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.
Betty Ann Berry, a member of Mifflinburg United Methodist Church, was part of the fourth class to experience the Laity Leadership Academy, the first group of participants in the Susquehanna Conference after the merger of our foundations. Through her participation in Module I, Betty Ann became convinced of the need for congregations to be more fully in touch with their unique vision, mission, and core values. So often, congregations seek to be like every other congregation, without being aware of the ways in which the Holy Spirit gives them, as a group, a very specific role to play in the Body of Christ. And so, Betty Ann developed a project that would help folks be more aware of the work of the Spirit, especially focused on the gifts that the Spirit gives.
But Betty Ann also learned clearly that leaders in the current season of congregational life need to be ready to adapt and adjust on a moment’s notice; that the same Holy Spirit who gives us spiritual gifts also calls us to new ventures as the needs of the church change over time. The Holy Spirit spoke to Betty Ann, and she listened. She became convinced that pastors in the church of today are dealing with profound stress. She became convinced that she needed to use one of her own spiritual gifts, the gift of encouragement, to find a way to encourage pastors who are serving in these difficult days.
Each one of the participants in the Laity Academy is asked to submit a report to the Dean of the Foundation School of Leadership summarizing their project. For her project, and her report, she wrote a devotional book designed to give courage to those who serve. It offers devotional thoughts for 52 weeks, an entire year of encouragement! And while Betty Ann intended to support the work of pastors, it could also be helpful to anyone who needs a word of encouragement to face the week ahead.
But the Holy Spirit was not quite done with Betty Ann. Through this journey, the cabinet of the Susquehanna Conference recognized that her gift of encouragement could be used in a broader context as a pastor. They approached her about that possibility and invited her to serve as the pastor of Lincoln Chapel United Methodist Church. Betty Ann recognized the voice of the Holy Spirit calling her to yet another new venture and accepted their invitation!
On December 31 at Mifflinburg UM Church, the Rev. Barry Robison, Director of Relationships and Stewardship Development at the Foundation presented Betty Ann with a Certificate of Completion on behalf of Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and the Board of Directors. Her pastor, the Rev. Bob Rice, also took part in the presentation.
The Laity Leadership Academy has been retooled to meet the needs of congregations who are experiencing hardship in this season. Now known as the Empowered Church Project, the program is designed to assist churches who struggle due to cultural shifting, the effects of the pandemic, and the dynamics within our denomination. Recruitment for the 2025 cohort will begin soon. If you would like to enroll your congregation, or if you simply want more information, please contact the Dean of the Foundation School of Leadership, Dr. Joseph Patterson. He can be reached email@example.com.