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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    Session shares examples of laity boldly living their call

    May 31, 2018 / By Kathleen Christiansen

    Laity Session for the 2018 Upper New York Annual Conference session kicked off promptly at 7 p.m. May 30 at the SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. Upper New York Conference Lay Leader Susan Hardy started the evening with an introduction of Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb, noting how he has equipped and empowered other leaders in UNY.

    Bishop Webb took the stage, thanking laity for their ministry.

    “Continue to be open to the surprising things that God wants to do in you, through you and in spite of you,” Bishop Webb said. And he also challenged the laity to go to church this Sunday and pray this simple prayer: “Give us an opportunity, oh God, to reach one more person in Christ.” 

    Associate Conference Lay Leader Drew Griffin addressed the crowd next, starting with some housekeeping details and later urging the laity to give as generously as they could during the collection of the Helping Hands Fund – which assists laity during extreme times of financial need. The Board of Laity was acknowledged for their service before Susan took the mic once more.

    Don’t stay crippled by anything separating us from God

    Susan pointed out that the Board of Laity report in the AC Journal Vol. 1 only contained information from May 2017 to early February 2018.

    “Did the clock stop for those of us in leadership?” Susan asked. “No.”

    She said the board continued to meet electronically to plan for Laity Session, nominate laity for leadership on Conference teams, participate in District Days, and more.

    “And now, here tonight in Syracuse, N.Y., we gather as laity to celebrate and affirm examples of the ministries of laypersons of the Upper New York Annual Conference,” she said. “Truly, each one here is boldly living their faith.”

    Susan said the laity have models for courage of equipped and empowered laity in scriptures like Acts 3: 3-8, where disciples Peter gives a crippled beggar something stronger than money: in the name of Jesus Christ, he healed the beggar so he could walk.

    Susan said she spent about 20 years outside the walls of any church, crippled by pride. A disciple of Christ invited her to go to Brocton Tri-Church Parish.

    “I walked right into love and faith when I entered those open doors. When I ponder that cripple outside the walls, I understand how that was me or you or any of us,” she said. “Here I am, speaking to a crowd of United Methodist laypersons. Are we sinners? Oh, yes. But is that the end of our story? No. We do not have to remain buried in our sin. We do not have to stay crippled by anything separating us from our loving God. … Let’s put down our hammers of judgment. Let’s melt those nails of human pride.”

    Youth need help to boldly live their call

    Sam Smith, representing youth as a Board of Laity member, started his speech with a letter written by his Conference Council on Youth Ministry Co-Chair Maria Schermerhorn, who always felt a calling to be a nurse and is now boldly living that call in studying to become one.

    “It’s not always easy for young people to live their call,” Sam said, mentioning youth he encountered that have felt a calling but can’t or won’t pursue it for various reasons, from financial to lack of support from peers or congregations. “Youth are how The Church continues to grow and thrive throughout the year.”

    Sam said youth need to be acknowledged and accepted in order to live their call.

    “I want to make sure that all the youth that feel a call get the support they need to make their call a reality,” he said, challenging the crowd to help support youth in any way they could.Nikki and John Hrustich share their call to create Southern Tier MobilePack.

    A call that “unfortunately” involved hair nets

    Nikki and John Hrustich from the Whittemore Hill United Methodist Church shared their faith journey that led to the creation of Southern Tier MobilePack, a Feed My Starving Children food packing event that helps feed chronically malnourished children around the world.

    The start of their journey began in 2014 when their nephew was of a group called BonaResponds at St. Bonaventure University that hosted a MobilePack event. They needed help, so the Hrustiches, with their two sons, pitched in.

    “We didn’t know then what this would lead to,” John said. “Feed My Starving Children doesn’t use machines to package their meals because they realize the impactful experience of packing the meals by hand. It transforms this from just ‘something good to do’ into doing, something deeply personal. In those two hours, God reached in and touched our hearts. He had a plan for us, and unfortunately, it involved hairnets!” 

    The Hrustiches felt God was calling them to set up their own food packing event, and He kept calling until the Hrustiches founded Southern Tier MobilePack. Their next event is Nov. 2-3 at the Endwell UMC.

    “Our faith journey hasn’t ended – it’s only begun,” Nikki said. “I would like to close today by asking, “What God is calling you to do? Are you listening?”

    Finding God in disaster

    Donna and Roger Cullen, chairs of Volunteers in Mission, shared stories of VIM helping survivors of natural disasters.

    One example involved VIM teams helping a downtrodden son trying to repair his mother’s home on his own after Superstorm Sandy who gave up because he thought his life choices left him “on the left side of God.” At the end of the project, not only was the home rebuilt, but the man's faith in God’s answer to prayer and reinstatement to “the right side of God” was restored.

    “We are familiar with scenes of destruction, devastation, and sheltering, from news reports at disasters,” they said. “When the water recedes and the fires go out, we turn to our routine. Life for the survivors evolves into quiet desperation as emergency activity transitions into recovery, and recovery grinds on interminably. Once the TV cameras are turned off, help falters and hope fades.”

    The United Methodist Committee on Relief and VIM help return families to hopefulness with solid material help and a ministry of presence.

    “Christian Love in Action”

    The Rev. Tom Lank, Northeastern Jurisdiction Coordinator of VIM, shared VIM’s motto, “Christian Love in Action," which comes from 1st John 3:18.

    “We are all about helping you respond to the love of Christ by loving your neighbor,” he said. “There is a theologian named Frederick Buechner who talks about vocation, and he says that you are called to be where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger. That is true of your calling in mission, too. God has placed you like puzzle pieces jumbled up among each other, some scattered to opposite ends of the globe, but with a purpose to come together and make something beautiful.”

    Rev. Lank shared information about UMVIM Awareness Sunday, which General Conference has called for churches to observe.

    “Since you, the laity, are the lifeblood of the UMVIM movement, we are recommending that you celebrate this in your congregations on Laity Sunday in October … ” he said.

    Rev. Lank also shared some ways UMVIM can help laity get involved in mission, including trainings and toolkits, as well as opportunities to volunteer.

    “There are more opportunities out there to be the hands and feet of Christ than you could ever imagine. They will revitalize your faith. … They will draw others to faith because you are shining the light of Christ into the darkness,” he said. “God is at work everywhere renewing, healing, and redeeming. The only question that remains is, ‘How will you join God along the way?’”

    “Let’s journey together”

    UNY Mission Central HUB Director Mike Block discussed his role of equipping local church and Conference leaders to be the “hands and feet of Jesus,” providing help and hope to people in times of disaster.

    “Let’s face it, we all are part of a mission engagement somewhere or will be sometime,” Block said. “I can help provide, learn, or assist in the ‘what’s available’ comments. Come, let’s journey together.”

    He shared mission opportunities going on at Mission Central HUB as well as those in districts and churches throughout the Conference.

    “Let’s find a way to not only share them, but maybe even create new ones learned from other areas,” he said. “Please share with me the different missions and mission-like activities you’re already doing.”

    Drew closed the Laity Session with the benediction, saying, “Christ has no body now on Earth but yours, no feet but yours.”

    “Help us to boldly step out and bring that one more person to your kingdom to glorify your world,” he said.

    TAGGED / Communications / Annual Conference 2018


    With more than 168,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 91 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."