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December 22 , 2016
Nativity scene from Ug anda,  made of banana leaf and  other materials.
December 22
issue of NEWSpirit Digest is our last for 2016. We hope you have benefited from our reporting of local church, conference and denominational news throughout this eventful year. We look forward to offering you more of the same in 2017.
May God bless you with the light of Christ's love, joy and peace now and in the coming year.  
Bishop's greeting looks inward, outward, forward
In a 4-minute video Bishop Peggy Johnson offers a compelling, inward, outward and forward-looking message as her Christmas & New Year's Greeting, titled "The Work of Christmas Begins." In the spirit of this season but also looking ahead to 2017, she calls on all of us to emulate:
  • Jesus in striving for a deeper, more constant prayer life;
  • the Three Wise Men in sharing extravagant gifts to serve Christ; and
  • the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in leading us like a "drum major" in the difficult march toward social justice.

Those three appeals signify ministry priorities she will promote throughout the Philadelphia Area next year: personal and collective devotion to prayer, generous stewardship of God's gifts to enhance ministry, and the pursuit of social justice for all. Watch and share this video message on our YouTube channel.

Welcoming visitors at Christmas time
So your church is already for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, right? The celebrative greens are hung, the choirs and pageant performers are rehearsed, that final Advent/Christmas candle awaits illumination, the chancel and Christmon tree are properly decorated, the special menu is set. That's everything, right?

What about the greeting and welcoming of visitors? No, not the half-smiling, momentary "Hello" and brief handshake some members typically offer to strangers before they turn to greet more familiar faces with a hug and "How are you"?  What about a real, eye-to-eye, "Glad to see you," "What's your name?" and "Where you from?" greeting? One that also might add, "Do you need anything?" or "Want to join us for coffee later?" or "You should come back to worship with us on New Year's Day."

This week UM Communications' website offers some helpful articles about inviting and  welcoming visitors more effectively, especially at Christmas time. There's even one article about preaching to reach people in the new year. And another on relational marketing that gets beyond the gimmicks many churches use. Take a look and unwrap some of these wisdom gifts to help your church offer the love of Christ in truly welcoming ways. And if you do have special ways to welcome visitors, please share them with us so we can share them with others.

Some church members seem so engrossed in catching up with their family and friends that visitors end up feeling like part of the décor.  Read More  

Signs, children's decorations, and spontaneity. We've taken the best ideas from our research and experiences to create a welcoming check list this Christmas season.  Read More
Focus Christmas outreach on relationships, not gimmicks
When done incorrectly, church marketing feels misplaced at least and manipulative at worst. Customized postcards, kitschy logos or pretty brochures can be just tactics and not really strategic, relational marketing. There are better ways to connect with people during and after Christmastide. Start by  understanding the community around your church. How do people know you? What fears, uncertainties and doubts do they feel? Do they already know someone connected to the church? Try understanding their needs during the Christmas season. Then focus on ways to offer something valuable to them or through people they already know. Read more...   
Many people resolve to pay more attention to their spiritual life, and worship attendance spikes. Maximize the impact of your service with these great sermon ideas.  Read More  
Sharing UMC's warmth in frigid Philadelphia
A handful of spirited church members joined a young street-marketing team on the shivering sidewalks of Philadelphia's Center City last weekend to offer hot cocoa and a warm Christmas welcome to passers-by. Their friendly, outgoing presence embodied United Methodist Communications' "Rethink Church" advertising slogan, "Church can happen anywhere."

The Advent-timed creative outreach campaign launched just as our area's temperatures plummeted below freezing. Nevertheless, the young, red-scarfed "Ambassadors of Cheer" wandered outside popular Philly venues pouring free hot cocoa for hundreds of surprised passers-by. Meanwhile, volunteers from area churches greeted folks and handed them colorful Rethink Church postcards inviting them to search online and find a friendly neighborhood United Methodist church to visit at Christmas time or whenever. Learn more... 
Please help UMCOR respond to refugee crisis now
How to help the people of Aleppo:   The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is actively responding to the many desperate migrants fleeing war-torn regions such as devastated Aleppo in Syria. To support UMCOR in this cause, please donate to UMCOR's Global Refugee/Migration Advance #3022144.  Donate here.  

Please also consider donating your time and resources to creating  relief supply kits for those in need, especially  health and  school kits.  Visit UMCOR’s website to see  more information and a video about the global plight of refugees.
A new hymn celebrating Jesus' holy refugee family 
"A New Father, Awe-struck" is a timely, new hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, who has published over 300 hymns sung by congregations around the world. This Christmastide hymn begins with a traditional manger scene but then portrays the Holy Family that became poor, powerless refugees escaping certain death. It is a prayer for the church to work for justice and mercy as our gift to Jesus.  Permission is given for free use of this hymn by churches that support refugee relief efforts.  

This hymn would be appropriate for use on Christmas Eve, Christmas Sunday and New Year's Day. (The First  Sunday  after Christmas' lectionary Gospel reading tells of Jesus and his family being refugees fleeing Herod).
German bishop celebrates Christmas 
despite  Berli n market attack
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the Germany Episcopal Area issued a statement following the attack at a Christmas market in Berlin that left 12 people dead and injured at least 48 more. 

"Right in the face of the manifestations of horror -- whether because of terror in Berlin and elsewhere or because of war and war crimes in Syria and other neglected places -- we set our hope in Jesus Christ," she writes.

"I pray for God's comfort for the victims of the attack in Berlin and for their families. Methodists from all over the world have let us know that they are praying for those immediately affected and for our country. 

"May the witness of the birth of Christ, Savior and Prince of Peace, be powerfully shared and heard in the churches in Berlin and everywhere where people celebrate Christmas. May we make room for Jesus so that we, filled by God's love, will overcome hatred with love and carry the light of peace that begins to shine in the barn in Bethlehem."   Read her entire statement
Christmas cards for inmates inspires gratitude
"Thanks to all of you who shared God's love with inmates through a signed Christmas card this year," writes Marilyn Schneider, leader of the conference Prison & Restorative Justice Ministries Team. "To those who are incarcerated, this is a powerful message of caring. At a time when many feel very much alone, it is a reminder that they are a beloved child of God. May this ministry continue to grow and touch hearts behind prison walls."

Schneider extends her small team's gratitude to the many people across the conference who shared the spirit of Christmas with some folks who really need it. All those who penned personal greetings to prison inmates helped the team to deliver more than 8,000 cards to 10 correctional facilities in Eastern PA. That's 3,000 more cards than they delivered in 2015, a feat so impressive that it drew the interest of United Methodist Communications, which sent a production team here in November to video record interviews and scenes of the prison ministries team sorting through signed cards. The four-minute video, titled " Church Christmas Cards Show Care to Prisoners," can be viewed on the denomination's website and  YouTube channelLearn more...
College Prep 101
Wharton-Wesley UMC in Philadelphia hosted a "College Prep 101" workshop Dec. 3 to share valuable information with individuals and families about paying for, getting in and getting through college. Sponsored by the Eastern PA Conference Scholarship Committee and the Southeast District Office, the workshop was facilitated by Lenora Thompson, who chairs the Conference Scholarship Committee, and the Rev. David W. Brown, Deacon, who teaches at Temple University and serves as Vice-Coordinator of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR). Both provided a wealth of resources, information and personal insights about the college preparation process, including choosing a college, preparing for aptitude tests, and finding and applying for financial aid.
Rev. Larry Pickens
Lehigh Valley interfaith leaders denounce bigotry, division
More than 50 Lehigh Valley leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Unitarian faiths signed a formal statement of solidarity Dec. 12 announcing their intention to stand against any acts of bigotry targeting race, nationality, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. The group held a press conference at the Respect Graduate School in Bethlehem, an institution dedicated to Islamic studies.

The Lehigh Conference of Churches (LCC) in Allentown hosted the signing, a response to recent incidents of bigotry and bullying in Lehigh Valley schools and communities. Such incidents "show that the climate of division in our country surrounding issues of race and religion is hitting home," read the media advisory. "With residents looking for guidance, the Lehigh Conference of Churches is bringing together leaders from Christian congregations and interfaith partners to take a stand against such acts and encourage civil discourse and dialogue....With a unified voice, faith communities are offering themselves as resources for conflict resolution, restorative justice, and community building."

"The Muslim community is one of the most vulnerable communities," said the Rev. Larry Pickens, Ecumenical Director of the LCC and pastor of Emmanuel UMC in Allentown. "As people of faith, whenever a group is vulnerable, it is important that we stand with them and rally around them." The Rev. Irving Cotto, Northeast District Superintendent, joined Pickens in signing the statement.  Read the full statement.  
United Methodists bring Christmas to Standing Rock 
Members of the UMC's Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) braved subfreezing temperatures last week to deliver 700 Christmas stockings to water protectors still camped near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blocked construction of a crude oil pipeline under a dammed section of the Missouri River, temporarily halting the Dakota Access Pipeline. But many members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other protesters have chosen to stay at the camp to make sure construction does not continue.

Read Ginny Underwood's account of the OIMC's Christmas visit. Also, look for an update on our website  Friday, Dec. 23, to learn of other happenings at the protest site, including United Methodist involvement, and to read comments from several members of our conference's Committee on Native American Ministries. 

New financial aid for seminarians
A new scholarship option for students enrolled in United Methodist seminaries launches   Jan. 3, 2017. The denomination's Board of Higher Education and Ministry said the Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarship, ranging from $2,500 to $12,500, would help entering United Methodist clergy avoid excessive educational loan debt.  Read press release

What John Wesley teaches about church unity
John Wesley throughout his life argued against the Methodist movement completely separating from the Church of England. However, when it comes to Wesley and church unity, Wesleyan scholars say the example he set is complicated.  Read story

#GivingTuesday donations set record
More than 2,550 persons in 19 countries contributed a total of $853,909.78 to United Methodist mission projects and missionary support through the 2016 UMC #GivingTuesday campaign. That result was almost twice that of any single day's non-Giving   Tuesday  receipts of the past, according to the UMC's Board of Global Ministries.  Read story
Sunday, Jan. 15 , is Human Relations Day 
United Methodists will celebrate God's call to empower people who struggle and equip change agents who seek to transform the world. The churchwide special offering received on this Sunday aids ministries that help people reach their potential. The Eastern PA Conference has two Community Developer projects supported by the offering at Casa del Pueblo at Lehman UMC in Hatboro and Grace UMC in Chester. Read more about them on our website in early January. See  resources...

Keeping churches safe and welcoming
How can churches be both a safe place and welcoming to strangers? Cathedral of the Rockies UMC held a Safe Church Summit that offered tips for staying secure in a sinful, violent world.  Watch video
UMW sets assembly theme for 2018
The 2018 Assembly of United Methodist Women will mark both the official celebration of the organization's 150th anniversary and a return to the location of the first Assembly in 1942: Columbus, Ohio. The theme of the   May 18-20, 2018, event is "The Power of Bold."  Read press release
Wesley's sermons published in Spanish
Two compilations of John Wesley's sermons translated into Spanish have been published by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Earthkeepers answer call to care for God's creation
Hearing a vocational call to care for God's creation, a group of United Methodist "Earthkeepers" were trained and commissioned last month through the Center for Mission Innovation of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.  Read story
UM Discipleship Ministries hire 2 new lead executives
UM Discipleship Ministries is increasing the diversity of its top leadership with the addition of two new executives. The Rev. Bener Baysa Agtarap, superintendent for congregational vitality in the California-Nevada Conference, is the new Associate General Secretary in charge of New Church Starts, also known as Path 1. He began his career has a young pastor starting new churches in the Philippines.  Read press release.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Cynthia A. Wilson, Assistant Vice-President of Student Life and Dean of Students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, will be the agency's Associate General Secretary of Leadership Ministries.  Read press release
Preach Social Justice on 
Sunday, Jan. 15
In the spirit of Advent, Bishop Peggy Johnson calls on all of us to focus on social justice in 2017 and for preachers to preach on this growing concern on Sunday, January 15, 2017. That will be civil rights icon the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. "The coming of Christ is forever connected to fostering right relationships between people," Johnson writes in her new Bishop's Blog essay, "and it is a key part of the gospel that we need to preach in our pulpits and model in our ministries. John Wesley, our Methodist founder, said, 'There is no holiness but social holiness.'"  Learn more...
Order your 2016 Conference Journal before they're gone!
A limited number of printed 2016 Eastern PA Conference Journals are available.  Order yours today for only $30 each. You can  order and pay online or send a check, by USPS, to: EPA UMC, Attention Gloria Knoeller, PO Box 820, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0820.

What's in the Journal?  A lot! Contact information for Conference staff, clergy, Camp and Retreat Centers, Districts, and United Methodist Boards and Agencies.  Also, clergy appointments, pastoral salaries and service records.  Plus, all about the 2016 Annual Conference; Conference statistics for 2015; historical highlights; and conference policies and procedures for clergy, staff, and others. Questions?  Please contact Gloria Knoeller at
Lifetree Cafe Orientation & Training, 
January 4
The Congregational Development Office will hold a Lifetree Cafe Orientation & Training (Part 2) on January 4, from  6:30 to 8:00 PM, at the Conference Office. Contact the Rev. Gordon Henderson, Coordinator, at or call him at 267-258-9509 if you wish to attend. Learn more...
Disability Awareness 
Sunday , awards for Disability Ministry
Plan now to celebrate Disability Awareness  Sunday in our conference  Jan. 22, 2017. The UMC's Book of Discipline calls for every conference and church to celebrate a Disability Awareness  Sunday annually. So our conference's Disability Ministry Committee wants to have as many churches as possible observe this special  Sunday, preferably with a special offering for UMCOR's "Disability Ministries" Advance Special (# 3021054), on  Jan. 22 (or on any other  Sunday). You can find information and  resources online at Also visit the  committee's webpage for more information. 

Pastors and lay leaders may contact Disability Ministries Committee members in their districts to get disability awareness promotion ideas. (See the list on the Disability Ministry webpage.) Or contact committee chairwoman Barbara Skarbowski at  bskarbowski@gmail.comor 717-584-6170.

Also, see if your church can qualify for a Certificate of Recognition for Excellence in Disability Ministry or even the new "Bishop Peggy Johnson 4A's Award for Disability Ministry." The conference Disability Ministry Committee established that award to give recognition to one "Congregation of the Year"  and one  "District of the Year"  that have made great strides toward being in inclusive ministry with persons and families who experience disability. Additionally, all conference churches are eligible to receive a  Certificate of Excellence  in outstanding disability ministry after meeting certain criteria.  Learn more...
Pen-Del Youth Rally 2017:
"This Is Love"
The annual Peninsula-Delaware Conference Youth Rally will return to the Ocean City (Md.) Convention Center January 6-8 (from Friday evening to Sunday morning).  Thewinter weekendrally and retreat will offer praise and worship, learning and laughter through games, fellowship and plenty of fun. 
Register early online by Nov.15 for $67
or by Dec. 15 for $77 at
The theme is  "This Is Love" from 1 John 4:10. Featured guests will be motivational speaker and "champion for youth" Steve Fitzhugh, along with Rend Collective, Zealand Worship Band, Dave & Brian, and a full concert by gospel singer Tasha Cobbs.
Restoration 2017: "Prayer, Praise and Presence"
The Restoration 2017 Retreat is Bishop Peggy Johnson's invitation to clergy and lay members of the Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware conferences, to gather in retreat January 26-28, at the Sands Hotel in Rehoboth Beach, Del. The theme is "Prayer, Praise and Presence." The purpose: "Finding new life in the spiritual disciplines to bring strength to our Christian journey." This event replaces the former Mid-Winter Retreat for Clergy and Spouses that had drawn fewer participants over the past several years.
The focus of this Restoration retreat is to bring to light aspects of ministry, life, and community that need to be restored within us on our journey of making disciples. Our guest speaker will be the Rev. Junius Dotson, the new General Secretary of UM Discipleship Ministries.
All are invited to join in this gathering to pray, praise and worship God in the presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Worship will begin the retreat Thursday evening and end it Saturday morning. In-between there will be ample time for prayer and personal reflection, workshops, fellowship and meals together, and even laughter inspired by a guest comedian. Two (2) CEUs will be granted for attendance.
Online registration will be available once all the program details are finalized. With October being Clergy Appreciation Month, Bishop Johnson is asking churches to consider showing appreciation and care for pastors and their families by gifting the cost of their registration for Restoration. 
Faith-Sharing Training Event  
Our 2017 annual Faith-Sharing Training Event will happen March 18, from 8:30 AM to 2 PM, at New Hanover UMC. Our guest presenter is the Rev. Terry Teykel, a leading "prayer evangelist" and popular speaker and author. He travels the world encouraging churches to develop and strengthen prayer ministries as a means of revival and transformation.
Teykel, the founder of Renewal Ministries and Prayer Point Press, has authored several books, including The Presence-Based Church, My Most Wanted: 40 Days to Pray for the Lost, and Pray the Price: United Methodists United in Prayer. He has spent his life teaching churches how to develop a heartfelt, meaningful relationship with the Lord. His warm, humorous style makes him a much-sought after speaker and seminar leader.
"We believe that when prayer and evangelism are reunited the Church will emerge as a powerful force for reclaiming the land and setting the captives free."      -Terry Teykl. 

Learn more about this passionate, powerful speaker and man of God.
Clergy Lenten Day Apart
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the day before Ash Wednesday, clergy across the conference will gather at locations in their respective districts for a Clergy Lenten Day Apart. They will pray, worship and fellowship together in preparation for the beginning of the Holy season of Lent.  
Wake up, God's People!... 
All-day Eastern PA Youth Rally, April 22, 2017
Plan to attend the 3rd Annual Eastern PA Conference Youth Rally on Saturday, April 22, 2017. For the first time, this youth rally will last all day, from 9 AM to 4 PM. We're planning fantastic features, with dynamic speakers, soul-stirring music, fun games, powerful prayers, laugh-out-loud humor, great food and hospitality, and enough friendship and fellowship moments to give you a lifetime of memories. Don't dare miss it! See and share the flyer, and look for more details, coming soon.
More prayer, praise and study events coming in the Spring:
  • April 23-25 - Local Pastors and Associate Members Retreat. At Black Rock Retreat Center, Quarryville, PA. Theme: "The Authority of Scripture."
  • April 29: Tools for Ministry (possibly including classes on prayer, worship and other spiritual disciplines). Times and locations determined by districts.
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, 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 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 Thanks!
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