St. John’s-Newbury UMC Member Completes Laity Leadership Academy

In 2019 the United Methodist Foundation of Pennsylvania launched a Laity Leadership Academy designed to empower laity to lead the churches of our region in the ever-changing landscape of congregational life. Participants read some of the greatest books currently available on the topic, experience seminars led by the finest leaders in our conference, engage with one another in dialogue, and build relationships that provide support for the journey.

Each one of the Academies is structured around two modules. The first module is one year long, experienced together in several weekend retreats held at Mount Asbury in Newville. During these retreats, topics relevant to congregational leadership in the current culture are covered.

The second module is custom designed for each participant, allowing her or him to explore an area of leadership individually for which she or he is especially well equipped. That determination is made after an assessment of the participant’s spiritual gifts and strengths. That module is open-ended; it can be accomplished at whatever pace makes sense to the individual participant.

In total, the entire experience provides 100 hours of training.

Tony Mileto, a member the Saint John’s-Newbury UMC in the Williamsport District, was part of the fourth class to experience the Laity Leadership Academy, the first one comprised of folks from the Susquehanna Conference following the merger of the United Methodist Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and the Stewardship Foundation in Susquehanna. In the Academy, Tony learned that the Holy Spirit has given him the gifts of Evangelism and Hospitality. He had come to know Mama Arlene Brown and her ministry with the Urukundo Foundation and Hope Made Real in Rwanda. Mama Brown read about abandoned children in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which inspired her action. At a time of life when most people would move into retirement, Mama Brown moved instead to Rwanda and launched a ministry to these precious children. Today, the ministry deals not only with orphaned or abandoned children, but also the poor and vulnerable people in the region. Her ministry is driven by love, encouragement, and education.

Mama Arlene Brown, Tony Mileto, and Rev. Barry Robison

Fueled by his knowledge about some expansion needs at Hope Made Real and armed by new knowledge about strategic planning and leading with mission, vision, and core values about which he heard at the Laity Academy, Tony crafted a project for the second module that would provide support for Mama Brown. He recruited volunteers not only from St. John’s-Newberry UMC, but also from several other UM congregations in the area and planned a fund-raising meal, hoping to raise $3,000-$4,000. The effort was successful beyond Tony’s expectations. At last count, the effort has raised more than $10,000! The group also raised a great deal of important awareness about Mama Brown and the needs of the children in this fragile part of the world.

Tony has been on quite a journey. He has remained faithful to the Lord Jesus and to this church for a long time, serving in countless ways. He embraces a deep passion for the marginalized people of our world; he has modeled the possibilities that exist when the people of God work together and focus their passions, traits that the church needs so desperately at this unique moment in the history of our life together. Tony is faithful, and faithfully follows God’s lead into deeper levels of discipleship, service, and leadership.

On behalf of our Bishop, Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, the Dean of the Foundation School of Leadership, Dr. Joseph Patterson, and the Board of Directors of the United Methodist Foundation of Pennsylvania, the Rev. Barry Robison, the Foundation’s Director of Relationships and Stewardship Development, presented Tony with a Certificate of Completion in worship on August 27. It was an extra special occasion because Mama Brown was able to be present and take part!
Tony is the first member of the Laity Leadership Academy in the Susquehanna Conference to complete the entire process!

The Laity Academy has been redesigned to live into the recent changes in our Connection brought about by cultural change, the pandemic, and the dynamics within our denomination. It is now known as the “Empowered Church Project,” the goal of which is to bring about systemic change and sustainable growth. If you would like to know more about the ministry of the Foundation, please feel free to contact Dr. Patterson at