Northern District Conference Focuses on Cooperation

By John Langenstein

The 2022 Northern District Conference opened on August 28th at New Martinsville United Methodist Church with half an hour of fellowship. During this time over coffee and snacks, the district reconnected. The district realignment meant new churches and charges were gathered to Holy Conferencing for the first time as members of the Northern District, and first meetings took place across the building. The on and off again nature of meetings during the Pandemic due to added distance meant that there were plenty of conversations to be had in this first half hour.

Rev. Neil Leftwich, District Superintendent, opened the formal meeting with binoculars pressed against his face, looking out at the expanse of people, gathered from Clarksburg all the way to the tip of the Northern Panhandle. His opening words introduced the theme of this gathering, “Cooperation.” The opening speaker, Ms. Andrea Trio, principal at Madison Elementary School in Wheeling, W.Va., was welcomed to the conference as a representative of the Hearts of Hope church to school partnerships.

Ms. Trio described herself as a devoted educator with nineteen years of experience in public schools. Her calling showed her a central truth that “God is on the move.” She expressed this was most evident in the connectivity that churches and people of faith demonstrated in working together. In particular, Rev. Mike Linger of the House of the Carpenter reached out to her immediately upon her taking her position as Principal at Madison Elementary.

Rev. Neil Leftwich gazes across Northern District Conference.

That call, seven years ago, led to a relationship that has become a movement. Hearts of Hope, an initiative of the Northern District, seeks to connect churches to schools in their area. Ms. Trio described a multitude of ways this was possible – from mentoring programs to book drives. Before any resources were gathered, she encouraged churches to make the connections necessary to form relationships with their local schools, saying that from the relationships formed, opportunities to help would naturally follow.

Rev. Diann Nickerson, campus minister at West Liberty, then came before the conference and spoke of the collaborative work taking place on campus. She spoke to the ecumenical bond that had been formed between her office and the Thomas Aquinas Center. The two groups held regular social gatherings for students. On occasion, this included a “Mythbusters” portion where the Catholic and Protestant student groups would openly discuss faith and dispel some of the misconceptions they might have about one another. Work with Hope United Methodist Church’s food pantry and a photography workshop were also highlighted, both of which asked students to see God in the mundane as well as the exceptional. West Liberty’s Interfaith chapel has been closed due to building maintenance needs, but the ministry goes on. Students are still fed at Wednesday luncheons and across the summer break, and a partnership with West Liberty Elementary allows for the “Hats, not Hate” initiative to have its first distribution event. All of this was helped by the West Liberty Federated Church and the Protestant Ministry Board, which have graciously provided space.

Deaconess Gayle Lesure spoke about the work of Rev. Anna Troy, Church and Community Worker for the District and Director of the Global Missions Board. Rev. Troy was on bedrest following a medical procedure, and was unable to introduce herself to the district during conference.

Carol Miller was then asked to present the news of an advanced lay ministry curriculum. Following the success of the Sacraments Advanced Course, a new course focusing on Wesley Hymns is now in the works. This course will be open to all lay ministers and speakers who have completed their certification.

New pastors were welcomed into their appointments. Formal business began with the approval of Peggy Klages as recording secretary. The minutes of the previous years business were then approved. The 2023 budget was approved following special attention to the increased education fund (a result of realignment), and a decrease in the budgeted amount for the operating fund. District Leadership positions were approved as submitted.

The meeting closed with the celebration of Holy Communion. The gathered people joined together in singing, “One Bread, One Body.” A time of prayer was then held for the needs of those present, followed by an opportunity to be anointed and reminded of one’s call to serve and God’s mercy to sustain that call. The meeting closed, following the gathered people joining together in “Here I am Lord.”