The Vision
The Newspaper of The New York Conference of The United Methodist Church June 2018

In this issue


Red petals rain down at the end of the June 10 ordination service; below, a confirmand helps to serve communion.
Break. Build. Bring. Bridge.


The conference “went to church” as the Sunday morning ordination service was streamed into churches and homes throughout the NYAC. A shift in the schedule allowed congregations to witness together what was happening live in the Hofstra Arena.

“This ordination group is a small, but mighty class,” said the bishop as he began the general examination of the four candidates. “I know your hearts. God’s call on your life is very real.”

The presence of youth was all around during the service with a choir of children, the Rising Stars Steel Pan orchestra, and a section full of confirmands who had been invited by the bishop and also served as scripture readers and communion stewards.

“I’ve never had this combination before today—confirmands and ordinands,” he exclaimed. Bickerton suggested to the young people that they might one day find themselves on the stage answering the same questions as the ordinands.

“And that will be a great day because you will have said “yes” to God.”

In a sermon entitled, “The Four B’s of Transformation,” the bishop voiced the need for a spiritual revival in the NYAC. He offered these steps toward changing the current downward statistical trend of the church.

#1 Break: Break out of judging others. Pray a breath prayer like, “Remove me from me and fill me with you.”

#2 Build relationships with people. Relationships that are intergenerational or cross cultural and language barriers.

#3 Bring: “When’s the last time you brought someone to church . . . to share in salvation?” the bishop asked. What is church bringing to them?

#4 Bridge the gap theologically and socially. Build bridges with the younger generation.

And then he added in a fifth “B,”—believe.

“We’re not called to walk on water. We’re called to believe in

God, trust in God, and love one another,” Bickerton said. “Love one another deeply, intentionally, every moment of every day and you’ll see the transformation that I’m talking about.

“The world is falling apart . . . some say the church is falling apart, but we can go another way,” he said. “We can set this place ablaze for all that is right and holy!”

During the service, Melissa Hinnen, Steve Youngdong Kim, and Sharon Petgrave-Cundy were ordained as elders in full connection; Jongbum Lee, who was ordained in another denomination, was recognized as an elder in full connection.

The service came to a conclusion as a sea of red petals floated gently from the arena ceiling. The surprise brought oohs and ahs, and squeals of delight as some scooped up the petals and tossed them into the air again. The joy of day was complete.

The bishop’s sermons from the opening worship and the ordination service are available online, as well as his episcopal address and slides.

Rising Stars Steel Pan Orchestra from Westchester UMC play during the offertory at ordination.

The newly commissioned are wrapped in red prayer shawls at the end of the passing the mantle service.

Rallying Support For Puerto Rico

The New York Conference solidified its support of the Puerto Rican recovery in a covenant signed by Bishop Bickerton and Rev. Glorymar Rivera Baez, UMCOR project director on the island. Rivera will carry the covenant to Bishop Hector Ortiz, leader of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.

Rivera expressed a heart-full of gratitude for the help and prayers the conference has already provided.

“You showed us the importance of opening our hearts, listening to each other, and being compassionate,” Rivera said.

Bishop Bickerton recalled that when he flew into Puerto Rico on a recent visit with UMCOR that nearly all the homes were covered by blue tarps. 

“We visited a church where roof had been blown off,” he said. “A Bible was only thing that didn’t get wet. I read from the Bible that day and when I did, it started to rain.

“I was reminded that every time it rains, there’s another cleanup that has to happen,” he said. “Every time it rains . . .”

Thus far the conference has sent four recovery teams to Puerto Rico and more are being planned. The bishop plans to take a team of cabinet members to the island to work later this summer. An offering received during the conference brought $11,070 to the cause.

Bickerton also announced that three pastors from Puerto Rico will be serving in the NYAC this year.

Passing the Mantle

In a June 9 service, the conference celebrated retiring clergy and newly commissioned or licensed ones. Celebrated the ministry of 25 retiring clergy members and welcomed eight as commissioned provisional elders and one as a provisional deacon.

The retirement class, which had given 702 years of combined service, included Yuri M. Ando, Brian R. Bodt, Dorothy A. Caldwell, James (Pat) Carlisle, M. Craig Fitzsimmons, Marlene A. Francis-Jones, Youngsook Han-Kim, Huibing He, Jody L. Cross-Hansen, Edward C. Horne, Marion R. Hubbard, Sonia A. Jermin, James K. Law, John Q. LeCain, Douglas A. McArthur, Ann Morgan, Steven W. Peiffer, Luonne A. Rouse, Gainus Sikes, and John S. Williams.

Those who were licensed as local pastors are: Angel A. Abakah, Denise Allen, Oliverio Barrera, John Blosson, Kenneth Bohler, Jacqueline Carter, Sejin Cha, Rebekah Forni, Adeline Hazzard, Dorlimar Lebron Malave, Sharon Pizzo, Jerri Schwarz, Andrea P. Smith, Heidi Thomas, and John Wood.

Those commissioned as provisional elders are: J. Michael Cobb, Jacob Hanbin Eun, Akio Iyoda, Jane H. Kim, Samuel Jaesam Lee, Hyoungkyu Park, Claire Hojung Wu, and Seung Kwon (Joseph) Yang. A. Jordan Scruggs was commissioned as a provisional deacon.

In Remembrance

Forty-four people who had died in the last year were remembered in a service on June 8. They included:

Clergy: Wesley H. Allen, Sung Nam Kim, David Arthur Stevens, Reuben Gums, Robert W. Howard, John C. Raines, Albert R. Miller, J. Philip Gehres, Clifton E. Gatewood, Robert E. Hullstrung, Virginia H. Wilcox, Henry H. Hobbs, Edwin S. Gault, Karen Engelman, James Speights Jr., Philip A. C. Clarke, Birchfield C. Aymer, Beryl J. Salmon, Norma A. Rust, and James E. Rush.

Spouses of Clergy: Laura Leigh Davidson, Roxana O. Yeun, Genell Y. Poitras, Byung Mo Kim, Chad Currie, Joung Ki Lee , David T. Marks, Margaret Mech, and Athena M. Hagerty.

Widows and Widowers of Clergy: Sarah Haruyama, Linda Turner Dash, Gerry Gehres, Adelia Riley, Nancy F. Young, Nancy Rivenburgh, Maggie Dunston Kiah, Faith N. Wynne, Muriel Halstead, Dorothy B. Brown, and Connie M. Sartorio

Children of Clergy: Yshanda Chermain Faith Springer, Camille A. Shand, Jonathan J. C. Bortin, and Daniel Davison.

Laity: Warren G. Whitlock

Legislative Action

All of the petitions—except one that was tabled—were passed on the consensus calendar. They included:

AC#301: A Way Forward: Reaffirmed the conference stance to remove language excluding “homosexuals” from the life of the church, and urged consideration of the marginalized in any proposed changes in church structure, even deferring those changes “as long as it may take to discern God’s justice for all the beloved community of the church . . .”

AC#302: Condemned Trump administration policies threatening the civil rights of immigrants, refugees, African Americans, women and LGBTQIA persons, and urged Bishop Bickerton to issue a statement condemning the administration’s human rights record.

AC#303: Renewed call for peace on the Korean Peninsula and participation in a July 27 peace march in Washington, D.C

AC#304: Petitioned Congress to reinstate Adoptee Citizenship Act, and asked NYAC cabinet and conference secretary to send letters to lawmakers representing New York and Connecticut.

Rev. Glorymar Rivera signs a covenant promising NYAC support in the Puerto Rican recovery after Bishop Bickerton signed the document.

AC#305: Called on NYAC to adopt a policy of 10–12 hours of mandatory training on the challenges of racism each quadrennium for all leaders from the bishop on down to lay servants.

AC#307: Commended three NYAC members—Dr. Dorothee Benz, Rev. Paul Fleck, and Rev. James “K” Karpen—for acts of civil disobedience to resist unjust deportation of immigrants, and encouraged others to do so also.

AC#308: Commended the congregations of First & Summerfield in New Haven, Conn., for providing sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation.

Other Highlights

The conference also:

• Commissioned Debra DeMerritt, a member of Memorial UMC in White Plains, as a deaconess to serve as a senior social caseworker with Westchester County.

• Remembered the harm caused by the segregation of the Central Jurisdiction and repented from our complicity in the institutional injustice.

• Voted again on Constitutional Amendment I, with the corrected language.

• Passed a 2019 budget of $8,419,242, a one percent decrease from the 2018 spending plan.

• Elected three new trustees: Alfred Hanson of Trinity-Boscobel UMC, Rev. Bill Pfohl of Jesse Lee Memorial UMC, and Rev. David Henry of St. Paul’s of Inwood.

• Collected 4235 hygiene kits and $5,760 for UMCOR, along with 308 school kits, 25 birthing kits, 11 layette, and one sewing kit, and 14 cleaning buckets.

• Received offerings totaling nearly $53,000. Young Clergy Debt Assistance: $22,886; Puerto Rico Response: $11,070; Black College Fund: $8,564; Bishop’s Partners in Mission: $8,282; and General Conference Travel Fund: $2,196.

• Packed 30,000 meals for Rise Against Hunger, mostly by our youth.

• Sent eight volunteers to work on UMARMY projects at three homes on Long Island as a pre-conference mission activity.

Conference Replay

Good News TV (GNTV), the production company that live streamed the conference, will have DVDS and downloads available in about four weeks. They can be ordered directly from their website. You can purchase just one service, or the whole set. Please note that because of copyright laws, much of the music will be omitted from the services.


Let the Conference Sessions Committee know what you loved about annual conference, and what might be improved through the online evaluation form.

Confirmands share the reading from Ephesians during the June 10 ordination service.

The class of licensed local pastors numbered 15, one of the largest groups in recent years.

Bishop Bickerton leads the gathering in a blessing for the delegation.

New Delegation Elected for GC2019

After a long day of voting on June 9, the final clergy ballot was delivered triumphantly to Bishop Bickerton with the strains of the “Rocky” theme floating through the arena. Those elected to represent the NYAC at the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference are:

 Lay delegates: Fred Brewington, Gail Douglas Boykin, Jorge Lockward, and Dorothee Benz. Reserves are Tiffany French Goffe, Ann Craig, Roena Littlejohn, and Karen Prudente

Clergy delegates: Tim Riss, Noel Chin, Kristina Hansen,
and Alex da Silva Souto. Reserves are Vicki Flippin, Sheila Beckford, Martha Vink and Sungchan Kim.

The reserve delegates for both laity and clergy were determined on a single ballot with the top four being

named to the team.

GC2019 will take up the church’s stance on human sexuality and consider proposals from the Commission on A Way Forward.

After each election was announced, the bishop anointed and prayed over the delegate. Out of the 16-member delegation, seven self-identify as LGBTQIA. Eleven are persons of color.

The election process was slowed when the electronic voting devices malfunctioned and paper ballots had to be used. While the gathering waited for results some impromptu singing and dancing broke out on the arena floor thanks to Raymond Trapp and his music team.

Teen Waging Battle to Expose Racism


“Do I look suspicious?”

Her father was shot, lost to the violence often found in the communities built on systematic racism. For Nupol Kiazolu, the loss of her father became the catalyst that turned a then 13-year-old girl into an activist and leader of the youth contingency of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Now 17, Kiazolu demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues and misunderstandings that face those fighting to expose the racism experienced by people of color when she spoke at the Church and Society’s dinner on Friday, June 8.

“Do I look suspicious?” was a question she placed on her own back while walking the halls of her school to highlight the issues of racism there. Kiazolu found an advocate in only one teacher—a black teacher—who risked her job to go to the principal’s office to talk about the student’s concerns.  There was a lengthy discussion and word soon spread around her school.  The next day, black students and a few white ones wore hoodies and taped the same note to their backs in solidarity for Kiazolu’s protest. 

A few years later, Kiazolu found herself traveling to Charlottesville, Va., to join the counter-protest against those marching for in support of white supremacy. During the protest, Kiazolu recalled that she was called derogatory names, spit upon, punched in the stomach, and even found herself as the potential target of a man holding a gun. She was afraid for her life.

In the attempt to clarify the common misconception that America was experiencing a “post- racism utopia,” she stated that racism has always been part of the institutionalized American society. The BLM movement is about creating visibility and pushing for legislation to address their concerns.  Then there is the issue of economics.  The frustration of these structure limit a person of color from the same opportunities afforded white members of American society.  ‘Why can’t you pick yourself up by your boot straps?’ is a common lament.  But she argues you have to have the boots in order to do that.  “Get rid of the victim mentality” is another statement she hears.  But this is her reality every day.  Every day she and many others face this type of discrimination in their daily walk.

So how can those who do not face issues surrounding racism help in the BLM cause?

First, listen.  Listen to the stories and get to know each person as a human being.

Second, educate yourself about the issues.

Third, educate others.

Fourth, mobilize groups and teams to face these systemic concerns and create awareness in the communities in which you live. The group Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is one such an organization.

This soon-to-be pre-law student—with an eye on the presidency—spoke about the concerns of ongoing racism at the United Nations two weeks ago. In her strong, confident manner, she fully expects those who listened to her concerns to respond. But she is not a woman who waits for others to act. Kiazolu started an organization called Vote 2000 to register young adult voters. This program is also working to bring resources to black communities to reduce the violence and crime committed by individuals, specifically black on black crimes in areas that have few resources.  She also is working to bring civics classes back to in the New York City high schools.

For a full lineup of events, go to:

Ongoing Immigration Prayers
Join the NYAC Immigration Task Force for a time of prayer for our country and immigrant brothers and sisters on Monday nights from 7:30–8 p.m. until further notice. Call-in number: 641-715-3580; group code: 780843#. Contact Pastor Ximena Varas for more information.

7/4–6 Conference Center Closed
The conference offices will be closed for the July 4 holiday; Friday closures for the summer starts on July 6.

7/26–29 Creation Care Summit
The Minnesota Annual Conference and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary are co-sponsors for this event at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minn. The summit will look at key ways to heal the planet, and empowering Christians to bring about a more sustainable and just future for their communities and the planet. The sessions from Thursday noon through Friday afternoon are designed for UMC leaders in the working on creation care / environmental justice at any level of the church. Those who choose to attend these sessions will be asked to complete some assignments before they arrive. Friday evening through Sunday are designed for anyone interested in learning more about engaging in the work of creation care/environmental justice. For more info and to register, click here.

7/27–29 Mission u
The United Methodist Women and Board of Laity invite all to this time for spiritual growth and to expand your knowledge and concepts of mission. The 2018 studies are: “Embracing Wholeness: An Earth Perspective to Covenantal Living,” “What About Our Money? A Faith Response,” and the “Geographic Study: Missionary Conferences in U.S.” Participate in all three days at the Stamford Hilton, or drop in for the Saturday Sampler. Register online before July 1.

8/24–26 Calling All Singles Retreat
Singles United in Christ will host a retreat in the Kirkwood House at Camp Olmsted. This is open to all singles. Rev. Dr. Marva Usher-Kerr will be the leader. The cost of the retreat is $250. A flyer can be found here. Questions to Angela Perez at or 347-366-8727.

8/31 Social Principles Revision
It’s the final day to comment on the proposed changes to the UMC’s Social Principles on the General Board of Church & Society website. Watch your district news for a “Community Conversation” about the changes happening near you.

9/3 Holiday Closing
The conference center will be closed for the Labor Day holiday.

10/14–25 “Journeys of Paul” Cruise
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton will host the nine-day journey aboard Royal Caribbean’s “Jewel of the Seas,” in conjunction with Educational Opportunities Tours. Beginning and ending in Rome, the trip includes stops in Taormina and Pompeii, Italy; Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, and Corinth, Greece; and Ephesus, Turkey. There is also an optional two-day tour of Vatican City on October 25–26. Find the reservation information online. If you have any questions, contact Rev. Chuck Ferrara, the regional representative for Educational Opportunities in our area.

Vision Deadlines for 2018
The Vision is a monthly online publication of the New York Conference. Deadlines are always the first Friday of the month, with posting to the web site about 10 days later. The deadlines for 2018 are July 6, August 3, September 7, October 5, November 2, and December 7. Please send any stories, photos, ideas, or questions directly to

Annual Conferences Mixed on Bishops’ Plan


UMNS | After singing “And Are We Yet Alive,” a number of U.S. annual conferences have weighed in on how The United Methodist Church might live in the future.

Various annual conferences have voted on resolutions related to the Council of Bishops recommendation for a way forward through the denomination’s potentially church-splitting divisions over homosexuality.

In May, a majority of United Methodist bishops recommended what they call the One Church Model.

Some conferences have endorsed that plan, which would leave questions of the ordination of LGBTQ clergy up to annual conferences and same-gender marriage up to local churches. Others have called for stronger enforcement of the denomination’s current prohibitions against same-gender weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.

The resolutions are aspirational. Ultimately, decisions about the denomination’s direction will be in the hands of the 864 lay and clergy delegates—elected by annual conferences—to attend the special General Conference in 2019.

The U.S. annual conference season is still very much in full swing with more votes to come. Here is a brief overview of some of the actions thus far. 

At least three annual conference sessions—Baltimore-Washington, Northern Illinois and Michigan—approved resolutions that support the One Church Model.

In Michigan, the vote for a “Call for Unity in Diversity” was overwhelming and brought together United Methodists across the theological spectrum, said the Rev. Melanie Carey, a General Conference delegate who presented the resolution.

The North Alabama Conference voted against a similar resolution on unity by a written vote of 412 no to 240 yes.

The Holston Conference substituted a One Church Model endorsement with a motion calling on its General Conference delegation to study the upcoming bishops’ report and subsequently set up listening sessions around the conference ahead of the 2019 session.

The New York Conference, which encompasses United Methodists in the greater New York City area and western Connecticut, reaffirmed its longtime stance that the denomination should remove language excluding LGBTQ individuals from the life of the church. The resolution also urges General Conference delegates to consider “the marginalized in any proposed changes in church structure.”

The conference—as permitted by the denomination’s Book of Discipline—also elected a new slate of eight delegates and eight reserves to the special General Conference. Of the 16-

member delegation, seven are LGBTQ, 11 are people of color, 10 are women and five are immigrants. Some of the straight delegates elected identify as LGBTQ allies.

The high number of LGBTQ United Methodists was by design, said Dorothee Benz, who is openly gay and will be a lay delegate in 2019.

“At the very center of this effort was our conviction that we must do whatever we can to rectify the exclusion of LGBTQI people not just from equal standing in the church but from even being in the conversation,” she said. The initials stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex.

The Upper New York Conference voted against two resolutions—one urging the end of all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and another urging a four-book study that advocates a traditionalist approach to sexual ethics and celibacy for gay people.

The conference did approve a resolution urging the General Council on Finance and Administration to add a “non-binary” column to the denomination’s membership statistical reports to allow the reporting of members who do not identify as male or female.

Other conferences are calling for an alternative to the bishops’ recommendation.

The South Georgia Conference approved a resolution urging affirmation of “the present standards of our Discipline” with added accountability when the Discipline is violated.

The South Carolina Conference also passed a resolution affirming the current language in the Discipline.

The Peninsula-Delaware Conference, similarly, amended a resolution that called for “openness to diverse perspectives in matters of human sexuality” to instead “maintain the current language” in the Discipline concerning matters of human sexuality.

At the same conference, Chelsea Spyres announced she was withdrawing from appointment as a licensed local pastor as long as LGBTQ individuals are barred from ordination.

For those who want to maintain the church’s prohibitions, the Rev. Rob Renfroe promised a traditionalist plan will be on the table at the special General Conference. Renfroe is the president of Good News, an unofficial advocacy group that seeks to strengthen enforcement of church laws on homosexuality.

At a luncheon with likeminded United Methodists in the Texas Conference, Renfroe declared he and other traditionalists would defeat the One Church Model at General Conference.

He also urged bishops who support that model to leave The United Methodist Church.

GC2019 Petition Deadline July 8

Petitions for the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church may be submitted to the petitions secretary until July 8, 2018.

On May 25, 2018, the Judicial Council ruled that petitions to the special General Conference 2019 “may be filed by any organization, clergy member and lay member of the United Methodist Church as long as the business proposed to be transacted in such petition is in harmony with the purpose stated in the call,” which is limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward. Business not in harmony with the purpose as stated in the call is not permitted unless the General Conference

determines by a two-thirds vote that other business may be transacted.

Petitions may be submitted digitally through the GC2019 website or by email to Typed petitions with an accompanying digital version on a USB drive may also be submitted by mail. Typed petitions without digital media and handwritten or hand printed submissions will not be accepted.

Detailed instructions for formatting and submitting a petition are available online. Questions about the petition process may be sent to

Praying our Way Forward Hits Phase 3

The Council of Bishops in partnership with The Upper Room has launched Phase 3 of Praying our Way Forward. In Phase 3, which began June 3, all United Methodists are invited to:

  • Engage in a weekly Wesleyan 24-hour fast from Thursday after dinner to Friday mid-afternoon. Those who have health situations might consider fasting from social media, emails or another daily activity. 
  • Pause and pray for our church’s mission and way forward daily for four minutes from 2:23 through 2:26 a.m. or p.m. in their own time zone, or at another time.  This is because the Special Session of General Conference will be held February 23 through February 26, 2019. 
  • Pray using a weekly prayer calendar that will be posted on the website through the end of February 2019. The calendar will list a unique cluster of names each week.

Bishops Provide “One Church” Video

The Council of Bishops is offering a video outlining the One Church Plan as a resource for annual conferences as they prepare for the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. The video may be shown at annual conference sessions or be used in discussions.

During their meeting in May, the bishops voted to recommend the One Church Plan as the best way forward for the future of The United Methodist Church. The recommendation is based on the work of the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward.

The One Church Plan will be placed before the 2019 General Conference for legislative action.

To honor the work of the commission, and in service to the delegates to the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, the Council of Bishops will also provide supplemental materials that include a historical narrative with disciplinary implications related to the connectional conference plan and the traditionalist plan.

The One Church Plan video is available in various file sizes and formats so that it may be shared via social media and also presented at large gatherings such as annual conference sessions.

UMC Itineracy and Living Into the Call


Place-Making in a Pilgrim Journey

My wife and I had the joy of being invited as speakers to the Illinois Great Rivers 2018 Annual Conference. IGRC was the conference that had invited me as a pastor from the Bombay Annual Conference more than three decades ago.  During the Q&A session, several delegates opened their questions with demonstrative expressions of “Welcome Home!”

Illinois was one of three stops in my itineracy. Since United Methodist itineracy has made me transitory, I grew up associating the idea of being homeless with a physical structure rather than with the objects that inhabited it. The parsonages I moved into quickly became mine, as soon as the bookcases stuffed with books were positioned in the study, or when the furniture was set up.

A House to Live After Itineracy

When I decided to take an early retirement, I was not only frightened but also experienced for the first time what it meant to live in the span of between and betwixt with no place to call home. Dante should have known better than to use limbo in his Divine Comedy for children who were not baptized. But the image works for those caught between two lives, one past, one future, and neither one present. Finding a place to live after decades of living in parsonages indeed takes a toll upon parsonage families.

After a period of uncertainty, I finally moved into a place I could call “home.” When I saw boxes filled with research materials, fragmented notes, aging pictures, and fading family letters—the debris of adulthood collected like barnacles at the bottom of an aging ship—in the living room I suddenly realized, “I am a history. I carry that history with me like so much baggage, physically, and perhaps, mentally and spiritually.”  It dawned on me that the forest of boxes in the living room was a wordless testimony to the accumulations of the years.

Do you know how many things we own which simply hold other things? Surely the dining table, the dressers, the desks are all signs of the settled and sedentary life that each one of us not only leads but also seem to yearn for after living in itineracy. The food in the pantry, clothes in the closet, soap in the bathroom, flowers in the garden, and car in the garage are all strong symbols of a life in progress. You look at these details and a world unfolds. 

Leave-taking and Place-making

Each day you create yourself anew through choice. For our entire task about simple abundant living, we are in a bind because we all seem to need to build an environment filled with the things that remind us who we are. A mug here, a picture there, some piece of fabric stretched on a frame hung on the wall, they help us know where we come from, and who was with us when we were there.

I also learned that moving to a new place was just one ritual. The other is the leave-taking. And with each place we move out of, we leave something behind, some evidence that we have been there.  Just like animals that create middens or weave nests made of drool and dribble, we write ourselves into walls as a way of protesting the relentlessness, the uncaringness of time.

Some parsonages I have lived in were both a puzzle and a palimpsest. Proofs of ghosts from the past could be seen—children of previous residents who had etched their names in attic rafters, vintage Bible commentaries and antique doors and furniture left behind in the basement.  Reminders from the past: we were here; will you remember us?  Memory is fleeting. But a house endures .

A Pilgrim People, A Pilgrim Church

All of us have moved, in some deep and inner way, in order to be in this place, in our community. If only we could remember that we are all pilgrims, persons on the way and not at some point of completion already.

We paint our vulnerabilities; we plaster the holes in our consciousness; we become settled and landed folks, when in reality, we have here no abiding city, as the scripture says.

As soon as Glory and I unpacked and flattened and got rid of the boxes, I began to think of my sedentary life, of stability, and settlement and ministry with the new and challenging diasporic community. But at the same time, I remembered how as a young man who set off with his suitcases nearly half of a century ago in search of a dream and in answer to a call to ventures of which he could not see the ending.

That boy was, quite simply, kinder and more open and more capable of awe and wonder than the minister he had grown up to be; kind and open and awe-filled by remembering that, beneath all stability, there is the chaos of the open road and the unencumbered life.

We encumber ourselves, for all our complaints, precisely so that we can be wrapped in the illusion of security. The Jesus of the Gospels never has that security and calls us into a life of risk precisely through that open road of resurrection and new life. Our task is to remember and remind us that we live into the future on the basis of that call. Such an insight, such a thought, can enlighten our children, our family, our community and our church.

Dharmaraj, a retired elder in the NYAC, is president of the Inter-Ethnic Strategy Development Group.

Getting a LEG Moving
The Connecticut District Laity Excellence Group (LEG) leaders are off and running with their training from Carol Merante. The group gathered at Cheshire UMC with Rev. David Gilmore for communion to mark their session. They are, from left, Cindy Savoie and Karen Allen, both from Huntington UMC in Shelton; Susan DelVecchio and Judy Lang, both from Nichols UMC in Trumbull; Mitch Underwood from Plainville UMC; Mary Brevigleiri from Community UMC in North Canton, and Carol Merante, LEG Leader Training Facilitator.

Les Johnson, above, leads a small group discussion on the use of “Holy Habits.” Roberts, at right, encouraged the gathering to keep love at the center, to remind people that they are beloved, loved children of God.
Reviving “Holy Habits” of Acts for Growth Today


Recent research at the University College London indicates that it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit. Andrew Roberts, the British author of the book, “Holy Habits,” hopes that Christians will commit time and energy to the spiritual habits that will transform their lives and the church.

Roberts was the speaker at the Missional Engagement Forum on May 19 attended by 80 clergy and laity at the Edna Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff, N.Y. Rev. David Gilmore, the NYAC director of congregational development and revitalization, discovered the book while in England and has been handing it out across the conference ever since.

A Methodist minister, Roberts uses 10 habits found in Luke’s writing in Acts 2 as a clarion call for Christian discipleship—both personally and communally. The habits lead those who practice them to be more Christlike, to be missional and experimental, and to practice whole life discipleship. He encourages congregations to intentionally take on and practice these “holy habits.”

“What would happen if we choose to live as Luke writes today?” he asked the gathering. “What renewal would we see?” Roberts outlines the habits found in Acts as these:

1.  Biblical teaching: foundational to all the other habits.

2.  Fellowship: The complete sharing of life—koinonia. “Our society is shaped by what separates us rather than what we share,” Roberts said.  “Sin is a little word with an ‘I’ in the middle.”

3.  Breaking of bread: Luke writes of breaking bread in the home. Was this a daily practice for the early Christians, or more in line with current understandings of Holy Communion?

4.  Prayer: How can we offer the Holy Spirit in our praying? Are we imaginative in our prayer life?

5.  Giving: How might we give, or share our resources in new and different ways?

6.  Service: Do we have an attitude of service, or expect to be served?

7.  Eating together: A depth of relationship develops when we share not only food, but bits of our cultures and stories.

8.  Gladness and generosity: Generosity has been most effectively  expressed to Christians in the cross.

9.  Worship: Are we open to different expressions of worship? How is our life an act of worship? How do we share worship in our day-to-day lives?

10. The making of more disciples: “We make the disciples, Jesus builds up the church . . . it’s his job to build up the church.” It’s the job of the Christian to invite others to follow Jesus.

Following his initial presentation, the gathering broke into small groups to discuss questions like, “How can we watch over one another in love with our practice of these habits?”

When the gathering came back together, Roberts encouraged the participants to begin “the adventure” by exploring holy habits with a small group in their congregations. And then create teams to focus on each of the particular habits. Teams would explore what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and what kind of followers they will be forming.

He suggested a six-month timetable to prepare for a launch of the program that might be done in a big way. Regularly evaluating the progress is important, too.

“Have regular celebrations along the way . . . celebrate the fruits,” he said. “Celebrate what God is doing.”

Other resources on creating a “Holy Habits” program in your church can be found here. Or you may contact Rev. David A. Gilmore at, or 914-615-2219 for guidance.

The team takes a break to gather for a photo; two members works to replace windows.
Getting a Roof Overhead in PR


The team from New Life United Methodist Church in New Fairfield, Conn., went to Patillas, Puerto Rico from May 26 to June 2. It was composed of 11 volunteers from several different churches and the area; we had members from nearby Sandy Hook UMC and a member that flew in from France.

Puerta del Cielo Methodist Church of Guardarraya opened up their arms and received us with great love and appreciation on Sunday. We worked on two homes in Patillas, very close to where we were staying.

One of the structures was a wooden home of at least 100 years old. The house was tarped but the family was not living in the house.We replaced the galvanized roof, windows and doors. It was hot and humid, but the view from roof was breathtaking.

Every day a family member would come and check on the progress. They were amazed at the women in the group working on the roof. The members of the family graced us with a feast that would have fed an army. At the end of the week, the house was ready for the owners to move back in.

The second home was a cement house. Its roof had already been replaced with a cement one.  We installed windows and a door—not an easy feat when the new door is larger than the previous door. Five family members have been living in the one room of the house that didn’t lose its roof.  Hopefully another group will finish the work we started and allow the family to spread out some more. It was a wonderful trip and we got to meet some beautiful people.

To volunteer or put together a team for Puerto Rico, check the mission page on the NYAC website.

A relationship with a missionary brought members of the Woodbury UMC to Ecuador, and the sale of eggs by some of the youth helped get them there.
Mission to Ecuador a Journey of Whole Church


Twelve individuals associated with the Woodbury (CT) UMC traveled to Ecuador May 2–10 to minister with churches in El Prado and Atucucho. Twelve individuals got on a plane, but the whole church traveled with them—from the youngest to the oldest.

In Ecuador, the team helped provide health assessments for children and adults along with basic vitamins and medications, with renovations of a “stable-turned-school” that a local Methodist Church uses for after-school programs, with improvements at a church in a hillside barrio in Quito, and, perhaps most importantly, engaged in Christian fellowship with their new brothers and sisters of all ages.

But the whole church was there through their prayers, the medication, vitamins, and school supplies that they collected. The church was also there in the financial support they had provided. This support came from all ages, but it was especially meaningful to see the ways some of the youngest members of the congregation responded to the call for support.

Several of the children set up a stand and sold eggs from their own chickens after worship on Sundays. They later added maple syrup, maple butter, and handmade potholders to their

“marketplace.” With a sign, “Eggs for Ecuador,” on their table, this “eggselent” effort raised several hundred dollars for the team’s work.

When the call went out for the congregation to be in prayer for the team and the people of Ecuador, it didn’t fall on deaf ears. Many picked up prayer cards that provided some direction for people’s prayers. One young man had his own idea about how to pray for the team. After the initial call for prayer, he went home and made a prayer booklet with some of his favorite prayers for each member of the team.

The church decided to travel to Ecuador after entering into a covenant relationship with missionary Sara Flores who has been serving in Ecuador since 2011. Sara is serving in church development and community ministries with the Evangelical United Methodist Church of Ecuador. Sara and her husband, Dakin (a retired GBGM missionary), were instrumental in guiding the team in Ecuador, and in encouraging local churches there in their ministry of sharing the good news of the Risen Christ.

Twelve people got on a plane, but an entire congregation was present, and a part of what they hope is just the beginning of a growing relationship with the people of Ecuador.

Churches Urged to Avoid 15-Passenger Vans

Conference Chancellor Larry McGaughey issued a new warning about the use of 15-passenger vans by churches in his remarks at the annual conference. When fully loaded, the vans are prone to rollovers that have led to the deaths of some 600 people since safety warnings were first issued 17 years ago. The United Methodist Church advises member churches to avoid the vans.

Older models of the vans are still readily available for purchase at prices that many churches will find attractive, McGaughey said. But these older vans do not have the safety features that are now mandated in newer models—electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring and three-point seat belts. Adding to the safety concerns is the fact that most organizations using 15-passenger vans are not required to use specially-trained drivers.

According to a report from the USA Today Network, federal officials have issued repeated safety warnings to carmakers and the public. Some insurance companies refuse to cover them. And at least 28 states prohibit public schools from using them to transport students.

About 600,000 15-passenger vans with varying safety features are still on the road today, according to a 2015 estimate by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Recent articles published in the USA Today network examined the ongoing problems with the use of 15-passenger vans. A safety policy on the vans written by McGaughey about eight years ago can be found on the General Council on Finance and Administration.

Hearing Each Other’s Stories May Bridge Divides


As an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church, my call is to bring my specialized skills as a pastoral psychotherapist to the church—and extend the reach of the church into “the world.” I was recently at a deacon’s retreat with Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton where our lively discussion led me to further reflections.

The conversation turned to differences within the New York Conference and to the bishop’s call as peacemaker to minister to all its members—those who might identify as traditional or conservative, and those who see themselves as progressive or liberal. My mind went to how easily differences become fixed, and how many people simply avoid those from different “camps.” And, of course, to the current political reality with parallel divides.

I asked whether others present had had a conversation recently with someone on a different “side” of one of the powerful current topics—whether a political or religious conversation. Too often we come away from attempts to talk across these differences feeling stunned, disconnected. In our own denomination, those from traditional and progressive camps speaking on some loaded topic—LGBTQIA rights, for a prime example—can sound like we come from different worlds. We wonder how we can be from the same church, or even how both can be Christian.

Jim StinsonThe bishop asked what we see “out there,” away from parish life, that could inform the conference. Thinking over what I hear from clients who talk about religion or church, one thing people are looking for is experiential spiritual practice, like contemplative prayer and meditation. There are many people who keep their distance from church because it doesn’t seem open to their experience, because they feel they’d have to sign on to a lot that doesn’t make sense to them, or who have been harmed or devalued by a church.

The second impression I have is that for many people, it is not apathy that keeps them from the church. Passionate feelings, commitments, experiences, values come up when religion or religious institutions come up.

After a traumatic death in his family, one client stopped attending church because he was in a rage with God for allowing the death. He is almost ready to return, and imagines he’ll feel a sense of communion there with the person who died, who was devout.

A jazz musician who loves the communion she feels when her band is swinging, wishes church felt like that deep harmony among people. But to her it does not.

For a depressed man, listening to Gospel music is the one time he feels fully alive.

After hearing a Muslim holy man, a woman now views people as precious beings, and has become a pacifist. The man, after decades of one day at a time sobriety depends on a deepening relationship with a higher power, has a powerful experience of being bathed in a white light and filled with a life-altering sense of assurance.

People tend to be passionate on the topics of faith, church, and religion, one way or the other. Our discussion turned to ways to create room for nontraditional religious or spiritual seekers in churches. Two topics, the conflict within the church and the unheard passions so many people carry around about religion and God, came together as I remembered an intervention I conducted in a particular parish many years ago.

As a consultant, I witnessed and heard about fierce battles
in a small local parish. Personal insults were lobbed in committee meetings. I remember one shout of “You’re no Christian!” across the sanctuary during worship. The level of

personal antagonism was out of control and it created a toxic environment. The issue at hand was whether same sex weddings could be performed and openly gay individuals could be ordained. Newcomers would be appalled; their first visit would their last.

In that setting, after spelling out the norm of civility and basic respect for one another, I tried an intervention. We began testimonial times during the sacred time and space of worship. I carefully instructed the congregation in how this would go and asked for two volunteers each week.

The testimony would be of religious experience—an experience of the presence of God—whether a conversion experience, a powerful life-changing numinous experience, or a much simpler one like the warmth felt singing a particular hymn that brought an individual to a spiritual place. There would be no description of where these experiences brought the testifier. There would be no conclusions of political or doctrinal conviction out of this experience, just on a personal description what the experience was and how it affected the testifier personally.

There would be no cross talk, no commentary from anyone else about the testimonies except for what we all hopefully could agree on, celebrating God’s presence in an individual’s life. A time limit was set.

People were eager to testify. They wrote out statements, initially perhaps in a competitive way, but as they focused on the content, competition fell away.

One woman—again, carefully disguised—spoke of drifting through life without much purpose before she came across an evangelist at a revival who spoke about divine law, about righteous living, and a God who laid out every part of life and how it was to be lived. This had turned her life around and she felt great joy in shaping her life in every way possible according to God’s law of righteous living. You could feel the passion, the gratitude, the life changed as this woman talked, regardless of your own personal take on a law-focused religious life.

Another man talked of finding deep meaning, seeing the face of God, in service to the poor. Another spoke of the perception of God in nature, and now finding that awe everywhere in life.

This small parish did not instantly turn around with new faces filling the pews. But the feeling in the place began to shift. One person who seemed deeply entrenched, in the ”traditional” position said to someone who was more progressive, “I don’t agree with your position, but I want you to know that I love you!”—and he meant it! Next I heard, “We could be more open here, but the conference would never accept same-sex weddings”—blaming the favorite bogie-man instead of each other. Definite progress. It was a warmer place and a feeling of love based in roots predating the antagonism came through.

What happened there? I believe that many people have beautiful, passionate, religious experiences or longings that they have a natural desire to express, celebrate, and share. There is not enough space made for this in the local church or other religious settings. The passion, unheard and unappreciated, gets displaced onto positions on church policy or politics where it hardens. Then the positions feel like they represent the truth or falsity of a person’s faith or connection to God. I believe that the fuel behind fixed battles in religious circles—when people lose the basic sense that we all come from a reverent place in that we love God—is unheard religious passion.

I also see this theologically. We know that the Holy Spirit works in the here and now, within human beings. Hearing one another is one way that the Holy Spirit is shaping how God is present in this moment, in this time. We lose the power and the new truths of how God is moving now when we forget to ask about, listen to and celebrate, fellow journeyers’ stories about God.

Free Emergency Preparedness Booklet

UMNS | Plenty of United Methodist churches have seen earthquakes and lightning, rivers overflowing and hurricanes a-blowing.

Before there’s a bad moon on the rise, United Methodist Insurance has ways to help.

The nonprofit has produced a free e-booklet, “Emergency Preparedness for Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather,” in hopes of helping churches long before trouble’s on the way.

The overarching message of the booklet is that while you

likely can’t prevent natural catastrophes, you can be prepared.

The booklet lists 10 ways churches can prepare for disaster, including improving communication and taking an inventory of a church’s assets.

United Methodist Insurance offers tips for assembling an emergency kit, reporting insurance claims and avoiding scams in a disaster’s aftermath. Its booklet also has advice for winterizing churches and dealing with specific disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and fire. The goal is to help churches get back to serving their communities.


Helen Biser Villazon

Helen Biser Villazon, 74, died June 3, 2018, in Clifton Park, N.Y. She was born January 4, 1944, and was the wife of Rev. Westley R. Villazon.

She was a retired secretary and senior account clerk. Her interests were in small groups, United Methodist Women, and Stephen Ministry.

The couple met in the youth group Hicksville United Methodist Church and were married there on June 30, 1963. Pastor Villazon received his license to preach from the New York Conference in 2005, and served churches in Bellmore, Merrick, and Seaford on Long Island, and the Bakerville UMC in Connecticut. Since his retirement in 2014, the couple have divided their time between Clifton Park, and Dade City, Fla.

In addition to her husband of 54 years, Villazon is survived by her children: Donna (Robert) Cook of Willington, Conn.; and Mark (Stacie) Villazon of Naperville, Ill.; grandchildren, Sara and Rachel Cook of Willington, and Emily and Alexander Villazon of Naperville,; and by her sisters-in-law: Elaine (Jay) Scavone of Naples, Fla., and Aleta (Steven) Adler of Waldwick, N.J.

A celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m., June 23 at the Shenendehowa UMC, 971 NY-146, Clifton Park, N.Y. A reception will follow.

Memorial contributions may be made to Community Dinner, Shenendehowa UMC, 971 NY-146, Clifton Park, NY 12065, or to Dade City Community Pantry, Travelers Rest Church Association, 29129 Johnston Rd., Dade City, FL 33523. Messages of condolence may be left for the family at or sent to 8 Wall St., Apt #141, Clifton Park, NY 12065.

Rev. Dr. James E. Rush

The Reverend Dr. James E. Rush died May 22, 2018, in Little Rock, Ark.

He was born in Ames, Iowa, on January 2, 1941. Rush received a bachelor’s of science from Geneva College, a master’s of divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from Hartford Seminary Foundation in Connecticut. As a lifelong student, Rush also studied in India, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and throughout the United States, including Harvard Medical School, Georgetown University, the Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute of H.H. the Dalai Lama, and the University of Hawaii.

Rush was a Methodist minister for more than 50 years, receiving his license to preach in 1965 in the Western Pennsylvania Conference before moving to the New York

Conference in 1968. He served NY Conference churches for 10 years, namely Grace UMC in Newburgh, N.Y., and East Berlin UMC in Connecticut.

In 1977, he was appointed associate professor at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, and in 1983 he became a full professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. He retired from the New York Conference in 2014.

Jim was known as an expert in global philosophies and religions, formative spirituality, critical thinking, and moral reasoning, as well as the practices of Buddhism, mindfulness, and biomedical ethics. Throughout his career Jim was acknowledged with many awards, including twice receiving the Exemplary Teachers Award from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church.

Survivors include his wife, Kaycie Marler-Rush; a brother, Dave (Jan) Rush; a niece, Jackie Rush, and a nephew, Nicholas Rush. He was predeceased by his mother, Thelma Lewers, and his father, Harold Rush.

A memorial service was held at the Wesley Chapel at Philander Smith College on June 7. Memorial donations may be made to the Jim Rush Legacy Memorial Fund.

Rev. Norma Andrus Rust

The Reverend Norma Andrus Rust, 86, died May 7, 2018. Rust was born May 2, 1932, in Simsbury, Conn., the daughter of Arthur G. and Elizabeth (McHenry) Andrus. She he was a lifelong resident of Simsbury.

Rev. Rust received her master of divinity at the Hartford Seminary, and a doctor of ministry from Drew Theological Seminary. She served appointments at several United Methodist Churches in Connecticut including Forestville, Kensington, South Middletown and Higganum, and at Bellmore UMC on Long Island, N.Y.

After her second retirement as pastor, Rust came home and shared her talents with the Simsbury UMC as pastor of visitation. She had a love for gardening and enjoyed traveling.

Rust is survived by a nephew, Donald F. (Teri) Rust, Jr., of Granby; a niece, Joan (Ralph) Johnson of Canton, and several extended family members. She was predeceased by her husband, Frank J. Rust; a brother, Robert E. Andrus, and a sister, Frances L. Andrus.

A memorial service was held May 12 at the Simsbury UMC; burial followed in Simsbury Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the Simsbury Volunteer Ambulance Assoc., P.O. Box 301, Simsbury, CT 06070.

Online condolences may be left at Norma’s “Book of Memories.”

The Vision, Newspaper of the NYAC, of the UMC

Bishop: Thomas J. Bickerton

Editor: Joanne Utley

Vision e-mail:

Web site:

New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

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