NEJ Lay Leaders gather in New England

Lay Leaders from around the Northeastern Jurisdiction gathered in Springfield for their annual meeting. See more photos in the gallery at right.

October 15, 2018

“Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up.” - Galatians 6:9 (CEB)

Thirty-four lay leaders from around the New England Conference and across the Northeastern Jurisdiction (NEJ) came to Trinity UMC in Springfield, MA, for the annual meeting of NEJ Lay Leaders.

The theme for the gathering, which took place Oct. 12-14, 2018, was "Going Deeper; Growing Stronger."

"The goal was to have a learning experience, exchange ideas, and enjoy interesting conversation – along with some fun, of course,” said Rene Wilbur, Lay Leader
From top: Rich Shaffer, Rene Wilbur, Bonnie-jean Rowe, Kay Kotan, and Rich Hughen
for the New England Conference. “The president of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Association of Lay Leaders said that 'New England has set the bar high' for future NEJ meetings. Our team considered that to be affirmation that we accomplished our goal!"

The group participated in a number of worship and training experiences on Saturday.

In the morning devotion, Rich Shaffer, lay leader of the West Virginia Conference, focused on the story of the good Samaritan, and asked: “Are you willing to get off your donkey?” (as the Samaritan did, and help your neighbor).

Then it was time to “Go Deeper and Grow Stronger” with a workshop led by Bonnie-jean Rowe, at-large member of the New England Board of Laity.
“I’m going to assume that everyone here would like to grow stronger in their faith …” Rowe said. “We never get their entirely, we’re always on our way. As leaders in our church, we have the obligation to help others on their way to grow stronger, to go deeper into their own faith.”

Many people who say that God is silent “want a Mount Sinai experience,” Rowe said, but helping people grow in faith means teaching them how to go deeper without that “mountain-top experience.”

The spiritual disciplines that are taught or modeled in the Bible, Rowe said, are an important way to do that. While there are many – worship, service, fasting – Rowe chose to focus on prayer.

Prayer stations, simple activities designed to inspire prayer, are good way to teach others how to pray and encourage them to pray more often, Rowe said, and they can work for adults, youth or young children.

Rowe set up a number of prayer stations for participants to use and to draw inspiration from. The activities included adding petals to a “gratitude flower” and dissolving Alka-Seltzer tablets to symbolize the letting go of past hurts. Rowe suggested searching Pinterest for more ideas.

Keynote speaker for the event was Kay Kotan, Director of Equipping Vital Congregations for the Susquehanna Conference. Kotan, a layperson, is the co-author of “IMPACT! Reclaiming the Call of Lay Ministry.” She led a two-part workshop based on her book.

Working with churches across the country, Kotan said, she’s repeatedly found  “laity [who] had forgotten their call or were never informed that they could have a call.”

“Sometimes we limit – not only ourselves – we limit the call of our other lay folks in the pews,” she said. “We have so much potential –  [but we] unintentionally squelch their call.”

Kotan lifted the example of Nehemiah. “He had never been in a leadership role before – he was a servant with a servant’s heart – and he was called to a foreign land,” she said.

He was not the most obvious choice as a leader, but “God stretches us,” she said.

Despite a lack of experience, Nehemiah didn’t give up, Kotan said, because “he believed in the call, and did whatever it took to live out that call.”
“When people understand their call and know that it’s of God from God – the passion and energy is there to live it out no matter what,” she said.
In this time of transition for the church, it’s important that the laity own the vision and mission.

“I think we’re in a time of revival,” Kotan said, “but we have to think outside the proverbial box, push through fear, and be in a stage of experiment.”
“Laity ownership of vision and mission is not ‘you can’t do that to my church,’” she said. “It’s owning where we’re headed and why, and not being fearful of making those faithful steps.”

In the afternoon on Saturday, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar offered his greetings, saying, “It is a joy and privilege to be with all of you lay leaders. I still recall at my installation service after I was elected in 2004, I said, ‘My lay leader and I are going to walk together, because I truly believe in a lay clergy partnership.’”

“As John Wesley taught us, we started as a lay movement, and the laity have kept us going. The clergy came along later … and I say that in front of clergy,” he said with a laugh.

Bishop Devadhar then led a short Bible study on the Lord’s Prayer. The bishop pointed out that the Lord’s Prayer is the only one that does not say “in the name of Christ,” so it can be said by anyone who is a follower of God.

“It is my feeling that if all the Christians in this universe started living the Lord’s Prayer we’d be in a different world – not only saying the Lord’s Prayer, but also living the Lord’s Prayer,” Bishop Devadhar said. 

The training component on Saturday closed with a session titled “Growing Stronger,” led by Rich Hughen, Tri-State District co-lay leader.

Taking a page out of Interpreter magazine, Hughen asked lay leaders to share ideas “that worked for us” in their local churches, districts, or conferences. As they shared, leaves were added to the barren tree (see photos in the gallery at right).

In addition, the lay leaders took part in a dinner church worship with Rev. LyAnna Johnson of Simple Church Worcester on Friday evening, and were entertained by pianist Robert Wyatt, Director of Music at Highfield Hall in Falmouth, MA, on Saturday evening.

The leaders participated in Bible study and worshiped with the Trinity congregation before departing on Sunday morning.

The 2019 NEJ Lay Leaders Gathering will be hosted by the New York Conference.