, beautiful and joyous Christmastide and New Year, and most certainly, a healthy and safe holiday as well. There is much more, exciting news about our Conference, churches and denomination to report in 2021. So please continue to receive and read Digest, and share it liberally with others. Many thanks, and God bless you all!
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 
The Rev. Lorelei Toombs shared this week on the EPAUMC Pastors Facebook Group page a melodious recording of the Willow Grove UMC virtual choir singing a favorite Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” She invites all to play this recording for worship in their churches. Here’s what she wrote:

Super proud of my chancel choir, and all of the many sacrificial hours of preparation and recording they are doing, each in their own homes, to enrich worship.... And for my incredible Music Director & Organist, who are together directing, mixing, and recording practice & accompaniment tracks. Whew!!!!   

I pray this blesses you... And, if in any way, this might also bless your congregation, or assist with you Christmas Eve celebration... Please feel free to use it. We are an amazing connexional church. To God be the glory. May it be so. Willow Grove UMC
 
As the snow falls and the evening draws near, let us raise our hearts and voices in praise of the priceless gift soon to bless us all... Christ, the new-born King.  See and hear: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
But wait, there’s more…
Watch the Worldwide Virtual Christmas Choir Videos! You’ve seen the videos of choirs and studio singers coming together (digitally) to sing uplifting songs and hymns, creating works of art that in times like these are needed and incredibly inspiring.

See and hear hundreds of United Methodist come together with unified voices to celebrate the birth of Christ our Savior. This year the UMC’s Discipleship Ministries and UM Communications have created two amazing versions for you to enjoy this Christmas season!

Please feel free to download the videos to use in your Christmas Celebration services. Don’t forget to share and post them to social media! WATCH HERE!  
Watch Celebrating our Cultures at Christmas
The Eastern PA Conference’s Celebrating our Cultures at Christmas event on Sunday, Dec. 13, was a festive, family-like fete, sharing our Christmas spirit and traditions in wonderful prose, praise, poetry and music. The two-hour virtual celebration on Zoom offered glimpses of how our families, churches and global cultures signify and enjoy Advent and Christmastide. And it included closed-captioning and signing for Deaf viewers and also Spanish translation.
We learned about traditions in the U.S. and in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Korea, Great Britain, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other places. We also heard compelling testimony of Native American memories and learned about the African American tradition of Kwanzaa (celebrated the week after Christmas). Several participants also delighted us with their church and family traditions. 
Special highlights included: 
  • a colorful slideshow depicting Christmas Nativities from around the world; 
  • a tour and musical performance on the Carillon housed in the belltower of First UMC of Germantown; and
  • a soulful, grand finale singing of “Silent Night” by members of the Philadelphia United Methodist Mass Choir, as we lit our candles to celebrate the most sacred, hope-filled night of the year.
And now you can view this tremendous celebration again or for the first time on our Conference YouTube page, with a link also available from our Facebook page. (Sorry, we were unable to livestream the event on our Facebook page.) Watch and enjoy!
Cabinet gifts churches with recorded sermons through January
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Bishop Peggy Johnson and her Cabinet from doing their annual December outreach visit to a church or ministry site this year. But they may still get to visit many churches this month and next—not in person but on-screen, as they come bearing homiletical gifts for Christmastide and Epiphany.

The bishop typically records a New Year’s video message to greet conference members and churches. But this year she and other Cabinet clergy will expand on that gift through a series of sermons preached and recorded for churches to use over the coming month if they wish.

Those who unwrap these sermonic gifts to share with their congregations can then offer their pastors one or more Sundays off from performing their preaching duties. That is sure to be a welcome respite for pastors wearied from Advent and Christmas endeavors, as well as the extended labors of serving their churches during COVID-tide.

The collection of seven Cabinet messages—spanning from Christmas Eve until Jan. 31—will appear on the Conference’s YouTube page through January as a Christmastide and Epiphany gift to churches. Learn more...
Believe
By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
(From her Bishop’s Blog)

This time of year, the word “Believe” shows up in curious places. It’s printed on glossy department store shopping bags and sewn on wooly Christmas sweaters. It is a comfy word, kind of holy but not too holy, because, after all, the Christmas season has become more of a festival of commercialism, family gatherings, and feasting—but less about Jesus or his mission.

(But) believing is the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is the affirmation of what we know and profess about God’s mission to save the world. Believing in Jesus means we are trusting in him for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. But it doesn’t stop there. 

Christians are called to live in alignment with the essence of the teachings of Jesus, who is present with us in the Spirit once we believe. What does your witness look like? When people encounter you in the world, do they experience the love, acceptance, generosity and grace of Jesus in you? 

Faith and works. The two are inseparable, as we navigate through our Christian journey in the world and especially at Christmas. That is when the world is looking and listening a little more closely for signs of hope, for good news and for something to truly believe in. Learn more…
‘Joy to the World’: Accidental Christmas hymn

The most published Christmas carol of the 20th century, 300-year-old “Joy to the World,” comes from a 1719 poem., But it wasn’t written to be about Christmas. Its lyrics, based on Psalm 98, are about the second coming of Christ. Learn more…
‘In this sacred hour’: Watch Night Service
In her annual New Year’s greeting to the conference, Bishop Peggy Johnson highlights the early Methodist New Year’s Eve tradition of Watch Night Service, described by John Wesley as “a meaningful and remarkable blessing.” It was the time when many Methodist congregations would celebrate their yearly Covenant Service. 

Bishop Johnson shares some of Watch Night’s heritage, including its importance to many African American churches that celebrated it as “Freedom’s Eve,” remembering the night before Jan. 1, 1863. That’s when President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would take effect at the stroke of midnight, declaring slaves in the Confederate states to be free. 

BIshop Johnson encourages all churches to hold Watch Night services this year, marking a significant transition from a year so fraught with tragic losses and difficult challenges into a new year of faithfulness and “the assurance of things hoped for.” She even provides an inspirational liturgy composed by the Rev. Michael Johnson, her husband.

Links to additional available resources include a video-recorded Watch Night sermon by UM Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and other videos and selected writings to explain more about Watch Night services. Learn more...
How do we celebrate Epiphany?
Christians celebrate Epiphany Jan. 6 as the day the Magi visited the newborn Jesus, bringing precious gifts to him. Their arrival signaled the revelation of Christ’s birth to the world. Read story
Bishops urge trust in God for better 2021
Despite the tribulations brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, United Methodist bishops call on their fellow Christians to be optimistic about 2021 and to trust that God will make things better in the coming year. In the 2020 Advent letter released Dec. 15, the bishops urged people of faith to continue to have love, joy, hope and peace. Read press releaseRead letter  
Conference to network small-church leaders  
The Connectional Ministries Office will help launch in January a requested new networking group for small-church pastors and leaders to provide support and resourcing. The Eastern PA Conference Bivocational & Small Church Network will have its initial, one-hour meeting Jan. 19, at 6:30 PM, via Zoom video-conferencing.

“This is a group designed exclusively for leaders of smaller churches, welcoming part-time, bivocational, retired and all other small-church leaders, both clergy and lay,” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Connectional Ministries Director. “Small churches are the backbone of The United Methodist Church, and we want to provide a monthly small group for conversation that relates to the unique opportunities found in our small, vital churches.”  

The Rev. Denny Emrick (above), a pastor who has long served small churches, asked for such a group and will facilitate the initial conversation, which may produce a monthly gathering for “prayer, dialogue, connection and resourcing for part-time, bivocational and small church leaders.” 
   
“I grew up in a small church, and the ministry of that church impacts me to this day,” said Taylor-Storm. “I also had the joy of pastoring a small church for seven years; and I experienced the gift of community and missional engagement that is possible in the small church.” I hope others will join us for this first gathering and for what becomes of it in the future.” Register online now!
Legal clinics reach immigrants in rural farming areas
Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) of the Delaware Valley is setting up regional legal clinics to assist immigrants in underserved rural farming communities, including in PA, New Jersey and Delaware. Millions of undocumented immigrants and those seeking refugee status in the U.S. are stymied in their legal efforts by bureaucracy, language barriers, harsh immigration policies and restrictions imposed amid the current pandemic. 

The Rev. Mark Salvacion directs JFON of the Delaware Valley part-time while also serving as the pastor at Historic St. Georges UMC in Philadelphia. A first-generation American son of Filipino parents and a corporate lawyer for over 20 years, he recounts his family’s immigration support in a Greater New Jersey Conference news story. Today’s immigrants are 85-90 percent more likely to be deported without a lawyer, he says. 

JFON of the Delaware Valley will soon be fully affiliated with the national JFON program started by UMCOR in 1999 as a ministry of hospitality and affordable legal assistance to immigrants. JFON also advocates for immigrants’ rights and educates communities of faith and the public in this area of great concern. This regional JFON agency is focused on underserved rual communities within the Delaware Valley. That includes setting up regional legal clinics and providing P.O. boxes at churches where important mail, often containing court order appearance dates, can be received. Clinic sites are being set up in Norristown, PA, Bridgeton, NJ, and Dover, DE. The Norristown site will be at Haws Avenue UMC, due to open in early 2021

“We want to be where they are,” said Salvacion, citing the need to be accessible to undocumented immigrants to help ensure that they don’t miss vital court dates. “We will never turn away an immigrant in need based on an inability to pay legal fees.” Read full story .

Prospective donors may support Delaware Valley JFON by writing a check payable to “Delaware Valley JFON” and sending the check to Historic St. George’s UMC, 235 N. 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106. Electronic donations may be made via the Historic St. George’s UMC website, www.historicstgeorges.org, by clicking the “Donate to JFON Now” button.
Black United Methodists want changes
Black United Methodists are pushing for change in the denomination — changes they believe are both long overdue and overshadowed by the debate about LGBTQ people in the church. A new book — I'm Black. I'm Christian. I'm Methodist. — features essays from 10 Black United Methodists. It was edited by the Rev. Rudy Rasmus and Juanita Rasmus of St. John's Downtown Church in Houston.

“In our current season of violence against Blacks in America, personal stories can help us understand our individual and collective struggles like no other form of narrative,” reads Abingdon Press’ information about the new book. “In I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist, 10 Black women and men explore life through the lens of compelling, personal accounts. They are leaders whose lives are tangible demonstrations of the power of a divine purpose and evidence of what grace really means in face of hardship, disappointment, and determination.” 

“The confluence of the everyday indignities of being Black in America; the outrageous, egregious, legalized lynching of George Floyd; and the unforgivable disparities exposed once again by COVID–19 have conspired together to create a seminal moment in America," writes Bishop Gregory Palmer in the book's foreword, "and in The United Methodist Church—in which we must find the courage to say unambiguously ‘Black Lives Matter.’ To stumble or choke on those words is beneath the gospel.” Read UM News story  
Our public discourse should model the life of Jesus

NEPTUNE, N.J. (UM News) — Divisive rhetoric and actions following this year's presidential election caused Greater New Jersey Bishop John Schol to reflect on the role our faith can play in resolving conflict. Read commentary  
The church is not yet a 'great multitude'

SAN ANTONIO (UM News) — Sharing instances of racism he saw committed by the church throughout his life, retired Bishop Joel Martinez feels we still have much work ahead to resemble the inclusive choir from the Book of Revelation. Read commentary 
My pursuit and dreams of Korean peace

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (UM News) — More than 70 years since Korea split into North and South, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung still dreams of reunification for his homeland. "Just as Jacob and Esau reunited, because blood is thicker than any separation, I know that Korea can heal," he writes. Read commentary
North District says grateful goodbye to Kentner
In yet another Conference departure this year, North District members bid a very fond farewell to new retiree Sheri Kentner in a district meeting on Zoom Dec. 14. Kentner began serving as District Resource Assistant with the Rev. Steve Morton, District Superintendent, in 2018. She is currently handling special projects and assisting our two new DRAs. She retires this month. 
 
Grateful members extolled her as being efficient, gracious, patient, kindly persuasive, generous, helpful, compassionate, hard-working and joyful, among other descriptions that appeared in a Menti online word-cloud. But the best attribute mentioned may have been “Steve-whisperer,” describing her ability to communicate more effectively with her boss than just about anyone. 
 
“You embody a commitment to excellence,” said the Rev. Jennifer Freymoyer, District Assisting Elder. “You have a way of approaching administration as a ministry and with a discipling attitude.” Kentner voiced her own gratitude for the many comments, adding, “I will miss you all!”
LOCAL CHURCH NEWS
The spirit of Christmas giving lives!
Local church ministry reports
Several churches generously responded to our appeal for information with news of their Advent and Christmas activities. Many thanks to them! Here are their slightly edited reports.
Conshohocken UMC

Conshohocken UMC is trying “to make this highly unusual year as normal as possible for our church family and local community,” reports Pat Patterson, who works with her husband Dave and church volunteers on numerous mission enterprises. That includes maintaining connections.

“Adjusting to all the twists and turns that 2020 has dealt us has not only brought us closer to each other but helped us to develop new and deeper relationships with other individuals and organizations.”
 
Pat’s report highlights efforts to help neighbors facing increasing food insecurity and homelessness, children who depend on Angel Tree gifts at Christmas, plus the great need for socks, winter hats and gloves. Many children who are victims of abuse, neglect or trafficking need food, clothing and other necessities, as do families living in domestic violence shelters. The church also donates to several area hospitality centers for unhoused neighbors.

Meanwhile, the church is making adjustments to continue staging its Live Nativity, a popular, 60-year holiday tradition Dec. 18-20, from 7 to 9 PM nightly. “Regardless of the changes (including masked participants), we expect this year’s reenactment will be as memorable as ever…maybe even more so,” says Patterson, “given the importance of human connection and community during COVID-19. As veteran participant Judy Rhoads put it: ‘I think we need to carry on our tradition even in this awful pandemic year. Our church is known in town for the Live Nativity, and folks look forward to it. We get those who came as children and now bring their little ones. We need some sense of normalcy in this otherwise unconventional year.’” Learn more…
Haws Avenue UMC, in Norristown
 
Haws Avenue UMC, in Norristown, continued to offer Glad Tidings, its annual Christmas mission outreach, this month, working with cooperating churches in its Mission Link. Together they provided toys for Crayon Kids, a child care center located at Haws Avenue UMC, and also some low-income families of the neighborhood. The church, which operates a longtime, busy weekly soup kitchen, also welcomed about 25 families to the church to pick out toys for their children to help celebrate the Christmas season.
 
The families were especially grateful for the help in providing a Christmas for their children,” reports Pastor Lisa DePaz. “And we were blessed to be able to be involved.” Learn more…
Ridley Park UMC

“I am proud of our food pantry at Ridley Park UMC,” writes Pastor Joanne Hennessy Slawter, who shared with us a report prepared by food pantry manager, Deb Funk:

Ridley Park UMC Food Pantry has been serving local county communities for over 15 years. We open four times a month to provide non-perishable food to those in need. Since COVID-19 started in March, the Food Pantry recipients visiting us have grown from 8 to more than 50 at times. The Food Pantry phone is receiving calls for families in immediate need, whom we meet there as needed.

The respect people show in not taking too much, because other people are in need, is also heartwarming. Our Food Pantry team, as well as the recipients, are so thankful for the community’s generosity that continues to support this ministry through this pandemic. We all wish to thank everyone. Learn more…

We invite and welcome more local church ministry reports through the rest of this season and into 2021. We are eager to share the good news of your ministries and activities with the rest of our conference. Please write to us at communications@epaumc.org or use our Submit News page.
LEARNING EVENTS
Emotional Intelligence and Diversity, Jan. 16, 23
The Peninsula-Delaware Conference will offer its members an Emotional Intelligence and Diversity video-conferencing workshop on two Saturdays next month: Jan. 16 and 23, 12:30 to 3:30 PM. Eastern PA Conference members are also invited to attend. 
 
The Revs. David Piltz and Anita Powell, members of the Eastern PA Conference Commission on Religion & Race, developed the workshop and will lead it on Zoom for Pen-Del. The Rev. Alice Johnson Ervin chairs Pen-Del’s sponsoring Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Committee.
 
Emotional intelligence is innate to everyone, and it is important for every church. In fact, it’s a must-learn for church leaders who want to lead more like Christ. This training provides insights into biblical precepts and Jesus’ approach to managing conflict and creating believers. It helps us understand bias, ambiguity and empathy, and to withstand the sins of prejudice and injustice, as well as fear, anger and violence.

Registration now for only $10. 0.6 CEU's will be available (must attend both sessions in full to receive CEU's). Download and share the Emotional Intelligence Event Flyer.
Association of Ministers with Disabilities to meet Jan. 14-16
The Association of Ministers with Disabilities in the UMC will host its annual meeting Jan. 14-16, 2021 online via Zoom. The theme is “Prophesying to Power: The Intersection of Ableism and Racism.”

The gathering will hear from leaders in the disability community, led by keynote speaker Kendrick Kemp, who studied with Black Liberation Theology founder Dr. James Cone at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Kemp, who earned Master’s degrees in Divinity and Social Work, has developed a “Black Liberation Theology of Disability.”  

The event will also include worship, advocacy training workshops, small group discussions, and association business. All are welcome. There will be closed captioning and American Sign Language interpreting provided. For information about registering contact the Rev. Johnathan Campbell, association co-chair, at pastorjcampbell@hotmail.com or call 845-893-9157. Information provide by Bishop Peggy Johnson
‘Both/And’ webinar to explore worshiping online and onsite, Feb. 9
Jason Moore, who has pioneered creative, collaborative worship design for two decades, will lead us in exploring new possibilities for worshiping both online and onsite at our churches, in a webinar offered for free on Zoom, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 10 AM to 12 PM. “Both/And: Maximizing Hybrid Worship Experiences for Online and In-Person Audiences” will “delve into strategies for how to create powerful transformative worship where no one feels like they’re an afterthought.”  

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced most churches to conduct worship solely online, worship was primarily for the gathered, onsite congregation. For the few churches that did livestream worship services then, their at-home audiences were largely secondary observers. But when now online churches resume onsite worship in 2021, what will become of their online audiences, and how can those watching at home continue to receive primary, interactive attention from worship leaders? 

The Conference Congregational Development Team has invited Moore to help pastors and worship leaders find creative answers to their questions. Since his early days at Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio, the co-founder of Midnight Oil Productions has become a popular author, worship media producer, consultant and coach, helping to resource churches “of all sizes, styles and means.” Register online.
AROUND THE UM CONNECTION
Black DC churches vandalized by demonstrators
WASHINGTON — Asbury UMC, an historically Black congregation, was among four churches vandalized by demonstrators at a pro-President Trump rally. "We believe this is a wakeup call for all to be more vigilant and committed to anti-racism and building a beloved community," senior pastor the Rev. Ianther M. Mills said in a statement. 

The “Million MAGA March” Dec. 12 turned violent as night descended when members of the Proud Boys, a male chauvinist white supremacist organization termed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, tore down Black Lives Matter signs at three historic Black churches and an LGBTQ rights sign at predominantly White, progressive Mount Vernon Place UMC. Mills likened the violence to a cross burning. 

Garlinda Burton, interim executive of the General Commission on Religion and Race, challenged the denomination in her response to the attacks: “This resistance to anti-racism efforts and institutional changes in our nation and in our church makes it clear that far too many white Christians—including United Methodists—continue to view the battle against racism and racial violence as a non-issue for them. … But the call from...Jesus to stand against injustice of any form has always been clear, and it is just as clear in this moment.
Publishing House among pandemic victims
(UM News) — The United Methodist Publishing House has seen its sales dive in the COVID-19 pandemic, as churches unable to meet in person cut back on orders. The self-supporting agency had made big changes before the pandemic but has had to go further, laying off employees and putting its headquarters up for sale. Read story
Top pension executive plans to retire in 2021
GLENVIEW, Ill. — Barbara Boigegrain, top executive of Wespath Benefits and Investments, has announced her intention to retire at the end of 2021. She is the United Methodist pension agency's longest-serving chief executive officer and general secretary, with more than 26 years leading the organization. Read press release  
Membership rises with churches in East Congo

GOMA, Congo (UM News) — Thousands of United Methodist faithful in eastern Congo have a new place to worship with the completion of a large, modern church in Amani. It's the 33rd new church to be built since 2012 as part of Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda's "Rise and Build" campaign to strengthen evangelism. Read story  
RESOURCES
Youth lectionary curriculum available
WASHINGTON — "Connecting Faith and Justice Youth Curriculum, Lectionary Year B," for junior high and senior high students, is available now from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. The free curriculum was written by a diverse group of people from around the globe who are passionate about youth faith development. Get resource  
Sign language lessons for the holidays

LAUREL, Md. — The Rev. Leo Yates is taking time this Christmas season to teach common holiday terms in American Sign Language to help Deaf people be included in the festivities. At the end of a 60-minute session, participants usually can sign the Christmas carol "O Come, All Ye Faithful." . Read story  
Kids' Christmas Eve service available online
LANSING, Mich. — The ABCs of Christmas, a 15-minute children's Christmas Eve worship service, is now available for local churches to use. The service is geared for younger children and was developed by the Rev. Kathy Pittenger, the children's ministry coordinator for the Michigan Conference. The video can be shared as is or downloaded and edited as a personalized local church service, as long as "a production of the Michigan Conference" appears somewhere in the video. Watch videoDownload editable videoSee more Advent resources  
Tips for a sustainable Christmas

LAKELAND, Fla. — Cara Fleischer is dreaming of a green Christmas. The chair of the Florida Conference Creation Care Task Team offers suggestions for celebrating Christmas joy while also sustaining the environment. She also answers the perennial question: Real or fake tree? Read commentary  
Ecumenical resources for Watchnight 2020
Churches Uniting in Christ, an ecumenical organization of mainline American denominations, including the UMC, offers resources to teach congregations about "Watchnight," a traditional service in historically Black churches that gathers members in unity to welcome in the new year. One of the resources is a preaching video featuring United Methodist Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

Other resources include: a link to an updated Encyclopedia Britannica article; a link to Journey Proud, a 26-minute documentary video on the meaning and celebration of Watch Night, produced by the National Endowment of the Arts in August 2017; a chapter on Watchnight (including a litany) from a book on African American special occasions; and a litany for Watchnight/Freedom’s Eve.  Read overview.  See resources 
Watch Church and Society webinar on educational equity 
Towards Educational Equity, the recent Called Seminar 2020 webinar series on education in the U.S. can be viewed on the UM Board of Church and Society’s YouTube channel. Watch the entire seriesWebinar topics include: Funding an Equitable Education; Anti-Racist School Culture & Curriculum; Funding an Equitable Education; Preventing Criminalization and Harm in Schools webinar; and School in the time of COVID.
MISSION OPPORTUNITIES
Church and Society Ethnic Young Adult internship
Apply today for the summer Ethnic Young Adult Internship Program! Do you know a young person who wants to put their faith in action? Apply by March 1. Program runs from June 5-July 31. The Ethnic Young Adult Internship (EYA) program is for young justice seekers willing to unpack their faith and identity while working with an organization engaged in addressing social injustices. 

Interns are placed with advocacy, public policy, nonprofit and grassroots organizations where they work four days a week. They engage in weekly seminars designed to explore a wide variety of social issues, while also learning about the UMC’s history of pursuing social holiness. 
REMINDERS
‘Persevere’: All youth invited to Virtual Youth Rally, Jan. 8-9 
All youth and youth ministry leaders should plan now to attend our exciting 2021 Eastern PA Conference Virtual Youth Rally, which will span two sessions during youth-friendly hours: on Friday, Jan 8, from 8 to 10 PM, and continuing on Saturday, Jan. 9, from 3 to 5 PM. As we cross the 2020 finish line and take on new challenges in 2021, the rally’s timely theme says it all: “Persevere!” 

To persevere is to continue to do or try to achieve some goal despite difficulty or discouragement, much like the biblical heroes Joseph and Esther, and like many of us who have persevered throughout the challenging year 2020.

2020 has brought a pandemic, political unrest and racial injustice. Our lives are now lived mostly online, with little we can do about the social distance and isolation. Yet, the way of the Christian is to persevere! So, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Join the Eastern PA Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM), led by the Rev. David Piltz, Conference Coordinator of Youth Ministries, as they explore together how to persevere. Leading and inspiring us will be several gifted, young performers: Tasha Layton, Keith Everette Smith and back by popular demand: Egypt Speaks.

Since the Peninsula-Delaware Conference will not sponsor its annual Youth Rally in 2021, the CCYM invites all youth—from Eastern PA and other conferences—to attend its free, online winter rally on Zoom in January. 

“We will enjoy insightful conversation, great music, fun games, heartfelt stories, and interesting questions and answers,” said Piltz, “and we’ll share Scriptures, prayer and much more.” Learn more and register today...
Donations growing in response to Bishop’s Appeal for Camp & Retreat Centers 
In our NEWSpirit Alert article to promote Giving Tuesday, Dec. 1, we reported that nearly $14,000 donations was received by early November in response to Bishop Peggy Johnson’s Fundraising Appeal for Camps to support of the Conference’s four Camp and Retreat Centers.

We have since received giving totals as of Dec. 1. Total donations: $57,208. Of that total, $35,708 came from individual and church donations. Matching funds were donated by the North District ($1,500) and the Conference Board of Trustees ($20,000). The camps continue to seek generous year-end donations to help them recover from the pandemic-related financial losses. 
21 Conference students awarded UMC scholarships 
Twenty-one scholarships were awarded to Eastern PA Conference students in 2020 by the UMC General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). The board’s Office of Loans and Scholarships reports that over 2,100 students received $5.6 million in total financial assistance for 2020.

Many of those scholarships are funded in part by churchwide Special Sunday offerings, including those received on Native American Sunday, World Communion Sunday and UM Student Day. Other sources include gifts, annuities and endowments GBHEM has invested and administered for decades.

Students who are members of The United Methodist Church may apply for Fall 2021 GBHEM scholarships online from Dec. 15 to March 24, 2021. The application is online.

Student loans are also available at interest rates as low as 3.75% (lower than federal educational loan rates) with a creditworthy cosigner. UM student loan helps can help fill the gap in funding for a student and their parents. The UM Student Spring Loan application is open Dec.10 through May at www.gbhem.org/loanapplication.
Local Pastor Licensing School begins in January
Interested in becoming a Licensed Local Pastor? The Eastern PA Conference will begin its new Local Pastor Licensing School in January 2021. Registration is open now for online classes that will gather for just six weeks, from Jan. 15 to Feb. 28. 
 
The school’s new design allows for faster completion of classes that meet on Friday evenings and Saturdays. Persons from other conferences are welcome to attend. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all 2021 classes will meet via Zoom video-conferencing.
 
The classes will cover UMC Tradition, Leadership and Administration; Spiritual Direction; Preaching; Public Worship and Liturgy; Educational Ministries; Mission and Evangelism; Pastoral Care; and another class related to a Conference emphasis to be determined.
 
The cost is $1,100, with a $300 non-refundable deposit. The remaining balance is due by March 31. The Rev. Dan Lebo is the school’s new Dean. The Rev. Kevin Babcock, who chairs the Board of Ordained Ministry Committee on Local Pastor Licensing, is the Registrar. Download the brochure and registration form for more details, including requirements.   
Discovering Our 'Theologies of Conflict,' Jan. 12
The Eastern PA Conference will welcome the Rev. Leah Schade, author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide, for an interactive conversation on Zoom, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, from 7 to 8:30 PM. In the U.S. and in the UMC, we continue to seek ways to be in relationship with one another, especially across lines of difference. As we prepare to inaugurate a new president Jan. 20, we seek ways to bridge divides in our churches and communities. Join Dr. Schade as she discusses “Discovering Our ‘Theologies of Conflict’” This free event is open to all churches. 
Tensions and conflict are normal within churches and among people of faith, but they are also sources of anxiety and dread for many. However, if we look at conflict from a theological perspective, we may discover God’s presence in unexpected ways. This session will explore the unspoken assumptions that people of faith have about the relationship between God and our human disagreements and skirmishes.  

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. An ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 20 years, she earned both her MDiv and PhD degrees from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary). Learn more… Register online.
Don't be a phishing victim   
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UM News) — Scam artists are targeting United Methodists with emails that try to extract personal information or infect computers and networks with viruses. One email making the rounds is a classic pyramid scheme, asking for a contribution and promising that much more money will be returned to them. Read story
Evangelism in a digital world
LONDON—The Methodist Church in Britain has developed downloadable guides and other resources to help churches use the internet and social media as digital tools for evangelism. See resources
Improving your church's web presence
Up to 70% of people looking for a new church home begin their search online. In three, easy-to-follow sessions, using screencast, Eric Seiberling breaks down the steps in building, upgrading and getting your website discovered online. In part one of the series, he guides you through identifying the needs and the multiple audiences served by your church's website.

Following Eric's steps will help you connect more effectively in digital ministry by answering the questions people have when they find you online. Learn more… Also, watch the other sessions of this screencast: Part 2: BuildPart 3: Get Found.
Stewardship & Finance: Get it Right at the Starting Line
UM Discipleship Ministries will offer a Stewardship basics Zoom webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at 7:30 PM. Event description: We start each new year with this updated webinar that is focused on the new member of the stewardship team, finance committee, or church council – those who are looking to get started right from the first week! We will update this based on situations rising from the pandemic restrictions. Bathe your work in prayer. Remember, you are not alone; there are places to find help! A live Zoom session will follow. Click here to register for this webinar.
Agency provides insurance-buying guide    
The United Methodist Insurance Program has put together a buying guide to help congregations choose adequate insurance coverage for the risks they face. The program is part of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination's finance agency. To download Insurance Buying Guide. PDF of Insurance Buying Guide.
Fall 2020 NEWSpirit newspaper is online now and ready to read.
Pass it on!
Our Fall 2020 issue of NEWSpirit newspaper is online and ready to read and share! Enjoy articles on our many exciting, enlightening Conference events and ministries. Read on…
Invitation to Justice: Fight for Floyd & Beyond advocacy letter for policy-makers, police
Would you, your church, family, or community group like to put your policing equity concerns into action and make a statement for justice? You can adapt a compelling new lettter prepared by the Fight for Floyd and Beyond Policy Committee, gather signatures and send it to various legislators, policy-makers and police officials to advocate for much-needed change. The letter should encourage individuals, congregations, and community groups to discuss their police reform concerns with politicians and police unions in the cause of racial justice and community peace and wellness for all. See letter...
Slaughter to teach Multi-Site/Satellite Model for churches
‘We’re stronger together’ 

The Eastern PA Conference Congregational Development Team will welcome the Rev. Mike Slaughter, pastor emeritus and global church ambassador for Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, to discuss “The Multi-Site/Satellite Model for Churches” on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at 10 AM. This event will be viewable on Zoom and requires registration in advance. Register for FREE!

Join Slaughter, renowned church innovator and strategist, for a conversation about church growth, sustainability, and connectionalism. Returning us to our Wesleyan connectional roots, he will explore how churches working together strengthens us all. Whether it’s “larger” and “smaller” churches working together, several churches creating a shared cooperative circuit, or developing hub-and-spoke networked ministries, our future lies in the reclaiming and re-envisioning our missional heritage. 

To prepare for this event Pastor Slaughter asks participants to read The Passionate Church: Ignite Your Church and Change the World (Abingdon Press, 2016). Written by Mike Slaughter and Karen Perry Smith, this valuable resource will assist in discerning and defining your church’s ministries and prime them for organic growth using a multi-stite/satellite model. 
 
Mike Slaughter was the lead pastor and “chief dreamer” of Ginghamsburg for nearly four decades, inspiring many as a “spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations.” He is the founder and chief strategist of Passionate Churches, LLC, which specializes in developing pastors, church staff and church lay leaders through coaching, training, consulting and facilitation services.
 
His life-long passion to reach the lost and set the oppressed free has now made him a tireless and leading advocate for the people of Darfur in Sudan, once named by the U.N. as the worst humanitarian crisis by in the world. His call to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted challenges Jesus followers to wrestle with God and their God-destinies.”
Plan to attend Transfiguration Day Apart Feb. 10 
Save the date for the Eastern PA Conference’s Transfiguration Day Apart scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, 9:30 to 11:30 AM, on Zoom. All clergy and Certified Lay Ministers (CLMs) serving congregations are invited to attend. The Rev. Deborah Appler, who teaches at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, will be the keynoter. Her topic: “The Transfiguration from an Old Testament Perspective." Download and share the flyer
A growing library of free, on-demand Local Church Learning Sessions now includes a session exploring new features of social media platforms and ideas for using them. All of the sessions support your church’s ongoing digital ministry, covering not only social media, but e-giving, text messaging, livestreaming and more. Begin learning.
How to cultivate relationships in online groups   
2020 is the year of virtual…well, everything. Church is no exception. More than ever, members need their pastors and one another, but most are still practicing social distancing to some degree. Online meetings will likely continue as part of church ministry. While the internet, social media and online services such as Zoom, Facebook, WebEx and Google have made virtual meetings possible, church leaders face the challenge of building meaningful relationships in a virtual world. If you’re facing that struggle, here are a few ideas to consider.
How to host small groups and classes during displacement
Small groups and Sunday school classes form one of the most powerful connections and means of support for members. Many people are asking: What happens to these connections during times of social distancing? How can leaders maintain these essential care mechanisms in the lives of members? Here are some tips to help you select the needed tools and assist your transition from in-person to virtual meetings. Learn more...
The People of God campaign is celebrating our ongoing commitment to providing abundant health around the world, from Imagine No Malaria to lifesaving interventions for one million children. Bring the campaign to your church’s communications by downloading digital resources. Download now.
How do you serve?
United Methodist Communications tailors its services to support people in a variety of roles in their congregations. These resources include training, grants and free materials. In order to better serve congregations, the agency is asking that church leaders and volunteers update their job roles online. The information will not be shared or sold to any third party. In return, the agency will provide a complimentary registration for the Digital Media for Ministry online training course.  Update your role
CDT Book Club to explore Rendle’s new book in January 2021
Quietly Courageous, by the Rev. Gil Rendle, is the Congregational Development Team’s (CDT) third book to recommend and discuss in its new weekly Book Club, beginning Jan. 13, 2021. The new clergy and laity study group will gather each Wednesday morning on Zoom, from 11 AM to 12 PM, for six weeks. Learn more...
PA tax exemption extended further until Dec. 31
The Eastern PA Conference’s Pennsylvania sales tax exemption certificate used by its member churches was due to expire initially March 31 but was extended to Sept. 30. But now it has been extended further until Dec. 31, due continued delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension enables churches to continue making tax-exempt purchases while the state processes renewals. A new letter confirming this latest extension may be used by churches to authorize tax-fre purchases, along with their copy of the expired Exemption Certificate (REV-1220). 
Zoom users should update their software
All users of Zoom video-conferencing should ensure their Zoom Client program is the latest version available, The Conference Administration Office advises. Check to make sure you are using Version 3.2.1 If not:

  • Close your programs
  • Download and run CleanZoom.exe   
  • Reboot your computer
  • Visit this link https://zoom.us/support/download.
  • This will automatically download the newest version for you.
  • Install this version once downloaded.
New online course aims at growth in generosity
A new online curriculum designed to help clergy and lay people lead congregations toward growth in generosity is now available from Discipleship Ministries. This six-module leadership series will help clergy and leaders become better equipped to lead their local churches in the area of generosity as a key part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Read press release
Building relationships with virtual visitors
Many churches are reporting much higher online worship attendance than they typically see in person. Eric Seiberling offers tips for how email can help sustain these new connections in a time of social distancing. Read tips
Conference offers new booklet of scholarships, ministry funds
Announces new Narberth Legacy Ministry Action Grants
The Eastern PA Conference Connectional Ministries Office has published online a new booklet, titled Conference Funding for Ministry and Leadership Development, to inform churches and members about resources for funding ministry, church needs and educational scholarships. The booklet conveniently gathers in one place information already present on the conference website’s individual Funding For Ministry, Higher Education Scholarships & Grants and Conference Loan Fund pages. (All pages are updated regularly and are accessible from our Conference Finance webpage.)

But other funding sources also appear in the booklet, including the William “Bill” Drendall Endowment Fund of Mount Gretna UMC, available to all churches; BMCR/BUMP College Scholarships for active members of BMCR-member churches; and scholarships and ministry funding from general agencies of the UMC. 

One major funding source featured in the new booklet is the conference’s new Narberth Legacy Ministry Action Grants (2021-2023 Action Grants). The Narberth Legacy Ministry Action Fund is a Permanent Endowment Fund administered by the Mid-Atlantic United Methodist Foundation on behalf of the Eastern PA Conference. It was established from the 2014 discontinuation of Narberth UMC, as a living memorial to past church members, to provide substantial support to new, innovative, justice-seeking ministries that impact the life of communities. 

Beginning July 1, 2021 one grant for up to $45,000, distributed over a three-year period, will be awarded annually to a church. Eligible ministries are those that seek to serve populations that may be multicultural, young or intergenerational, unchurched or de-churched, and challenged by racism, discrimination, poverty and other disadvantages. Such ministries should demonstrate viability and a commitment to foster productive cooperation with church and community partners and stakeholders. 

Funds will be granted only for endeavors that produce action and offer the potential for real change. Learn more on the conference website’s Funding for Ministry page or contact the Office of Connectional Ministries. Deadline: Jan. 31, 2021. Learn more...
Sign-language Bible now available
A 38-year project that included 53 Deaf translators has produced the American Sign Language Bible, available free from Deaf Missions, a nonprofit Christian organization. This new Bible not only better encourages Deaf and hard-of-hearing people to engage in studying Scripture, it reduces misunderstandings and misinterpretations, writes the Rev. Leo Yates Jr. Read commentary 
Visit our Local Church Resources webpage
Do you find yourself wondering where you can obtain a 501(c)3 letter? Clergy W-2s? Various other bits of information that is crucial for churches? Look no further than the Local Church Resources page under the Administration tab on the EPA website and you can answer these questions.
Let's stay connected. Send us your newsletters
Please add our Communications Office to your church newsletter's digital and/or print mailing lists. We find much of our news in church newsletters (when we find time to read them), and we try to report local church news and events as much as possible. (We also love seeing Conference news reported in your newsletters. Thanks!) However, we want to receive only your church newsletters please, not other e-mailed church announcements. Thanks!
Update your Find-A-Church profile
Developed by United Methodist Communications, Find-A-Church helps your church connect with people who may be looking online for a church to provide worship, fellowship, spiritual nurture and other needs. If your church has a Website, having a church page in Find-A-Church doubles your local visibility to reach people searching by city, town or zip code. It is the official online directory of United Methodist churches in the United States and one of the most visited sections of UMC.org, averaging more than 1,000 page views a day. You'll achieve the best results from your Find-A-Church profile when you update your church's information. For video instructions on how, visit Video Tutorial: Find-A-Church Overview
Missed any past issues of NEWSpirit Digest?
You can still read or share informative, colorful back issues of our weekly e-newsletter on the Eastern PA Conference Website at www.epaumc.org/news-events/newspirit-digest. Share this link with others who might want to stay informed about our news, events, resources and concerns. And please encourage them to subscribe by e-mailing communications@epaumc.org. Thanks!
SAVE THE DATES
2021

  • January 8-9: EPA Virtual Youth Rally. January 8th from 8 PM – 10 PM, and January 9th from 3 PM – 5 PM. Register.
  • January 12: Discovering our “Theologies of Conflict”: Finding Our Way in the Post-Election Season and Beyond. 7 PM - 8:30 PM. Led by Leah Shade, Author of The Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide. Zoom Meeting. Register.
  • January 13: Start of Book Study “Quietly Courageous” with Gil Rendle (Weekly, for 4 weeks)
  • January 19: EPA Bivocational & Small Church Network. For EPA Clergy and Church Leaders, facilitated by Rev. Denny Emrick. 6:30 PM, via Zoom. Register.
  • January 21: The Multi-Site/Satellite Model for Churches w/ Mike Slaughter. 10 AM - 11:30 AM. Zoom Meeting. Register.
  • January 30: Basic Sexual Ethics. 9:30 AM - 3 PM. Zoom online meeting. Register.
  • February 9: Both/And: Maximizing Hybrid Worship Experiences For Online and In-Person Audiences. 10 AM - 12 Noon. Webinar. Register.
  • February 10: Transfiguration Day Apart. 9:30 AM - 11:30 AM. Zoom Webinar. Download the flyer.
  • February 27: Dismantling Racism Level II. Further details TBA.
  • March 5-6: Advanced Sexual Ethics: Ministry with Sex Offenders. Friday from 6:30 - 8 PM, and Saturday from 9 AM to 12 Noon. Aldersgate UMC in Wilmington, DE. Register.
  • March 13: Tools for Ministry. 
  • April 16-18: Dismantling Racism, Level 1, Virtual. Register.
  • April 24 & May 1: Urban Summit. April 24th from 10 AM – 12 noon and May 1st from 10 AM - 12 Noon for Adults. May 1st from 12 Noon - 2 PM for the Urban Youth Summit.
  • May 15: Latino Holy Convocation and Assembly
  • May 15: Clergy Transition Workshop led by Dave Woolverton.9 AM - 11 AM via Zoom meeting. Register.
  • May 20 - 22: 2021 Annual Conference 
  • June 5: Cross Cultural Cross Racial Training for New CR/CC Appointments. 9 AM - 12:30 PM, via Zoom Meeting. Register.
  • August 6 - 8: Laity Academy
  • October 15 & 16: Domestic Violence Workshop. Friday October 15 from 7 PM – 9 PM & Saturday October 16th from 9 AM – 12 PM. Further details TBA.
  • Oct. 23:  Faith Sharing Evangelism Training w/ Olu Brown
  • Oct. 29 - Nov 1: Dismantling Racism, Level 1, Virtual. Register.

Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church
980 Madison Avenue, Norristown, PA 19403