Lay Members Gather for First Virtual Laity Session to Celebrate Upper New York Lay Ministries
June 17, 2021 / By Tara Barnes
Lay members to the 12th gathering of the Upper New York Annual Conference attended the Conference laity session, held virtually, on June 17, 2021. The time focused on sharing and celebrating the work of laity in the Conference.
After a greeting from Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb, Conference Lay Leader Drew Griffin welcomed laity and offered an overview for the session, the first time it’s been held in an online format.
“A lot of us wanted to be able to gather in person, but that was not the plans for this year,” Drew said. “However, let’s take advantage of the opportunity that we have. Let’s make the most of this opportunity. Because, despite everything, we’re still called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
More than 400 participants heard reports from Drew, associate Conference lay leader Jessica White, United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, the Conference Council on Youth Ministry, and Young Adult Ministries. Laity also heard from District lay leaders from the Oneonta, Cornerstone, and Niagara Frontier Districts and from the director of Lay Servant Ministries, Linda Barczykowski.
Reports were given live or via prerecorded video and were interspersed with videos from the Conference’s Imagine No Racism team, raising awareness of the ways racism exists and the process of unlearning racism. Video lessons from the Bible Project were also shared, on the biblical principles of justice and sabbath.
Jessica opened the session with a prayer for the 15 United Methodist churches in the Conference that have closed in the past year.
“We celebrate the combined 1,980 years of ministry of these churches,” Jessica said in her prayer naming the congregations. “We give thanks and praise to God for the memories made, for the lives touched by these congregations, for the baptisms, weddings, confirmations, funerals, and other ways your grace brought these communities together. These churches were more than buildings—they were homes and places where your love was shared, and refuge and comfort were given. Generations have sung your praises in each of these churches. We thank you, God, for the ministries blessed in your name.”
Nancy Debelius, Associate Director of Spiritual Life for Vital Congregations, followed Jessica’s prayer with guided breath prayer. She later offered the practice of journaling.
Laity in mission and growing spiritually
Though the social distancing required by the pandemic meant adapting to new ways of mission and ministry, the Upper New York United Methodist Women continued to fulfill its Purpose in 2020 and 2021.
“The United Methodist Women throughout Upper New York and beyond continued to find ways to be in community and strengthen their faith journeys and understandings through virtual Bible studies and educational programs as well as innovative ways to be in ministry,” reported Conference United Methodist Women President Carmen Vianese. “The needs continue to rise and change over the last 15 months, and our calling to service and mission has not stopped.”
Carmen invited participants to join in the Upper New York Mission u virtual learning event in July and to support their local units as the improve lives for women, children, and youth in their communities.
Carmen also shared a video of the work of the national organization of United Methodist Women. You can view that video here.
A report from United Methodist Men followed. President Mark Jones shared his excitement for the new chapter of the Upper New York United Methodist Men. Members participated in training on men’s ministry through the Northeast Jurisdiction United Methodist Men, and the group passed a new vision and mission statement in 2021.
“Our vision is to light the fire of God in the hearts of men of all ages. Our mission is to strengthen relationships between all men and God, while sharing the gospel witnessing to God’s life changing love for each of us,” Mark shared.
The Conference United Methodist Men continues ministry through Promise Keepers, Man in the Mirror, and its own New Generation Men’s Ministry.
Young people staying connected
The co-chairs of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries, Avary Halliday and Sam Lasher, joined the session (via video) from Skye Farm, one of the Upper New York Camp and Retreat Centers. Though COVID-19 restricted usual activities, the youth were able to participate in a volunteer workday at Skye Farm and at Asbury Retreat Center.
“We have been able to meet through Zoom and stay connected through GroupMe and other messaging platforms, and overall we’ve had a very productive year, with all the trials and tribulations that come with a pandemic,” Avary reported.
The Upper New York Conference Young People’s Ministries likewise stayed connected throughout a difficult year of missing one another and needing to cancel a planned mission trip to the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana to do work with Native siblings in Christ.
In their last report as co-chairs Elyse Muder and J.J. Warren shared how the young adults still met over Zoom for coffee conversations, prayer, life updates, and general fellowship and support.
“I’m so excited to see what God does next through the spirit of justice moving through the young adults in the Upper New York Conference,” Warren said.
The 2021 laity session ended with an appeal from dean of the cabinet, the Rev. Mike Weeden, for the Conference’s Helping Hands fund. Weeden described the purpose of the fund as being “to raise money to help those members in the local church that have fallen on hard times to assist our fellow congregants who need financial support and the most critical way.”
Local pastors can apply for funds through their District Superintendents. To support his fund, visit bit.ly/UNYACDONATE.
The United Methodist Church values as equal the contributions of laity to that of clergy. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church states, “the ministry of the laity flows from a commitment to Christ’s outreaching love. Lay members of The United Methodist Church are, by history and calling, active advocates of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission” (¶127).
All reports can be found in the 2021 Annual Conference Journal, which can be downloaded here.