Social Holiness Concerns: Dissecting the meaning of “Black Lives Matter”
January 22, 2018 / By Evelyn A. Woodring
“Black Lives Matter.”. We have all heard that chanted, shouted, and have even seen the words carried on posters and banners. And, we have our individual responses when hearing them.
Before we settle on our response to this, perhaps a bit of learning is called for. As this is Black History Month, let’s look for a moment at the “matter” of black lives. When the Founding Fathers were inventing an entirely new form of government, one of the sticking points they faced was the issue of how to allot representatives. The problem was solved by creating a bicameral legislature – that is, a government in two parts, the Senate (in which each state, regardless of size, had two voices) and the House of Representatives (in which voices were allotted based on population). It was the question of how to determine “population” that caused problems. How do you count people? Who counts? When do you count?
The question was solved by determining that, every 10 years, a census would be held. But, now a new problem arose. Those states that relied heavily on the presence and labor of chattel, slaves, had unreasonably high populations in relation to their citizenship. Ultimately, the decision was made that each slave would count as 3/5 of a person. That’s right, a slave is 60% human!
This solution held through the time of the Civil War. But, with emancipation, a new challenge faced the governments of the states. How to assure the legitimacy of voter registration when the “new” citizens strove to register? Many states adopted “literacy tests” to assure that only properly schooled and educated (and white) persons would vote in elections at any level. Further, laws were passed restricting the definition of African descent. If even one of an individual’s great-grandparents was Negro, that person was not white, but Negro!
This is the sad history of the meaning of “black lives.”. From being “not really human” to being “of inferior stock”, the lives of African Americans have been regarded as of lesser value. The reality is that, even in today’s America, persons of color face burdens that the white majority cannot even imagine.
As we enter the 21st century, we still find the fight for true equality of opportunity, respect, and protection of legal rights is being waged in our cities, towns, colleges, and wherever people of color interact with white America. Persons of color learn, from their earliest days, that they will confront challenges unimagined by the white majority.
Until the lives of our Sisters and Brothers of color are regarded with the same respect and deference as our own, no lives will truly matter! It is only when the lives of the least regarded, the most overlooked, the invisible ones matter that we can claim the truth that all lives matter. Not 60%, not one in eight, but every life is precious to the Source of all Life. All lives matter to God. They should all truly matter to God’s people, the people of the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church!
My third day in Puerto Rico for Humanitarian Relief
January 22, 2018 / By Thaddeus Pinckney
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”
In a community called “Los Amigos” (which means “The Friends”) where people are very united, it’s The United Methodist Church of Puerto Rico and UMCOR that has been the first church or agency to offer food and supplies to residents since Hurricane Maria. “With prayer and the work that they’re doing it feels like they’re doing the Kingdom of God here on earth.” said one resident.
While people of all ages gathered together bright and early to bring van loads and truck loads full of supplies to distribute physical items, such as bags of food, bottled water, packaged meats, packages of cookies, and much more, to residents in mountainous regions, they also distributed essential spiritual items, such as peace, joy, and the Holy Spirit.
It’s no secret that the island of Puerto Rico now desperately needs supplies to rebuild its infrastructure, along with food and water to feed those that are hungry and thirsty. But in feeding the hungry, UMCOR and the UMC of Puerto Rico keep finding a thirst and hunger from the citizens of Puerto Rico for much more (for that water that does not leave them thirsty). As a resident described that when all the physical elements around you have been taken away, you begin to realize that your hope should be in that which cannot be taken away.
Pastor Yolanda Correa-Pintor said, “I think many people have lost their hope, and that’s devastating because if we lose hope, then I think we lose everything. Besides the food that we’re giving, I think we give them the Spirit of Hope and The Holy Spirit, which they can receive.” Minutes after making this statement, she was surprised herself when hearing the omission from a resident she was interviewing. When Pastor Yolanda asked the resident to tell of her immediate physical needs, the resident replied that she now realizes that she really needs God and Salvation above all else.
How about yourself, would your reply be similar if you were asked about your immediate pressing needs were? Would you be able to say that you need God first (even above all physical needs like food, shelter, or even water)? Some say that many great things also came from Hurricane Maria, including leading many people into a deeper relationship with God. The devastation in Puerto Rico reminds us that when we have fewer distractions in life it becomes much easier to follow the First and Greatest Commandment (and the second like unto it.) – To Love Your God with all of your heart and soul and mind. Doth it really take man to lose “everything”, for man to discover what “everything” truly is?
UMCOR and the UMC of Puerto Rico are devoted to tending to the physical and spiritual needs of the citizens of Puerto Rico. They invite us to also become a part of establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth. As Pastor Yolanda concludes, “There is still much work to do!”
Editor’s Note: You can help support relief efforts in Puerto Rico, by making out a check to Upper New York Conference with FUND # 483 - "2017 Hurricane Maria Disaster Relief" on the memo line.
United Methodists asked to join Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 22, 2018 / By Council of Bishops
WASHINGTON – The Council of Bishops is urging all United Methodists to join with other Christians throughout the world to participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which begins tomorrow, January 18, 2018.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is promoted by the World Council of Churches, most regional councils of churches, and most mainline denominations, including The United Methodist Church.
This year’s Week of Prayer (January 18-25, 2018) uses Exodus 15:6 with the theme “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power.” An ecumenical group from the churches of the Caribbean have taken the lead this year in writing the materials and creating the theme.
The contemporary Caribbean is deeply marked by the dehumanizing project of colonial exploitation. During 500 years of colonialism and enslavement, those who brought the Bible to this region used the scriptures to justify their subjugation of a people in bondage. Yet in the hands of the enslaved, the Bible became an inspiration, an assurance that God was on their side, and that God would lead them into freedom.
Thus, Christians are reminded of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples that “they may be one so that the world may believe.” (see John 17.21).
Congregations and parishes all over the world are invited to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by exchanging preachers, holding special ecumenical worship or prayer services, or however seems appropriate in your local setting. Check for events in your area.
Click here to read a prayer offered for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by Bishop B. Michael Watson, Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops, and the Rev. Dr. Jean Hawxhurst and Rev. Dr. Kyle R. Tau, ecumenical staff officers of the Council of bishops.
What’s new with the UNY Historical Society
January 22, 2018 / By
The UNY Historical Society has created a newsletter that shares fascinating and useful information. The UNY Historical Society News & Views Issue 1 of 2018 has been released. This issue reveals some interesting historical stories from places throughout the Conference, dating back to the mid-1800s. This issue also provides guidance on what to keep and what to toss at local churches.
If you are interested in joining the UNY Historical Society, this issue describes some of the benefits of doing so and includes a membership form for you to fill out.
Click here to read the latest issue of UNY Historical Society News & Views Issue 1 of 2018.
A Christmas Eve truck stop church service
January 16, 2018 / By Sandra Brands
Just off Exit 28 on the New York Thruway, I-90, there are three truck stops. The largest, TA Truck Stop in Fultonville, was where the Fonda-Fultonville United Methodist Church held Christmas Eve Services.
Accompanied by members of the community, many who had been associated with the church in the past, the pastor and 51 others held services the evening of Dec. 24. At least half of them were not members of the church, though some had been associated with the church 10 or 15 years ago, said Pastor Amy Winne. “They came out for this Christmas,” she said. During the service, many customers decided to stay for the 35-40-minute service.
“We ended the service with Silent Night. I told them if they wanted to snuggle up to someone, they should feel free to do so,” she said. At the beginning of the service, the congregation bought drinks for those at the restaurant. Those who wanted to order something to eat were absolutely welcomed to do so.
It was a wonderful way to end what was a particularly stressful year. The church building went up in flames in March and the pastor died in May, “she said. Following the fire, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb had recommended the church look at Compass Church Discipleship Study.
Appointed to Fonda-Fultonville UMC in July 2017, Winne said they had been reading the study that asks the church who they are and who God wants them to be. The church could no longer expect people to come to them. Instead, the church needed to go out and meet the people.
“Most people aren’t going to come [to church] unless someone invites them and builds a personal relationship with them,” Pastor Winne said, adding she thought it reinforced the study that they need to get out into the community and that doing so can be effective..
It was one of the parishioners, she said, who thought outside the box to come up with the idea of holding Christmas Eve Services at TA Truck Stop. The congregation was skeptical.
“They didn’t think the Christmas Eve service would attract many. They didn’t want to be disappointed.” she said.
What happened when the truck stop manager was asked to let the church hold its Christmas Eve Services in the restaurant shocked everyone. “He asked what we would think of holding monthly services,” Winne said. “It’s a popular place to eat in the community, a wonderful restaurant.”
That, and later seeing how many people showed up for Christmas Eve gave the congregation a boost. “It reinforced what they were learning in the study,” she said.
The church had already become more visible in the community when, after being left building-less when the church burned, they began holding weekly services at the Fonda Town Hall.
Currently, a service held at the end of January is being planned.
My second day in Puerto Rico for humanitarian relief
January 16, 2018 / By Thaddeus Pinckney
Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but how much of God's money will I keep for myself. -John Wesley
On the second day of a trip to Puerto Rico to witness the humanitarian and disaster relief efforts by the United Methodist Church of Puerto Rico and UMCOR after Hurricane Maria, Pastor Carmelo Tosado Moya, Jr. graciously volunteered to not only show the gorgeous charm and splendid wonder of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, but also, to show the simple beauty of serving others through even the smallest of actions.
Is it really true that the meek shall inherit the earth? The word meek puzzles many because the meek aren't always portrayed in a positive light. Have you also heard that being recognized or being the loudest can earn the most attention (and the largest reward as well)?
Yet, Pastor Carmelo does enjoy being meek, with a gentle, and humble spirit. He uses it to fervently serve his community in San Juan, putting a huge emphasis in his life upon that serving word. “He understands,” Pastor Carmelo stated, “Many people might have a hesitation to serve themselves, especially to serve people so far away from them in Puerto Rico. In fact, many people may feel that their talents and actions maybe just too small to help those affected by a major hurricane.”
This is why Pastor Carmelo emphasized not worrying about personally knowing the ABCs of disaster relief, and spoke about simple ways to help Puerto Rico get back on its feet. Some of his suggestions, included: remembering Puerto Rico in your prayers, setting aside needed supplies that can be shipped to churches, or making direct donations to UMCOR, all would make a huge difference. He cited other simple actions, such as contacting UMC Churches to offer encouragement, or even visiting Puerto Rico on your next vacation to boost the economy and get Puerto Ricans back to work. Old San Juan, where his church is located is rich in Spanish-style architecture and quaint cobblestone streets. He welcomes you to come, serve, and worship with his church.
Serving is oftentimes seen as giving a lot of money through a large, ground-breaking donation or giving a great deal of time and physical strength, and while these methods are helpful, serving can also be accomplished though the smallest of acts of kindness. There are so many small ways that you can help the people of Puerto Rico (beginning with prayer).
Yes, The United Methodist Church and UMCOR are prominent parts of the restoration of Puerto Rico, and so also are YOU! You too can serve.
Editor’s Note: You can help support relief efforts in Puerto Rico, by making out a check to Upper New York Conference with FUND # 483 - "2017 Hurricane Maria Disaster Relief" on the memo line.
My first day in Puerto Rico for Humanitarian Relief
January 10, 2018 / By Thaddeus Pinckney
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
Good-works, inspiration, persistence are all qualities that describe Pastor Yeika Huertas as she is trying to lead her church in storm-struck Carolina Puerto Rico. Her church suffered severe damage to its roof and sanctuary, while her parishioners were left to literally hunt for food, water, and shelter. Still today, months after Hurricane Maria, it's an everyday occurrence in Puerto Rico of having to simply survive.
Can you imagine living for over four months without electricity or clean water? Now can you imagine tending to the needs of hundreds of church members and the entire community, who all wonder when this misery will end? Surely, it would be easy for Pastor Yeika to just cope only with her losses and concentrate on fighting for her own survival.
Some say the secret to happiness is helping others, but what if that promise of immediate happiness seems to be so far in the distance? What if your challenges were so great (even life-threatening) that the perks from helping others don’t feel perky at all? Could YOU ever do more for someone else, knowing that you’re doing less for yourself? Living and helping can make us feel depleted, burdened, and sometimes even taken advantage of.
Why, Pastor Yeika could choose to follow these commonly expressed feelings that I’m sure have entered her mind, but instead she chooses to "represent the hands and feet" of Christ to help people in all places at all times. Pastor Yeika even confides about the surprise on the faces of many when they discover that she is a young, female pastor cast into such a huge role. But, her passion through the love of Christ burns!
Jeanette Graulau, from the UMC of Puerto Rico, reminds us that no one expected for the conditions in Puerto Rico to be so severe and lasting. American citizens in Florid, Texas, and Louisiana received an outpouring of humanitarian aid, but for Puerto Rico? Seemingly, Puerto Rico has been forgotten by many. The United Methodist Church and UMCOR though is committed to being helping others like Pastor Yeika and her community, get back on their feet.
Pastor Vieka said, "We can't give up, because the people depend on us...and no matter how burdened I will be, and I am, I have to because it's my responsibility. It's my privilege; it's my passion."
Editor’s Note: You can help support relief efforts in Puerto Rico, by making out a check to Upper New York Conference with FUND # 483 - "2017 Hurricane Maria Disaster Relief" on the memo line.
Called to help displaced Puerto Ricans now living in Rochester, NY
On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma swept across Puerto Rico, killing 16 people, destroying homes, and leaving many residents without electricity. Just two weeks later, an even more destructive Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, leaving a much higher death toll, and this time, hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced.
UMCOR and other mission teams are traveling to Puerto Rico and engaging in continuous disaster relief. If you are unable to or untrained to become involved in disaster relief, there is another way that you can help—you can assist displaced Puerto Ricans who now live in Upstate New York. For example, more than 500 Puerto Ricans have moved to Rochester to live with family members since September. Many of these families are supported by public assistance and they do not have the resources to help their beloved family members beyond providing shelter.
In early November 2017, Hector Rivera, pastor at LeRoy UMC and Aldersgate UMC, as well as leader of the New Faith Community Aldersgate: Hispanic UMC, and Anne O’Connor senior pastor at Aldersgate UMC, were contacted by, a newly formed non-profit organization comprised of residents in Rochester, NY.
Puerto Ricans United in the Distance helps Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Rochester, NY, after the devastation they experienced from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Essentially, this organization helps the Puerto Ricans transition into the community by partnering with other human serving agencies in the fields of housing, education, legal, clothing, food, employment, and other supporting services.
Pastors Rivera and O’Connor were asked if they had space at Aldersgate for a food pantry and if they would be able to host a Thanksgiving and Christmas gathering for the Puerto Rican families. Pastors Rivera and O’Connor agreed. Happy to have doors, minds and hearts open to serve the community. Pastor Rivera has gone far beyond the initial request with the help of many volunteers.
Immediately, a food pantry was set up at Aldersgate. The food pantry is open to anyone in need of food on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. or as needed. Dior, a volunteer said, “I feel good when I can help families in need, provide for their children, and experience God’s love. “
Soon after, with the help of Sumarie Lopez, Miguel Lopez, and Yolanda Morales, members of Aldersgate Hispanic UMC, a Thanksgiving celebration was held at the church for the Puerto Rican families. About 50 persons attended this beautiful gathering. This celebration included Thanksgiving Worship Service, a cultural dinner, and fellowship.
To further meet the needs of the new population of Puerto Rican families, LeRoy UMC has also established a clothing closet with a lot of winter attire, very much needed this frigid winter.
Pastor Rivera and his wife Maria started a new English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to suit the needs of the Puerto Rican families, at Aldersgate as well. Maria teaches the classes. Transportation is provided to and from the classes; nursery services are also provided during the classes.
About the classes, Maria said “I am so excited! Teaching the newcomers is an exciting fulfilling experience and very rewarding. It is so great to see how our students are learning English language skills while celebrating their culture. They will learn English for work, home, and for survival within their new environment. Our students are highly motivated and supportive of one another as they discover their place in the new community.”
One student, Marie said, “I like the classes and my teacher Maria, she has a great sense of humor.”
A new student, Marta said,” I have a hard time pronouncing some words. But I am not giving up because I like it here.”
Grace, also one of Maria’s ESL students said, “I am learning a lot of words that will help me get around to the bank, stores, hospital and of when ordering in the restaurant where I can now ask for more than ‘ham and eggs.’”
New student Yolanda said, “I enjoy being with my classmates and we learn so much from each other.”
On Dec. 23, 2017 Aldersgate Hispanic UMC hosted a wonderful Christmas celebration for the displaced Puerto Rican families. There was a spectacular array of cultural food, cultural music, incredible fellowship, gifts for the children, and a visit from Santa Claus!
Pastor Rivera said, “It’s a great feeling when we have regular attenders (of the newly arrived Puerto Ricans) at every Sunday services, and to have many attend special events during the year, but when I saw a great deal of neighbors attending this year’s Christmas event, as a way to find healing after experiencing the effect of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico, I was in awe.
So many families and children came together during this time; it was a great opportunity for the church and the Puerto Ricans United in the Distance organization to provide the visiting families and their children with winter clothing, grocery bags filled with groceries, and of course the most expected Christmas gift from Santa.”
It’s amazing how the Lord calls upon us to help people in distress. To learn more or to help with this ministry, contact Pastor Hector Rivera at 585-802-0998 or email@example.com.
Upcoming District Training Days
January 9, 2018 / By UNY Communications Team
In the coming weeks, several Districts are offering the following leadership trainings.
Jan. 20: The Albany District’s District Leadership Team will be hosting a workshop entitled “Creating an L3 Environment” from 9 a.m. to noon at Calvary UMC. The registration deadline is Jan. 15. Click here for more information.
Jan. 27: The Mohawk District strongly encourages participation in a Leadership Summit taking place at Centerpoint Christian Fellowship from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here for more information.
Feb. 3: The Genesee Valley District is offering a training day, called “Inform to Transform” with nine workshops at Asbury First UMC from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration closes Feb. 2. Click here for more information and/or to register.
Feb. 10: Both the Crossroads District and the Cornerstone District are offering leadership training events. The Cornerstone event will be held at Bemus Point UMC from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Click here to learn more and/or to register. The Crossroads District event will be held at the United Methodist Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Click here for the itinerary for the day. Click here for a registration form for the Crossroads District traininng day.
Feb. 24: The Niagara Frontier District is offering an event called “Catch the Spirit” at Clarence United Methodist Church from 8 a.m.to 3:30 p.m. Registration deadline is Feb. 16. Click here for more information and/or to register.
An Opportunity to Serve: Imagine No Racism District Volunteer Advocate
January 8, 2018 / By Teressa Sivers, Chair of the Bishop's Taskforce on Eliminating Racism
Editor’s Note: In the video above, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb invites members of the Upper New York Annual Conference to become an Imagine No Racism District Volunteer Advocate. An article describing this position follows.
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” ~Matthew 22
On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Sacrament of Baptism, United Methodist Hymn, p. 40
Racism is a disease that infects the hearts, minds, souls and bodies of individuals. churches and communities. Our Social Principles state, “Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominate race is innately superior to others.” Racism is contrary to the purpose and will of God. As children of God who are to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8),” we are called to action. In the Upper New York Annual Conference, we are going to Imagine No Racism together! We are creating the Imagine No Racism District Team to help us imagine this as a conference.
You may be the person we are looking for to help lead this important ministry!
- Do you have a passion for racial justice and equity?
- Are you open to change and willing to grow in your knowledge and awareness of racial injustice and white privilege?
- Do you have some knowledge already of racism and/or white privilege?
- Are you able (with help and guidance) to facilitate small groups and address conflict?
- Do you actively uphold Wesley’s Three General Rules: Do no harm. Do God. Attend to the Means of Grace (stay in love with God).
If so, let us know and click here to complete an application!
The Imagine No Racism District Team will work to form District small groups of clergy and laity, who will engage in deep listening, transformative study, and meaningful action to eliminate racism and white privilege in themselves and their churches and communities.
Members of the Imagine No Racism District Team will:
- Attend preliminary and subsequent trainings led by the General Commission on Religion and Race. The training will be held within our Upper NY Conference.
- Attend and participate in the District Day Orientation, to be held on Saturday, April 21. The District Day will be held at each District’s communication hub(s) and livestreamed from the UNY Conference office.
- Meet with and receive support from the Regional Coordinator for their area.
- Coordinate and resource small groups of clergy and laity in your district.
- Join each small group at their initial meeting.
- Make sure they have the resources needed and have more meetings on their calendars.
- Check in with each small group’s convener to see that they are meeting regularly and making progress.
- Provide ongoing support as needed.
- Intervene with the help of the Regional Coordinator if issues arise.
- Use the internet, especially email and social media, to keep everything and everyone organized and connected.
- Travel around the District and to Conference training with mileage reimbursed.
Conference Office Closed
January 4, 2018 / By UNY Communications
Due to the inclement weather, the Conference Office in Liverpool will be closed on Jan. 5. It is currently scheduled to reopen Monday, Jan. 8.
Social Holiness concerns: From the inside out
January 2, 2018 / By Richard Gianzero
In 2017, New York State stopped housing minors inside adult prisons. I was convicted of attempted murder and spent 14 years in maximum security at Wende, Elmira, and Coxsackie Correctional Facilities. I grew up in prison. I became a Christian in prison.
Shortly after my 30th birthday, the parole board released me – 11 years ago now. When I walked out of Coxsackie, I carried a towel with me. If released, I promised God to lay a towel down in the parking lot, raise my hands to the sky, and thank God. My parents, cousin, and godmother all traveled to pick me.
While my family met me at the gates two other men walked out with me. I had “street clothes” sent in by my family. Dressed in “state” clothes, these men had no one meeting them. The prison gave them a bus ticket and $40.00 with instructions to check-in with their parole officer within 24-hours. They didn’t even know where the bus stop was.
Volunteers and chaplains helped me grow as a Christian in prison. The most effective volunteers met me and others in our brokenness with God’s unconditional love. Prison ministry remains an important call to the church from Christ. As an aspiring pastor, I am often struck by the Church’s desire to reach out to those in prison. Such a call to serve prisoners remains sacred and limited.
Ministry to prisoners means going on the “inside.” At the same time, most people in prison will return to the “outside.” Enthusiasm to serve the incarcerated often stops the moment prisoners become returning members of society. In my case, a Christian community of Kairos volunteers surrounded me when released. When I came home to Colorado a couple days after release, I connected to a church I corresponded with while in prison. My case, however, is an exception and outlier.
A person released from prison usually lacks the basics: deodorant, toothpaste, transportation, a place to live, female sanitary products, food, and a job. Rental companies and landlords require background checks to live on their properties. A returning person cannot pass a background check. They cannot usually pay for an apartment if they found one anyway because they cannot find a job. The likelihood of returning to prison grows higher as they continue to serve the “collateral consequences” portion of their convictions. If we consider education, racial discrimination, gender, addiction, and mental health the ability to remain “free” becomes even less realistic.
This evening my wife and I will visit the maximum-security prison for women in Colorado. Going from the inside to the outside as a Christian and back inside to share hope and love means something. But as I look at the faces of my locked-up sisters I think about what happens to them once they come “home.” Home is a relative term.
The greatest service needs for those affected by the criminal (in)justice system remain largely unmet. The Church in the United States has a unique call, not only to meet the immediate basic needs of those who are returning to the community, but to mentor and support them as they rejoin the community. It will take critical thinkers with creative imagination and faithful determination to make an impact with such ministries.
The Fortune Society, in New York City and The Reentry Initiative, in Colorado, are doing critical work with the formerly incarcerated. Education regarding the prison industrial complex can be found in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
The New York State Council of Churches meets at the United Methodist Center
The United Methodist Center hosted the New York State Council of Churches (NYSCOC) on Thursday Dec. 14 for their executive committee’s quarterly meeting. This meeting was attended by the Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding and the Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell of the Upper New York Conference; the Rev. Gideon Jebamani and Bishop Mary Glasspool of the Episcopal Church; Phil Garvey of the Presbyterian Church; chair of the committee, the Rev. Dustin Wright of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Alan Dailey of the United Church of Christ; the Rev, Peter Cook, NYSCOC Executive Director; and Nancy Lapierre, NYSCOC office manager.
The NYSCOC has three areas of focus, which include advocacy, prison chaplaincy, and education. The committee reviewed some of their successful work this past year, including:
- The promotion of supportive and affordable housing, seeking to build church-government-private sector partnership to build low-income housing.
- Offered ongoing support to chaplains serving in NYS institutions. (NYSCOC is authorized by NYS to certify all Protestant chaplains serving state prisons, mental health facilities, and youth detention facilities).
- Shared success of the “Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide Conference” held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College last summer. They focused on how to bring rural and urban leaders together to address shared issues of justice.
During this meeting, a budget for 2018 was adopted in support of NYSCOC work. The Upper New York Conference’s 2018 budget provides support for NYCOC’s work. The ecumenical work done by the NYSCOC shows the success that can stem from Christians working together on social justice issues.
Tumica Jacobs hired as Human Resources and Benefits Administrative Assistant
Tumica Jacobs joins the UNY Conference as Administrative Assistant for the Human Resources and Benefits Ministry Area. She will be supervised by Susan Latessa. This position opening resulted from budget-neutral staffing changes that included Vicki Swanson’s imminent retirement, Susan Latessa becoming the Director of Human Resources and Benefits, and Cherish McGowan becoming the Office/Connectional Ministries Manager.
With an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science and certification in medical assisting, Tumica has held many interesting job positions, including her most recent position for a homecare company. While not having worked in a Human Resources department in the past, Tumica’s skillset fits well into what our Conference needed.
Many of Tumica’s roles for the UNY Human Resources and Benefits department include maintaining spreadsheets for everything from equitable compensation to benefits. Tumica said, “Although I haven’t had an HR position with the title, I have pieces from each job that I have done that mirror things I do here.
“Susan Latessa said, “The combination of Tumica’s past positions offered transferrable skills with staffing, payroll, benefits, and compliance. Also, she understands more than just the business side of our work—she also understands the personal impact of the work we do.”
Tumica loves spending time with her family. Speaking of her husband, Tumica said, “I am married to an amazing man. He is so supportive and makes me feel on top of the world.” Tumica has three boys, ages 16, 9, and 2.
Tumica is thrilled to join the UNY Conference; she said, “I feel very fortunate and blessed to be working here. I am excited to see what this next chapter in my journey has in store for me.”
Susan said, “I am very excited to have Tumica on my team and she fits in so well with our Conference staff.”
Annual Conference petitions, resolutions, and reports due Feb. 15, 2018
December 18, 2017 / By UNY Communications Team
The Committee on Petitions and Resolutions is charged with overseeing the submission, review, and presentation of petitions and resolutions to the Annual Conference.
All resolutions and petitions for the 2018 Annual Conference session must be submitted to the Committee no later than Feb. 15, 2018. Submissions should be emailed to the Director of Connectional Ministries Office at DCMOffice@unyumc.org.
Click here for writing and submission guidelines as well as a petition and resolution template.
Rev. Carlos M. Rosa-Laguer to become Niagara Frontier DS
December 18, 2017 / By UNY Communications
Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb is pleased to announce his intention to appoint the Rev. Carlos M. Rosa-Laguer as superintendent of the Niagara Frontier District, effective July 1, 2018.
Rev. Rosa-Laguer currently serves as pastor of the Emmanuel and Churchville congregations of Rochester, NY, having served Emmanuel since 2000. Carlos has been involved in various leadership positions in Upper New York, as well as a predecessor conference. He has served as Coordinator for Hispanic-Latina ministries and co-director of Hispanic-Latina Planting in cooperation with the Upper New York Conference Office of New Faith Communities. Carlos serves as a consultant and coach with Path1 New Church Starts and Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Carlos has also worked with several local congregations in developing ministries to the Hispanic-Latina community.
“Rev. Rosa-Laguer brings a deep spirituality and a passion for assisting the church in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” Bishop Webb said. “Carlos’ heart for walking alongside people as they discover God’s call upon their lives will be a gift to the work of Upper New York and the Niagara Frontier District. I am delighted to have Carlos join the work of the Cabinet.
Current Niagara Frontier District Superintendent the Rev. Wayne Butler announced in November that he will retire June 30, 2018.
“Rev. Butler has served with excellence, faithfulness, wisdom, and love. He has added greatly to the work of the Cabinet and was instrumental in the beginning season of Upper New York’s life.” Bishop Webb said. “Wayne will be deeply missed in this role, but I celebrate with he and Molly the new chapter of life that they are about to embark upon. I invite you to keep these two servants of Christ, as well as the congregations of Emmanuel and Churchville and the Niagara Frontier District in your prayers during this time of transition and new beginnings.”
Rev. Rosa-Laguer is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, State University of New York and Inter Americana University in Puerto Rico. He is married to Marta Davila-Velazquez and they have five children and two grandchildren.
Engaging with the UNY Conference through social media
Some significant changes have taken place in the Upper New York Conference Communications ministry area recently, which has given the Conference Communications team the opportunity to think strategically about how to continue to improve the ways we tell our story. In assessing our communications channels’ strengths and weaknesses, one means of telling our story was clearly in need of work. That area was social media.
In the coming weeks and months, members of the Upper New York Conference will see some major changes in how, where, and what we communicate through social media.
- We will build off of the success of the Conference blog in engaging each other in a variety of conversations- from fun to serious and from personal to big picture.
- We will build off of the success of our video ministry and start producing shorter videos specifically designed for social media that will sometimes complement longer videos designed for worship settings and sometimes stand on their own.
- We will also be inviting voices from around the Conference to be heard as we have with the Advocate and other Communications channels over the last few years.
Judy Campany hired as Administrative Assistant to Connectional Ministries
Judy Campany joins the UNY Conference as Administrative Assistant to Connectional Ministries. This position opening resulted from budget-neutral staffing changes that included Vicki Swanson’s imminent retirement, Susan Latessa becoming the Director of Human Resources and Benefits, Cherish McGowan becoming the Office/Connectional Ministries Manager, and Karen Campolieto’s position changing to Media Resources Coordinator and Archives Assistant. Cherish will be supervising Judy.
Judy not only brings administrative expertise to her new position, but she also brings a strong passion for ministry and helping people. Judy’s talents mirror her college education—she was initially going to major in Psychology, but decided to switch to Business Administration. After decades of administrative roles in businesses and corporations, Judy was hired by the Oswego County Department of Social Services in April of 2015. While her role began as an administrative role, she soon became a child support caseworker. She loved helping the children, most who were impoverished. She said, “When I was visiting a foster child once, his caregiver said to me ‘You hold him and hug him and give him love—I have never seen a case worker be so caring.’”
Judy went above and beyond with her role as a child support case worker. She noticed that many families received government assistance that helped with food, but not with hygiene supplies so she started ministries at several churches to receive donations of hygiene supplies that she could bring to families in need.
While Judy enjoyed her work as a case worker, she felt ready for a change. A simple search on a job search engine for “ministry jobs” brought her to the position opening at the UNY Conference. She interviewed for the position and when offered the job, she was excited!
Judy has been with the Conference for just over a week and is thrilled about the tasks she will be working on.. Judy said, “I love that my tasks are varied and leaves room for my creative input. It’s second-nature for me to see where ministry can be strengthened.”
Cherish McGowen is happy to have Judy on board. She said, “We are very excited for Judy to join the UNY Conference staff. She brings many gifts and talents to her role as Connectional Ministries Administrative Assistant, among them, her creativity, and has already proven herself to be an asset in the few short days that she has been with us.”
Director of Vital Congregations, Aaron Bouwens, who Judy provides support for, shares Cherish’s excitement; he said, “I am excited to have Judy be a part of the Vital Congregations ministry. She brings a servant’s heart and a willingness to join in the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Judy lives in CNY with Maggie, her 10-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She has two sons ages 26 and 27 and a grandson who is 18-months old who also reside in the CNY area. Growing up in Lewis County contributed to her love of the outdoors including hiking, kayaking, and flyfishing. Judy also loves photography—her photography includes landscape as well the outside architecture of churches and trying to capture the holiness felt while inside churches.
Conference Office closed
December 13, 2017 / By UNY Communications
Due to the inclement weather, the Conference Office in Liverpool will be closed today, Dec. 13. It is currently scheduled to reopen Thursday, Dec. 14.
Empowering women and children in Colombia
December 12, 2017 / By Gracie Lynn Besse, Former Global Mission Fellow
I had the amazing opportunity to be part of the General Board of Global Ministries’ mission as an International Global Mission Fellow. I was placed in Bogotá, Colombia as media and program facilitator/instructor working with CEPALC, the Latin American Center for Inclusive Communication. CEPALC’s team is made up of dedicated individuals who are passionate about helping women and children realize their full potential. They do this by teaching about their rights and providing many different forms of media, including radio, magazine, and YouTube videos to express their concerns, opinions, and interests in their own voice through alternative media. Through their methodology of “learn by doing,” CEPALC is helping to create vital leaders in Colombian communities.
Colombia struggles with a very machista culture. That is to say, people have ways of thinking that are both patriarchal and chauvinistic. CEPALC helps to empower women, teaching them, that they have a right to voice their opinions, with the hope that they pass this down to their children to create a more peaceful future.
I had many different roles within CEPALC. I helped to lead workshops for children, youth and women; occasionally wrote articles for their magazine Encuentro (meaning meeting); participated in three different radio shows ranging from kids’ rights to politics; created a show called Mirrored Voices about gender issues in society; and taught about peace at a local elementary school.
One of the workshops that was most powerful for me was with more than 80 children speaking about gender in society. Gender equality is such a difficult topic for some kids to grasp because they have already been exposed to all of the social constructs that their parents, teachers, and society have taught them. For example, they are taught that boys need to be strong, can’t show emotions, should be good at sports, and should like the color blue. Girls are taught that men will take care of them, that they should be good at cooking and cleaning, that they should be lady-like, and should like the color pink.
After posing some questions for the kids like “How do we express gender?” and “Is one gender superior to another?” They discussed their opinions in small groups. Colombia is mostly Roman Catholic, with some very conservative views; however, these young people were eager to discuss, listen, and learn about something that is often voodoo to talk about in their society. At the end of the workshop, we asked for their reflections. One young girl said “This was one of my favorite workshops because we learned about Flora Tristan’s story…how she defended women’s rights because before that, women couldn’t do anything and thanks to her and other women, things have changed.”
Even though CEPALC now operates as a secular organization and is not directly affiliated with any church, they are most definitely living out God’s word and creating a more accepting and peaceful country. As we United Methodists partner with organizations already in place in many countries around the world in order to be in mission with the people of those nations, we have the opportunity to witness to our faith by spreading God’s love, and working toward peace everywhere. I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of this important work.
If you would like to learn more about CEPALC and the people they help, you can go to cepalc.com. To learn more about Global Mission Fellows, visit www.umcmission.org. You can also check out our podcast of Mirrored Voices on the iTunes podcast application and on Stitcher for android devices.
Bishop Mark J. Webb’s 2017 Christmas/Advent message
December 11, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
I love the words of the advent hymn entitled “Send Your Word:”
Send your word, o Lord, like the rain falling down upon the earth.
Send your word.
We seek your endless grace, with souls that hunger and thirst, sorrow and agonize
We would all be lost in dark without your guiding light.
Send your word, o Lord, like the wind, blowing down upon the earth.
Send your word.
We seek your wondrous power, pureness that rejects all sins, though they persist and cling.
Bring us to complete victory; set us all free indeed.
Send your word, o Lord, like the dew, coming gently upon the hills.
Send your word.
We seek your endless love.
For life that suffers in strife with adversities and hurts, send your healing power of love;
We long for your new word.
As we journey through another season of advent and prepare for another celebration of Christmas, this hymn is my prayer. Over the past weeks and months, we have continued to witness and live within a world that is deeply hurting. Every day the news points to the reality of brokenness, fear and loss. The struggles of racism, sexism, abuse, violence and many other forms of spiritual darkness seem overwhelming.
I watch as the world seeks a response, a fix to all that is swirling around us. Hear the good news! Proclaim the good news! “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This Savior who proclaimed that he came into the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world. This Savior who continues to offer the hope that He is the way, the truth and the life. This Savior who spoke the powerful words that he is the light of the world, and those who follow him shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of Christ.
Send your word, o Lord!
The world needs the truth of Advent and Christmas. The communities in which we live and serve need the promise and assurance of a Savior. The solution to the spiritual forces of evil that surround us was sent in a baby born in a manger, a savior who taught a new way, lived a sinless life and offered his life on the cross that we might be reconciled to god and then propelled into the world to offer that reconciliation found in Jesus Christ!
This advent and Christmas season let us be bold in receiving the gift of Jesus, let him transform you. Let us be courageous in sharing the good news of this savior with those around us. Let us watch with joy as Jesus transforms the lives of others and powerfully pierces the darkness with light!
Let us pray and live the promise for our lives and within the lives of others – Send your word, o Lord!
Jodi, Ben, Tyler and Lyndsay join me in wishing you a blessed and holy Christmas!
Bishop Mark J. Webb
Called to be a Hospice chaplain
December 6, 2017 / By Rev. Becky Naber, Baker Memorial UMC
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Advocate, which featured stories that showcased the theme of “Being God’s love to our neighbors in all places.”
My first eight months as a Hospice chaplain have been full of wonder, surprise, and joy. How is this possible given that my patients are at the end of their lives? As Christians, we speak of a peace that surpasses all understanding. Such divine peace allows for a good passing from this life to an eternal life with God. And peace--physical, emotional, and spiritual peace- -is the goal of Hospice. A choice for Hospice is a decision towards better quality of life through comfort measures and away from curative treatments that have become ineffective or too much to physically bear.
As a Deacon appointed to Hospice Buffalo, I work on an interdisciplinary team consisting of a physician, nurse, and social worker. My role is to serve as a channel of God’s grace in the spiritual care of the terminally ill patient and their loved ones. While many people speculate that Hospice work must be terribly dreadful and emotionally overwhelming, I full-heartedly love my job and my calling to this ministry of compassion and reconciliation. For although we live in a death denying culture, I have found the last months, days, and even hours of life can be the most transformative and peaceful should we embrace God’s gift of assurance.
Blessed assurance brings peace and meaning at the end of life. In his works on Christian Perfection, John Wesley said that wholeness is possible in this life as we respond and grow in God’s grace and become more and more Christ-like in our love and actions. But our ability to know the fullness of God’s love and to perfectly reflect the love of Christ most often occurs at the hour of our death. A terminal diagnosis accelerates the desire for the assurance of one’s salvation.
A terminal diagnosis reorders one’s life. When a person is faced with impending death, many questions arise concerning life’s meaning and spiritual beliefs. In other words, confronting our mortality radically shifts our perspective; much that has been important in the past may either grow significantly or diminish in its relevance to our well-being. During this sacred and intense time of reflection and spiritual exploration, religious beliefs and practices may be of great comfort and provide meaning to a patient’s illness and decline. Or, past spiritual hurts and disappointments may result in anger or extreme fear of the Divine. As a chaplain, I listen to spiritual unrest in such questions as “Why me?” or “I deserve this for all the bad things I have done.” Spiritual anguish can be caused by a multitude of things, but most likely it develops out of a need for reconciliation in our relationships or a desire to continue caring for loved ones. Either way, patients find themselves in need of a deeper connection with God’s forgiveness and love.
The Spirit leads me to holy ground. Each morning I receive a list of new patients as well as my schedule for the day with established patients (many people are in Hospice care for many months). I meet with five to six people a day. They are persons of all ages, all faiths, all denominations, and in all stages of belief and emotional balance. With each patient’s name and the entry of their address into my car’s GPS, I leave the office filled with wonder for what God has in store for us (the patient and me):
- Will this family receive me as a stranger bearing God’s hope into their household?
- Will my patient be at spiritual peace and ready to die when they are called home to the Lord? Or, will they be spiritually broken, longing for reconciliation with God, with the church, with a spouse, with a child or a sibling?
- Will they need help in seeing God’s presence throughout their life?
- Or will they want to hear Psalms of God’s love and promises?
The questions go on and on in my mind, and so does my surprise as to where and how God calls me to share divine love and hope.
God places me in roles I never before imagined, over and over again. Reconciliation is a common end-of-life need; and I’ve been tasked with reuniting estranged loved ones with a patient for their peaceful passing. Other times, I’ve been called to homes to offer God’s comfort and promises as I gather a family around the bed of a loved one who has passed or is about to cross through the veil. I’ve been given the privilege of hearing beautiful parting words of love between spouses. I’ve heard confessions, anointed the sick, and prayed with patients who long for a deeper sense of the Lord’s nearness and for God’s protection over their loved ones in their absence.
Of the multiplicity of roles, one of my favorites is to pray with patients who long for God’s blessing of assurance—they long to be pardoned and justified; to know they belong to the Lord and abide with Christ. Whatever the day may bring, my joy is seeing the transformative work of God in patients as they are spiritually healed and as they peacefully pass from this life toward the glory that awaits them in the next.
Some situations require an ever closer walk with God. Pediatric chaplaincy is one example. I serve as the chaplain for the Essential Care Unit, which provides Hospice and palliative care to ill children and their families. In this work, I provide spiritual care to women who struggle with difficult perinatal diagnosis. I walk with them through their pregnancies, birth, and afterwards. I also visit with parents and children all ages who have a life-threatening chronic condition or terminal diagnosis. Here too are questions concerning God’s presence (or perceived absence), of God’s love and mercy, and here too I share God’s love. More often than not, I share the tenants of our hope in God and how these children radiate God’s goodness and show us how to love—in simple and in extraordinary circumstances. Yet sometimes, words cannot capture the pain of a parent; standing in solidarity with them, wrapped in divine love is all that I have to offer as my heart prays they find hope and peace in our compassionate God.
Hope and blessed assurance are part and partial to our Methodist roots. While we often sing this beloved 19th century hymn in worship, its realization of a peace that surpasses all understanding is most relevant in the face of the unexpected and the end of one’s life. Assurance counterpoises our fears and doubts. Assurance undergirds our belief that we each are a beloved child of God—that God’s greatest gift to us is Christ and that the Lord delights to abide with each one of us.
And assurance draws us deeper and deeper into the love of God towards our prize of perfection. At the end of my day’s work at Hospice, my evening prayer for each of my patients and their families is for them to claim God’s promises, and for them to know the joy of salvation in this life in preparation for an eternity to come. For each day as this hymn resonates in my mind, I find myself awestruck by the mystery and compassion of God’s grace in birth, throughout life, and in death. And it is with great joy and humility that I am called to guide Hospice patients towards “a foretaste of glory divine.”
Important dates for 2018
December 6, 2017 / By UNY Communications
Be sure to mark your calendars for these important dates and deadlines set for 2018.
- Jan. 2: EZRA system opens
- Jan. 10: Final day to submit Ministry Shares
- Mid-End Jan.: Narrative Budget Booklet becomes available
- Feb. 15: Deadline for submission of petitions and resolutions (from individuals, churches and unofficial bodies of UNY) as well as deadline for reports and action items from Conference teams
- Feb. 15: Final date to update statistics in EZRA system
- Early March: Annual Conference registration opens
- Early April: Vol. I of the Journal is available
- May 31-June 2 Annual Conference (Onondaga Community College)
Mike Block hired as Director of Missional Engagement
Mike Block has been hired as the Director of Missional Engagement of the Upper New York Conference. This position opening was made possible by a donation from Earlville UMC—their vote to discontinue included donating enough money to the new Upper New York Mission Central Hub to allow it to start operations, which included enough money to cover the salary of a Director for at least two years. Click here to read the full story.
Mike’s primary role will be to equip local church and Conference leaders to be the “hands and feet of Jesus,” providing help and hope to people in times of distress and disaster. He will directly support our Volunteers in Mission and Disaster Response teams and oversee the development and use of the Mission Central Hub.
Mike grew up in a family that was very engaged in mission work and helping communities in need. And he has carried this passion throughout his life. A retired military reservist, Mike speaks of the many times he was able to help countries in need. Much like first responders in disaster, Mike explained, “When countries sought the U.S.’s support during times of war, within 24 hours, we’d be on a plane and on the ground of the country in need, interfacing with civilians, helping them to understand that we were there not to judge them, but to help them.”
Ten years ago, Mike was part of the startup team for Immanuel (Church of the Bells) UMC’s mission trip planning to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Mike has helped lead 120 people on 36 similar mission trips, and the team has completed 18,000 hours of labor.
Mike is excited about his new position. He said “It has always felt good to make a difference in one church. I’m thrilled to do it with 867 churches and 65 New Faith Communities. I’m just the beginning. There’s a whole team of people anxious to get involved. I don’t know it all, but I know enough to ask and accomplish any task given to me.”
Shelby Winchell hired as Conference Social Media/Web Specialist
Shelby Winchell joins the Conference Communications Team as the Social Media/Web Specialist for the Upper New York Conference. She replaces Karen Campolieto and Ashley Riddell who were both part-time communicators with additional responsibilities in other ministry areas. Karen was promoted to the Media Resource Center Coordinator and Archives Assistant; Ashely Riddell is relocating later this winter and will be helping to train Shelby in the website functions she will be handling.
Shelby is a former television news reporter and also has a background in higher education and running a not-for-profit community center.
Shelby is married with two children; her son, A.J., just turned 7 and her daughter, Savannah, is 5. Shelby is active in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at her children’s school and still manages to report on a freelance basis. Her husband, Mike, is a high school teacher and a published author.
Shelby is ecstatic to share her journalistic background with the UNY Conference. “I really enjoy telling others’ stories. People are the heart and soul of all organizations and events. We can all learn from one another. I’m beyond excited to share those stories on social media and grow the Conference’s presence using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.”
Steve Hustedt, Director of Communications and Shelby’s supervisor is happy to have Shelby on board. He said, ”Shelby is an experienced story teller who will help us take our social media and other communications to the next level. We are excited to have her join the team, and we look forward to seeing continued improvement in how we tell the story of the United Methodist Church in Upper New York.”
Shenendehowa UMC’s Mission Possible 3 a success
December 5, 2017 / By Michele Carlson, Shenendehowa UMC
For the past three years, Shenendehowa United Methodist Church has hosted a “Mission Possible” day. This outreach event reaches out through the church to the community and the world through service. The theme this year for Mission Possible 3 was “Better together.”
Due to the recent natural disasters, two of the focuses were flood buckets and health kits to help replenish UMCOR’s supply. The Mission Possible team discussed what the goal should be for the number of buckets filled. A realistic number of 50 was presented. After conversation, it was decided that we as a church could do 50, but with God’s help, they set the goal at 100! This was 100 flood buckets AND 100 health kits!
On October 22, 2017, the event kicked off with many different assignments. They included a trunk or treat/pumpkin painting party at a center located in a low income area (taking the church to the community), 14 teams sent out to assist local senior citizens who needed help with yard and home repairs (service to those in need), a visit and activity at a local nursing home (encouraging the aged), the bucket brigade, and the health kit team (mission outreach). After four hours and tons of behind-the-scenes preparation, SUMC was able to make an impact in the following areas:
- 124 children, youth, and adult volunteers were involved in the success of the event
- 100 flood buckets were filled
- 100 health kits were created
- 14 senior citizens were assisted with yardwork and home repairs
- 30+ nursing home residents enjoyed music and crafts for the afternoon
- 80+ kids and their families experienced trunk or treat (14 stops), crafts, balloon art, and snacks
- $6,000 was donated to fill the buckets and health kits
The day ended with a soup and sandwich dinner for the volunteers and any of the residents who were helped. None of this would have been possible without God’s grace and the outstanding efforts of the SUMC Mission Possible team. We can’t wait to see what Mission Possible IV brings! We truly are “Better Together!”
Missionaries share update from Estonia
November 28, 2017 / By UNY Communications Team
The Rev. Jeff Childs, pastor at the Penn Yan United Methodist Church, was the chair of the Upper New York Conference Global Ministries team when he was first contacted by the Rev. Doug Childress – who has served as a pastor in the Upper New York Conference and predecessor conference, the Western New York Conference – about his feeling a call into the mission field. And Rev. Childress’ wife, Dr. Kulli Toniste, was born in Estonia and called to go back and teach in the seminary there.
Those responding to a call to be a missionary in The UMC must meet with the Conference Global Ministries team to be recommended to the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).
“As we interviewed them, it was clear that they had a passion for ministry and for this opportunity to serve God in the world,” said Rev. Childs. “They were approved for recommendation, and I was blessed to be present with them at General Conference last year when they were commissioned as missionaries.”
The Rev. Douglas Childress and his wife Dr. Kulli Toniste received a contract from the GBGM in 2015 to do missional work in Estonia. They and their three children have been living there since. The couple has helped at the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Tallinn, Estonia, as well as UMC in Estonia.
Here are some updates on their work and their time in Estonia.
In May, members of the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary and representatives of Asbury Theological Seminary discussed launching a joint Masters in Church Planting degree program, which could be completed by BMTS students. In June, 14 students – including some from Estonia, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Latvia – graduated from BMTS.
The seminary began a new session in August with 22 new students, which the couple says is larger than last year’s class size.
Harnessing some creativity, they crafted new admissions materials and a video in Estonian to introduce seminary to prospective students last spring.
Kulli participated in the Wesley Summer Seminar and spent a few weeks at Asbury Theological Seminary working on an article related to John Wesley’s eschatology. She also worked on a committee at UMC in Estonia to translate and publish Wesley’s 52 sermons in Estonian language for the first time.
Estonian Methodists hold a conference each summer. This year, Rev. Childress presented and Kulli translated two sessions there.
Kulli was invited to speak to the Evangelical College Students on an island of Saaremaa. The family enjoyed some time getting back to nature as they camped with the students.
“We enjoyed seeing a variety of plants and picking wild berries, and went swimming in 18C water of the Baltic Sea,” the couple wrote in an update. “Local people were very social and every interaction takes time. … “It is easy to get caught in long conversations at a store over a loaf of bread or varieties of fish!”
The youth attending the camp “paid their rent in labor.” So, the family pitched in and helped chop some wood.
“Working together, not much speaking, but we all bonded well,” they wrote. “We are friends forever for we chopped wood together.”
For more information about Rev. Doug Childress and Dr. Kulli Toniste, contact Rev. Jeff Childs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stand out from the crowd
November 28, 2017 / By Rev. John Matin, FoundationUMC
Too small, too busy, too tired, too much to be done. These are just a few of the things many of us point to when confronted with a world that is indeed broken. The truth is, as members of a mainline denomination in the United States, we are also a part of rapidly declining (some would suggest dying) breed. Statistics and anecdotal information both confirm this reality, and yet there is Good News! The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ for a hurting and broken world, remains true and is just as powerful as it was 2,000 years ago. And our unique Wesleyan approach to living out and sharing our faith with others gives us an advantage!
“Because of the service, by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 9:13
The above passage is at the core of the DNA of our new church, FoundationUMC. We understand this passage to be necessarily connecting missions (doing good things) and evangelism (sharing good news) for followers of Jesus Christ. We see these activities as two sides of the same coin and inseparably linked in concept and practice. For this reason, we began hosting monthly mission opportunities even before we were holding weekly worship!
At FoundationUMC, we believe you can’t tell people how much God loves them, without showing them and people will never know God loves them, no matter how many good things we do, if we don’t tell them. This practice of keeping the two together fits nicely with John Wesley’s emphasis on personal and social holiness, as well as his insistence for a faith of both head and heart. It’s this “both/and” approach that allows United Methodists to truly stand out from the rest.
Why am I telling you this? Because in light of a broken world, a denomination in decline, and Sunday mornings filled with competition like never before, we have an opportunity to truly stand out from the crowd! While our congregation, located in Vestal, NY, is surrounded by other congregations bigger, better established, and wealthier than us, we have an advantage. They might have a cooler band, a newer building, and more to offer people who are simply
looking for what a church can do for them, but we offer them a chance to truly make a difference each and every month. Our emphasis on monthly, handson missions and understanding that these missions (showing God’s love) allow us to truly share God’s love in a way that is compelling.
Several months ago, we partnered with an organization called Sole Hope, who provides healthcare and footwear to children in Uganda who have neither. For the cost of $100, we were able to get a shoe cutting party kit and after about two hours of work, we had created 100 shoes! Partnering with Sole Hope not only allowed our church to provide shoes for children who have none, but also be a part of providing medical care for the kids and jobs for Ugandan shoe makers. This is just one of many projects we’ve undertaken as a new church in order to make our presence known, share the good news of Jesus and of course allow people the opportunity to make a difference. Each month, we take on a project (either local here in Vestal or more globally-focused) that gives our people the opportunity to show God’s love with their actions, to invite friends, family and neighbors to join in, and of course share the good news of Jesus.
Many of our congregations in Upper NY are already doing good work in their local communities as well as throughout the world. To those congregations, don’t be afraid to see those missions as an opportunity not only to love people, but to tell them they are loved. These missions are an easy way to invite your friends, relatives, and neighbors into the fold and truly stand out by making a difference! For those of you who think you are too small, too poor, or too inexperienced to really stand out, know that our baby church (we were less than one-month old when we partnered with Sole Hope) not only managed it, but it caught the attention of people all over our area who would never normally walk through the doors of a church. Be encouraged, be inspired, be challenged, and stand out from the crowd by showing people God loves them with your actions as you tell them about God’s love with your words!
Reflection on INWARD 2k17
November 27, 2017 / By Kristian J. Snyder, CCYM Member 2017-2018
INWARD 2k17 Conference Youth Gathering were held on November 10-11 in Latham at Calvary UMC, and November 17-18 in Penn Yan at the Penn Yan UMC. There were youth groups from all 12 districts present at one or the other event, including some new youth groups that haven’t been at a CCYM event before, such as Pine Valley UMC and Bluff Point UMC. Each event was attended by about 85 youth and adults. The events each opened with 6:30pm registration and a time of gathering for all youth and adults. After a short period of time doing icebreakers to get to know one another, everyone broke up into their assigned family groups for the weekend and during the family group time everyone got to know one another within their group. There also a time of prayer stations to do on Friday night and then Saturday morning we had early morning options:
A Few Friday Night Prayer Stations:
- Rocks in Water Prayers - In this station you wrote sin or confession and then put it into a fountain and the flowing water washed away that sin or confession.
- Walking Through the Labyrinth - In this station you prayed while walking in Jesus’s footsteps.
- Prayer Posts - At this station you wrote something that you wanted prayed for on sticky note and then posted it on a column, then you took a sticky note and prayed for what was on it and placed it back on the column.
Some of Saturday Morning Early Options:
- Community Prayer Walk - In this you joined a group of people and then walked and prayed around the neighborhoods surrounding each of the two churches.
- Morning Meditation with Sam Smith - In this option you learned new techniques of meditation or prayer.
Friday and Saturday were full of time to grow with one another and grow closer to God. At the end of each weekend, there were one last worship service and then one last family group of the weekend followed by communion with each family group leaders anointing each member of their family group. After everything was done and over, everyone had a time of gathering and good-byes as they left to return to their homes, church, and youth groups.
Turning refugee “basement churches” into thriving congregations
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Advocate, which featured stories that showcased the theme of “Being God’s love to our neighbors in all places.”
Onondaga County welcomes many refugees each year; for example, in 2014, Onondaga County had the third largest intake of refugees in the country. Many of these refugees settle in Syracuse’s North Side; in fact, there are refugees from over two dozen countries living in this neighborhood where Butternut and Lodi Street intersect.
Three of the predominant Asian countries that refugees living in Syracuse’s North Side include: Nepal, Burma, and Bhutan. How do refugees find a community of faith when they come to Syracuse?
Meet Pastor Sonexay (Sean) Chanthasone; he is a local pastor at Lao Westover UMC in Binghamton, NY, and a new church starter at Karenni Good News and New Hope UMC in Syracuse. Sean’s passion for the Lord and commitment to following a calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ has resulted in two vibrant church communities for refugees from Syracuse’s North Side; one that is Nepalese and one that is Karenni.
Pastor Sean’s personal story and the story of his outreach efforts beautifully showcase what can be accomplished by being God’s love with our neighbors.
Pastor Sean was born in Laos; his family were Buddhist and part of the Ancestor Spirit Faith. When Laos became Communist after the Vietnam War, Sean and his family became separated, and at the age of 15 or 16, Sean moved in with his uncle.
The hardship in Vietnam prompted Sean and one of his friends to try to escape one evening by swimming across the Mekong river, which borders Thailand. He didn’t know he needed legal documents to enter Thailand; the Thailand Police arrested Sean and his friend, imprisoning them for six months, and then they were transferred to a refugee camp that held refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Sean said, “The refugee camp is where I found Jesus Christ. I became good friends with a missionary from the United States; he helped me and introduced Jesus Christ to me.
I grew up with Buddhism and the Ancestor Spirit, but I didn’t understand it, whereas Jesus Christ developed peace in my heart. I felt, this is the God I have been looking for.”
Sean started feeling as though the Holy Spirit was working through him. He prayed for a way out of the refugee camp. Sean said, “The conditions of the refugee camps are very bad; you’re always looking for food, you have to protect yourself and develop safety; it’s like a prison for many people. I was there for six years. I asked God for an open door and in April 1987, God answered my prayer.”
A family in Buffalo, NY sponsored Sean to come live with them. The host father was a pastor. They helped put Sean through school and taught him English.
In 1990, Sean heard a missionary from Vietnam speak and instantly felt a call to be a missionary himself. He wanted to go back to his homeland and introduce everyone he knew to Christ.
He completed high school and then went on to Bible School. Once Sean finished high school he applied to go back to his homeland; he said, “Unfortunately, the door was closed because Christians were not allowed to go back. My vision was stalled…so I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’”
Praying to God about this incessantly, God answered Sean by saying, “Well, if you cannot go back to your homeland, how about starting a mission church in our country?”
And Sean did just that. He started a Lao church in Northeast Georgia. Sean said, “We started with two or three families in a basement apartment. It took us about four years until it became an organized church with about 15 families.”
Sean’s church had a relationship with the Lao church in Johnson City, NY. They did a youth program together. And that is how Sean ended up back in New York State.
Sean met his future wife through the youth program; she was also a youth teacher. She was a United Methodist and her father told Sean that if he were to marry his daughter, he needed to be a United Methodist. Sean gladly accepted.
Soon after Sean moved to Binghamton, the pastor of the Lao church resigned. Sean volunteered to help and became the pastor of the church.
Through this position, Sean met the Rev. Brad Hunt of Andrews: Memorial in Syracuse and developed a close friendship with him. He learned of the New Faith Community that Pastor Brad helped start with the Sudanese population and became inspired to do the same with the Laos who lived in the same neighborhood as the Sudanese in Syracuse’s Northside.
Little did Sean know, that he would be creating New Faith Communities for Karenni and Nepalese people!
Sean said, “Within a year, I packed my stuff and came to Syracuse and camped out in Pastor Brad’s church. I would come to Syracuse from Monday through Saturday for three months doing Evangelism door-to-door in Syracuse’s Northside.”
At the time, Andrews: Memorial would often solicit volunteers to pass out food and clothing to the refugees in Syracuse’s Northside. Sean gladly volunteered and one evening, God literally opened doors for Sean to find Asian Brothers and Sisters in Christ who were already worshipping the Lord. Sean refers to this evening as his doughnut ministry.
Sean said, “One family that I passed out a box of doughnuts to was a man named Tu Law; he told me, ‘I am from Burma and I also speak Thai.’ I immediately became excited and interested because I could speak Thai so we were able to have a conversation and he shared with me how he was looking for someone to help him learn English. I gave him a box of doughnuts and said I’d like to get to know him more and could I come again tomorrow, and he agreed to meet me the next day.”
Sean continued, “That’s how our relationship began…deep in my heart, I felt that the Holy Spirit opened the door for me and that he (Tu Law) would be the key for me to open the door for this new ministry. The Lord was right!”
Sean said, “I found out that he (Tu Law) was a leader in the community and by being bilingual, he could help spread my message…so the Holy Spirit led me to the right house. A month after we met, he introduced me to four or five families that were also Christian and had small groups meeting in their basements.”
One of the individuals that Tu Law introduced Sean to was Par Reh, a 57-year-old man of Karenni descent. The Karenni are a population from a poor, rural section of Burma. Par Reh and his family fled Burma in 1999 and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. They then moved to the United States in 2009.
Par Reh became a Christian in 2000 and attended a church at the refugee camp. He became a leader in that church. When he moved to Trenton, NJ, he went to an American church. Soon, he moved to Syracuse, NY, on the Northside for medical reasons.
Par Reh’s son, Sai Shwe said, “I believe God’s reason for my dad to move to Syracuse was not because of his health; it was to start his own church to bring people to God.”
Par Reh started his home church with other Karenni families and wanted credibility that he was a rightful Christian leader. This is when Sean entered his life. Sai said, “My dad started going to a local pastor’s school with Sean. He received a certificate and at that point was ready to go forward. He put the certificate all over the walls to show people.”
At that time, more and more Karenni on Syracuse’s Northside were yearning to know Jesus. Sean helped them find a larger place to worship at a church building in Mattydale, and also helped find transportation to get them there. This was the start of the Karenni Good News and New Hope UMC.
Unfortunately, Par Reh passed away in 2014 because of cancer. Sai said, “I wondered, ‘Why did my dad have to pass away before he finished the job he wanted to do?’ A lot of people wanted to follow my dad before he died. So after my dad died, my wife, sister, and I stepped up to lead the church.”
Sai continued, “My dad started out with two to three families; we now have about 70 people attending every Sunday at Karenni Good News and New Hope UMC. I just want to keep moving forward; the Lord created the moon and the stars and the sun; he’s the one I want to work for.”
At a Karenni service, there are several youth and children whose primary language is English. Sean gives the sermon in English and Sai translates in Karenni.
With excellent attendance at the Karenni service, Sai’s focus is now outreach. For example, every Saturday, they have a women’s small group that meet at each other’s homes, and they also have a youth group.
Praemoe Phobya helps lead the Karenni women’s small group. She said, “We have women come to my house or our pastor’s house at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and we help them learn more about God.” Since starting the women’s group last year, Praemoe said that about four additional families have started attending the Karenni church regularly because of their outreach.
Through his door-to-door evangelism, Sean also met Sai’s neighbor Manoj, who was from Nepal, and attended a Nepalese Christian small group who met in basements. Manoj’s Uncle Tara Sunwar and a man referred to as Pastor Phillip lead that group.
In seven months, Sean has helped grow the Nepalese group to nearly 50 people, who meet at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday at the Karenni Good News and New Hope UMC.
As is important in their conservative heritage, the women sit on one side of the congregation and then men sit on the other side.
The Nepalese service centers on jubilant singing and dancing. For example, on a sunny August morning, three women with matching floral dresses, a guy on a hand drum, and another on a drum-set, lead the congregation in song in their native language. Manoj said, “Singing and dancing is how you get close with your Christian family, so you see that a lot in our church services.”
During prayer, the Nepalese are asked to say their individual prayers aloud, much like the Tongsung Kido, a type of Korean prayer which we featured in Volume 9, Issue 2 of the Advocate.
Pastor Sean is confident that both the Karenni and Nepalese church groups will grow.
The Rev Dr. Dave Masland, UNY Conference’s Director of New Faith Communities said, “The Karenni Church is incorporated in New York State…but we have not officially chartered it yet. They are close.”
Pastor Sean is so passionate about his calling to bring more refugees into a relationship with God. He said, “We depend on the Holy Spirit to bring everything together. This is just the beginning of our friendship. We get stronger every year.”
The mission of the New York State Council of Churches
November 22, 2017 / By The Rev. Peter Cook
Infused with a spirit of ecumenism and hospitality, the New York State Council of Churches lives into God’s call to do justice and to love our neighbors. We point to the Kingdom of God on earth where the marginalized are freed from poverty, where prisoners can be restored to live happier and healthier lives, and where we help people of all ages grow in their Christian discipleship.
The Council Certifies and Supports Chaplains in State Prisons.
“I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 37)
Should any of your fellow parishioners and community members have the misfortune of being incarcerated, it is really essential that they receive pastoral care from well-trained chaplains inside the system. Your contributions help support our staff and volunteers which manage the certification process while providing support services and visits to chaplains and prisoners. Supporting the Council helps ensure that prisoners and staff alike receive the much-needed ministry of hope.
The Council offers opportunities for faith formation for people of All Ages.
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people. And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:17 to 18)
We help people grow in their Christian discipleship by creating opportunities for people of different theological and political persuasions to learn from one another in order to discover their commonalities and discern how best to offer the Gospel in a hurting world. We sponsor an annual conference, Bridging the Urban Rural Divide. The Council sponsors a well-attended United Nations Conference every February for high school youth to help them grow in faith through public witness and cultural dialog. Youth from your congregation are most welcome.
The Council advocates for the poor and disenfranchised in the public square.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8.)
We embrace the historical commitment of the United Methodist Church to embrace social holiness. Towards that end, we help people of faith advocate for the voiceless in the halls of power. We build coalitions across the state among faith-based and secular groups to advocate for laws and policies which will improve the lives of our fellow citizens. Examples of our collaborative work include successful advocacy for affordable housing funding and the raise the age law where New York no longer prosecutes and incarcerates most 16 and 17year-olds as adults. We seek to improve access to health care and improve the financial welfare of our citizens. We also focus on immigration reform and environmental policy.
For more information:
The Council is grateful to congregations who help sustain our work. For more information, visit WWW.NYSCOC.org and/or contact: The Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director, at Pcook@Nyscoc.org or 508-380-8289.
Safety and security at your organization
November 20, 2017 / By Richard Poirier President and CEO Church Mutual Insurance Company
In the wake of the recent tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas, many of you may be looking for information to help make your facilities safer. At Church Mutual, your safety is our concern as well.
As you focus on safety and security for your people and facilities, please keep the people of Sutherland Springs in your thoughts and prayers. Our hearts ache for those who are dealing with this devastating, senseless event. First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs is our valued customer, and our team is working closely with this ministry in its time of need.
Fresh, local food offered to the Sodus community
November 20, 2017 / By Sandy Hall, Manager, Sodus Farmers’ Market
Ten years ago, a Sodus United Third Methodist Church member, Nancy Ransley, attended our outreach Team meeting to share a vision she had for the community. Her vision has come to fruition! She could see the need and benefits to the community having a farmers’ market. Nancy spent several winters in Florida. She said, “There were farmers’ markets all over the place (in Florida). And I couldn’t think of any around here. I thought that would go over well here as we have the farmers’ produce to sell.”
Nancy’s idea was applauded and the planning began. A mission statement was designed: The purposes of this market are to provide an opportunity for local farmers, vendors, and crafters to offer their fresh produce, homemade crafts, and other products to the residents of the community and to provide a shopping opportunity for community members.
Interviews with two local farmers who attended markets, contacts with the NYS Department of Agriculture, calls to the church insurance agent, conversations with village officials,
and an experimental market was held with a handful of local farmers in 2008. It was an immediate success and the community asked “When is the next farmers’ market?” Dates were chosen, mailings to local farmers sent out, and the market began in earnest in 2009 with seven dedicated farmers/vendors.
Held every Wednesday from mid-June to mid-October from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Sodus United Third Methodist Church parking lot, the market is run by a team of five volunteers – each as important as the other!
I am the market manager and I am responsible for taking care of paperwork and requirements. I do all of the communicating with the Department of Agriculture and Markets in Albany and make sure that we have bona fide farmers here. We go and inspect farms and their crops. The farmers need to give us their crop plan and let us know whether or not they will accept FMNP (Farmers Market Nutrition Program) that people with certain qualifications can get.
I plan our meetings, which start in February; we have brief meetings each day of the market and then we have a wrap-up meeting when the market ends each year. I also plan our vendor meeting, which happens just before the market starts. I invite all the vendors to come and go over all the rules and regulations.
The Financial Secretary, Mary Ann Riker, takes care of collecting and recording vendor fees, paying bills, and setting up and running the EBT station.
Our “Friends of the Market” is handled by Sandi Hamilton, who also collects any weekly vendor fees, keeps attendance, and makes sure all paperwork (insurance, application, permits/ licenses, etc.) are collected and filed.
Assigning vendor locations is the responsibility of Ruth Fisher. Ruth said, “Vendors who come year after year often want their same spot so I arrange for that. There are also some farmers who are only here seasonally, like our blueberry farmer.” Ruth also schedules farm inspections.
Nancy Ghertner maintains our Facebook page and takes photos at the market. She also writes articles for local papers about our market and profiles on some of the farmers.
Now in our ninth year, the market has changed and grown. The market typically features 20+ vendors and several special events weekly. Once a month for June, July, and August the market features “Health and Wellness Days” and local agencies are contacted to participate. On those days, the market lot is packed to overflowing!
The response from the community (and surrounding communities) continues to astound the market team. We can expect to have over 700 visitors on any Wednesday. The market is a happy, social event. The vision has been fulfilled!
To learn more about this ministry, watch the video online: https://vimeo.com/uppernewyork/sodusfarmersmarket
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of the UNY Advocate.
Vicki Swanson to retire, resulting in position changes
Vicki Swanson (formerly Vicki Putney) has decided to retire effective July 1, 2018. Few people have been as connected to the Upper New York Conference as long as Vicki has. She started working for the Central New York Conference 35 years ago—she was hired by Robert McCune and Vernon Lee as the Administrative Assistant to the Conference Executive. Her first major project was a pension-campaign fund. Little did she know that pensions would become one of her primary tasks years down the road.
When the Northern New York Conference and Central New York Conference merged, Vicki remained on board and worked as the Administrative Assistant for the Design Team and then as Director of Ministry Support for North Central New York Conference. After many years of the utmost dedication and once the Troy, North Central New York, Western New York, and Wyoming Conferences merged to form the Upper New York Conference, Vicki eventually became the Conference Director of Human Resources and Benefits.
When reflecting on her decision to retire, Vicki said, “It’s a lot like a long-time pastorate—there comes a time when you need to refresh!” Vicki explains how her career has influenced other aspects of her life. She said, “I spent a lot of my time dedicated to this organization and I have really enjoyed it and learned from it.”
Vicki plans to spend time in her retirement pursuing interests that have often taken the back burner: sewing, crafts, repurposing furniture, traveling, and hiking. In addition to having a more flexible schedule to spend time with her husband, the Rev. Lauren Swanson, she also plans to spend more time with family and friends. She explained, “Many of my friends have been retired or work part-time and I have not had much flexibility to get together with them and now I will.”
Vicki also plans to visit her daughter Tamara, her son-in-law Ryan, and her 4-month old granddaughter Charlotte as often as possible in Toronto. She mentioned how the timing works out perfectly; “About the time Tamara goes back to work is the time I retire. This will help me to be more available when needed!”
With Vicki retiring, there will be some changes in UNY Conference staff positions effective January 1, 2018. These position
s changes will create greater synergy and impactful leadership, while remaining entirely budget neutral.
Current Human Resources and Office Manager, Susan Latessa, will become Human Resources and Benefits Director.
Susan has had over 15 years of experience in benefits. She said, “I am very excited about this position change. I love focusing on human resources and benefits. They’re definitely my strengths.”
Vicki has started training Susan and will continue to do so until July 1, 2018. She is also introducing Susan to people she will be working closely with. For example, Susan met the Board of Pensions when they were at the United Methodist Center earlier this month for a meeting.
Cherish McGowan will become Office/Connectional Ministries Manager.
Cherish said, “In my six years of working for the Conference as the assistant to the Director of Connectional Ministries, I have had the pleasure and the privilege of working with so many dedicated program team leaders and team members who consistently and graciously work together to help accomplish our mission to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places. In my new role as Office/Connectional Ministries Manager, I look forward to deepening my role with the very important work of our teams, and also look forward to helping make sure the Conference office runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible, making sure that we are always good stewards of the Conference’s resources. I am very excited for what lies ahead.”
Susan has begun training Cherish to be Office Manager, and will continue to do so until January 1, 2018. Some of this training has involved Cherish sitting in on office-supply vendor meetings and post office meetings. Susan said, “When anything pops up that is related to my office Manager tasks, I involve Cherish. I involve her in all communications whether it is emails, phone calls, or in-person meetings.”
Cherish has also begun co-supervising Conference Welcoming and Support Specialist, Christopher Lupini.
Susan said, “Both the training that Vicki is doing with me and that I am doing with Cherish involves more than tasks. It involves relationship building. For example, Chris’s job duties are the same; it’s just that he will be reporting to Cherish, not me. I am helping Cherish to understand the goals of the employees she will be managing.”
There will also be an eventual hiring of a Human Resource and Benefits Administrative Assistant as part of the restructuring of the office staff. Julie Valeski continues to serve as Benefits Administrator.
Vicki will remain in the office until July 1, 2018 to continue training Susan as well as the new Administrative Assistant while also completing projects she has been desiring to dedicate more time to—these projects aim at better streamlining data tracking programs.
Vicki’s role has involved providing benefits for over 1,000 people (400+ retires and their spouses, 100 employees, and 300+ clergy member families). She explained how the training she is supplying needs to take place slowly and daily because it is a balancing act. She said, “You have to constantly balance the needs of the people, the health of the investment funds and the cost of benefits for our churches. You have to take it to heart and really care about the results.”
Vicki has been invaluable to the Upper New York Conference. Her dedication resulted in her earning the Suzanna Wesley Award of Excellence presented by the Upper New York United Methodist Men at the 2017 Annual Conference. This award goes to someone who has distinctive intellect, unwavering devotion, loyalty, competence, and friendliness.
Vicki said, “It is hard to let go of my work, but I am very confident in Susan’s abilities as well as Cherish’s – and the cooperation of all our staff -- to make this transition smooth.”
Latest UNY Camp & Retreat Ministries’ newsletter available for viewing
November 14, 2017 / By Shannon Hodson
The Fall 2017 UNY Camp & Retreat Ministries’ newsletter, Xenia News, is now available to view on our website. The issue includes a note from Mike Huber (the Director of Camp & Retreat Ministries), staff updates, and news about each of the sites. Click here to read this informative issue and see how your Ministry Shares support the Upper New York Camp & Retreat Centers.
Sharing God’s love on the highway
November 14, 2017 / By Chaplain Bruce Maxwell, Deacon of Upper New York, serving in Susquehanna Conference
“Compassionate hospitality can reveal Christ in God moments...”
The Breezewood, PA Trucker and Traveler Ministry is a highway workplace ministry at a crossroads in South Central Pennsylvania. We endeavor to live out a gospel witness in a very public setting guided by the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Chaplaincy is a Christian outreach of prayer, presence, counsel, hospitality, and emergency assistance to truck drivers, their families, travelers, and local area employees.
Local business, civic groups, and churches/regional church bodies are partners in the chaplaincy providing numerous resources for ministry. We operate within the two Breezewood Travel Plazas (office location at the Gateway Travel Plaza, across from TV lounge) providing a space for counsel and prayer, as well a helping to support meals, lodging, gas, and transportation for those in need. Partner churches provide resources for Travel Plaza hospitality tables, faith literature/devotionals/CDs/ Bibles, and hygiene traveler care packages- among other forms of outreach. Additionally, we serve as a ministry location for Wesley Theological Seminary “Immersion” students.
Serving as Chaplain in this setting has unfolded a calling of Deacon (class of 1997), providing daily opportunities to build bridges of faith in a very commercial- marketplace setting. God is alive on the highways, as we hear and share stories of Christ’s love and redemption among the many precious souls we encounter.
In this travel-plaza setting, how do we know where to go, what to say, what to do? God has been gracious in opening doors for a ministry presence and arranging divine encounters within the numerous businesses of Breezewood; we are here by invitation and we don’t take that for granted. Our conversations, emergency assistance offers, and prayer opportunities happen at coffee counters, in a garage, general store, restaurant, parking lot, TV lounge, laundry room, or outside a motel room in the transient community of Breezewood. This place is known as “the town of motels” or the “gateway to the South,” where Interstate 76 (PA Turnpike), meets Interstate 70 and Route 30 (the original Lincoln Highway).
We seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit, as a core group of 15 board directors, we discern and chart a course of mission and ministry in the world of truckers and travelers.
Compassionate hospitality can reveal Christ in God moments, such as offering a listening ear as a trucker unloads the frustrations of interstate commerce, or providing food and lodging to a foot traveler, or steering a “run-away” spouse back to his/her family.
Bible study discussions can bring insights to encourage a sagging faith, or pastoral conversations in the ministry office can unleash cleansing tears, affirming hope in a healing prayer.
Plaza ministry may be unique, but isn’t all ministry unique? Fresh expressions of ministry are being birthed anew in every time, place, and season! Each day in trucker/traveler ministry is a new chapter written in real time.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in our Fall 2017 issue of the Advocate, which focused on sharing God's love with our neighbors in all places.
Bishop Webb sends letter on Council of Bishops time with the Commission on a Way Forward
November 9, 2017 / By UNY Communications
Note: On Nov. 9, Bishop Mark J. Webb sent the following letter to the Upper New York Conference.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ!
A press release from the Council of Bishops regarding our meeting this week and specifically our work with the preliminary report from the Commission on a Way Forward is available here. I encourage you to read this release in a spirit of prayer and hope-filled faith. There are some important pieces to remind you of. First, this is the beginning of a journey that still has many miles to travel. The Council of Bishops engaged in prayerful, thoughtful, and respectful conversation that will continue over the next few months as we work together toward a final recommendation(s) to be presented to the Church and specifically the delegates of the 2019 special called session of the General Conference. Second, the three models presented by the Commission on a Way forward represent the work as of today. These models may represent the whole, portion or none of what the final recommendation(s) contain. Finally, the Council of Bishops did not vote on any of these models. Currently there is no recommendation for a way forward. That recommendation will come sometime after the May 2018 Council of Bishops meeting.
Between now and that meeting in May, I am committed to continuing to lead conversations throughout the Upper New York Conference that will add to and build upon the conversations we have engaged in previously. We will use the models offered by the Commission as a spring board for these deeper conversations. This commitment will be carried out with members of our delegation to the special session of the General Conference, as well as clergy and laity throughout Upper New York.
We continue in a season of urgent prayer for The United Methodist Church. Jesus is still Lord of the Church, our focus remains on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and we trust the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit for the days that lie ahead. May we never forget the words of Jeremiah, as he proclaims: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29.11)
As always, I am blessed to share this journey with you. Thank you for your faithfulness to the mission and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us pray for one another!
Bishop Mark J. Webb
CLT and DLTs share time of love, learning, and leading
On Saturday, Oct. 28, the Conference Leadership Team (CLT) hosted the District Leadership Teams (DLTs) from all 12 Districts in the Upper New York Conference at the United Methodist Center in Liverpool. The day followed the Loving, Learning, Leading (L3) meeting model that the CLT has been using for their monthly meetings.
Following a greeting and gathering time, the day started with a passionate time of worship, word, and communion. Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb brought the message, teaching from Nehemiah and reminding those gathered that the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem started with passion, connection, and moral imperative, before moving to planning.
Time was taken to allow those gathered to experience the love of God and connect to the other leaders gathered through the shared love of Jesus. Only after the time was taken to worship and connect together did the focus turn to learning.
The time of learning began with a review of the most important points for leading in the Upper New York Conference, Including: Mission and Vision, Purpose of the Conference, Primary Task, and definition of key terms. This time served as a reminder for those who have been at previous CLT/DLT meetings and a foundation for those who were new to these gatherings. All key points of information are available on the Conference website.
With the foundation in place, the CLT moved into the main topic of the day, teaching and using the Ministry Action Plan (MAP) process. This process is a step by step tool that the Conference Leadership Team has been using to identify how to live into desired outcomes. In fact, how to empower the District Leadership Teams with tools like the MAP process is a MAP itself. Click here to review or download the MAP form. For questions or to learn more e-mail email@example.com.
Only after the foundation had been put in place, and the MAP process had been explained well, did the day move into leading.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with DLTs beginning work on their own MAPS to address key dilemmas in their Districts. As the DLTs worked on their MAPS, members of the CLT sat in on conversations to provide guidance and reinforce the process.
The day ended with a time of questions and answers, as well as an acknowledgement that this is not easy work.
My Trip to the Holy Land: Spending time with a family in Palestine
November 7, 2017 / By Theresa Eggleston
I couldn’t eat another bite of fresh falafel. I sat back in my chair and my belly expanded with delicious homemade Mediterranean food. The owner of our tour guide services had invited our group over for dinner in his home. It was the night before we left and my heart felt a joyful heaviness.
During our time in the Holy Land we had learned about the injustice of the Palestinian people. We had learned about the prejudice that came with years of oppression. I had seen how Israeli soldiers carried blind fear against the Palestinian people. I had experienced the daily struggle of what it took to cross the wall between Israel and Palestine. I had learned so much I did not know and my heart broke for the Palestinian people. As I toured parts of Jerusalem I constantly asked myself, where could the Palestinian people find hope?
Hope was there. I just had the take the time to see it. As we sat on the back porch filing our bellies in Bethlehem, Palestine I felt a secure hope. Despite the intimidating Israeli fighter jets flying overhead, our host continued to eat and tell jokes. Being oppressed or intimidated by Israel did not stop him from living life. We laughed and dug into a second plate for fresh baklava. The jets overhead roared while just kilometers away from his home stood intimidating check points. Check points that were ready to question anyone’s purpose for crossing; and yet here we were surpassing language barriers, telling stories and jokes, watching young children dance and sing songs from school.
Yes, the family knew they were still oppressed by the state of Israel but it didn’t take their joy. Oppression never robbed them of their lives. “These are my people too. I love them,” God spoke. I looked at this family, their fresh food filling my belly. How blessed was I to be a guest in the house of such compassion and joy in the middle of strife and oppression. This is the loving Spirit, the living God.
Church livestreams God’s word
November 7, 2017 / By Kathleen Christiansen
After some members of the Lycoming United Methodist Church became too ill to attend Sunday Worship, Pastor Brandin Greco came up with an idea in September 2016. About the same time, Facebook Live, the social media platform’s livestreaming, was growing in popularity. Pastor Greco thought his church could use this technology for something good.
“A lot of people put down things like Facebook and cellphones,” he said. “Yes, they can take away from worship, and they can take away from that connection, that personal connection, but if we’re to teach and preach that all things are of God, why can’t we use technology; why can’t we use these things to go ahead and share his word and love with people?”
At first, the Lycoming UMC’s livestreaming consisted of iPhone attached to a music stand by a car mount.
“The video was jumpy and the audio was not the greatest, but for the first time in a long time, they were able to be a part of worship, and we were able to communicate with them during worship, so they felt like they were part of the church family again.”
The livestreaming has since improved with the addition of an iPad, and it has grown in popularity through word of mouth. And while Pastor Greco can’t credit livestreaming completely with the church’s growth in the last year and a half, he said it has definitely helped.
Philipa Njau, a Lycoming UMC member, said she enjoys the church’s livestreaming.
“It helps reach more people,” she said. “On days that you can’t come to church, you can always tune in; it will be there.”
Philipa’s parents live in Nairobi, Kenya, and watch the Lycoming UMC’s worship service online. In Kenya, her parents run the Paa Ya Paa Arts & Cultural Centre, which has a community church and uses the arts to share and explore God’s love. Pastor Greco saw an opportunity to share communion with the global community on World Communion Sunday through livestreaming, and Philipa helped connect the two congregations so they could share communion through Skype.
“I especially loved the experience of livestreaming with my family,” she said. “World Communion Sunday provided an opportunity for us to have communion together. The experience was great, so it brings a taste for more.”
Pastor Greco said the Lycoming UMC plans to do more livestreaming events with the arts center in the future, and they have even discussed starting an arts ministry with Paa Ya Paa.
The Lycoming UMC’s Sunday livestream starts with prayer requests at 9 a.m., followed by worship at 9:15 a.m. You can find it and previous livestreams on Facebook.
Come and retreat at one of the UNY Camp & Retreat Centers
Did you know that Camp & Retreat Centers throughout UNY offer much more than summer camping opportunities for youth and children? In fact, these centers are open year-round and offer retreat and event opportunities for adults, youth, families, clergy, and ministry leaders.
These centers offer exceptional hospitality, home cooked meals, great accommodations, and wonderful relaxation and recreation options. Your group can select from a variety of meeting and gathering spaces for groups of all sizes.
There are also several events offered at the UNY Camp & Retreat centers throughout the year. Here are just a few:
- S’mores aren’t just for summer—there are S’more gatherings for youth in grades 6-12 at Sky Lake on January 6, 2018 and March 24, 2018.
- Calling all women chocaholics—attend a Chocolate Getaway Retreat at Casowasco on March 2-4, 2018.
- Asbury offers a Youth Winter Weekend on January 5-7, 2017.
- Skye Farm offers a Family Camp May 26-29.
- A Family Life Weekend takes place at Aldersgate July 13-15.
- Each of the Camp & Retreat Centers open their doors for a day in May or June for anybody to check out the facilities and meet the staff.
Furthermore, A Silent Retreat, a Special Needs Retreat, Spring Work Days, a Mother’s Day Brunch, and more are planned at the Camp & Retreat Centers in the coming months.
Click here to read a brochure that highlights the Fall, Winter, and Spring retreats and events at the Upper New York Camp & Retreat Centers.
Track data, gain insight, and help your church with VitalSigns
November 7, 2017 / By Kathleen Christiansen
The VitalSigns Dashboard is a tool that allows churches to track church growth indicators, such as weekly worship attendance, professions of faith, small group participation, missional participation, and financial giving. It is a deeper level of insight, support, and accountability that tracks and trends vital information in an easy-to-understand dashboard. VitalSigns provides both a real-time pulse and long-term perspective on what’s going on in congregations, Districts, and Conferences. It is designed to help congregations follow their progress on the goals they set each year.
“It’s really a tool to help resource local congregations,” said Director of Vital Congregations the Rev. Aaron Bouwens. “It’s not a tool that we’re going to be using to do harm or to be punitive to churches. It really is going to be a tool to say ‘what’s happening in our local churches from a logistics standpoint?’ and then ‘how can we help engage those churches with resources that would be helpful to what’s happening in their life?’”
The General Council on Finance and Administration pays for this software through General Church apportionments – which the Upper New York Conference paid in full in 2016. The UNY Conference began using VitalSigns about 18 months ago, and so far, 38 UNY churches have signed up.
Right now, most churches only report church growth indicators once a year. It could take years for trends to appear with this method of reporting.
“The idea is that by doing this weekly, churches can start to see trends and changes earlier,” Rev. Bouwens said.
It takes about 10 minutes to sign up for VitalSigns. After a church signs up, it will receive an email each Sunday with a link to track data for worship attendance, profession of faith, baptisms, and other categories. Rev. Bouwens said it only takes about five minutes each week to share the information.
“It’s not asking for new information; it’s just asking to share the information more regularly,” he said. “We are not asking churches to start counting something they aren’t already counting.”
Rev. Bouwens then reviews the information each Tuesday to determine what, if anything, can be done to assist each church.
“Our intent is to be able to look at the trends of what’s happening in the churches and figure out how to best resource them,” Rev. Bouwens said.
For more information about VitalSigns, including how to sign up, click here.
Strengthening Camp and Retreat Centers
November 7, 2017 / By Pam Harris, Director, Run River Enterprises
My work through an Extension Ministry appointment is to serve as a consultant to faith-based camp and retreat centers. In 19 years of working with camp and retreat ministries, our organization has worked with nearly 300 sites of ministry in almost 200 organizations. We have worked with nearly all denominations, in most US states, and three Canadian provinces. Some projects result in strategic, long-range plans, which guide the ministry into the future they envision for themselves. Some projects help a denomination to make decisions concerning the viability of a ministry. Some projects focus on helping a Board to be stronger, or create a plan for fiscal viability, or enable a ministry to raise capital funds.
Like most forms of ministry, there is an almost infinite variety in the tasks to be done. In any given month, I lead worship, talk with church leaders about where God is calling them in ministry, talk with young adults about how God is a part of their life, perform data analysis using statistical and GIS analysis, create business and marketing plans, develop site maps, draft building concepts, and write reports. In a typical year, I drive 40-50 thousand miles and work with 15-18 ministries.
My work helps to extend the ministry of the Upper New York Conference throughout the United States and Canada. Countless lives are impacted each year at camp and retreat centers, as children, youth, and adults discover God’s love, discern direction for their lives, and commit themselves to lives of faith.
One of the aspects of my ministry that is most important to me is to help organizations deepen their theological understanding of Camp and Retreat Ministry. For me, these ministries are deeply sacramental, and increasing our understanding of that helps to remind us that these ministries are essential to what it means to be the church in the world.
Camp is an expression of the ministry of baptism. We are marked as children of God at our baptism, and we spend our whole lives learning how to live into that identity. Camp is a place where we can more fully realize that identity. Retreat and Conference ministries are ministries of the Lord’s Table, an expression of the hospitality that God extends to the entire world. In Jesus Christ, God opens his arms and welcomes the world, and we reflect that welcome as we open our sites to guests and groups.
There is so much involved in helping camp and retreat centers successfully exemplify how to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places.
A strong mission is critical. To sustain a strong mission and accomplish meaningful programs, ministries must be strong as organizations. Often, we work in strengthening Boards, helping organizations to increase resources, and helping to establish strong management practices.
Keep in mind that Camp and Retreat Ministries are ministries that almost always involve a physical setting. Sometimes those settings have been neglected and must be dramatically improved. Sometimes those settings limit the ways a ministry might serve and new facilities are needed to expand the impact.
There have been some changes in the past 19 years. Increasingly, Camp and Retreat Ministries must rely less on subsidies from denominations and more on revenue from programs and gifts from donors. Financial management is increasingly sophisticated and effective marketing is essential.
It is always immensely rewarding when we are invited to the groundbreaking or dedication of a new facility we helped to plan, or we hear that a new program has succeeded or a ministry has met its financial goals for a year.
Camps and Retreat centers are communities of spiritual practice. Sometimes, those practices which enable us to live out our identity as children of God seem like an overlay on our routine lives. At camp, or on a retreat, those practices are integrated into everything we do. It is truly an experience where “everything is done in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Camp and Retreat Ministries is more than the programs and experiences that happen at these sites of ministry. One project that I am just beginning is a way to document the amount of land for which we in the church have stewardship through these sites of ministry. It is a significant act of caring for God’s earth to preserve these spaces of beauty and grandeur.
I am grateful to be able to serve the church in this way. As we all seek to follow where God may lead, and create a faithful future for the church, Camp and Retreat Ministries is an essential part of that.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in teh Fall 2017 issue of the Advocate, which focused on the them of being God's love to our neighbors in all places.
2017 UNY Conference Journal Vol. 2 now available for purchase
November 6, 2017 / By
The 2017 Upper New York Conference Journal Vol. 2, is now available. This volume of the journal contains all business from the 8th session of the Upper New York Annual Conference, held June 1-3, 2017. There are two ways to receive the Journal Vol. 2:
- Click here to purchase a hard copy from online publisher Lulu.com OR
- Click here to view online or to download a free PDF version
If you order directly from Lulu.com, you can have it delivered to the address of your choice (Note: You will need a major credit card to place an order). A hard copy of the Journal Vol. 2, costs $16.10 plus tax and shipping.
Prayer is the focus of the 2017 Bishop’s Retreat
The practice of prayer is more vital than ever before for the future of the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Young Jin Cho, the featured speaker of this year’s Bishop Retreat, which was held from Oct. 24-26 in Binghamton, NY, phenomenally articulated the necessity of prayer in revitalizing churches.
Bishop Cho believes that prayer needs to be the foundation for clergy as they plan ways to revive their churches. He said, “I personally believe that prayer should be added to the clergy’s job description.”
Bishop Cho recognizes how busy people are. He said, “All of us are busy and live very demanding lives,” but he reminded the Bishop’s Retreat attendees that “Jesus never ignored or skipped prayer in his busy schedule. Although Jesus was absolutely more capable than we are, he humbly prayed and delightfully prayed to God, our father, day and night.”
Bishop Cho continued, “How can we do ministry effectively and fruitfully without more humble and deeper prayer?”
Bishop Cho shared an example of a small group leader he had known who always was effective in building her ministry. When he asked her what her secret was, she said, “There’s one thing I do every morning as a small group leader and that is that I pray for each member in my small group one by one. When I pray for them, I feel a nudging voice telling me what the group member needs. Sometimes it’s a bowl of soup; sometimes it’s a phone call…and I follow through.” Bishop Cho reinforced that this small group leader’s ministry was so fruitful because of her prayer life.
Throughout all of his talks at the Bishop’s Retreat, Bishop Cho urged attendees to prioritize their prayer life, to pray deeper, to have their prayer become a dialogue not a monologue. He mentioned the importance of silent prayer, contending that “If we shut up before God, God will speak up to us.”
Bishop Cho has personally experienced how prayer as a foundation can revitalize a United Methodist congregation, how it can revitalize entire Districts and Conferences. He described how his vision once completing seminary was to go to go back to his homeland (South Korea) and teach the Word, but many were urging him to take an appointment at a church in Washington DC. Reluctantly, he took this position and remained Senior Pastor of the Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington (KUMCGW) for 22 years. During this this time, the congregation grew from 100 to over 1,000.
Bishop Cho believes the vitality of that church came through his foundation of prayer. Believing in the power of prayer and one’s personal spirituality as a kingpin for fruitful ministry, Bishop Cho created a Covenant for Spiritual Discipline when he was appointed Bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United States. By agreeing to become a Prayer Covenant Congregation, a congregation had to promise to have at least one weekly prayer group, offer at least one class on prayer annually, participate in Conference prayer- equipping events, and move toward at least 10 percent of their church members practicing one hour of prayer daily.
Bishop Cho said, “When I retired in 2016, about 40 percent of our churches had become Prayer Covenant Congregations, and more than 4,000 people joined the movement of dedicating one hour for spiritual disciplines.”
Bishop Cho urged pastors in Upper New York to dedicate one hour a day to prayer and to specifically pray for the renewal of their churches. He said, “We always pray about people in need, whether it is an upcoming surgery or an illness of a church member, but we never pray about the renewal or the revival of the Church.” He encouraged pastors to take up this challenge for 40 days, perhaps during Advent.
Bishop Cho shared an analogy that illustrates the effectiveness of prayer. He said, “A little boy was in a garden and his father asked him to move a very large rock. The little boy tried, but the rock was too heavy so he responded, ‘Daddy, I cannot do it.” The father said, ‘Boy, try one more time and do your best.’ The boy tried very hard, but he could not move the rock. The boy said, ‘Daddy, I did my best, but I cannot move it.’ The father said, ‘Son, you did not do your best.’ The boy shouted, ‘You saw me try! I did my best!’ The father said, ‘Son, you did not do your best because you did not ask me to help you.’ Our best should include asking God to help us.”
Bishop Webb concluded the Bishop’s Retreat by recognizing how difficult it must be for pastors to offer a message of hope in times like these. He asked, “How do we continue to offer that message of hope when every other message swirling around us seems to be a message of hopelessness?” He then expressed appreciation for each of the pastors and reminded them that he prays for them by name every 13 days (each day represents a District and a day is also dedicated to retirees).
Bishop Webb offered encouragement; he proclaimed, “No matter what it may feel like in the midst of our world. And no matter what it may feel like in the midst of our Church, and no matter what it may feel like in the swirl of what we deal with personally; the truth is God has promised victory. When I was a pastor, people used to come to me and ask to study the book of Revelations and I would say, ‘We don’t need to study the book of Revelations. You only need to know one thing about the book of Revelations and that is: We win.’
God has already promised victory through Jesus Christ. So, friends, in the midst of the ministries that has God has called you to do; in the midst of this hard season that we find ourselves in, just remember that God has already given you the victory and God has already given victory to those that you have been called to serve.”
At communion, the Bishop’s Retreat attendees were given keychains with praying hands as a reminder that prayer is the key that unlocks their life with God; prayer is the key that opens up doors to new and successful ministries.
Attendees at the retreat left refreshed with new hope and a renewed dedication to prayer. They will take what they gained in that time together back to their local churches where they will use it to help make disciples and transform the world.
From the Desk of Bishop Mark J. Webb: God’s love in all places
October 31, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
The fall 2017 edition of the Advocate is available on our website and has also arrived at local churches. This issue focuses on Being God’s love to our neighbors in all places. In this issue, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb reflects on a blog he read by Rich Robinson, who describes what it means to be m.i.s.s.i.o.n.a.l. by changing the word into an acronym.
John Wesley had a vision for the Methodist movement – “to reform the Continent, and especially the Church, and spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.” That’s a pretty radical vision. It is part of our heritage. Upper New York continues that heritage, as we attempt to live the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Like Wesley, we have a vision of what the world and Church will look like when we faithfully and diligently live our mission. The vision statement of Upper New York since its birth has been clear – “to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be God’s love with our neighbors in all places.” As we strive to live out our purpose, we will see that vision become a reality – we will be a radical, Christ-following, Gospel-centered, missional Church.
Not too long ago I read a blog written by Rich Robinson, who is a part of 3DMovements. 3DM is a missional movement led by Mike Breen and others that seeks to train churches and Christian leaders to do discipleship and mission in an increasingly post-Christian world. I encourage you to check out their website https://3dmovements.com/ and learn about the work they are doing.
The blog that I read outlines what it means to have a M.I.S.S.I.O.N.A.L. culture. Let me elaborate and while I do, envision how you can be more MISSIONAL, how your church can be more MISSIONAL, and how UNY can be more MISSIONAL!
Robinson explained that the M stands for missional mindset. These are people who understand that they are “sent;” they live sacrificially and are comfortable with risk and change as they work outside the church walls.
The I stands for Incarnational lifestyle, meaning people who look to be the Good News in whatever setting they are in (neighborhood, work, golf club, pub, etc.); they do not “minister to,” rather they exemplify what it means to be a faithful Christian.
The first S indicates being scripturally-based, or grounded in Scripture.
The second S means to be Spirit-Led, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The second I stands for Intercessory Prayer; these are people who are fueled by prayer.
The O indicates people who Orbit the Center. They are resourced, trained, and sent from the church into larger communities.
The N represents Neighborhood or Network; these people know the precise demographics of people they are called to share the Good News with.
The A stands for Active Participation. These are people who go far beyond being at church on Sundays.
Lastly, the L is for Lay Led. These are lay leaders who step up to the plate; they are not dependent on pastors to call them up to bat. They take responsibility for whom and where they are called to live.
Check out Rich Robinson’s full blog at http://bit.ly/missionalculture.
All across the Upper New York Conference, God is calling congregations to engage in a missional culture, to engage in such a way that our vision will indeed become a reality. I hope you will read every story in this issue of the Advocate, but more importantly, I hope you will begin to imagine what God desires to do in your life, the life of your congregation and the life of your community. We are a movement! We are a Missional Movement! Let’s embrace the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be people who together live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are God’s love with our neighbors in all places.”
UNY Communication Department staffing changes
Over the next few months, the Upper New York Conference Communications Ministry Area will be undergoing some staffing changes.
Karen Campolieto, Administrative Assistant for Communications, New Faith Communities, and Vital Congregations, has been promoted to Media Resource Coordinator and Archives Assistant. In this role, she is taking on the tasks that Resource Center Director Diane Miner (who is retiring next month) fulfilled and she will also be helping to organize the Conference Archives.
“I’m thrilled and excited to be taking on my new role,” Karen said. “Realizing the vision for the Archives and History will be a challenge, but one that I know will be worthwhile and rewarding. I also look forward to working with our local churches Conference-wide and helping them to choose resources that will equip, empower, and enhance their ministries and vision for the future. I began my career with the Conference in a part-time position in the Resource Center in 1995. It seems I’ve come full circle now. ”
Ashley Riddell, Multimedia/Web Coordinator and support for Young People’s Ministries, will be relocating this winter.
About her time with the Upper New York Conference, Ashley said, “It has been a true blessing and gift to have served nearly seven years in several roles. Upper New York will always be home, filled with friends and colleagues who have become family.”
While two long-time employees leaving within months of each other presents challenges, the Communications Team is seeing this as an opportunity.
“We are happy for both Ashley and Karen as they move forward in life and ministry journeys,” said Conference Director of Communications, Steve Hustedt. “With the two of them moving on we took this opportunity to look at what we really needed in our Communications team and how we can strategically plan for how we want to be able to best tell our story in the future. We are excited for what is to come!”
With two part-time communicators leaving in the coming months, the Communications Ministry Area will restructure and create one new full-time position (Social Media/Web Specialist). This new position will take on some of the most important responsibilities that were handled by Karen and Ashley as well as some new responsibilities that will improve how we tell the story in the future
Support for New Faith Communities, Vital Congregations, and Young People’s Ministry, will be handled differently going forward. This new approach is still being discerned but will include realignment of responsibilities, volunteer coordination, and the eventual hiring of a Connectional Ministries support position.
This entire restructuring is budget-neutral, but should create additional synergy and efficiency.
Click here to read the full-time Social Media/Web Specialist job description and/or to apply.
Rev. Michael L. Weeden celebrated as Superintendent of the Northern Flow District
October 24, 2017 / By Shannon Hodson
On October 15, 2017, nearly 200 people gathered together at the Gouverneur First UMC to celebrate the appointment of the Rev. Mike Weeden as District Superintendent of the Northern Flow District and to worship with each other on this joyous occasion.
When Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb introduced Rev. Weeden, he first described what he looks for when he is appointing a new District Superintendent. He said, “We look for someone who has deep spirituality and commitment, someone who is a leader and can produce fruits through their labor, someone who can embrace ethnic, theological, and social diversity. We look for someone who has a passion for the unity of the Church. We look for someone who is respected by their colleagues. When the announcement of the Superintendent is made, we don’t want the response of the Conference to be “Really?’ We look for a team player and someone who would never seek this role”
The Bishop continued, “It is with a sense of joy, a sense of gratitude, and a great sense of anticipation of what is to come that I announce the appointment of Mike Weeden as the District Superintendent of the Northern Flor District.” He then expressed gratefulness for Rev. Weeden and his wife Ellen for their willingness to relocate.
After the Covenant Service and the Presentation of the Signs of District Superintendency, Rev. Weeden expressed, that he is “pumped” about what God has in store for him as District Superintendent.
Rev. Weeden then delivered the message, “Dying to live,” using John 12: 20-26 as the coinciding bible reference. In this bible reference, the analogy of a wheat kernel is used to explain the importance of dying to live—if a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Rev. Weeden explained that often we must let our own preferences die in order to fulfil the ministries that God has called for us to fulfil. He portrayed scenarios that may seem scary to some people, from inviting people different from them into their congregation to drums being played in their sanctuary. He said that the truth of the matter is that ministries succeed when “there are people who are willing to change.”
Rev, Weeden encouraged the congregation to embrace change, to be willing to let their preferences die. He said, “When you’re caught in those places where people are talking about change and you are afraid and uncertain, remember those feelings are just a story.” He reminded the crowd of God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10: "Do not be afraid I am with you.”
The offerings collected at the installation service were given to UMCOR in support of relief efforts in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Rev. Weeden exclaimed, “We want to remind people in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico that they matter!”
One of the chosen songs toward the end of the service was No Longer Slaves. The chorus reaffirmed Rev. Weeden’s message; “I am no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.”
The service ended with Holy Communion.
Following the service, people gathered in Fellowship Hall for beautifully displayed , single-plated salads, mixed fruit, and baked goods, along with punch.
Introducing the Upper New York Conference Communication Hubs
October 24, 2017 / By Shannon Hodson
Shortly after the UNY Conference was formed, with the large geographical size of the Conference in mind, a promise was made to create Communication Hubs across the UNY Conference to strengthen our connection. And now this promise has been fulfilled.
In the beginning of 2017, the Conference Leadership Team (CLT) and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) decided to designate some Conference funds toward creating Communication Hubs at churches that already had much of the equipment they needed to both receive and send Audio/Visual data electronically for distance learning, collaboration, and events.
The Rev. Susan Ranous, Co-Chair of CF&A, said, “CF&A was delighted, as a result of the historical payment of ministry shares by local churches in 2016, to set aside some of those funds to help provide the hubs with the necessary infrastructure in order to assist the hubs in having the capability to provide promised training of laity and clergy in our Conference.”
After much research and collaboration between District Offices, the Conference Communication Team, the IT team, and others the Conference Communication Hubs have been identified and equipped to assure optimal communication abilities.
The Rev. Drew Sperry, a member of CLT and also the Associate Pastor at Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church, now a Communication Hub said, “These strategically located Hubs throughout our Conference are a great way to live into our connectionism. It will greatly increase our communication as well as promote community and growth with one another."
There are currently 12 hubs, one for each district. These hubs are all capable of using technology to enhance regional connections. That number is likely to grow in the coming months and years.
The Rev, Kristen Roth Allen, Co-Lead Pastor of Bemus Point UMC, also a Communication Hub, said, “We love this new opportunity to share our resources with our neighboring United Methodists, and we’re grateful to the Conference for creating this new way to easily connect with each other.”
The following UNY churches are communication hubs:
- Albany District: Shenendehowa UMC
- Adirondack District: Saratoga Springs UMC
- Binghamton District: Endwell UMC
- Crossroads District: UNY United Methodist Center
- Cornerstone District: Bemus Point UMC
- Finger Lakes District: Cortland First UMC
- Genesee Valley District: Rush UMC
- Mohawk District: New Hartford First UMC
- Mountain View District: Avoca UMC
- Niagara Frontier District: Clarence UMC
- Northern Flow District: Canton UMC
- Oneonta District: Oneonta First UMC
Click here for further details and contact information for each of these Communication Hubs.
If your Conference team would like to arrange for an event at some or all of the Communication’s Hubs, contact your Conference Team’s support staff. Questions about facilities and capabilities may be directed to the local sites.
If your church is interested in becoming a Communication Hub, contact UNY Conference Director of Communications, Steve Hustedt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Equitable Compensation Application for January-June 2018 available
October 24, 2017 / By
The Commission on Equitable Compensation has issued guidelines and application forms for salary grants to local churches for the period January 1 to June 30, 2018. Salary grants are available only to churches with a pastor under full time appointment.
To apply for salary assistance from the Equitable Compensation Fund, applicants should review the policies and procedures in the application document for guidance, and then complete the application according to the directions provided by the November 8, 2017 deadline.
Please note the following documents must be submitted with your application to be considered complete:
- For churches that have already received an Equitable Compensation Grant: Renewal Application for CEC Grant only to be used by Churches currently receiving an Equitable Compensation Grant that wish to renew their grant for the January to June 2018 time period.
- For churches that have not previously received an Equitable Compensation Grant: Application for CEC Grant for January to June 2018 time period.
- Copy of the Clergy Compensation Form for all churches the UNY clergy person currently serves
- Copy of church’s most recent budget (if serving more than one church, include budgets from all)
- Ezra Church Summary 6-Part Graphic Report
Attach the appropriate application, along with the above documents, to an email or print them to mail to your District Superintendent for receipt by November 8, 2017.
NOTE: The application is set up as a template. To add text, tab through the document to each box and start typing. Once completed, save the document to your computer as “[your church name] January 2018.” The Commission anticipates notifying churches of its determination by mid-December.
Click the link for the appropriate application for:
- Equitable Compensation Grant Applications (for first time applicants)
- Renewal Grant Application (for those who have previously applied and received funds)
revitup! for a Lifetime in Ministry—Scholarship Opportunities and Childcare This Year!
October 18, 2017 / By UNY Communications
Wespath is hosting a revitup! for a Lifetime in Ministry educational event for young clergy ages 39 and under November 13-15, 2017 in Pensacola Beach, Florida. This event serves to strengthen personal, financial, and leadership skills in order to sustain a lifetime in ministry. REGISTRATION DEADLINE IS APPROACHING! Use the link above to register.
New this year, are scholarship opportunities available to first-time attendees of revitup! The UMC Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders is offering a limited number of scholarships through a Lilly Endowment grant which seeks to strengthen personal and congregational financial stewardship leadership. The opportunity includes complimentary registration and two nights at the host hotel if the recipient agrees to the following requirements:
- Participate in an online survey, and
- Complete the EY financial assessment survey prior to attending the event in November.
To apply for this scholarship, registrants should utilize the code provided during the registration process. For questions, contact Renee Smith-Edmondson, Manager of Meetings and Events at email@example.com or Bonnie Marden, UMC Lilly Endowment Grant Project Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Upper New York Conference Board of Pension & Health Benefits will provide up to $300 per clergy person to help offset travel and/or registration costs for this event. Contact VickiSwanson@unyumc.org for information.
Also new this year, is a Caring for Kids program at revitup! Childcare will be provided by a licensed, fully-insured, background-checked, uniformed, and CPR & First Aid certified team. Hours of service will be during the day while classes are in session. Age-appropriate activities, games, toys, and snacks will be provided. Childcare at revitup! this year is complimentary.
How to Grow with God, Tend the Soul, and become certified in Spiritual Formation in Upper New York
October 18, 2017 / By Shannon Hodson
To become a disciple of Christ for the transformation of the world, the UNY Conference has identified 16 leadership competencies.
The first competency emphasizes the importance of a strong spiritual walk as a leader; a leader must tend to their soul and life. This includes a vital and vibrant devotional life encompassing engagement with the Scriptures, time for prayer, and additional spiritual disciplines. Also, the spiritual life of a leader must include a balance of physical, emotional, and mental health.
Nancy Dibelius, the UNY’s Conference’s Associate Director of Spiritual Life for Vital Congregations, exemplifies a leader with a strong spiritual walk. Her supervisor, the Rev. Aaron Bouwens, the Director of Vital Congregations, said “Nancy is putting flesh to this competency; she embodies what it means to spiritually inspire the leader both in her own life and in other leaders’ lives.”
The course of Nancy’s life has wonderfully prepared her for her role of Conference Associate Director of Spiritual Life and Vital Congregations. When the Tending the Soul program was offered in 2003, for the first time in the Troy Conference, Nancy’s District Superintendent at the time, the Rev. Janice Palm, and a couple of friends encouraged her to sign up. Nancy felt called to do so and did just that.
Growing strongly in her faith, Tending the Soul became pivotal in Nancy’s direction in life. Nancy then decided to earn professional certification in Spiritual Formation from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. Ultimately, there were six courses offered in her certification (prayer, worship, evangelism, Wesleyan history, and two courses in spiritual direction). Nancy was hooked!
Nancy said, “I am one of those people who could take courses forever so I went on to pursue my Masters of Art in Spiritual Formation & Evangelism.” She traveled there frequently for weeks at a time and was also able to take some coursework online while still working as a financial consultant and raising her children. She earned her Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation & Evangelism in 2012.
Nancy then gained approval in UNY to teach Tending the Soul and soon thereafter became the Director of Tending the Soul. In this role, Nancy said, “This role taught me to be quiet for more than five seconds and hear God’s invitation in my life.”
Nancy continued, “I eventually received an invitation from God to become a deacon.” She became a provisional deacon in 2017.
Whether you are a lay person or clergy member, how is your spiritual walk? What can you do to improve it? Let Nancy help you.
Nancy is offering two programs (Growing with God and Tending the Soul) in 2018 as well as Paraprofessional Certification in Spiritual Formation (similar, but less intensive than the certification she earned prior to pursuing her Master’s degree).
Growing with God is offered to clergy and laity seeking to deepen their relationship with God. This will offer them a sacred space to become more Christ-like disciples so they can invite others into that same relationship with God through one-on-one guidance and direction. This course is a series of eight mini-retreats offered in January, February, March, April, May, September, October, and November of 2018. Click here to register or learn more.
Tending the Soul is offered to clergy and laity who are interested in spiritual formation both in one-on-one sessions and in classroom, small group, or congregational settings. This is a two-year program comprised of six retreats at Casowasco Camp & Retreat Center in Moravia, NY. This program begins in February of 2018. Click here to learn more.
New to the Upper New York Conference is the United Methodist Paraprofessional Certification in Spiritual Formation. Through a partnership with Garrett –Theological Seminary, you can earn a similar certification to what Nancy earned without having to travel out of state! Click here to learn about the different types of certification. Click here to learn more about the UNY Paraprofessional Certification. What a fabulous way to become a leader in spiritual formation.
Beginning in 2018, this program requires attendance at the Growing with God series, sponsored by the UNY Conference. Individuals who have completed the Tending the Soul training will utilize that experience toward two of the courses. People beginning the Tending the Soul program in 2018, will be able to use this experience to complete the course series.
2018 will be here before you know it. Take some time to prayerfully consider these awesome opportunities to grow in your spirituality and to teach others how to do the same! The registration deadline for all three opportunities is December 1, 2017.
Contact Nancy Dibelius at email@example.com for more information, including cost, schedule, and application.
CLT offers a bible study video for local churches
How can members of local churches feel more connected to each other and more connected to other churches in their Conference?
The Upper New York Conference Leadership Team is working diligently to strengthen these connections.
Recently, the CLT developed a new Purpose Statement and one of the key points of their new purpose is to create alignment on all levels throughout the Conference.
One way that the CLT hopes to improve alignment is through a bible study video that features members of the CLT. This video was produced by the Upper New York Conference’s Communications Ministry Area.
This bible study video can be used by local churches across the Conference to help nurture alignment in accomplishing the mission of the Conference, “to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places” and the mission of the United Methodist Church, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The video features five members of CLT (UNY Conference Lay Leader, Susan Hardy; Dean of the UNY Cabinet and District Superintendent of the Cornerstone District, the Rev. Sherri Rood; Valerie Clark; Drew Sperry, and the Rev. Steve Taylor) as well as Pastor Yohang Chun.
The Rev. Sherri Rood said, “The bible study focuses on our quadrennial theme, Together in Prayer. It uses the ACTS acronym with an opportunity to pray and journal in a prayer journal or notebook, about each type of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.”
In addition to fostering connection, another significant goal of the CLT is to equip local churches with tools they need to increase the capacity of Christ-following leaders. This video can be used as such a tool.
CLT member Valerie Clark said, “We as Jesus followers know how powerful prayer is. In times such as these, praying alone or with others can soothe our souls and give us hope for the future. The bible study video is very useful tool for local churches and small groups. The format is easy to follow and can be adapted to fit the needs of the group.”
Click here to watch the bible-study video. Feel free to use it with your whole congregation or in small-group settings. It can be paused after each prayer type to offer time for prayerful reflection and journaling.
My trip to the Holy Land, Article 3 of 4
October 10, 2017 / By Theresa Eggleston
Today I am writing about my visit to the Church of the Annunciation.
Growing up, I never thought much of Mary. She was the mother of Jesus and nothing more. I remember teachers saying things like, “Mary is not to be lifted higher than Jesus.” “Mary is just a character, Jesus is more important.” But nothing prepared me for what was revealed to me at the Church of the Annunciation.
It was early in the morning and the Church of the Annunciation was our first stop. The heat of the day had not yet made its highest point but our skin felt the stickiness begin to settle in. The jet lag was settling into my body. It was 8:00am in the Nazareth and I was already exhausted. We quietly made our way into the Church, where it is believed the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced the coming of Jesus’ birth.
As we walked in to the chapel the ceiling stretched towards heaven. Prayers whispered in Spanish, by the group in front of us echoed with our footsteps. We took in the first floor of the chapel silently. We snapped photos and quietly made eye contact with one another. We then ascended to the second floor. As we climbed the spiral stairs, I paused and prayed a prayer I had never prayed before:
“Mary, if you have ever felt the physical weariness I feel now, please help me make it through today.” I surprised myself with this prayer because I had addressed Mary, not Jesus.
I continued to climb the spiral stone steps and found a pew to sit in. I sat and breathed deep. I bowed my head. I began to pray. Words came that were not mine, “Daughter, you are not alone. I have felt your weariness; I have been in your shoes. Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know what I did? Have you not heard of who my son is? ” I breathed deep, “Theresa, have you not met my mother?”
In the silence of the chapel I began to weep. Mary was real. She was a real person. She was more than just a vessel that carried the Savior but a saint who heard my prayer. Mary was a mother not just to Jesus, but to me. In that moment I suddenly knew why Gabriel called her, “most favored one.”
I opened my note book and began to write, “Jesus, you let your mother touch my heart and become my mother.”
As a woman in ministry I work against the assumption that my value is in my ability to produce children. But the funny thing is, I put that same assumption on Mary. Throughout my life I only saw Mary as a means to an end. I put her value in her ability to give birth to Jesus. However, Mary was called most favored one before she conceived Jesus. In the moments that I sat in the pew, Mary became a real person. Her trials, her weariness, her personality became real and relatable. I felt silly for never having recognized Mary as a woman.
I wanted to stay in the chapel longer but I knew we had a full day ahead of us. In my embarrassment of what I had just discovered I whispered, “Thank you, Mary.” I got up and left the church.
Upon my return from the Holy Land I attended the Festival of the Network of Biblical Story tellers. They told the Gospel of Luke. When the story of the annunciation began I started to cry.
I listened to Gabriel great Mary and I felt overwhelming joy and relief. When Mary’s asked Gabriel questions, I felt compassion and sisterhood. I sat in the auditorium listening and watching the Gospel of Luke unfold and I felt closer to Mary. From my experience in the Church of the Annunciation, I will never read Mary’s story the same again.
A glimpse of the 2017-2018 District Days
The focus for the 2017-2018 District Days is on the denomination’s impasse regarding homosexuality. Bishop Webb enlisted the Upper New York Human Sexuality Taskforce that he formed in 2012 to help conduct the District Days, which are much more discussion-oriented than in years past.
The theme of the District Days is “A Way Forward.”
Earlier this year, the United Methodist Commission on a Way Forward sent questions for the Bishops across the global church to answer in order to help with the report they will submit to the Council of Bishops in May of 2018. Based on this report, the Council of Bishops will bring a recommendation to the special session of the General Conference to be held in February of 2019.
The District Days provide the perfect opportunity for voices across the Upper New York Conference to be heard on one of the most controversial topics facing the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries, said, “The taskforce is helping to lead each meeting not only to gather responses, but alsoto allow members of the Conference to become participants, not just spectators, in the wider conversation, , and to do so in a safe space.”
Jami Breedlove, a lay member of Ithaca St. Paul’s UMC and member of the Taskforce, said “The Taskforce meets several times a year. We reconvened back in the spring to work together around the District Days. Most of the members of the Taskforce have been together for about four years and we have become really close through our work.
I really love working with teams and this team in particular. I have found Bishop Webb and Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding personally to be thoughtfully engaged. They care about the Conference and the denomination and I feel that they want us all to be engaged and want us to succeed. I enjoy the other participants on the Taskforce and I feel that we care deeply for each other. Even though we may not all agree with each other's position we are respectful and value each other in a way that Christ is honored.”
At each District Day, Bishop Webb gives a presentation on the history of the human sexuality disagreements in the United Methodist Church and reminds the Conference about the formation of The United Methodist Commission on a Way Forward (the Commission) and what their vision is.
Bishop Webb explains that the Commission is a group of laity and clergy from across the global church that was gathered together by the Council of Bishops to work on the issues related to human sexuality which arose from the 2016 General Conference.
The vision of the Commission is to balance an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with as much unity as possible.
Bishop Webb has said, “It’s not just about changing the language of the Book of Discipline (that the Commission is working on); it is refining our connection, which is showing signs of brokenness.”
After Bishop Webb’s presentation, District Day attendees gather together for smaller round-table discussions facilitated by members of the Upper New York Human Sexuality Taskforce.
The discussions are based on questions that the Commission would like answered for help with their report.
Each table has guidelines spelled out for them, which were adapted from The Artistry of Convening with Faith Based Communities:
- Prayerfully think on each question before answering it.
- Listen to understand, not to debate or convince.
- Suspend judgements.
- Be kind.
After the time of discussion, there is time to harvest the questions. A host from each table presents highlights from the discussions that took place at their table.
Overall, attendees and the taskforce feel that the discussions from the District Days that have happened already have been effective. Rev. Doug Mackey, a member of the taskforce said, “I have heard a lot of good conversations and people seem to be respecting each other even if they have differences in opinions.”
The answers gathered from all District Days through December will be used to draft a report for the Commission on a Way Forward, and an additional report will be sent to the Commission by March based on discussions that take place for those Districts that will have their District Day in 2018.
Update: Following the update from the Council of Bishops on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, the questions at the District Day gatherings going forward have been updated to reflect the possible paths that the Commission and the Council are exploring. Click here to read a letter from Bishop Mark J. Webb about the meeting of the two bodies and to find the full press release from the Council of Bishops.
Bishop’s taskforce is called to eliminate racism
October 4, 2017 / By Stephen J. Hustedt
The 2016 Northeastern Jurisdiction overwhelmingly supported a Call to Action to end racism in a bold proclamation that it would work to end racism both in ourselves and in the world. However, the real work would begin when leaders returned to their individual Conferences. Many asked how to even begin working on such an enormous goal.
Bishop Mark J. Webb explained, “The NEJ Call to Action invites us first to the critical work of confronting our own racism. Each conference in the NEJ has been called upon to address the systemic and structural forms of racism in their conference and state and provide ways for the wounds of racism to be healed.”
To wrestle with the task, Bishop Webb named members to a taskforce. Known now as the Bishop’s Taskforce on Eliminating Racism, the group quickly started meeting and set about their enormous task, grounding their work in in their baptismal vows and the Social Principals of the United Methodist Church.
The members of the taskforce include: the Rev. Harold Wheat, Blenda Smith, Shafeegh Habeeb, Charles Syms, the Rev. Devin Lyles, Carrie Wolfe, Pam Burns, Barb Heise, Rachael Jordan, the Rev. Bill Mudge, the Rev. Vonda Fossitt, the Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Bishop Webb, Scott Johnson, Leslie Haggstrom, and Sue Crawson-Brizzolara. The Rev. Teressa Silvers is the chair of the taskforce.
Because there is a great sense of urgency, the taskforce is meeting monthly.
“In light of the events of Charlottesville, and ongoing alarming incidents of racism across our nation, the work of the Call to Action Resolution is even more urgent,” said the Rev. Teressa M. Sivers. “The Bishop’s Taskforce on Eliminating Racism is working to create ongoing and sustainable ministries within the local churches across our Conference where we can engage in deep conversations on racism and increase ministries that impact racial justice. Together we will work to eliminate the evil of racism.”
“Racism is evil,” is a simple phrase the taskforce uses repeatedly to show there is no gray area biblically or in the United Methodist Social Principals. It is really that simple. However, how to address racism is incredibly complicated.
Genesee Valley District Superintendent, the Rev. Vonda Fossitt, pointed out that racism is systemic and often not obvious at first.
What is racism?
“(It) is when someone looks you up and down, 'sizing you up’ before looking into your eyes,” Rev. Fossitt said. “(It) is being underestimated based on the color of one's skin. (It) is being held to a certain standard without taking into account one's own personal context and individual challenges.”
The taskforce has many tasks they are working on for the fall and spring, including Conference-wide local conversations and large-scale events. However, the feeling is that the first task, and one of the largest tasks, is helping people to be willing to engage in the topic.
“Most of us say, ‘I'm not racist.’ As European Americans, we simply eliminate the issue of racism from our minds. What we don't see is institutional racism at educational, judicial, real estate, incarceration, banking, and corporate levels. Therefore we cannot acknowledge how painful racism is to or sisters and brothers of color.” Blenda E. Smith, chair of the Conference Commission on Religion and Race, said. “The Bishop's Taskforce on the Elimination of Racism is developing a process for local churches to be in conversations to understand racism and privilege within their own churches and local communities. This will also be an opportunity to see ways that various mission and outreach ministries are addressing racial justice.”
The conversations will be led locally, in settings where people are most comfortable, by well-trained leaders. Creating this process will take time, but the taskforce is not willing to wait until the local process is developed to start the conversation.
To that, the fall topic of the UNY Conference blog will be where we see and experience racism. The members of the taskforce will respond to a single question:
How has experiencing or witnessing racism impacted you, and how did you respond?
This conversation is not just for the taskforce. It is the whole Upper New York Conference. An open call to the Conference has been sent for blog responses. Moreover, comments for blog posts have been enabled to allow dialog. Comments will be monitored though an approval process to assure respectful dialog and adherence to Conference communications guidelines.
If you would like to respond to the blog question, send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org. Blogs should be written in first person and no more than a few paragraphs long.
The hope is that the blog series will be the start of a conversation that continues on a local level.
While the taskforce acknowledges that these conversations will not be easy, they are not just important for improving our world, but also, they are important for our souls as United Methodist and Christians. Pretending like the problem of racism does not exist and staying silent is not an option.
To quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
This is as true for us as individuals as it is for the Upper New York Conference, the Northeastern Jurisdiction, and the United Methodist Church.
Resource Center Director, Diane Miner to retire
Diane Miner, Director of the Upper New York Conference’s Resource Center will retire next month. She has played a very valuable role in the UNY Conference ever since its formation and prior to that, she served as the Resource Center Director for the Wyoming Conference.
When the four Conferences in Upper New York merged to become the Upper New York Conference in 2010, Diane, along with Sheila Rader facilitated the consolidation of all the resources from the previous Conferences into two central locations. This was followed by the move to one central location facilitated by Diane in 2012, which was initially in Endicott and eventually at the United Methodist Center in the spring of 2017.
Every day in her position, she filled requests for resources to be sent to congregations small and large across Upper New York. She regularly kept up-to-date on all of the latest books, DVDs, and study kits, looking for the best resources to make available to the local churches in the UNY Conference.
Diane truly enjoyed her position. She said, “The best part of my job over the years has been the people. I received many calls and notes expressing gratitude. I always got the warm fuzzy calls, very rarely a complaint.”
The Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries, said, “When people ask me, “So how do our church’s ministry share payments help our local church,” I immediately point to Diane. She’s helped hundreds and hundreds of pastors and church leaders get ahold of the best resources for Sunday school classes, adult studies, VBS programs, and youth groups. She’s made such a great contribution and done so with such personal warmth and dedication. I just add my sincere thanks to the many people around UNY who so appreciate Diane’s incredible ministry.”
As Diane opens herself up to what God is calling her to do next, she is confident that the Media Resource Center will continue to grow and remain a vital part of the Conference.
From the Desk of Bishop Webb: Response to mass shooting in Las Vegas
October 3, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
Editor’s note: On Oct. 3 Bishop Mark J. Webb sent the following letter about the tragic violence that took place in Las Vegas.
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
We have watched in horror as once again a mass shooting, the most deadly in American history has claimed the lives of at least 59 innocent people and injured hundreds more. Pray for the victims, family members, first responders, and others in Las Vegas, whose lives have been forever changed.
Over the next days and weeks, investigators will attempt to understand what and why. Politicians will engage again in conversations regarding the best way forward in relation to gun control. What about the Church?
Yes, we need to be engaged in the political and sociological conversations. Yes, we need to be engaged in the debate and the actions necessary to end gun violence and all acts of hate in our culture. But there is a reality we must be willing to address. In a world that too often chooses evil over good, darkness over light, selfish ways, rather than God's way, we must find new and bold ways to show and proclaim that Jesus Christ is our only hope and the hope of the world.
We must find ways to acknowledge in a courageous and fresh way that violence, darkness, evil, and terror will only be defeated by the life-changing, heart-transforming love of God through Jesus Christ. So, be engaged in the conversation; take steps to bring change; but most of all - offer someone the truth of Jesus - show someone the truth of Jesus - the truth of love, joy, peace, significance, hope, and life! Jesus has promised to transform lives; let's be bold partners in offering to a hurting, confused, and desperate world the Good News of Jesus Christ!
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith. 1 John 5:4
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before all is such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your God who is in heaven. Matthew 5.14-16
Grace and peace,
Bishop Mark J. Webb
Worship Leaders for the INWARD Conference Youth Events Named
October 3, 2017 / By Eleanor Collinsworth
It’s time to register for the Conference Council on Youth Ministries Fall Gathering, now called INWARD. At these two gatherings (East and West), CCYM is putting aside the theatrics in favor of a truly profound, God-filled experience. With a focus on small-group time and prayer, they aim to make an event from which you can leave saying you've experienced God.
The Worship Team of the CCYM is happy to introduce the Worship Leaders for this fall’s INWARD Youth Events.
At the East event on Friday-Saturday, November 10-11 at Calvary UMC in Latham, the Worship Speaker is Brandon Hatch.
Brandon Hatch grew up in Western New York and went to college at Cedarville University where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Worship with a minor in Biblical Studies. While at Cedarville, he had the opportunity to travel around the Midwest playing electric guitar with the group Heartsong. This is where he met his incredible wife, Heidi.
After college, Brandon returned to his hometown to begin serving as the Director of Contemporary Worship and Technical Arts at Bemus Point United Methodist Church while pursuing a master’s degree in Biblical Studies through an online program. When Brandon finds free time, he likes to spend it outdoors whether cycling or playing sports, but on a rainy day you can catch him reading a good book and hopelessly cheering on the Bills and the Knicks.
Brandon and his wife, Heidi, will also be the Worship Leaders.
Heidi Hatch grew up in West Michigan and went to college at Cedarville University where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and Health with a minor in Biblical Studies. While in college, Heidi toured as a vocalist for three years with the worship band Heartsong. She is currently the Director of Children’s Ministry at Bemus Point United Methodist Church. Heidi is passionate about seeing the lives of children and youth transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Heidi is not busy with the children’s ministry, she enjoys playing sports, playing board games, and trying out new recipes.
At the West event on Friday-Saturday, November 17-18 at Penn Yan UMC, Brandon and Heidi Hatch will again be the Worship Leaders.
The Worship Speaker is Bob Schooley. Bob and his wife, Karen, recently celebrated 30 years of marriage! They have four children and two grandchildren. Bob pastors Centerville United Methodist Church and teaches at Pioneer Central High School where he enjoys the energy of the students! He's journeyed to Uganda, East Africa, 15 times and was there this summer partnering on wells, health care issues, agricultural concerns, church and school construction and many other things.
Click here to register for either the East or West INWARD event.
Centerpoint Christian Fellowship reaches its neighbors with a day of music and fun
Nine years ago when Pastor Wayne Clemens was serving at Van Hornesville United Methodist Church, a lay person approached him with the idea to have a “Gospel Fest” at a beautiful park across the street. Pastor Wayne said, “We invited the community and had a great time.”
Fast-forward six years later and Pastor Wayne is serving at Centerpoint Christian Fellowship, which is on 50 acres of land; Pastor Wayne put a lot of effort into having a pavilion built outdoors and developing a 1.25 nature trail that meanders through a forest.
He decided to broaden the “Gospel Fest” idea, taking advantage of the beautiful outdoor space at Centerpoint. He said, “I brought the idea with me here to Centerpoint and changed it to Music Fest and instead of only having it be a concert; it’s a day-long event with all kinds of activities. It’s incredible that we can have it right here on the church grounds. We have 50 acres to work with!”
Who could turn down a free day-long event with plenty of food, live music, and activities?
During its first year, around 100 people from the community attended the event; for the second year, about 300 people attended the event. This year’s Music Fest, held on Saturday August 12, had over 500 people come out.
Sharon Kellogg and her husband Earl have attended Music Fest since its first year. They would choose to attend Centerpoint if they weren’t so involved in their church. Sharon raved about the event: “Most of my friends work here. Amy works in the food tent. Diane works in the puppet tent. I know just about everybody here. I feel at home here. These people are wonderful here!”
Children’s activities included puppet shows, face painting, pony rides, goats to pet, and more!
Rev. Carl Getz from Trenton UMC and Saquoit Valley UMC combines Vacation Bible School from his churches with Centerpoint and also directs the children’s activities at Music Fest. This year he was dressed as Superman and was primarily seen in the puppet tent.
Rev. Getz said, “I have been involved with Centerpoint since its beginning. I was in the group that helped plan this church. We enjoy being part of this; this is what we envisioned way back in the beginning. In some of the smaller churches, we seem to be winding down and having less and less people, but here at Centerpoint, (events like this) seem to be catching on and we have more and more people (attending the church). It’s the place to be!”
Pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, chili dogs, several varieties of chips, popcorn and all sorts of beverages were served---all day long!
Booths were set up with everything from free Christian books to free backpacks loaded with school supplies for people in need.
The music had people out of their chairs dancing and clapping. From blue-grass Christian, to Grammy-nominated Christian musician Rhett Walker’s performance, Music Fest was alive!
Rhett Walker’s performance closed out the event at 7 p.m. Pastor Wayne said, “Having Rhett Walker come hang out with us literally in our own backyard was awesome. His humbleness was striking and seeing how God is using him with his music was so cool to witness.”
Centerpoint’s Music Fest is one way in which Upper New York is achieving the mission of being God’s love with our neighbors in all places. Look out for the next issue of the Advocate, which will feature several stories of ways in which more individuals and churches from Upper New York are fulfilling this mission.
Click here to watch a video of Centerpoint Music Fest.
Peace with Justice Grant Application Deadline Approaching
October 2, 2017 / By Heather Smith
The deadline to apply for the next round of grants this year is Nov. 1. Find the current Peace with Justice grant application here. The Social Holiness Team looks forward to hearing what ministries may be emerging around our Annual Conference!
In May, the Social Holiness Team approved three grants.
- Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS for a series of Truth Commissions on Poverty in New York State during the summer and fall
- New York State Council of Churches for “Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide” Conference that was held in July, 2017 at Fulton-Montgomery Community College
- Faithful Citizen, Inc. for a series of workshops in local churches around the Annual Conference to help congregations address climate change
If your congregation has not yet taken the Peace with Justice Sunday offering, there is still time! Any Sunday would be a good time to highlight these or other ministries that have received grants and half of all funds collected in Upper NY stay right here to support new justice projects.
Contact Heather Smith, the Peace with Justice Coordinator, if you have any questions (email@example.com). Heather is happy to come visit your congregation or small group to talk about how the Peace with Justice offering is integral to our United Methodist Connection.
From the Desk of Bishop Webb: Response to Hurricane Maria and those affected in Puerto Rico
September 28, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
Bishop Mark J. Webb sent the following letter requesting prayer and support for Puerto Rico and all those impacted by Hurricane Maria and the other recent devastating storms.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It is hard to believe that I am writing to you about devastating destruction from a hurricane for the third time in just a few weeks. As I am sure you know by now, Puerto Rico in particular was devastated first by Hurricane Irma and now again by Maria. Reports tell us that even while rescue operations are still taking place, lack of power and resources for millions of people becomes a growing concern. I ask you to join me now in continued prayer for the people of Puerto Rico and for all those who have been impacted by these devastating storms.
Let us pray for those whose lives will be forever changed due to death, destruction, or fear. Let us pray that those who can help are guided by God's will to do so quickly and efficiently. Let us pray that the hands and feet on the ground have the strength to carry on. Finally, let us pray that we, as the United Methodist Church, can be a part of bringing hope and faith to those who have been so devastated by these storms.
As with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there are two things you can do beyond your continued prayers.
- Invite your congregation to take up a special collection in the next few weeks. If you've already done this for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, consider taking another offering for the victims of Hurricane Maria. If you haven't taken a collection, combine the offerings and ask people to be extra generous. You may forward these funds to the Conference Office with a single check, made out to Upper New York Conference with FUND # 483 - "2017 Hurricane Maria Disaster Relief" on the memo line.
- Assemble Cleaning Kits (Flood Buckets) and bring these to the Mission Central Hub at the United Methodist Center. We have committed to filling at least one tractor trailer (around 430 buckets). Click here for instructions.
With so much destruction it is often hard to know where to begin to help, but like everything, it begins with prayer. Prayer is just the beginning, however. United Methodists will be hard at work giving their time, talents, and resources to support recovery in these devastated areas for many years to come. Let us continue to be God's love for this world that so desperately needs it.
Bishop Mark J. Webb
Naomi Hartnagel named Assistant Director of Asbury Camp & Retreat Center
September 27, 2017 / By Joan Newlon, Executive Assistant Camp & Retreat Ministries
Camp & Retreat Ministries is pleased to announce the hiring of Naomi Hartnagel as Assistant Director of Asbury Camp & Retreat Center.
Naomi is a graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College with a degree in Religion and Philosophy. She has had two-and-a-half years program experience with Infuzion Team Ministry where she was a part of a team bringing a retreat weekend on the road to a number of different places.
Naomi has also worked as a Ministry Assistant at Skye Farm Camp & Retreat Center serving as a Counselor Coordinator and assisting with Skye Farm's American Camp Association accreditation. She comes from her home in the Albany area.
"Naomi's heart for Camp and Retreat Ministry, for hospitality, and the spiritual life of others shines through in all she does," said Sue Russell, director of Asbury. "Naomi brings her gifts of attentive listening, problem solving, and customer service to the ministry at Asbury."
Naomi is grateful for the opportunity to serve as part of the CRM team, stating "Becoming a part of the staff and ministry at Asbury is a blessing. I'm excited to have the opportunity to serve God in this role by using the gifts God has given me in order to honor Him and be a part of the continuation of His vision for Asbury."
God always has a plan
September 26, 2017 / By Manoj Chapagai
Editor’s Note: The fall 2017 issue of the Advocate, features stories centered on the theme of “Being God’s love with our neighbors in all places.” One of the stories in this issue profiles Pastor Sean Chanthasone, who has helped form a New Faith Community for Bhutanese and Nepalese refugees as well as a New Faith Community for Karrenni refugees who live on the Northside of Syracuse.
Manoj Chapagai is one of the Bhutanese refugees who is active in his New Faith Community—he is a key person to the ministry not only because of his strong faith, but also because of his excellent English-speaking skills. This is the story of Manoj’s journey to the United States and his journey to becoming a Christian.
My name is Manoj Chapagai and this is a story about my people. I grew up in a small country located in Southeast Asia called Nepal. Although I was born and raised in Nepal, I was never a citizen of Nepal. Long before my parents and I were born, our ancestors along with many other from Nepal migrated to Bhutan.
Bhutan is a country located next to China and India. I remember hearing stories from my parents about the life in Bhutan. I heard stories from my grandmother about how she had a farm and used to play with her friends in Bhutan. I also heard about how my mom first met my dad.
There were many countless story from Bhutan that were passed on to me from my family. The Nepali people in Bhutan had stayed there for more than three generations but all of a sudden like a storm that is unseen a problem was rising in the royal family.
The government of Bhutan decided that the Nepalese should forget their culture and language and adapt to the Bhutanese culture and language. Teachers that used to teach Nepali in school were no longer allowed to teach Nepali. Nepalese clothes were banned from wearing and their language was forbidden. They were not allowed to practice their cultures and customs.
Even amidst all this chaos, God still had a plan. Most Nepalese were Hindus and few were Buddhist , but it was rare to find someone who was a Christian. It was frowned upon to be a Christian. The government didn't want Christianity to spread and neither did the people. If someone was found to be a Christian, their family would likely disown them.
There were still a few brave soldiers of the Lord who went around preaching about the name of Jesus. This caused many to believe in Jesus and become Christian. This angered the already furious government even more. The government decided to exile the Christians. Christians were first to be kicked out from Bhutan. After this, the government was still not pleased so they decided that everyone should be a Buddhist.
Buddhism was the national religion of Bhutan. Although the government wanted them to follow Bhutan's culture and religion, Nepali people were not happy to do so. They had their own culture and religion. This raised up a tension between the government and the Nepalese. As the time went by during the 1990s, the King of Bhutan began the process of ethnic cleansing.
Nepalese were fired from their jobs. My grandfather was a police officer working for the government of Bhutan, but even he was fired. The Nepalese were being tortured and hunted down by the government. Then, during the early 90s, they were deported back to Nepal.
I was born then. While living in Nepal, we had to make our own house and jobs. The government of Nepal never acknowledged us as Nepali because our ancestors went to Bhutan from Nepal. Even during this time God provided.
The International organization of migration (IOM ) stepped in to help refugees settle in different countries. They had their eyes on Nepali refugees. Beginning in 2008, they started settling refugees in different places in the United States of America. Our family also came to America in 2009. It was because we came America that we became Christian and received Christ. In every state of America where there are Nepali refugees, there are at least more than two Nepalese churches.
God had his plan for us even in the midst of all the chaos. If it wasn't for discrimination we faced in Bhutan and Nepal, we would've never been able to come to the U.S. It was because we came to U.S., we received Christ. It is because he knows the plan he has for us (Jer 29:11)
Upper New York Helps Children in Texas and Florida: Interview with the Rev. Cathy Hall-Stengel
United Methodists have a long history of responding to communities in the midst of disaster though the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Volunteers-in-Mission (VIM), and Conference and District disaster response teams, and partnerships with other organizations.
One organization that UNY Methodists are regularly involved with helps children impacted by natural disasters. Through Children’s Disaster Services, which historically has been connected to the United Methodist Church, a number of people from UNY have been at the frontlines in Texas and Florida.
While Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) is currently operated by the Church of the Brethren, several United Methodists have been trained members of this critical ministry for a very long time. The Rev. Cathy Hall Stengel is one of them.
We caught up with Rev. Hall Stengel to learn more about CDS and her recent involvement at a disaster relief shelter in Austin, Texas, working with children who had been displaced from their homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Shannon Hodson: Can you tell me a little bit about Children’s Disaster Services?
Rev. Cathy Hall-Stengel: We are trained, background checked, and prepared through education and communication. We are pastors and Christian educators; we are laity who also serve Annual Conferences across the Connection.
Children’s Disaster Services helps children impacted by natural disaster, usually in a shelter setting. We provide safe, official childcare while parents are tending to paperwork, needs, or just getting a shower and a nap.
The children have an opportunity to play. Play-Doh, paint, cars, cardboard boxes, dolls, building toys, and dress-up clothes provide the foundation for letting the children interact with adults.
The children also have an opportunity to be held, to rest, to get all of the attention (where possible) from an adult who has NOT also experienced the disaster. The children get a chance to be in a non-anxious place to either tell their story, or dream up a new one in an affirming environment.
The Red Cross has determined the CDS is to be deployed as the disaster takes place as a part of urgent response teams. We arrive at shelters, set up a safe space (with a perimeter) for children to be cared for. We sign children in and out, parents and children receive wristbands so that all children are accounted for and released only to the parent, grandparent, or other authorized adult.
The CDS volunteers I know have been to New York City for 9/11, to Moore Oklahoma for the tornado disaster, wild fires in the West and Midwest, Katrina, Matthew, Sandy, Harvey, Irma and other storms that don’t even get named.
Shannon Hodson: That sounds like such a great service. Can you describe some specific experiences of your own working with children in the aftermath of a disaster?
Rev. Cathy Hall-Stengel: There are so many rich and wonderful experiences with the children, it’s hard to choose. Here are some experiences that come to mind from the 12 days I spent in Austin, Texas after Hurricane Harvey:
A little boy was painting a picture and wanted me next to him to watch. I watched as he created his apartment building, his home, the home he had lived in since his family escaped from Baton Rouge just one year ago. He told me the water was dark and green, not swimming water. He and his mother and brother watched as the water came closer and closer to the windows on the second floor; snakes were swirling in the floodwaters. The rain and wind were very scary; his mother was crying and his grandmother was praying. A military boat came to their window and took them to safety. He wondered about his toys, but more than anything he wanted his mother to feel safe and warm.
Then, there was Zoe, a vivacious and beautiful little five-year old who spent a while playing in our rice box (rice is used as a sensory tool for expression). She lifted up a handful of rice and sprinkled it down on the box – her words were: “The rice falls like the wind and rain that took our roof away.” Zoe didn’t need to talk about it any further; she just needed to say it.
There was also Tierra, a very young mother. She came to the shelter in Austin with a three-week old little girl, Jemilyah, and a two-and-a-half-year old, Tyler. Their cot assignment at the shelter put them right next to our child care. They had escaped the “drowning of their home.” Shaken and overwhelmed, Tierra struggled to care for her two small children. Without even having to come to a team consensus about this family, we began the work and ministry of support, encouragement, and baby holding. Our ministry was so much more than just childcare.
Shannon Hodson: Wow, I can tell those experiences touched your heart. Can you describe to me the training you had to go through to become a volunteer for CDS?
Rev. Cathy Hall-Stengel: I was trained to be a volunteer for Children’s Disaster Services in 2014 at the Victor United Methodist Church. Trainers are trained by those who have been trained….like our Safe Sanctuary programs. Dot and Terry Norsen, who have been active in the life of the Victor United Methodist Church, the Genesee Valley District, and the Upper New York Conference helped to make this training happen.
The training involves an overnight, on the floor or on a cot to simulate shelter life. Training involves team building and organization of shelter space. We spent hours learning about expressive play, safety needs, and how to help children deal with the disaster they’ve experienced. We learned about redirecting behavior rather than saying no to the children. Each trainee is obligated to have an extensive background check in order to receive credentials and must attend additional training every four to five years to maintain available status.
Shannon Hodson: And is there an expense for volunteers associated with their deployments?
Rev. Cathy Hall Stengel: When a volunteer is deployed – they are actually deployed by the Red Cross. CDS assembles the teams, the Red Cross makes airline reservations, makes sure there are accommodations at the disaster site, which could be a staff shelter or a hotel (it varies), and provides for meals and other expenses. There is virtually no out-of-pocket cost for the actual experience in deployment. If there are out-of-pocket costs (luggage fees, meals while traveling, parking or transportation) those are all reimbursed by the Red Cross.
Shannon Hodson: That is incredible. How can our Conference members learn more about CDS?
Rev. Cathy Hall Stengel: You can visit their website to learn more, including upcoming trainings.
UNY Conference Board of Pensions & Health Benefits to remove billings from 2014 and years prior
Over the past several years, the UNY Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, Board of Trustees, Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) and the Cabinet have discussed what to do about local churches’ unpaid bills and the negative impact these unpaid bills have to the clergy benefits program of the Conference.
All of the above teams have gleaned helpful information from these discussions and have had to make some very difficult and controversial decisions. The Board, in its analysis of arrearages, came to the conclusion that continuing to bill for past due amounts – in some situations – was counterproductive. Through this analysis, they determined a reasonable cut off point and have instructed the finance team to remove prior year billings for 2014 and earlier.
Vicki Swanson, the UNY Director of HR/Benefits said, “Unpaid direct bill amounts for 2015 through today will remain as a balance due. The Board expects that churches will do everything possible to pay these remaining past due amounts, and to be current in payments going forward. The Benefits Office will provide updated arrearage information to the District Superintendents on a monthly basis.”
The Rev. Steve Deckard, Chair of the Conference Board of Pensions & Health Benefits from 2010 to 2017 said, “The goal is for every local church to address the full payment (100 percent payment) of both Shared Ministry and Direct Bills on a current basis, and to address the 2015 and 2016 shortages as well."
Rev. Deckard continued, “This is a positive step for all churches. The goal will be for all churches to have the opportunity to be current from 2015 through the present. These are all shared expenses. For the present and future health of the Conference, full support of these vital commitments to clergy, staff, and ministries of the Conference is essential… This action is a plus for every church, pastor, and layperson of the Conference.”
Vicki Swanson added, “It is also important to note for all churches that the Board has structured the premiums for pension and health benefits in 2018 with the assumption that 100 percent of billed premiums will be paid by the churches. This is essential and a covenantal responsibility for all involved. The churches are the only source of funding for these benefits. “
Local churches affected by this action can expect letters explaining the adjustment of past-due amounts in early October with their October invoices.
Earlville UMC will leave a lasting legacy in Mission Central Hub
Earlville United Methodist Church has spread the love of Jesus and changed lives for 202 years, but with a recent vote to close, that is changing. Like many small churches, Earlville UMC was in ministry to a community that was shrinking. The members of the Earlville UMC realized that the church was becoming unsustainable and they decided to be proactive about the legacy of their church.
As a part of their vote to close, the congregation voted to give resources to a variety of United Methodist Churches and ministries that would continue their mission.
Their decision was based in scripture, specifically John 12:24 “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
It was further inspired by the Hymn of Promise, Hymn 707 in the United Methodist Hymnal:
In the bulb there is a flower;
In the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise:
Butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
There’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.
Earlville UMC gave an outdoor electronic sign to CenterPoint UMC that will help direct people from the highway to where there is the good news of Jesus. They donated $20,000 to the New Harvest, a new faith community to help in transporting members without vehicles to worship. They donated money and resources to Aldersgate Camp and many other churches in the Mohawk District. However, by far, the largest gifts were given to support the new Upper New York Conference Mission Central Hub.
“Earlville has always been a very mission-minded church, so this was a natural fit” Mohawk District Superintendent Rev. Abel Roy said. “Conference leaders and I met with the leadership of Earlville last spring and shared the vision for the Mission Central Hub. Earlville was very excited about the potential of supporting a mission that would have such impact both locally and around the world.”
From training the Conference’s Volunteers in Mission and Disaster Response teams to collecting and assembling flood buckets, health kits, and more, the UNY Mission Central Hub is the perfect answer to local churches who feel called to expand their outreach ministries. It is a resource for becoming the hands and feet of God in service.
This vision is becoming a reality now, thanks in large part to the legacy of Earlville UMC. Their vote to discontinue included donating enough money to the new Upper New York Mission Central Hub to allow it to start operations.
Bishop Mark J. Webb who personally met with them said, “This church offered decades upon decades of rich ministry. Through these gifts their ministry will continue for many years to come.”
The gift from Earlville UMC provides enough money to cover the salary of a Director for at least two years. They also gifted a 1.2 million dollar trust to help with operations well into the future.
The Conference has already started the search for a Director of Missional Engagement who will form a comprehensive mission strategy for the Mission Central Hub and other UNY ministries. The position will oversee the planning, management, and evaluation of the mission and operations of the Upper New York Conference Missional Engagement ministry to include Mission Central HUB (MCH), UNY Volunteers in Mission, and UNY Disaster Response.
Click here to learn more about the position of Director of Missional Engagement or to apply.
Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding was one of the Conference leaders who helped to cast the vision of the Mission Central Hub for Earlville UMC. He said, “Earlville UMC is an amazing example of what it means to leave a legacy in ministry.”
Earlville UMC consulted with the Upper New York Conference Legacy Team in making its decision. To learn more about this ministry click here.
“Every church has a lifecycle,” Gottschalk-Fielding continued. “But what a church chooses to do when it has truly reached the end of its life, can leave an impact for generations to come. Earlville’s legacy will continue to change lives and spread the love of Jesus long after we are all gone.”
While Earlville UMC’s amazing gift is a great start for the ministry of the Upper New York Conference’s Mission Central Hub, it is only the beginning of what will be needed. Simply turning on the news and seeing the devastating reports of hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and more shows the desperate need for such a ministry.
Others wishing to support the Upper New York Mission Central Hub can do so by visiting http://www.unyumc.org/mission/mission-central to learn more and donate online or by sending checks to the Upper New York Conference (7481 Henry Clay Blvd. Liverpool, NY 13088) with FUND # 951 – “Mission Central Hub” on the memo line.
My trip to the Holy Land, Article 2 of 4
September 20, 2017 / By Theresa Eggleston
When I went to the Holy Land, I was expecting to have a grand spiritual experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is one of my favorite Bible stories; Jesus stays up all night praying that the burden before him is taken away. He pleads with his friends to stay up with him, longing for company. When I read this story, I feel closer to a human Jesus.
Naturally, I was excited to experience something special when I stepped into the Garden of Gethsemane. Although it was a beautiful place and I was happy to be there, I didn’t feel the nudge of the Spirit. Who was I to control what the Spirit had planned for me while I was in the Holy Land though? The Spirit had very different plans for me as I found during my journey. I was completely surprised when I found the Spirit move me on the Sea of Galilee. I was deeply moved when Mary became real in the Church of the Annunciation. I was forever changed in my heart when I felt the tangible love of the Spirit in the home of a Palestinian family. Through sharing this story this week and a couple of others in upcoming weeks, I hope to share with you the awakenings the Holy Spirit gave me in the Holy Land.
The Sea of Galilee:
We ran as quickly as we could towards the shore line. The light breeze off the Sea of Galilee cooled the sweat from our brows. Our feet clomped on the docks as we came closer to the wooden boat we would be traveling on. One by one, we hauled our tired bodies onto the boat and away we sailed.
This was the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. This is where he called out to his disciples, and where he grabbed onto Peter and asked, “Why did you doubt?” In my head, I imagined it as a peaceful place; tranquil with silent beauty. Today it was the complete opposite. As our boat left the shore, the wind began to pick up and the waves leapt alongside the bow. Our guide raised his voice louder and louder to speak over the water that crashed against the ship.
We gathered closer together near the center of the vessel in order to hear one another better. We listened to a reading from Matthew 14:22-33. Peter cried out to Jesus and said, “Lord! Save me!” I struggled to hear over the crashing waves and howling wind. Somehow, I could almost hear Peter shout for the Lord’s help, his words becoming swallowed by blustering salt air.
After the reading, our leader, Mike Ratliff asked: “In your time of ministry, who have you cried out to saying, ‘Save Me!’ Who have been your mentors in ministry? Whether with us or passed on, I would ask that you say their names out loud here.”
A lump rose in my throat. A moment passed and then another. One group member shared a name. I swallowed back tears, my eyes burning with the effort. Another name was shared. Finally, I took a deep breath, one much like Peter must have taken before shouting to the Lord and I said…. “Kevin Dunn.”
As I said his name, it disappeared into the air with a loud gush of wind. It was as if the Spirit had snatched that name as it left my lips, as swiftly as Kevin had left us here on earth. I took another deep breath. Mike spoke again: “When someone pours into you, you in turn must pour out because it was never yours to begin with.” Mike’s words hung in the air. Selfishly I wanted to keep as much of my spiritual mentor as I could. Kevin had been my spiritual navigator, my beacon of light whom I went to when my own Calling had been just a whisper. I wanted to remember every moment, every lesson, every campfire we had sat around, and every hike that we took. All the work Kevin did in the name of God’s calling and all he had poured into my soul began to well up and spill over. “It was never yours to begin with.”
Mike sent us into a time of prayer on the boat as we sailed through the choppy sea. I migrated from the center to the edge of the boat and immediately fell to my knees. In that moment, I knew the Holy Spirit was present. The air around me was heavy with my grief, my joy, my pain, and my fear. It was me falling before my God and Savior on the rolling Sea of Galilee. I wept, I sobbed, and I gasped for air. My body became limp as I gave into the Spirit’s comfort. Words and Scripture formed from the swirling electricity in my head saying,
“I have called you by name, and my work in you is not finished.”
“I am not finished with your pain. I am not finished with your fear. I am not finished with you.”
“Jesus was about 30 when he began his ministry.”
“My child, my child, calm down.”
“ I will teach you how to pour out.”
Tears rolled down my face and for a moment I looked over the Sea of Galilee and felt complete peace. I looked upon the waves and I knew what Peter had feared. He had been scared that he wasn’t good enough. How could he, a fisherman, be like his Rabbi? How could he be like Jesus and walk on water too? He was JUST Peter?
I am JUST Theresa, how could I be like Jesus? How could I pour out? How could I be like Kevin? How could I be good enough? I find myself in a season of life where things are unfinished, where my questions are unanswered, and where my grief has the ability to pop up unexpectedly. In this season The Spirit transcend my expectations. In a time where I desperately wanted to ask Kevin about the Call, God provide answers.
“I will teach you how to pour out what Kevin poured into you.”
I have so much to learn. I am unfinished. I have been called. I will answer. I will pour out what Kevin gave me.
As we climbed off the boat, we all whipped our eyes and hugged one another. We had grown closer to each other. We had shared our souls with one another. The Holy Spirit had transcended our expectations and we became family.
Upper New York’s CLT updates its Purpose Statement
For many years, the UNY Conferences Leadership Team’s (CLT) purpose focused on administrative tasks.
Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb requested the CLT to work together to expand their purpose statement.
The new focus of the Conference Leadership Team is more comprehensive and is geared toward living out the vision and mission of the UMC and the UNY Conference.
Drew Griffin, a member of CLT, said “Bishop Webb has asked the CLT to work on providing alignment throughout the UNY Conference with a strategic ministry plan that will help districts and local churches best live out the mission an vision of the UMC and UNY Conference. While there are still administrative tasks that we assist with, we believe our primary focus needs to be on creating alignment and developing strategy.”
Below is the purpose statement, and what different members of the CLT have to say about the specific tasks the CLT intend to accomplish.
Purpose of the CLT
This body will ensure that the decisions of the Annual Conference are implemented in accordance with the mission of The United Methodist Church, and the vision, primary task(s), and core values of the UNY Conference.
To accomplish this, the CLT will:
- Work in cooperation with the Bishop, Cabinet, and other appropriate teams to guide and maintain a culture of alignment throughout the Conference.
The Rev. Sherri Rood, District Superintendent of the Cornerstone District and Dean of the UNY Cabinet said, “A cooperative spirit is essential in order to assure that the Bishop, Cabinet, and all ministry areas in UNY are working in alignment to fulfil the mission of the United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world as well as the UNY vision to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places.”
- Partner with and equip District Leadership Teams (DLT) for visioning within their local contexts.
The Rev. Steve Taylor is a member of CLT and also a DLT for the Cornerstone District. He said, “The role of the CLT is not to do ministry, tell local churches or DLTs how to do ministry, or even hand down canned ministry ideas to implement. The role of the CLT is to equip the DLTs to equip local churches and ministry leaders to develop effective ministries in their contexts… As a member of the Cornerstone District DLT and the CLT, I’m confident that the work of the CLT to focus on ministry action plans and resourcing the DLTs will be fruitful as the DLTs discern how God is calling the local churches and districts to meet the ministry challenges in their contexts.”
- Engage in strategic planning to discern outputs for UNY that best accomplish the primary task of the Conference and Evaluate Conference ministries’ contributions to those outputs.
Susan Hardy, UNY Lay Leader refers to strategic planning as a map. She said, “How do we know where we are going—and when we arrive-- if we do not have a map?
Our Conference recognizes that Christ-inspired leaders, much like the first disciples of Jesus, can be empowered and equipped to effect transformational changes in our lives and in our churches. Our CLT is wrestling each month with mapping out the processes of how that might work in the 21st century.
We are literally creating Ministry Action Plans (MAPs) on specific outputs (measurable goals) that will be shared with all District Leadership Teams. How, for example, do we identify and equip younger Christ-inspired leaders? Where are such persons to be found? Who needs to support their journeys? How might resources be allocated? When might such leaders serve specific ministries? Which group, whether district or conference, needs to be involved at each step? How do we measure each step of such a faith journey?
This is challenging work, requiring both trust in one another, and vulnerability as we learn new skills and vocabulary together. “
The final task is to
- Ensure mutual accountability across the diverse bodies of UNY.
CLT member Erinn Gould-Norris said, “To me, evaluating the contributions of ministries across the Conference is an opportunity for the Conference and these ministries to stay connected. It provides an opportunity for growth, increased communication and understanding, and allows us all to consider what is working, what isn't working, and what might need to be changed. Evaluation isn't just about gathering numbers to determine performance. Evaluation is about learning a more complete story so we can continue to work together in ministry as we live out our call and mission throughout the Upper New York Annual Conference and beyond.”
Together, the CLT will be working diligently at carrying out their purpose when they meet every month, and beyond.
Bishop Young Jin Cho to speak at the Bishop’s Retreat
September 19, 2017 / By
The UNY Conference’s Bishop’s Retreat, which takes place every fall, is an opportunity for clergy to gather together for fellowship and special learning. Attendees to this year’s retreat are in for a special treat; the featured speaker at the 2017 Bishop’s Retreat is Bishop Young Jin Cho who will be speaking four different times during the October 24-October 26 retreat on the theme of “Leading through Prayer.”
Bishop Cho, retired, is a former Bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United States. His prior experience includes a 22-year stint as Senior Pastor of the Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington (KUMCGW) and District Superintendent of the Arlington District. During his tenure at KUMCGW, church worship attendance grew from about 100 to over 1,000—in fact the church is one of the most vital congregations in the Virginia Conference.
The hallmark of Bishop Cho’s ministry, in every setting, is prayer. He has said, “If there is no vital spirituality, there can be no vital congregations.”
Bishop Cho explained how he created a Covenant for Spiritual Discipline when he was Bishop. By agreeing to become a Prayer Covenant Congregation, a congregation had to promise to have at least one weekly prayer group, offer at least one class on prayer annually, participate in Conference prayer- equipping events, and move toward at least 10 percent of their church members practicing one hour of prayer daily.
Bishop Cho said, “When I retired in 2016, about 40 percent of our churches had become Prayer Covenant Congregations, and more than 4,000 people joined the movement of dedicating one hour for spiritual disciplines.”
All attendees of the 2017 Bishop’s Retreat will learn how prayer can powerfully revitalize their congregations!
Bishop Cho’s first session, at 3 p.m. on Tuesday Oct. 24, entitled “One Thing Lacking,” will zero in on Luke 18:18-25. Bishop Cho said, “The UMC has been declining for over 40 years. We have tried initiatives and plans, but so far we have not (produced) much fruit…what is the one thing lacking?”
Bishop Cho’s second session at 9 a.m. on Wednesday Oct. 25, entitled “Lord Teach us to Pray,” focuses on Luke 11: 1-13. Bishop Cho said, “Today we need to learn many things for our faithful and fruitful ministry, but the most important thing is asking our Lord to teach us to pray. We need to remember what E.M. Bounds says in his book, Power through Prayer: ‘The Church is looking for a better method, but God is looking for better persons…persons mighty in prayer.’”
Bishop Cho’s third session at 7 p.m. on Wednesday Oct. 25.entitled, “Let Jesus Christ be the Lord,” emphasizes the lessons learned in Acts 16:6-10. Bishop Cho said, “Our effort to turn around our churches should be more than a reactive plan to save our denomination. It should be a movement to restore a biblical, authentic, and vital church. In this movement, letting Jesus Christ be the Lord in our mission and ministry is key. We are not the head of the Church.”
The final session that Bishop Cho will lead the Bishop Retreat’s attendees through will be on Thursday Oct. 26 at 9:30 a.m., on the topic of hope, using Acts 27:21-26 as the lens. Bishop Cho said, “Although we are facing storms today, we still have hope, not because of our knowledge or ability. It is because of God’s love for us. Jesus Christ is still the solid rock on which we can build our new future. As Bill Gather sings, Because He lives, we can face tomorrow.’”
Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb created the UNY Conference’s current quadrennial theme, "Together in Prayer." The 2017 Bishop’s Retreat is the perfect opportunity to make progress on your personal prayer life and learn how to do the same for the members of your congregation.
In addition to learning from a fabulous leader of the UMC, the Bishop’s Retreat includes fun evening events, vibrant worship services, and a time to commune with friends over meals and outings. This year’s Bishop’s Retreat will be held at the Double Tree Hotel in Binghamton, NY. Click here to see the full schedule of events and/or to register.
Shoeboxes for Red Bird Mission
September 19, 2017 / By Dave Alexander, lay person, Endwell United Methodist Church
The Endwell United Methodist Church mission team is again coordinating the collection and delivery of shoeboxes for Red Bird Mission, located in Beverly, Kentucky. The Red Bird Missionary Conference is one of three missionary United Methodist conferences in the United States. It is the most comprehensive mission effort of the United Methodist Church, providing outreach and services that minister to the whole person (spiritual, physical, social, and economic).
Last year our team drove two-26 foot trucks to the Red Bird Mission. Because of your generosity, one truck was filled with over 3,000 shoeboxes and the other with clothes, books, school and cleaning supplies. We have begun to collect shoeboxes with the goal of having everything ready by November 22, 2017. We plan on transporting all items the first week of December.
This year we are asking churches that want to participate in this project to help us by dropping off all filled shoeboxes to the following two locations: the Upper New York Conference Center at 7481 Henry Clay Blvd. in Liverpool or to the Endwell United Methodist Church located at 3301 Watson Blvd. in Endwell. Drop off dates will be November 1st-17th. If needed, arrangements can be made to have a pickup of items by contacting Dave Alexander at 607-743-8955 or by email to Dalexander4@stny.rr.com.
There are two different styles of shoe boxes: adult and children. All items should be put in clear plastic shoebox sized storage containers with lids. Please do not wrap the boxes. Please include $1 for each shoebox in a separate envelope to help with shipping costs.
Items needed for the adult shoe boxes (please mark for a man or woman) include a comb/brush, shampoo, hand lotion, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, chap stick, full size bath soap, wash cloth, disposable razors, shaving cream, nail care supplies, mittens, scarf, hat, socks, and work gloves.
Items for the children's shoe boxes (please mark for a boy or girl) include two or three toy items, two or three school items, bar soap, children's toothbrush, children's toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, wash cloth, comb/brush, chap stick, mittens, hat, socks, and small flashlight.
Most of these items can be purchased at a local dollar store.
Christian bookmarks, wrist bands, and other spiritual items are also appreciated.
There is also a great need for sheets and blankets for children beds.
If any Church would like a power point presentation, we can send you one or make a presentation to your group.
From franchise to local dive… unleash the power for your local church
Are you wondering how to spark new life, meet new people and offer them Christ? The temptation is to serve up the same exact ministry models that worked in another time and space. Like ordering from a menu at the franchise chain restaurant and expecting the meal to be palatable in the local context, many churches fail to connect with what their local community is actually hungry for. Join the Niagara Frontier District Leadership team as they explore ways to unleash the power of the local church at their event entitled From Franchise to Local Dive.... Unleash the Power of the Local Church.
This event, presented by the Rev. Dr Rosario Picardo, will be held at the Alexander United Methodist Church, on Saturday Oct. 21 from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Rosario (Roz) Picardo partners with Senior Pastor Mike Slaughter is the Executive Pastor of New Church Development at Ginghamsburg UMC. He has effectively helped the Ginghamsburg leadership team to dream and deploy New Faith Communities within the Ginghamsburg community of churches. Roz is an Ordained Elder within the United Methodist Church, holding a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry from United Theological Seminary. He leads a consulting group for church planters/pastors called Picardo Coaching LLC and is the author of Embrace: A Church Plant That Broke All the Rules (Pickwick Publications) and Get to Work: Recovering a Theology of Bivocational Ministry (Wipf & Stock Publishers).
Click here to register.
From the desk of Bishop Mark J. Webb: Response to Hurricane Irma
September 12, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
On Sept. 12 Bishop Mark J. Webb sent the following letter about how to respond to Hurricane Irma to members of the Upper New York Conference.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Once again, we have seen the incredible destruction a powerful hurricane can bring. Our prayers are with the people of the Caribbean, Florida and the other places along Irma’s storm path. Just as with Harvey, we know recovery from this latest storm will take years. Likewise, we know we are called and equipped to play a part in this work. Your prayers, your love and your giving are vitally needed now.
Here’s how you can help:
- Invite your congregation to take up a special collection in the next few weeks. If you’ve already done this for victims of Hurricane Harvey, I ask you to do this again for Irma’s victims. If you’ve yet to take a collection, combine the two and ask people to be doubly generous. The need is great. Announce to your people which Sunday you will do this and ask them to be especially generous. You may forward these funds to the Conference Office with a single check, made out to Upper New York Conference with FUND # 482 – “2017 Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief” on the memo line.
- Assemble Cleaning Kits (Flood Buckets) and bring these to the Mission Central Hub at the United Methodist Center. We have committed to filling at least one tractor trailer (around 430 buckets). Let’s exceed our expectations and fill several! Click here for instructions.
As with Harvey effected areas, Volunteers in Mission (VIM) will be needed to help with the Irma recovery, but this will be down the road. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will let us know when teams can be sent.
Finally, what I said in the wake of Hurricane Harvey remains just as true after Irma: God does not abandon, but stands with us amid the wreckage and will enable the people to recover. We are invited to embody God’s loving presence and power in this work. And so, I ask you to offer your prayers, your dollars, and your time. Thank you in advance for your generous spirits. I am grateful for your ministry and your willingness to be the hands and feet of Christ in all opportunities!
Grace and peace,
Bishop Mark J. Webb
UNY staff welcomes Betsy Schuessler
We extend a warm welcome to Betsy Schuessler who has been hired as Administrative Assistant to the director of Camp & Retreat Ministries. Betsy grew up as a camper at Aldersgate and served on summer staff ultimately filling the role of interim director from the fall of 2006 through the spring of 2009. She has continued to serve in a volunteer role for CRM many times throughout the year and is a regular participant at Family Life Weekend.
"It has been a joy to work with Betsy over the years" said Mike Huber, director of CRM. "I am pleased to have her as a full-time member of the team once again and know that she brings gifts and talents that will be a great asset to this ministry."
Betsy has settled in quickly to her new position stating "I'm so glad to have the opportunity to be part of the CRM team and am excited to support the ministry that has been integral in my faith journey and the transformation of so many lives over the years!"
When God takes over
September 5, 2017 / By The Rev. Gary Kubitz, First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville
Editor's Note: For the Summer 2017 issue of the Advocate, we asked members across the UNY Conference to share stories of when they have had to trust that God is enough. Rev. Gary Kubitz, of the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville, responded with a story. If you have a story of when you had to trust that God is enough, submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
During my first year in ministry, serving two small congregations, I found myself in the midst of an overwhelming situation. On the day of the Memorial Day parade, a young boy who was a part of my congregation was tragically killed in a freak accident during the parade. There are things that I saw that morning that will never leave my heart and mind. The ensuing week was one of the most difficult times of my ministry...and of my life.
The evening leading up to the funeral service was long. I didn't sleep...I tried to find the right words to speak to the large group that would gather the next day, only to keep stumbling over my emotions. The reality was that I didn't have the right words - that there were no words.
As I was greeting people as they entered the sanctuary for the service the next day, one of the members of my congregation stopped and asked me how I was doing. I looked at her and said, "I don't have the words." She squeezed my hand, smiled reassuringly, and continued on into the sanctuary. As the hymn was being sung between the scripture readings, I said a silent prayer, more of a desperate plea, "God, I can't do this—it's your turn."
I don't remember much of what I said during the message portion of that service and what I do recall is more from people recounting bits and pieces of it to me since that time. At the conclusion of the service, as those who had gathered together were leaving, the woman who had stopped and greeted me before the service stopped once again, gave me a hug, and said, "Those were the right words."
In my weakest and most desperate moment of ministry, I learned what may be the most valuable lesson that I will ever learn as a pastor - God is enough. God will supply the words, the strength, and the Spirit to carry us through the most trying times. The truth is that God is not only enough, but that there is more love, grace, and mercy in God than there is sin and brokenness in the world. God is enough...Amen...God is enough.
Carrying out my mission to help thousands in South Africa
August 29, 2017 / By Erma Mae Perkins, Zululand Hospice Partnership, Member Rush UMC
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of the Advocate; all article sin this issue were centered on the theme Trusting that God is Enough.
I have had an interest in the continent of Africa for as long as I can remember.
My friend Judy spent several terms as a nurse in Ethiopia. Judy adopted an abandoned child before returning to the U.S. When Patience, her adopted daughter, was 12, Judy planned to take her to visit her country and invited me to go along. It was an uncomfortable visit in many ways, but upon my return home, I had an intense desire to revisit Africa.
In 2002, I noticed an appeal for a team to teach Vacation Bible School in South Africa. The cost was $1,700— I applied and was accepted. I was a hospice nurse and hoped to connect with work with AIDS patients as the epidemic was much in the news. Our hosts in Johannesburg were protective of us and I did not encounter anyone in healthcare.
Upon my return to work in the U.S., I discovered my colleagues also had an interest in getting involved with HIV/AIDS in Africa. I received permission from the leadership of Lifetime Care Home Health and Hospice to apply for a partner hospice through Global Partners in Care. We were assigned to the Zululand Hospice Association (ZHA) in South Africa.
I went on two visits organized by the leadership of the organization. Then it relocated and there were no more trips to join. I knew if I was to go back, I would have to organize the visits and I lacked confidence.
However, the Lord continued to grow my concern for this mission. In 2006, I trusted that God was enough to support my planning the visit and providing the finances. I am currently preparing for my 14th trip in support of Zululand Hospice and an orphanage, Musa weNkosi.
The number of travelers has ranged from three to 13.In 2014, seven people from Rush UMC accompanied me to convert an abandoned chicken house into a kitchen and dining room for the orphanage.
We shop in South Africa at craft markets and bring items back to sell to raise funds. We have raised over $250,000. ZHA has four vehicles with the Lifetime Care logo on them. This has allowed the staff to grow in size and increase the areas in which they provide care where there is great need. Many patients live in hovels without running water or electricity. ZHA fills the “boot” of the cars with Morvite, a nutritional cereal as many patients don’t have food with which to take their medication. We take hundreds of pounds of medical supplies each year.
It is disheartening to see the living conditions, heart-rending to hear the stories of neglect and abuse, but heart-warming to see the dedication and hard work of the staff. Despite hot, humid conditions there during our winter, God is enough to strengthen the care workers every day. They sing and pray each morning before they are deployed.
When we return home, we carry the orphans, patients, and staff in our hearts and prayers.
Trevor Hudson writes, “In light of Jesus’ example and words, embarking along the compassionate way involves three primary tasks: becoming aware of those who suffer; being with them in their pain; and where appropriate, acting together with them for the sake of their greater wholeness.” A Mile in My Shoes
I am grateful God empowered me to trust that He is enough to provide everything I need to carry out this mission and share the opportunity with everyone who opens their hearts and bank accounts to Zululand Hospice and Musa weNkosi.
From the desk of Bishop Mark J. Webb: Flooding from Hurricane Harvey
August 29, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
(Editor’s note: On Monday, August 28, Bishop Mark J. Webb released the following letter about the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.)
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As you are aware, Hurricane Harvey continues to cause tremendous devastation to the greater Houston area, forcing thousands to evacuate. When the waters subside, many people will return to discover their homes and businesses have been destroyed. Rebuilding will take weeks, months, even years. I know you have been keeping these people in your prayers; I ask you to continue. And I ask you to allow God to make you part of the answer to these prayers.
I have been in conversation with Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference, and have reached out to Bishop Robert Schnase of the Rio Texas Conference assuring them of our prayers and to determine specific ways we can assist in the future, but right now there are two immediate material needs you and your congregation can meet:
- Invite your congregation to take up a special collection one Sunday in September. Announce to your people which Sunday you will do this and ask them to be especially generous. You may forward these funds to the Conference Office with a single check, made out to Upper New York Conference with FUND # 481 – “2017 Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief” on the memo line.
- Assemble Cleaning Kits (Flood Buckets) and bring these to the Mission Central Hub at the United Methodist Center. Click here for instructions.
In the future, Volunteers in Mission (VIM) will also be needed to help with the recovery. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will let us know when teams can be sent.
When I see the images of flooded homes and distraught people, my heart breaks, but I am reminded of God’s promise in Isaiah, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you,” (Isaiah 42:3).
God does not abandon, but stands with us in the midst of the wreckage and will enable the people to recover. We are called and privileged to be part of God’s presence and work in this. And so, I ask you to offer your prayers, your dollars, and your time.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Mark J. Webb
How the UMC is denouncing racism
As a response to the racist events that took place in Charlottesville, August 12-13, 2017, the UMC is taking action. Here are just a few of the ways the UMC has responded to what took place in Charlottesville, VA.
- They placed a full page ad in The New York Times and USA Today on Aug. 16. Together, these two papers reach about 2 million people.
- They developed several articles, which cover the incident but also provide help and guidance on various fronts.
- They created video ad spots on denouncing racism.
Visit their comprehensive landing page at UMC.org/EmbraceLove that provides up-to-date content on the response from across the church, including resources and helpful tips.
Also as a response to the Charlottesville attacks, more than 30 United Methodist Bishops have issued statements condemning racism. Many called on United Methodists to pray and stand against hatred of any kind. Click here to read the statements.
Overcoming the challenge of a part-time pastoral appointment
August 22, 2017 / By Lori Bruno-Taylor. Owl's Head UMC
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of the Advocate.
A pastor is called to serve God in all settings, at all times. Part-time does not change what we are called to do, it just challenges us to trust that God is enough when time, schedules, and resources do not appear to be enough. God has a way of teaching us to work as the Body of Christ with a congregational team.
The Owls Head UMC (OHUMC) team lives into the mission,“To live the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love to our neighbors in all places” with a relish and sincerity reminiscent of Romans 12. Here are words expressed by a variety of OHUMC members about just some of the many ministries at OHUMC and how they relate verses of Romans 12.
Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Playground (Tammy and Steve)
My husband and I were saddened by the dilapidated state of our local playground so we decided to take action. We reached out to OHUMC members who helped with the fundraiser and managed the funds. With this help, our community playground was brought back to life!
Summer Lunch Program distribution
Summer Lunch Program is a time to provide a meal to local children. Just to see the smiles on their faces when they walk into our church and receive their PB & J is priceless.
Romans 12:4-8:For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Community Garden (John W)
“Bit by bit…row by row…see how our community gardens grow!” Raised bed garden plots next to the Meeting House enable church folk and Owls Head community members to grow veggies and flowers for personal use and to share with others.
VBS (Cathie W)
In 2015, we were led to reach out to all the area children. We initiated a new vacation Bible school tradition. The joy of watching God create a team using our differing gifts added to children learning through song, story, and games delighted us all.
CCC -Costumes, Crafts and Cider; Caroling, Crafts and Cocoa; Clues, Crafts and Cookies – (Marcie R, Rick & Mary L)
These are three of the activities that we have for the children in our area. It’s just our way of teaching them that Jesus is the Reason for EVERY season even with a pumpkin prayer.
Romans 12:10-12: Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Gas/gift card, Christmas Family & Requested Prayer (Carter & Linda A)
Christmas and other times of giving are for people who might need a little extra help. Some people are less fortunate than us. Sometimes gas cards can help out.
Valentines to Nursing Home
It’s a joy to go on this day to bring a card of love. It means a lot for us to see the smiles on the resident’s faces at the Alice Center. Some of us used to work in a nursing home. Sometimes we’re their only family.
Romans 12:15-16: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.
Operation Christmas Child (Nancy H)
Everyone gets involved in this a labor of love; signing up to provide approved items, holding a church-wide packing party and labeling all of the shoe boxes. We have a Sending Forth ‘ceremony and pray over each and every shoe box before collection and Christmas delivery. This year, our Lay Leader challenged us to double our number of shoe boxes from 30 to 60.The challenge was exceeded. We packed and delivered 66 shoe boxes!
Romans 12:17-18 Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Little Lending Library
Owls Head’s Little Lending Library, built by one member with funds provided by another, stands at the roadside in front of our church. It delights us to see young and old, afoot or by vehicle choosing books. There’s no expectation that books must be returned.
Love in action is the gift of the Holy Spirit among us. With that understanding Owls Head not only trusts that God is enough, we are amazed with the abundance found in the Body of Christ.
Love, Grow, Serve, The story of Centerpoint Christian Fellowship
Editor's Notw: This article was previously published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Advocate, which had the theme of Trusting that God is enough.
The story of Centerpoint Christian Fellowship (CCF) in the Mohawk District showcases how a New Faith Community becomes a success by trusting that God is enough.
Starting in 2008-2009, the initial meetings of CCF took place from at the old Trenton Town Hall in Barneveld, NY. They quickly realized that they needed much more space for worship, study, fellowship, and outreach. God provided means necessary to acquire a commercial building and adjoining 50 acres. Half of the 13,000 sq. ft. building space would be converted into a sanctuary, Sunday school rooms, and office space comprising two floors, and the other half of the space would continue to be leased out to the existing tenants in the building, including a dance studio and a dog-grooming business.
In July 2013, Pastor Wayne Clemens was appointed to Centerpoint Christian Fellowship and tremendous growth soon followed; attendance has more than tripled with over 100 worshippers at two Sunday morning services.This was made possible through an extremely active leadership team that Wayne developed using the Next Step sessions, which help members determine their spiritual gifts (learn more about Next Step in Volume 8, Issue 1 of the Advocate, pages 26-27).
The leadership team is comprised of Lay Leader, Barb Mezzanini; Hospitality Team Leader, Rebecca Simpson; Discipleship Team Leader, Don Simpson; Social Media Minister, Jeremy Swanson; and Children’s Ministry Coordinator, Kathy Peters.
Each of these team members described how they became members of CCF and much of it has to do with Wayne and his loving, non-judging, non-pressuring acceptance.
Barb has been a member of CCF for a year and a half. She became a member because of a large community event CCF hosts in the summer, called Music Fest. She said,“I planned to go and check out Music Fest and I stayed the whole day, became a member of the church, and never looked back! You can feel the spirit moving here and Wayne is just so welcoming. He’s definitely a servant of God.”
Kathy has also been a member of CCF for a year and a half. She had worked at a Christian bookstore that Wayne frequented often. Wayne said, “I prayed daily for Kathy to fill the void we had in children’s ministry. Then, she called me one day telling me that she needed to be a part of CCF’s children ministry.” Wayne had never mentioned the void to Kathy; she heard God’s call. Kathy said, “And now we see the fruit. When I started, there were about 6-8 kids; now, we have about 25.”
Don and Rebecca are husband and wife. Don first came to CCF two-and-a-half years ago for a men’s bible study that included several men from many different churches and backgrounds. Then, he started going on nature trail walks with Wayne. He said,“Never once did Wayne ask me to go to church.” Soon after, Don encouraged his wife and children to attend the church.
Rebecca has a natural gift of hospitality and she has the beaming, positive attitude that one would expect of a hospitality leader. She said, “I love making sure our guests enjoy their experience here and are excited to come back.” First-time guests receive a stainless steel coffee travel mug, with goodies inside, including a Dunkin Donut gift card.
Wayne said, “We go out of our way to provide radical hospitality for our guests.” He explains that he refers to them as guests and does not use the “v” word (visitors) because visitors are thought of as people who stop by for a short period of time, whereas guests are those that are very important to you; they are those that you take out the fine china for.
Jeremy has been a member of CCF for two years. He said, “I need to feel accepted because, here I am a guy with all these tattoos. The first-time, I came in a nice button-down shirt and I was immediately accepted. The next weekend, I came in a t-shirt and ripped -up shorts and was just as accepted. I can fully be myself here.”
The ambience inside Centerpoint Christian Fellowship is just as welcoming as the members. Like God’s open arms, walls were literally taken down inside CCF to create a wide-open space, with the sanctuary and a fellowship area combined together. One side has rows of chairs that can seat 120 people and the pulpit; next to that is an area that has a counter for coffee and treats, with tables and chairs to join others in fellowship.
The grounds reflect God’s beautiful creation, with a 1.25 mile nature trail, meandering through a wooded area—the perfect place for prayer and reflection. There is a space for fellowship outdoors as well with a pavilion that was constructed in 2014.
Wayne plays the acoustic guitar for the church’s praise band and his powerful, amazing voice displays the Spirit of God, in contemporary songs like God is on the Move.
God most definitely is on the move at Centerpoint Christian Fellowship.This is why in In March of 2015 CenterPoint was officially incorporated, and at the Upper New York Annual Conference in June of 2016, CenterPoint became officially chartered.The church successfully fulfils its mission to
Love... God & others
Grow… together in community
Serve… our neighbors & the world.
What to expect at the 2017-2018 District Days
August 18, 2017 / By
Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb will be visiting each of the Districts in the Upper New York Conference during his 2017-2018 District Days tour. The theme of the tour will be “A Way Forward.”
This year’s District Days is set up in such a way that will facilitate active discussion.
In each District, conversations will be had in small groups based on questions originating with the United Methodists Commission on a Way Forward, which is a group of laity and clergy from across our global church that was gathered together by the Council of Bishops to work on the issues related to human sexuality which arose from the 2016 General Conference.
The goal of these conversations is not to reach a consensus on the answers to the questions, but rather to record an array of thoughts and ideas to send to the Commission. In the words of the Conference’s Human Sexuality Task Force who have designed the day, “we will discuss the United Methodist Church, and what changes we might need to make, to make it more like God wants us to be.”
The schedule for the 2017-2018 District Days is as follows, all of which will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m.:
- Mountain View – 9/7 @ Avoca UMC
- Cornerstone -9/17 @ Christ First, Jamestown
- Finger Lakes - 9/26 @ Auburn UMC
- Niagara Frontier – 10/3 @ Harris Hill UMC
- Albany – 10/5 @ Shenendehowa UMC
- Adirondack – 10/19 @ Queensbury UMC
- Oneonta – 10/30 @ Unadilla UMC
- Northern Flow – 11/16 @ Canton UMC
- Mohawk – 2/13/18 @ Sherrill: Christ Church
- Binghamton – 3/1/18 @ Endwell UMC
- Crossroads – 3/5/18 @ The United Methodist Center
- Genesee Valley – 3/19/18 @Farmington UMC
Rowing toward shore after my husband’s death
August 15, 2017 / By By Jan Rothfuss
My husband’s death was not completely unexpected but I was holding on to the thought that we would be together a while longer. After all, he had survived his initial bought with cancer in 2013 and 2014 was a great year, including the birth of our first grandchild and a road trip together out to Colorado.
But in June of 2015, he was called home. While I had experienced the death of grandparents and parents, what I felt during these days was quite different. I did not understand the depth of emotions that would come over me at unexpected moments. We were both fishers and it seemed that the image to describe my turmoil was described best as ten foot waves repeatedly crashing over me.
I do not remember very much about the first six months. I do remember thinking that I now understood the purpose behind committing Bible verses to memory – writing them on one’s heart. During these times of true heartache, those words moved in through the cracks and provided comfort. I still had trouble putting my scattered thoughts into words; so much of my time with God was silent. This provided many opportunities for God to speak and for me to listen.
Early in 2016, I continued to struggle with my innate need to do something. I was beginning to feel a slight degree of control over my emotions. I came across a suggestion that I could hold on to: Pray to God….But Row toward Shore. It suggested to me what I already knew deep down. That God is faithful and patient and that God wanted me to begin my journey afresh as I moved toward my new normal. But it also appealed to my internal drive to do something instead of just stand by and wait for something to happen.
I moved through the months toward the one year anniversary trying to rebuild while continuing to listen. I joined our UMC church’s GriefShare group which placed me into a caring community of persons who were traveling a similar path. I continued to spend time with my son and his family, enjoying the love that is uniquely shared between a grandmother and grandson.
As June arrived, I began to feel that I was getting closer to shore. It was around this time that I came to a realization that would impact the rest of the journey. I realized that my boat was not empty. Now I know that God was there with me all along. Trusting God is enough.
Laity District Days locations announced
August 14, 2017 / By
Bishop Mark J. Webb has announced the following dates for the District Days with the Bishop coming in the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018. Locations for the event have now been confirmed for each District as follows:
- Mountain View – 9/7 @ Avoca UMC
- Cornerstone -9/17 @ Christ First, Jamestown
- Finger Lakes - 9/26 @ Seneca Falls UMC
- Niagara Frontier – 10/3 @ Harris Hill UMC
- Albany – 10/5 @ Shenendehowa UMC
- Adirondack – 10/19 @ Queensbury UMC
- Oneonta – 10/30 @ Unadilla UMC
- Northern Flow – 11/16 @ Canton UMC
- Mohawk – 2/13/18 @ Sherrill: Christ Church
- Binghamton – 3/1/18 @ Endwell UMC
- Crossroads – 3/5/18 @ The United Methodist Center
- Genesee Valley – 3/19/18 @Farmington UMC
Each event will take place from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Stay tuned for more details on what to expect at the District Days.
Vital Congregations opportunities this fall
August 14, 2017 / By UNY Communications
There is still time to register for the fall opportunities from Vital Congregations. In reaching toward our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, all of us will need to continue to grow in our capacity as leaders. Our current understandings will limit our ability to live into our vision of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and being God’s love with our neighbors in all places. The following opportunities are available starting this fall:
Built around the 16 Competencies of Leadership, the academy is a series of four gatherings, with a capstone trip. This year our faculty includes, Dr. Rebecca Letterman from Northeast Seminary, Rev. Jasmine Smothers pastor at Atlanta First UMC, Dr. Kevin Watson from Candler School of Theology, and Dr. Douglas Powe Jr. from The Lewis Center for Church Leadership. There will also be time of hearing from practitioners in the field, as well as case studies from peers. Please note a change from original information, the first session, September 12-14 will be at Casowasco Camp and Retreat Center, the remaining sessions will be held in Syracuse at the United Methodist Center. Hotel accommodations are included in the registration. Registration deadline is September 2, 2017.
Click here to register.
Illuminate Preaching Academy
Every preacher, regardless of current ability, can grow in the art and craft of preaching. Illuminate Preaching Academy is designed around the Characteristics of the Bright Spot Preacher. Through guest faculty, peer feedback, and mentoring, participants will develop their preaching style more fully, as well as explore additional styles. Laity from participating congregations have reported an increase in the quality and application of their sermons. Illuminate will help a good preacher move toward being a great preacher. This year’s faculty includes, Rev. Jacob Armstrong from Providence Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee and Rev. Dr. Stephen Cady from Asbury First UMC in Rochester, NY. There will also be teaching times from peers, and preaching labs where learning will happen from feedback loops. Please note a change in location, all sessions will take place at the United Methodist Center in Liverpool. Hotel accommodations are included in the registration. Registration deadline is September 13, 2017.
Click here to register.
Tending the Fire
Human systems are complicated and churches are no exception. At their best, they draw out excellence in their people. At their worst, they become stuck --undermining and sabotaging even the most well-designed plans for change. Tending the Fire helps clergy “think systems” in their congregations and their personal lives, so they can lead change that lasts.
- Understand anxiety’s effects on churches and individuals
- Be a healthy, non-anxious leader
- Manage complicated emotional relationships
- Avoid overwork and “underwork”
- Recognize and handle sabotage
- Discover the “next right steps” for their churches and themselves
Registration Deadline is September 15, 2017.
Click here to register.
From Spiritual Life in Vital Congregations:
In the ever-increasing noise, busyness and distraction of our world, do you sense a desire to spend more time with God but aren’t sure that you know how? Have you been wondering…
“Where is God in all of this?”
“How do I know what God wants me to do?”
“How can I learn to hear God’s 'still small voice' in my life?"
The Upper New York Conference is offering two programs, Growing with God and Tending the Soul, for both laity and clergy that can help. These programs are designed to strengthen individuals and congregations through spiritual formation and to enhance the spiritual growth of congregations.
Growing with God
Growing with God is a program designed to help Christians who are seeking to deepen their relationship with God and who are in search of his presence and activity in their everyday lives. It is a series of 8 mini-retreats, just one day each from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., where you will learn prayer practices and spiritual disciplines, which are activities that you can practice daily to help you quiet your soul and focus your attention on God. You can incorporate one or more of these disciplines in your life at different times to help you notice how the Spirit is calling and guiding you. Growing with God sessions are once a month beginning on Saturday September 9. Sign up today for the one in your local area – Syracuse, Saratoga, or Rochester. The deadline is September 1. CEU-1
Click here to register and learn more information.
Tending the Soul
Tending the Soul is designed for individuals who have begun to incorporate spiritual disciplines in their daily lives and are seeking to deepen their spiritual lives; individuals who are seeking to learn to companion others (in both one-on-one relationships and congregational settings) and help others pay attention to the God moments and movements in their lives. As we walk alongside one another in discerning God’s deep desire for us and for others, we are better able to hear God’s invitation for our lives and our ministries. This program is a series of six retreats, four days each, over two years. The retreats offer learning and formational experiences in classroom settings, small groups and personal reflection. The first retreat is scheduled for October 23-26. The deadline is September 8th. CEU-12
Click here to register and to learn more information.
Pre-retirement Seminar scheduled for Sept. 25
There will be a Pre-Retirement Seminar held in September to highlight and explain the benefits available through The United Methodist Church to retiring clergy. This seminar is intended to assist persons in their later years of ministry understand the current pension plan, health insurance options, Social Security, and moving assistance available. ONLINE REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED, as we will provide clergy-specific retirement projections, and also need to plan for lunch.
Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Upper New York United Methodist Center, 7481 Henry Clay Blvd., Liverpool, NY 13088
The deadline to register is Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. Click here to register and for more information.
God’s strength throughout my life
August 14, 2017 / By Rev. Rhonda Kouterick, Horseheads UMC
When have I had to trust that God is enough? When haven't I? And when haven't you? Here are some times throughout my life when I have trusted that God is enough:
- It was when I went off to seminary with a sleeping bag and $75 in my pocket with no guaranteed place to stay and thinking I could buy what books I needed for the semester; The housing person yelled at me then found me a room, but only if the others there agreed; And in my mailbox was notification of a book award that paid for the year's books before I even discovered how outrageously expensive they were.
- It was in Texas doing a year long stint of Clinical Pastoral Education at the Austin State Hospital completely broke, not able to even make my car payment and at the chapel service I was in charge of, the patient choir sang "It Took Me So Long, So Long but I Learned to Trust the Lord."
- It was during the last month of seminary classes when the world stopped when I found out that my husband, Lon, had testicular cancer and needed surgery immediately. We only had health insurance because he was working on the Drew cam- pus as a custodian in the Science Building. His supervisor, an Asian refugee Christian, came to pray over him.
- It was when I was on my way to be introduced to the people at my first appointment and feeling totally inadequate and the DS handed me a list of what the people were looking for and I realized they were looking for me. "I can do those things" I said; and the DS laughed.
- It was during the second year of my second appointment at Thanksgiving, when with a 10th grader, a 1st grader, and a 3-year-old, we found out that my husband would need brain surgery. It was over Christmas; everybody from everywhere sent prayers and words of support. My sister from Florida was able to come and be with the children so I could go to Strong in Rochester and not worry.
- It was the next year, a few months after my husband’s second brain tumor surgery, juggling full-time pastor with everything else and in prayer, God let me know "I'm with you, it will be okay." And so it has been, every year, every time.
When I was at my wits end with one of the kids, with the church, with health issues, every year, every time, and even early morning this past Christmas Eve when my husband, surrounded by family passed away after a long courageous battle with cancer, God is enough. God's strength is enough to get me through the deep water and to the other side.
Upper New York Conference offers a grant through The Trust Agreement of the late Ercil Cady
August 14, 2017 / By UNY Communications
The Cady Grant is available to UNY individual United Methodists, local UM churches, or District and Conference ministry teams. Priority shall be given to educational proposals that benefit African Americans or Native Americans. This year's applications are due August 21, 2017 with notification by September 1, 2017.
The proposal must demonstrate:
1. The education/ministry/program/event is faith based.
2. A direct benefit for an African American or Native American person or persons in need.
3. A need for education/ministry/program/ or event.
4. An itemized expense report (if appropriate).
Applications must be typewritten/word processed with no more than three pages (cover sheet, one page proposal, and financial report if appropriate). Faxes and email proposals are permitted.
Proposals are to be submitted to the Cady Grant Review Team, Upper New York Conference, Director of Connectional Ministries at 7481 Henry Clay Blvd., Liverpool, NY 13088. Fax: (315-898-2198). Email: email@example.com
Conference website status
As we are sure you have noticed, we’ve had some significant issues with the Conference website over the last week or so.
The good news is that we have a restored version of the Conference website that we can work with.
The bad news is that several months updates, changes, and additions to the website were lost in the process.
What this means is we are having to manually go in and recreate the work that was lost. Our hope is that we will have the majority of the information restored this week.
We appreciate your patience as we work to get our site fully restored. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Director of Communications, Steve Hustedt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the desk of Bishop Mark J. Webb: Response to Charlottesville
August 14, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
Bishop Mark Webb has shared the following Response to Charlottesville:
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Having just returned this morning from some time away with limited access to news, my heart breaks upon reading the reports of what occurred in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday, August 12th. This is evil fully manifested. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we must stand strongly against this kind of hate and racism. I urge you to pray and continue to seek ways to be the hands and feet of Christ. Through your actions and your words boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
This is a spiritual matter, plain and simple. May we remember that Christ calls us to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin. Christ calls us to accept the freedom and power God gives to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. And Christ calls us to confess him as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as Lord, in union with the church which he has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.
Let us confidently offer the light of Christ, as it alone will pierce the darkness within our world.
Grace and peace,
Bishop Mark J. Webb
Register now for Sept. 15-16 Annual UMM Gathering
This year's UMM's Annual Gathering at Casowasco Camp & Retreat Center takes place on Sept. 15-16. With the theme Revival, the Rev. Mark Lubbock is the keynote speaker and exciting music will be performed by Mark Jones and Eric Schele.
Rev. Lubbock is the CEO of the non-profit men's ministry "Gulf South Men" headquartered in Baton Rouge, LA, serving Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Gulf South Men supports churches and men's groups in making disciples of Jesus through coaching, events training, studies, and small group formation.
2017 UNY Conference Journal Directory now available for purchase
The 2017 Upper New York Conference Journal Directory is now available. This directory contains up-to-date contact information of all UNY churches, clergy, members to Annual Conference, and surviving spouses for the 2017 Upper New York Annual Conference Session. There are two ways to receive the Journal Directory:
If you order directly from Lulu.com, you can have it delivered to the address of your choice (Note: You will need a major credit card to place an order). A hard copy of the Journal Directory costs $5.54 plus tax and shipping.
Vol. 2 of the Journal will be available later this fall. Vol. 1 of the Journal (published last spring), the Journal Directory, and Vol. 2 of the Journal will make up the entirety of the 2017 Journal. These can be found on the Journals webpage found here.
Southern Sudan Health Project: Saving lives with health education
Editor’s Note: This is a story of the Southern Sudan Health Project, a project that resulted from collaboration between United Methodist Churches in Central New York and the Lost Boys (Read about one of them here). The Lost Boys are a group of refugees from Southern Sudan, many who were granted help to resettle in the United States between 2000 and 2001. When this project started in 2005, Southern Sudan was part of Sudan. In 2011, the Southern region was granted independence and became known as South Sudan. For purposes of consistency, the area where this project started will be referred to as South Sudan.
In 2005, one of the Lost Boys who resettled in Syracuse, NY, Dut Deng, approached the Rev. Bradford Hunt at Andrews Memorial United Methodist Church and said “Do you think we can create a health clinic in Southern Sudan?” Rev. Hunt loved the idea and broached it to other United Methodist Churches in Central New York (CNY). Before long, a committee was created to get this idea off the ground with members from several United Methodist Churches in CNY, including: Andrews Memorial UMC, Geneva First UMC, Erwin UMC, Sandy Creek UMC, St. Paul’s UMC, James Street UMC, Fayetteville UMC, and eventually Journey of Faith UMC, and Faith Journey UMC (these two churches had not been formed yet).
Soon, added help came from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, who informed the group that the idea was great, but that healthcare clinics would be too expensive to run; however, they said a community-based health care system could work and suggested they try that.
This idea came to fruition in ways no one could imagine is possible in what is now known as the Southern Sudan Health Project. This project has helped improve the lives of thousands of Southern Sudanese and has even helped save lives. All this became true by trusting God is enough.
In 2008, a group of three CNY United Methodists (Jan Whitter from Sandy Creek United Methodist Church, Nancy Williams of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, and Mark Fullerton of James Street UMC) and two Lost Boys went to South Sudan.
Majer Kuon was in South Sudan at the time and helped make connections.
Nancy likened the conditions to TV commercials you may have seen produced by World Vision or a similar organization that seek aid to help feed children in Africa. She said, “Most of the children would have flies on their faces and nothing to wipe away their runny noses and eyes. A lot of children had distended abdomens from malnutrition. There were no latrines or anything like that. We saw villagers bathing and gathering drinking water in the Nile River at the same time cattle crossed and they just didn’t understand how this worked against their health.”
Witnessing the conditions first-hand, the CNY United Methodists were passionate about helping to resolve the problems they saw and they went about it very systematically.
Jan said, “We had questionnaires made out to do a survey; we met with a lot of people including the governor and county health officials, clinics, and more. We did a lot of touring. We wanted to find out the needs and resources. We learned that there were very little resources and a lot of needs.”
The group learned that 85 percent of the health ailments people suffered from could be cared for without a doctor. Most of these conditions were also preventable. The causes of most of the problems were related to improper hygiene and/or lack of education on how to care for the problems, which mainly included: malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory problems.
Nancy said that the approach that the CNY United Methodists had with the help of the Lost Boys was to, “train village people to provide these (needed) services…not to just go in and do the work ourselves. It was to educate and empower from the village level. We felt our role was to provide the resources and then allow the local people to take over. That jived completely with what the government was looking for at that time.”
Learning a lot from the first trip to South Sudan, Jan and Nancy and two Lost Boys returned again in 2009 and a third team went in 2010. During these trips, it was determined by the government, local healthcare officials, and an NGO (Interfaith Medical Assistance (IMA)) that Malek would be the perfect place to implement the Southern Sudan Healthcare Project.
Malek is a village, not like a village in the United States. It is a very spread-out area with four main territories. It borders the nearby city of Bor, which has a hospital in the event a serious emergency occurs. It was determined by elders in each community that eight healthcare workers would be hired, one woman and one man for each of the four territories.
These eight workers have done amazing things. They are funded by Upper New York Churches, each earning $100 a month, which goes a long way in South Sudan. In addition to the $800 spent to pay the healthcare workers, an additional $700 each month is used to support a liaison to the workers (Majer at one point and now that Majer is in the United States, a young man by the name of Nhial Kuol (who is referred to as Abraham) is now the liaison) and to also buy supplies.
The Bor County health supervisor, Paul Riak, serves as a supervisor for the workers as well.
Nancy said, “Those eight workers go beyond anything I could ever imagine to be people who serve one another. They serve over 1,000 people each month. They keep records that help us track data, which will help us get grants.
The workers are serious about their jobs; they have decreased the amount of preventable health problems; they have educated women’s groups, mothers, children, entire villages.”
Nancy shares a story of just how meaningful the group of healthcare workers is to the community, “One story was about a woman that was unable to conceive because she was sick; our healthcare workers helped her. She left during the conflict and came back a few years later with a child. She ended up being able to conceive! She named her child
Nyang, which meant healthcare worker in the Dinka language (spoken by the Southern Sudanese) because she was so grateful.”
Rev. Hunt shares another story of how committed these healthcare workers are. He said, “One of the best stories I know about these workers is that when the war broke out (again) in Sudan in 2013, we lost contact with all of our home healthcare providers. Malek was ground zero of the war zone and what we later learned is that the home healthcare workers had to evacuate and they went to refugee camps. We didn’t hear from them for three or four months. When we finally heard from them four months later, they were wondering where their pay was because they continued working in the refugee camps! Because it is a community-based healthcare program, it goes to where the people go; it’s not based on a particular location. It’s based on the people working together so when they went to the refugee camps, they just kept on working.”
Nancy also shares how amazing Majer and Abraham have been as liaisons; she said,“Both of those guys have been incredible, on-the-ground, upfront help for this project and their hearts are in this project as well.”
While the CNY United Methodists were in Malek, they also worshipped God with the villagers in the larger city of Bor.
Nancy described this powerful experience, “There is a metal building in Bor that people worship in; that was their church. You could see holes in the roof where the sunlight was coming through. Mayol (a Lost Boy) said, ‘Those are bullet holes from the conflict when we were little boys.’
It was so powerful to see all of us with the same belief system, all of us knowing what our roles are here. Jesus’s commandments of putting God first and loving one another are so evident among these people. I’ve never seen quite the extension; you are responsible for everybody. That’s a piece of Christianity that was very touching to me. All we kept feeling and thinking was peace.”
The Southern Sudan Health Project is successful because the people follow Jesus’s commandments and trust that God is enough. He is enough despite the wars and conflict against them. He is enough despite their lack of resources.
According to Nancy, “This is a group of people who trust in God completely; they have so little materially, but so much spiritually.”
How God provided for Lost Boy Majer Kuon
Today’s headlines about South Sudan provide a glimpse of the struggles that the Southern Sudanese people face today. Civil war casualties. Famine. Attacks on aid workers.
South Sudan (which was a part of Sudan until 2011) has a long history of struggle.
Colonized by the British in the 1940s, Sudan became independent in 1956. However, conflict immediately grew between the Northern part of Sudan (and the Sudanese government) and the Southern part of Sudan (considered the rebels).The Northern part of Sudan was Muslim. The Southern part of Sudan was not and did not want to follow Islamic rules. This civil war lasted until 1972, which ended with the Addis Ababa Agreement, granting those in Southern Sudan much more autonomy.
A second civil war erupted in 1983 due to this law, for example, children could not be schooled if they were not Muslim).
The Northern Sudanese army was much more powerful than the Southern rebels; they started taking control over the South and inducting many of the rebels to become part of their army. Southern Sudanese civilians were killed daily by Northern planes dropping bombs
In 1987, over 16,000 young boys, between the ages of 7 and 14, fled Southern Sudan by foot to escape death or induction into the Northern Sudan army. Those that survived became known as the Lost Boys.
Majer Kuon, from the Bor area of Southern Sudan, was one of the Lost Boys. These boys walked over 1,000 miles in and out of war zones until they reached Ethiopia 35 days later. Many died of dehydration, exhaustion, and other causes.
Speaking of the dire conditions of the journey, Majer said, “There were times with no water. We would try to eat wild fruit from trees along the road, but you are not thinking of eating…you are thinking not to die; so you just go the direction that you do not hear gunshots. We saw many die and we buried them, and kept going. A lot of boys also drowned in the river crossing because they couldn’t swim.”
The Lost Boys settled in a refugee camp in Pinyidu, Ethiopia, but they were forced to leave in 1991 because the newly elected Ethiopian government was an ally to North Sudan.They threatened using force to kick the Southern Sudanese children out of Ethiopia so the Lost Boys fled once again.
This time, thousands more died—many from starvation. Fleeing gun shots, many jumped in the river and drowned or were attacked by alligators.
Those who survived moved to South Sudan and stayed along the border, continually walking south to Kenya, a journey that lasted from May of 1991 to August of 1992. Along their journey, the Red Cross dropped food from planes and had a truck that came to supply water for the boys.
Once in Kenya, they settled in the Kakuma Camp. The camp, monitored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was a blessing that began drastically improving the lives of the Lost Boys. Majer said,“Kakuma became our home for a long time. That’s where we went to school. Here, many organizations affiliated with the UN came to help and supply food for us.”
The Church was very central to the lives of the Lost Boys in Kenya. Majer said, “Sundays could not come soon enough. It is in Kenya where my wisdom about God’s power kicked in. Before coming to Kenya, when I reflected on the journey we took from South Sudan to Ethiopia and then Ethiopia to Kenya, I thought my survival was fate, but in Kenya, I came to realize that there is something bigger that protected so many of us from death. Faith became strong amongst my whole community in Kenya. We trusted in God.”
Because the war waged on in Sudan the UNHCR determined that family unification for the Lost Boys was not a viable option. They contacted the United States Government about relocating some of the boys to the U.S. and the U.S. agreed. The UNHCR recommended around 4,500 of them for resettlement in the United States starting in 2000.
Majer explains the selection process, “The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) brought a lawyer and interviewed us. Bit by bit, some of us qualified. There was a board where they would post the names of people who were going. I saw my name there in December of 2000, learning that I would be going to the United States in 2001.”
After several flights, Majer arrived in Syracuse, NY. A group of Methodist churches helped make his arrangements and stay comfortable. He said “I was filled with excitement! After all I went through; here I was in an apartment where I could have light 24/7. And I was crazy about education; I earned a Bachelor’s Degree at Binghamton University.”
Majer said, “The Christians here care about people that they don’t even know; they do it without anyone even asking. They do it because of their faith; because they trust that God is enough.”
Editor’s Note: Major returned to Sudan in 2007, during a time when there was peace, to help his father who had fallen sick. While Majer was back in South Sudan, he connected with Upper New York United Methodists to help form the Southern Sudan Health Project, Majer Kuon’s father passed away in 2016. Civil war between tribes in South Sudan also began in 2013; thousands have been killed. Majer is now back in Syracuse for medical treatment for arthritis.
Faith is not enough
July 26, 2017 / By Sherie Heins, Trinity Federated Church
Growing up in rural New York State, I was part of what I always thought of as a typical family in a typical home environment. We ate dinner around the table each night; we said our bedtime prayers; we attended church and Sunday school and joined the church when we were of age, growing into a faith-based life. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how many families do not have that bedrock.
It served me well, as two of my brothers died at young ages before I had turned 14. I looked to Mom – as she held the family together – and I knew it was her faith that was holding her together. So faith always seemed to “be enough” as I grew into adulthood, gained independence, and started my own family.
The years went by and my family grew into three grandchildren as well as my two children, and they, too, grew into that much-loved and handed-down faith. And still that faith seemed to be enough…getting us through the tough times families face – mental illness, death of my husband at a young age, financial problems.
And then, in February of this year, my 11-year old granddaughter, Maddie, died totally unexpectedly, leaving a gaping, raw hole in my faith. Suddenly, faith didn’t seem enough. It wasn’t explaining anything; it wasn’t easing the loss; it wasn’t fixing a thing. In fact, I questioned my faith, and my God, and the good that could possibly come from this devastating loss. There is no magical formula in “having faith” that makes everything better or takes that grief away.
Early on in our grieving, I said to my son, Tad (amazingly good single-father of just this one child now gone), “I want to love God again. I don’t like being mad at him.” My son looked at me, smiled through his heartache, and said, “Mom weren’t you ever mad at your Mom and Dad? When they did something you didn’t see any reason for and couldn’t understand, it made you mad at them, but you didn’t stop loving them. It’s just like that with God. You’re mad now, but you still love him.”
At that moment, humbled by my son, I felt the full impact of what I’d been doing. I’d been leaning on my faith as a quick-fix…a Band-Aid, if you will, to ease the pain I was feeling. What I wasn’t doing was trusting that God is enough. Certainly, my faith felt stretched at that point in time, and wasn’t providing the usual amount of comfort a familiarity. My faith was stretched beyond my ab to recognize it as faith, but in that one sentence my son reminded me that my faith is still there, its bright light still shining, just waiting for me to come back to it. Just waiting for me to realize t when its light doesn’t seem to shine so brightly for me, that is exactly when I need to trust that God is enough. And in doing so, my faith will snap back into shape – perhaps a different shape, but likely stronger and brighter.
My visit to the Holy Land Trip Article 1 of 3
July 26, 2017 / By Theresa Eggleston
My husband and I were driving in the car one day and we decided to name our bucket list items. “You know one place I really want to go, but I don’t think it would ever happen?” “Where?” My husband replied. I paused mentally preparing myself to not gain any hope, “I really want to go to the Holy Land.” I paused again hearing my parents in my head, “It’s dangerous over there.” I recalled being 13, watching the news hearing about the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict; bombs went off, protests ran through the streets, and people died. I continue to speak to my husband, “I want to go just to…just to experience it. I know there may never be peace in the Middle East while I’m alive and it may never be ‘really safe’ but I want to go, just to experience it and walk where Jesus walked.” My husband looked at me and shrugged, understanding where I was coming from, “Yeah that would be pretty cool.” “It would cost a lot, and we may never be able to afford a trip like that for one person,” I said. I sighed, looked out the window of the car and thought, “Who am I kidding, I don’t think I’ll visit the Holy Land, I’ve never even left the country. Even if I could afford it, it wouldn’t be till I’m retired.” I let out an audible sigh, my husband rubbed my knee.
Little did I know that a God was making plans for me to travel to the Holy Land. A few weeks after our car conversation, I received a message from the United Methodist Young People’s Ministry base out of Nashville, Tennessee. They were offering me a fully paid trip to visit The Holy Land. All I had to do was provide my own Air Fare. “Was this real?” I thought.
Within days I confirmed my spot on the trip, renewed my passport, asked churches for financial support and booked a flight to the Holy Land. I was elated, scared, and ready to trust God’s plan.
The goal of the trip was to bring young leaders together from around the globe to connect and gain a better understanding of the Israeli, Palestinian conflict.
All of us were ages 20-35; we gathered from around the world: United States, Philippines, Germany, South Africa, Ireland, Serbia, and Norway. Tour guides across the Holy Land raised their eyebrows to see our age and hear that we were from all over the globe. ‘You mean you’re a group of young Christians from around the world?’ “Yes,” we all would politely smile and nod.
We followed the life of Jesus from his birthplace in Bethlehem, to his ministry in Tiberius, and finally set forth to Jerusalem. We walked on the ground Jesus walked and sailed upon the Sea of Galilee where his disciples fished. We heard the stories of ancient ruins and trials of the souls who dwell in the land today. We sat inside the walls of a refugee camp and listened to heart break of the Palestinian people. We sat around a circle in Jerusalem and listened to the story of a Rabbi sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. We became friends with one another; we became family with one another.
This trip changed my life. It changed the way I see The Holy Land, the way I read the Bible, the way I view conflict, and the way I listen to the story of refugees. It has changed the way I hear God’s story and it will forever change the way I tell God’s story.
Faith Journey UMC learns about hardship in Vietnam
Editor’s Note: The names of the two Vietnamese women who spoke at Faith Journey United Methodist Church have been changed and their photos have been blurred to protect their identity.
On July 16, Faith Journey United Methodist Church in Clay, NY welcomed two special guest speakers. Grace, a 35-year old Vietnamese woman and Faith, a 17-year old Vietnamese girl have been pouring forth supreme love and dedication toward improving the lives of the poor in Vietnam’s mountainside and protecting girls from the sex trade.
Grace and Faith represented a non-profit organization called One Hope for Vietnam, which Grace founded in 2010. They shared their stories, a collection was taken for their organization, and beautiful Vietnamese hand-made purses and cards were available for the congregation to purchase as an additional means to help support One Hope for Vietnam.
At the age of seven, Grace and her family (including her mother and eight siblings) moved to the North State Street area in the city of Syracuse as Vietnamese refugees. Her childhood was stricken with poverty and hardship. Eventually, her mother earned enough of an income to move her family to Liverpool, NY, in a safer neighborhood. Grace exceled at her studies and ended up graduating from Syracuse University and then went on to work for Syracuse University. She had achieved what she worked so hard for, the American Dream! She owned her own home and drove a fancy car. But, she was not happy; she felt empty. That is until she was introduced to Jesus when she was 26.
Grace said, “A sister at Syracuse University introduced me to the Gospel and I embraced Jesus with all my heart. I experienced a real transformation. Since meeting Jesus, there is this peace within me that surpasses all understanding. I cultivated a heart of service, especially for my Vietnamese girls.”
After a year and a half of developing a relationship with Jesus, Grace felt prompted to go home to Vietnam and serve the poorest of the poor. She sold all of her possessions and bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam. She said, “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew Jesus would be by my side.”
Since then, One Hope for Vietnam was born. This non-profit organization represents many amazing ministries that Grace has created for those living in P.Y., the poorest province of Vietnam.
Grace started Hope Kindergarten to help poor children in Vietnam.
She also invested in a cassava plantation to help with community development.
Grace works with orphans and widows, helping to feed them physically and spiritually.
Every Christmas, Grace delivers food and gift baskets to families in need. Love is expressed in a very practical way.
One of Grace’s most amazing ministries is the café she created called HOPE House, which provides employment for high-risk girls who may otherwise become victim to sex trafficking. By working at the café, these girls become empowered and develop a high self-esteem by learning the Good News.
Grace met Faith when she was 12 years old; Faith is now 17 and is a devoted disciple of Jesus. She is filled with joy and generosity and loves sharing the Gospel.
In front of the crowd at Faith Journey, Faith said, “I have only known English for six months so if I make mistakes, please forgive me.” In perfect English, Faith went on to tell the story of growing up in a very poor family in Vietnam without a mother and an alcoholic father. She met Grace in 2010; she said. “My life as a child was miserable; I had no love and didn’t feel cared for. In 2010, I met Grace and she shared the Gospel with me. She told me that God loves me and cares about me.”
With tears in her eyes, Faith said, “I believe in God one hundred percent. I started reading the bible daily and writing down all the verses that I liked. I couldn’t believe how much God changed my life so I couldn’t keep it to myself. I shared it will all my friends and different neighborhoods and to people I met randomly on the bus.”
Faith went on to say that she endures a lot of rejection in her country because of her beliefs, from teachers, the community, and even her family. With intense emotion and streaming tears, Faith said, “The day I declared that I believe in God is the day that my father rejected me. He said that I had to choose between him and my God. He said, ‘If you go with me, I will support you. I don’t have a lot of money, but I will do whatever I can. But if you go with him, you need to get out of this house.’ I cried heavily in front of him and said, ‘Dad, I love you so much, but I choose my God.’”
Faith came to the United States earlier this year on a student visa to finish high school at the Banner School in Virginia. Instead of going on to college in the United States like she originally planned, Faith has decided to return to Vietnam to continue helping Grace with Hope House. In conclusion, she said, “What do I have to fear if I have my God?”
Grace and Faith’s stories portray the miracles that can take place and the lives that can change with deep faith and trust in God. To learn more about One Hope for Vietnam ministries, visit www.onehopeforvietnam.org.
Haiti’s Promised Land: Building new lives
July 19, 2017 / By Melinda Miles, Coordinator, Haiti Takes Root
In March 2010, Canaan was a mix of floodplain and foothills, a desert scorching in the midday sun. It was a far cry from the forests of hardwood trees that stood there a hundred years ago, although a breathtaking view of the Bay of Port-au-Prince and seeing the hazy capital itself across the sparkling water gave the place a sense of hope.
The first residents arrived just two short months after a 7.0 earthquake had shattered their lives, and before long, the foothills were dotted with makeshift shelters. As people were evicted from the displacement camps, they sought refuge in the desert, and many were drawn to the dream of having their own land. Nearly every day for six years, families continued to arrive.
The people named it Canaan because it would be their promised land. Without aid agencies or government support, 250,000 people constructed homes, businesses, roads, churches, public spaces, schools, and markets. After living through the terror of the earth shaking their world to ruins, these people had faith enough to go out into the barren desert, draw property lines in the sand, and use their own hands to build a new life.
Today Canaan is Haiti’s third largest urban area, and it has approximately the same population as Buffalo, NY. However, that is where the similarities between the two cities end: Canaan exists in less than 40 percent of the space Buffalo takes up, and although areas of Canaan are mixed income, the vast majority of its residents are extremely poor and live in substandard housing, without latrines or clean water.
The first time I saw Haiti, I was stunned by the poverty. The idea that nearly half of the world’s people live in extreme poverty with less than $2.50 per day is very abstract when you haven’t seen it, and in Haiti, it’s even more severe: 80 percent of families live in extreme poverty and more than 50 percent live on less than $1.00 per day. Those families are lucky to eat a meal once every other day.
My first visit was a short mission trip with my high school, and what I saw challenged my beliefs, including what it means to be a Christian. The poverty I witnessed in Haiti made me question the existence of God in that way we do when something just seems too terrible to be true. How could God let so much suffering and misery exist?
At the same time, I was clear about what Jesus taught: treat others the way you want to be treated. Not only that, but serve those who do not have what you have. He called on his followers to work for the poor and the vulnerable, to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry.
So for me the question is this: in a world with inequality this vast, where the majority of the world’s families live in poverty, how do we live our faith, and what does it mean to trust that God is enough?
As Reverend Patricia Walz of Baldwinsville First United Methodist Church said, “Sometimes, God’s people need to step forward as Jesus would do.” We
can trust that God is enough because his teachings are very clear in that every single one of us is called to serve. We can trust that when we live our faith and take the steps to make the world better, we are being true Christians – we prove the existence of God through our actions.
In Haiti, you don’t find many people sitting around; everyone is always working to survive. You don’t hear talk of hopelessness because people can’t afford to lose hope. They trust in God because they trust in themselves; their faith fuels their courage to get through each day.
While Canaan is an example of what faith can build, the story isn’t over yet. Working in partnership with a network of neighborhood committees and community groups, my team at J/P Haitian Relief Organization is planting trees to create green spaces and protect this new city from the harmful impacts of climate change, especially flooding and landslides. Although Canaan is a new life for thousands of families, this quality of this life is still poor – very few trees mean no shade for children to play in, for youth to study, for women to do the laundry.
This is where you come in. We are seeking partners for our new Adopt a Park program. The Baldwinsville First community is the very first to Adopt a Park in Canaan, and hopefully their example will help us spread green across the desert. To learn more visit: www.jphro.org.
How the Commission on a Way Forward provides hope for the future of The UMC
The Commission on a Way Forward was formed by the Council of Bishops after a decision was made at General Conference 2016 to develop a committee to address the issue of division around the topic of sexuality in The United Methodist Church.
On June 2, at the 2017 Annual Conference session, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb showed a video featuring a number of the diverse members on the Commission who expressed how hopeful they are that the way forward will be a positive one for the Church. They have met each other a number of times and have delighted in how wonderful it is that though many disagree, they have been able to have effective discussion.
Bishop Webb asked Scott Johnson, who was chosen to be on the Commission, to reflect on his experience.
“Many of you already know that for years the Church has been mired in an unhealthy and unproductive debate about full inclusion of LGBTQI sisters and brothers in the life of the denomination,” he said. “The expectation is that the Commission will offer recommendations that will move us beyond our current state into a new, just, and healthy way of being church in the world. The task before us is clear. It is difficult, and it is urgent. Trust that the members of the Commission understand this, and we are working to honor our charge.”
Scott was honest in how hesitant he was in accepting the position, but how he has been impressed with how well the Commission works together.
“Frankly, I was worried when I accepted the invitation to serve,” he said “I wondered if we would find a room full of competing agendas and thick with politics. That has not been the case. I have found sisters and brothers who are deeply committed to Christ and seek to do His will no matter how passionately we may disagree. Their integrity as they have approached this incredibly challenging task has given me hope.”
Scott urged for everyone to be actively praying for a resolution to our conflict and to not turn away from the difficult conversation.
“We must continue to be engaged,” he said.
Scott said the Church will not move forward if we let go of hope. He ended his talk by reminding the Conference that “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. He has not shown that He is done with us yet. With Christ as our guide, we can find our way forward.”
Scott received a standing ovation, and Bishop Webb asked members of the Conference to come to Scott and lay hands on him as Bishop prayed for Scott and the number of times “he has said ‘Yes’ for doing work in the name of God.”
From the Desk of Bishop Mark J. Webb: Trusting that God is enough
July 18, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
This issue of the Advocate reflects the Upper New York quadrennial theme, “Together in Prayer:Trusting that God is Enough.” In June, during Opening Worship at the eight session of the Upper New York Annual Conference, I spoke about the deep meaning and importance of this theme for the future of the United Methodist Church. Here is some of what I shared…
“I want to be honest this morning – this message was one of the hardest I have ever prepared. What do you bring to a Church that is anxious, divided, and holding its breath about the future?
How do we share authentically in the midst of deep disagreements that are present not just around human sexuality but in even more foundational matters of doctrine, theology and ecclesiology?
How do we live together as a group of people who are called to love one another, but sometimes fail to treat one another with respect, too often see one another in categories and at times struggle to like one another?
How do we focus on being together in prayer when we are not certain what it means to be together or if being together is even what we want or desire?
How do we seek God together without continuing to harm one another and the world we seek to offer Christ to?
How do we allow our disagreements to be spirit-filled rather than mean-spirited?
How do we find space to celebrate our diversity, follow our convictions and honor our covenant with God and one another?
How do we move forward?”
“Let us be careful - Prayer cannot be a spiritual exercise that keeps us from acting and prayer cannot become something we use to support our own desires. John Bunyon said, ‘You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.’
We are called to humble ourselves, to stop depending upon our own strength and depend solely upon the power of God’s spirit and the direction of God’s voice.
We are called to seek God’s face – to stop looking for help and purpose in every area of ourselves and life first. The Church is not called to seek the ways and opinions of the world, or the halls of academia or politics or the journals of science, first – we are called to seek the face of God!”
God is enough for the future we face! God is enough for the future of the United Methodist Church! God is enough for the future of The Upper New York Conference! God is enough for the future of your local congregation! As we seek to live out our why, God is always enough. God gives to us the gifts, energy, and resources that are enough to accomplish the task God has given us. We have to trust that God is enough!
That’s the truth throughout the Biblical narrative.
- God was enough when Noah built loaded and lived in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights.
- God was enough when Abram became Abraham and Sari became Sarah.
- God was enough when Moses was called to lead God’s people out of Egypt.
- God was enough when the Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years.
- God was enough when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
- God was enough when David slew Goliath.
- God was enough when Nehemiah rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem.
- God was enough when Esther became queen.
- God was enough when life crumbled around Job.
- God was enough when Daniel found himself in the lion’s den.
- God was enough when Jonah tried to run away.
- God was enough when Mary found out she was going to be the mother of God.
- God was enough when over five thousand needed lunch.
- God was enough when the blind man wanted to see.
- God was enough when Jesus was mocked, tried, and crucified.
God was enough when the stone was rolled away and sin and death were forever defeated.
God is enough! God is always enough!
As we strive to be the Church that God has called us to be, we have to stop living with a theology of scarcity and start living the truth that God is enough. Whatever God is calling us to, wherever God is leading us, God has already given us everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose and plan. God is enough for your life – God is enough for the ministries of your church – God is enough for the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God is enough for the future of The United Methodist Church!”
Editor's note: To read Bishop Webb's full AC2017 Opening Worship sermon, click here.
Feeling Gods Peace
July 18, 2017 / By Frederica Webb, Wellesley Island UMC and Alexandria Bay UMC
Over four years ago, my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer. When he didn't come out of the colonoscopy area, I just had that feeling, you know, the one in the pit of your stomach. The nurse came and got me and when I went into the room where my husband and doctor were, I felt a deep sense of peace. I just knew whatever it was, it would be okay. We just held hands and listened and did what we were told, and continued life.
He was sent for a MRI immediately that day, and less than a week later had the colon surgery to remove two large tumors. There were some difficulties afterwards, but the lymph nodes taken were absolutely free of cancerous cells. Our doctor told us he was absolutely amazed that the large tumors hadn’t caused problems and that there were no cells in the lymph nodes. None! We told him that God had taken care of it.
Neither my husband nor I felt at all worried about this diagnosis or the surgery. It was just something we knew would be okay. God gave us such a sense of peace through the whole episode. Even in the aftermath, when four years later, they found some anomalies in a routine blood test, it turned out on the PET scan to be arthritis around his spine. There was still a sense of "it will be okay, a knowing that God's got a handle on this. Truly God is enough - I know; we know.