AC18: Report of Lay Leader Roena Littlejohn

AC18: Report of Lay Leader Roena Littlejohn

6/9/2018

SING: And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face?  Glory and thanks to Jesus give for His almighty grace!”
 
Bishop Bickerton, Dr. Grace Cajiuat, Members of the Cabinet, Clergy, Laity, Deaconesses and Home Missioners, Staff, and Friends of the New York Annual Conference.  I thank God for the opportunity to serve as your Conference Lay Leader. . . I confess, as God would have it, each year gets better!
 

Conference Lay Leader Roena Littlejohn delivers her annual report.
Our theme for this year’s Annual Conference, “PATHWAYS & POSSIBILITIES” allows for unlimited interactions and discoveries. When I reflect on all the activities of this past year and the pathways that were open to me;  I see that some were straight forward and clear; some forced me to seek discernment before deciding to go full speed ahead. Some took unexpected turns. Life is filled with pathways and possibilities. . . 

Is there anyone present today who can tell us what will be the status of our 51 year old United Methodist Church on June 7, 2019?

Beginning with Annual Conference 2017, Bishop Bickerton, in his powerful address modeled how we are to make disciples.  He said we do not make disciples sitting in the pews; and then, rolling up his shirt sleeves, challenged all to get down to business, get out of the pews, go to the people,  and share the Good news about Jesus Christ!

We’ve seen the declining numbers representing the loss of members. It’s time for our UNITED Methodist Church to get busy making disciples.  In the United Methodist Church ALL are called to the ministry.  The 2016 Book of Discipline, Section II; “The Ministry of All Christians” states, “The UMC has traditionally recognized that lay persons as well as ordained persons are gifted and called by God to lead the church.  The ministry of the laity flows from a commitment of Christ’s outreaching love.”  Lay members by history and calling, are to be active advocates of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every lay person is called to carry out the Great Commission . . . every lay person is called to be missional.

My laity sisters, brothers, and friends, it’s time we join hands with our Clergy, get out of the pews, and take part the Good News to the people where they are!  We have work to do!

For those of us who missed Bishop Bickerton’s message at annual conference; the Board of Laity Retreat followed the annual conference by two weeks.  Beginning with a time of devotion and introduction Bishop Bickerton started a round of question about why we exist, (Why, What, and How).  He encouraged each person to quietly consider their why” as the absence of an answer to our “why we exist”   (This is not really clear). This one-day retreat generated a feeling of empowerment, inspiration, and enforcement.  Bishop told everyone, modeled, and taught us the steps to making disciples. His demonstration allowed me to see pathways available to the laity that had not previously been open.  I drove away reflecting on the rich discussions of the day, and couldn’t help wondering how often do we as lay leaders we settle for “rote” behavior rather than giving our all to each task?  I was reminded of General Conference when we constantly heard each bishop say after a sermon or remarks, “Go." Of course the theme was, “Therefore, Go. . .” taken from the Scripture Matthew 28:19 “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  Bishop provided thought provoking building blocks that we may use on our pathways to disciple-making.

Disciple-making requires making a commitment.  Clearly, commitments are made when we get down to business, roll up our sleeves, and bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people where they are.

I recall one of the many lessons my father taught us about commitment.  He had many sayings that he would often speak to usI remember, speaking about commitment, “One should not make a promise that they do not plan to keep;” “When you give your word, people believe you, and depend on it as truth”; “Your word is your bond!”, Come to mind. My dad had a 3-point charge and the churches were three or four towns away.  One very stormy Sunday his car wouldn’t start, (this was way before cell phones). We thought that due to the weather, he could miss that Sunday, however, the weather was no deterrent for dad. He said that his members were expecting him, so he dressed in his rain coat, umbrella, galoshes, and brief case and left to wait for the Greyhound bus to get him to the church.  Upon his return, he said that his members were both delighted to see him, but they would have understood if he had not come that Sunday. Upon his return home we received part 2 of the lesson, the weather had nothing to do with his promise to his church members that he would be there, and they knew him to be dependable and trustworthy.  The weather was God’s work being done also.  My dad loved the Methodist Church. I am who I am by the Grace of God and the many lessons that both Mom and dad taught us. Commitment is only one of them.
 
With your permission, I would like a personal privilege to say, happy birthday Dad, the Rev. Esau Anderson, June 7, 1907-February 16, 1967.  He served in the Central Jurisdiction which during his lifetime, separated African Americans in the Methodist Church. Today, we remember the dismantling of the Central Jurisdiction 50 years ago.

“And are we yet alive,” the great Charles Wesley classic, has both personal and historic meaning.  As children, the fear of moving to a new school late in the school year, and the trigger that dad was preparing for the November conference remains a memory of what it was like growing up in the Methodist Church. That too, is a part of the memory. So,
Happy 50TH birthday to the United Methodist Church!
 
Building on the foundation laid by Bishop Bickerton at the Board of Laity Retreat, and in an effort to develop the bonding and further strengthen relationship we convened our first district lay Leaders meeting.  In a time of sharing, and transparency, we discussed hopes and dreams, we shared concerns and thoughts on creating closer ties.  These are pathways to life and growth as we move toward disciple-making.
 
From across the NYAC, 254 laity gathered for the 2017 convocation and to hear the dynamic presentation by the Rev. Junius Dotson, who challenged us to “See All the People.”  On that day, we offered laity led engaging workshops designed from the book "Holy Habits."  The day included a powerful, spiritually charged Communion Meditation delivered by Dr. Alfa Sylvester. Laity lifted their voice in song with the Convocation Ensemble, led by Daniel Pettit.  God anointed the day of celebration with Laity participation: demonstrating leadership, service, thanksgiving, and praise.

An unexpected pathway of learning opened on the NYAC spiritual pilgrimage to Korea.  Prayer has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, first learning, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” as a child.  Hearing the history of the Methodist Church in Korea and the importance of prayer, I discovered a passion that is the best description of “fervent prayer.”  Experiencing a 5 a.m. daily prayer service, with a 100+ voice choir each day was a spiritual awakening. This for me spelled C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T, both to God and the Church . . . their church membership is growing! They provide programs for all ages (cradle to grave).

I’m discouraged by the decrease in the number of young people, youth in particular in our church.  On the positive side, I was pleasantly surprised at the Bishop’s Confirmation Rally held in the NY/CT district.  Having no direct connections with youth on a regular basis; I went with an open mind, did some networking, and out of habit took a set near the front of the sanctuary.  As Pursuing JC (the band of young adults) begin tuning up their equipment, I wondered if it had been a mistake. Well, for my contemporaries, without earplugs I enjoyed that worship experience.  There was no sermon (as we know it) by bishop, no formal order of worship, yet through music, song, small group discussions and Bishop Bickerton’s sharing with the confirmands; the Spirit of God was truly in that place, my heart was deeply touched!  Don’t skip over that pathway!

Through the mountains, valleys, villages, and towns, I found my way to the scenic Catskill Hudson district to share an enjoyable day with the United Methodist on their Day Apart. The fellowship, sharing and emphasis on Bible study, one of the tenets of the UMW, were very engaging, informative, and imaginative.   

One cannot escape the hustle and bustle of traffic in the city, and so it was as the Metropolitan District hosted the Conference Fall Meeting of UMW.  This group of lay women are second to none in getting the job done.  I have benefited from countless lessons learned, and continue to do so.  An autonomous United Methodist lay women’s organization, one of the largest in the world; I am honored to hold membership and serve as the NYC UMW representative to the Appalachian Ministry Network. Pathways to life.

Global leadership summit attracted many clergy and laity from the Long Island East District.  Not only did it prove to be an opportunity to receive briefings from prominent business leaders, but also a chance to network, share ideas over a meal and hear what events were successful in each congregation.  We don’t have to re-create the wheel . . . just share ideas.  On another occasion, I witnessed the lay leader and a lay man offering training for 1st time lay members to annual conference.  Speaking to a full house of lay and clergy persons was indicative of support to the training. 
 
On a rainy day in early spring, I witnessed and was a participant as theLong Island West District offered their Leadership Development Training Day.  The leadership was predominately lay persons, there were clergy led workshops as well, Rain was no deterrent as people continued to fill the auditorium, a very successful training.  
 
And then there is my Connecticut District. Bishop’s Day on our district left everyone longing to hear more.
Children, youth, adults, and men’s ministry were all on board to greet the bishop.  How exciting to see the sanctuary full – would you believe it rained that night.
 And then, the Celebration of appointment for Dr. Sylvester, our new DS.  In his sermon he talked about ACCOUNTABILITY… powerful message, plus a CT church was filled to capacity with two over-flow sections assigned.
 
Friends, sisters and brothers, as I enter my 3rd year as conference lay leader, on every pathway, clearly there is healing.  I thank God for each experience, and look forward to us working together to discover new pathways and envision new possibilities on our journey to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- Roena Littlejohn

Delivered June 7, 2018