Pastor’s Report: 2024 Susquehanna Annual Conference

Conference Committee on Nominations Chair, Pastor Theresa Heiser, offers the committee report as part of the Friday afternoon Plenary Session. Photo; Sandii Peiffer

Dear Church,

            I bring you greetings from Bishop Steiner-Ball and Bishop Moore Koikoi! The conference began May 30th with the clergy gathered for the clergy session at nearby Park UMC while laity gathered at The Community Arts Center for their laity session. At the clergy session, one was approved for nomination to be commissioned in her process to become an elder and three others were approved for nomination to the body for ordination.

            The business of the conference began immediately after opening worship Thursday and concluded around lunchtime Saturday. I particularly enjoyed Saturday morning’s Bible study because it focused on creation in Genesis and the natural ways that we recenter ourselves. All that great advice our grandmas and grandpas would tell us is rooted in actual scientifically proven all natural things found in creation! When I’d get upset and angry as a child, my gram would command a few things. One was “take it outside and get some vitamin D.” Sunlight is a proven disinfectant as well as an excellent source of vitamin D, giving a boost to the mood. “Go play in the dirt.” There are microbes in the soil that, when released by moving it around, act as a calming and centering agent. “Drink a cool glass of water.”  Dehydration can affect our body as well as our mood and the coolness can be enough to refocus our mind. “Eat! Eat!” God created plants and animals, some of which we use for food and are quite tasty. Not enough protein and other natural nutrients can make you hangry! Oh, the list goes on and on and may become a late summer message series! The Rev. Dr. Ron Bell was so inspiring, and the message so good, I dare not keep it to myself! [Author of The Four Promises: A Journey of Healing Past and Present and Is There Space for Me? Embracing Grief Through Art. I highly recommend both.]

             For all the sameness, there was one new thing. This was my first conference serving as chair of the Committee on Nominations. This year was as challenging as the one prior. As happens most years, there are still some open seats and serving opportunities. But we agreed that it’s not about putting a name in a box, it’s about discerning who has the gifts, graces and passions to join a team, hit the ground running and bless the work while being blessed in the doing. The report went well and I look forward to next year’s work. In six weeks, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference will be held and we will learn if we have the same or new bishop(s). It was a great joy for me to spend time with the Bishops discussing ideas. What a blessing!

I’ve compiled articles that speak to the work in detail on the following pages. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me or to Beth Brown.

Respectfully submitted,

Pastor Theresa Heiser

2024 Susquehanna Annual Conference Highlights

The Council on Finance and Administration by Liz Lennox

The report of the Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) was presented by Rev. JP Bohanan. He shared that this report was a result of significant collaboration across all boards, agencies, the coordinating cabinet, the finance office, staff, and others. He acknowledged the new realities as we continue to come back from pandemic and disaffiliation, while expressing hope for days of great fruitfulness and harvest ahead.

He outlined the proposed 2025 budget, which reflects a decrease of 1.3 million in total spending from the 2024 budget. With one million dollars in reserve funds applied to reduce budget pressure on local churches, the gross share total is a little under 7.6 million (an almost 5 million decrease from 2020).

A motion was made to amend the recommendation that would limit a local church’s increase in Shares of Ministry. The recommendation of an increase of no more than 20% was amended to decrease the percentage to 10%. This amendment was passed, and then the body passed the main motion.

Rev. Bohanan expressed gratitude for the Board of Pensions, which will be taking on the compensation package of the Benefits Administrator and providing $150,000 per year, for the next twenty years, to cover the cost of the retiree health benefit.

The body then approved the entire CF&A recommendation, with deep appreciation shared by Rev. Bohanan to the many who have labored in this task. The entire recommendation can be viewed in the AC2024 workbook located on the Annual Conference page of the Conference website.

Resolution #3 – Hope Made Real  by Rebecca Holland

Acknowledgment of Hope Made Real/Urukundo Foundation as a Mission of Individuals and Congregations of the Susquehanna Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church passed with no amendments. Therefore, we affirm, support, and acknowledge the relationship that exists between the people of the Susquehanna Conference and the 501c3 nonprofit, “Hope Made Real.”

The Hope Made Real/ Urukundo Foundation began in 2002 by Arlene D. Brown, a laity member of St. John’s United Methodist Church, Williamsport. Hope Made Real was established in Rwanda and has evolved into a comprehensive institution. It includes the Urukundo Learning Center with over 1200 students, a Community Daycare, Sewing Technical Center, Dental Clinic, Mama-Baby Outreach, Community Worship Center, and Guest House.

The Susquehanna Conference affirms the work of Hope Made Real. We also appreciate all the congregations and church members who have supported the ministries of Hope Made Real.

We encourage churches and congregations to continue to support this ministry.

Resolution #6 – Five District Plan  Moving Forward in Mission and Ministry  by Liz Lennox

The body adopted Resolution 6 “Five District Plan; Moving Forward in Ministry and Mission” which effective July 1, 2024 will set the number of districts in the Susquehanna Conference at five. The Bishops and Cabinet will continue to balance the newly aligned districts and each new district will hold a District Conference in the Fall of 2024 in order to complete district nominations and to attend to other matters as needed. The assets will be transitioned appropriately as determined by conference fiscal policies in discussion with the Conference Treasurer and Appointive Cabinet.

By January 1, 2025, all churches will be aligned to their new district and will be instructed with regards to annual reports, etc. The team shared that this resolution simply renames what

the Conference is already living into, except for a few churches. Clarifying questions were asked about supervisory area boundaries, which churches belong to what supervisory area, the well-being of the superintendents, and the role of assisting elders and ministerial assistants.

The body passed the resolution with no amendments.

Conference Approves Recommendations for the Future of Camp & Retreat Ministry  by Liz Lennox

On Friday, The Susquehanna Conference voted to accept recommendations by the Camp and Retreat Ministry Board that came from a two-year long study on the vitality and viability of the current program.

Rev. Daniel Wilt began the recommendation presentation by sharing what camp means to him, highlighting the experiences he has been blessed with at our Susquehanna camps. He uplifted the work of the board and shared that they have been working hard and praying for a way forward. Rev. Kevin Witt then came to the microphone to share the recommendations made by the Camp and Retreat Ministry Board in response to the changing landscape and realities of our Camp and Retreat ministry. For the past two years, the board has considered what has been lost, what new possibilities exist, and what resources are available to move forward. “We are working toward a new beginning for something new,” he reflected.

Before sharing the recommendations, Rev. Witt laid out key priorities and impacts of camping and retreat. These priorities include intentional community and discipleship, an exploration of gifts and calls, doing good in the world, outreach and deepening of relationships, and rest and renewal. These go hand-in-hand with the core values and ways of being for the ministry, which are: love, acceptance, time away, brave spaces, young voices, beloved community, and safety.

He then highlighted the ways in which the landscape of camping and retreat ministry is changing and the adaptations that need to take place to care for growing diversity in our communities.

There are a few key realities that the camping ministry has faced, including diminished financial resources against increased costs, fewer campers attending programs, and burnt out staff. The board believes that their recommendation will address those realities and by intentionally aligning leadership and resources, ministry impact can be increased and new people can be reached. (cont.)

(cont.) Ultimately, the recommendation moves the camping and retreat ministry to support three ministry centers: Wesley Forest as the primary camp and retreat center serving year round; Camp Penn, Conference Approves Recommendations for the Future of Camp & Retreat Ministry offering summer camp; and Sky Lake, which is a camp in the Upper NY Annual Conference and will serve as a collaborative partner site.

These three camps provide camping access to all regions in the Susquehanna Conference. The other two camps currently owned by the conference, Greene Hills and Mount Asbury, will be sold and the proceeds will benefit the enhancement and strengthening of the other camps in the program. The programs that currently exist at these camps will be transitioned to the other locations.

To address the growing diversity in our communities, the third recommendation will be to develop Beloved Community and outreach models of camps and retreats in collaboration with communities of color, congregations, and other partners to increase impact and access to camp and retreat ministry opportunities that build relationships with new people. As a result of all these actions, staffing and resources would be aligned to specifically focus on steps for ministry enhancement and growth.

Jason Schwartzman, another member of the board, shared his complex feelings of heavy-heartedness but also unwavering hope.

He then referred the recommendation to the Board of Trustees, those responsible for the selling of properties, who received and affirmed the recommendation. The motion was then made to the body to adopt the recommendation.

There was debate on the floor, with speeches for and against. Some expressed grief over the decision and an amendment was made, but ultimately did not pass. Others shared in that grief, while recognizing the financial difficulties and affirming the recommendation. Financial questions regarding funding were answered by Conference Treasurer Mark Knecht and Rev. Barry Robison answered questions about the selling of the property on behalf of the Board of Trustees.

More information about this recommendation, including a full explanation of the Board’s decision, can be found on the Susquehanna Camp & Retreat Ministry website at

Resolution #1 – Mental Health  by Liz Lennox

Res-1 resolves that the Susquehanna United Methodist will observe Mental Health Awareness Month by dedicating the third Sunday in May for a special offering. This initiative is designed to enhance educational efforts for our members, clergy, and the wider community, emphasizing the church’s commitment to mental health and wellness. It aims to guide individuals toward professional resources and organizations that are equipped to facilitate early detection and appropriate management of mental health and wellness concerns. Additionally, the original resolution (before amended) recognizes Suicide Prevention Month and National Recovery Month in September, and that Mental Health Awareness week be marked by a day of prayer. (cont.)

(cont.) A young adult in favor of this position shared their own personal mental health struggles, while encouraging the body to vote for this resolution so that young people can feel safe and cared for in sharing their own stories. Another shared their own pain of hidden struggles, asking the church to take the opportunity to come alongside people and offer helpful, practical, and non-judgmental support.

An amendment was put forth to add August as Overdose Awareness Month as a month of recognition, recognizing that addiction often goes hand in hand with mental health struggles. This amendment passed.

Another amendment was put forth and adopted to add to the language of the resolution a fuller recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, and to align the day of prayer align with World Mental Health Day.

A third amendment struck the language that called for a “cure for all mental illnesses” and replaced it with “mental health and wellness”. All amendments were passed, and the resolution passed as

amended. Because of the nature of this difficult conversation, Rev. Kris Sledge led the body in a word of prayer.

Resolution #2 – Disability Awareness Sunday  by Rebecca Holland

Disability Awareness Sunday was passed with no amendments. Disability Awareness Sunday will be recognized by the Susquehanna Conference on the second Sunday in October (October 13, 2024).

The purpose of Disability Awareness Sunday is to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the life of the church. It is our goal to empower clergy with disabilities and to offer support to laity with disabilities. Local congregations are encouraged to observe Disability Awareness Sunday by inviting people with disabilities to help to lead worship or share their testimony.

Churches are also encouraged to take a special offering on Disability Awareness Sunday to support the special offering for Advanced Special #3021054 to benefit Disability Ministries of the United Methodist Church. This special offering will be given to the Disability Ministries Committee of the United Methodist Church (the larger Disabilities group our Susquehanna Conference Task Force is affiliated) to support the ongoing efforts of disabilities ministries throughout the worldwide United Methodist connection.

 In the past, donations received from this special offering have been used to provide grants to local churches to improve their accessibility by installing ramps, hearing loops, and providing large print materials. For more information about how you can recognize Disability Awareness Sunday in your own church, please visit or

Resolution #4 – Church & Land Use Resolution  by Rebecca Holland

Church and Land Use passed with no amendments. The presenter stated that the purpose of this resolution is to honor our Creator through good stewardship of God’s Creation. Our local churches, camps, and individuals are encouraged to consider some of the following actions:

● Upgrade old toilets with water-saving toilets

● Change out old light fixtures and bulbs to energy savers.

● Discontinue using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides

● Plant native species

● Plant a rain garden in areas where water runoff from hard surfaces flows into storm drains or nearby

● Convert to renewable energy

● Avoid purchases that contribute to deforestation.

● Avoid use of plastic and reduce the use of paper products

The intention of this resolution is to work to produce a healthier world for us and future generations.

Resolution #5 – Gun Violence  by Liz Lennox

The Susquehanna Conference voted to support “A Resolution to Declare Gun Violence a Public Health Emergency in Our Annual Conference.” This resolution encourages every church in the conference to respond to gun violence as a community-wide health care emergency by entering into courageous conversation on the causes and effects of gun violence and by taking steps to prevent violence. It also encourages all gun owners to properly store their guns and affirms the UM Book of Resolutions #3429 “Our Call to End Gun Violence.” The actions in the UM resolution that this resolution would support include: universal background checks; the prohibition of purchase of a gun by people under a restraining order; the ensuring of greater access to mental health services; the ban of large-capacity ammunition magazines and weapons; and the promotion of new technologies to aid law-enforcement.

The submitter of this resolution spoke, sharing statistics about gun violence and mental health. There was debate on the floor, with multiple speeches for and against. A proposed amendment failed and the question was called to end debate. The body then voted to support the resolution

For additional information, visit