HSUMC 2006 Annual Meeting at Harrisburg, PA

More than 70 people gathered in Harrisburg, PA, from September 21-24, 2006 for the annual meeting of the Historical Society to celebrate “50 Years of Inclusiveness in the United Methodist Tradition.” The meeting focused on two separate events which took place in 1956 – the decision made by the General Conference to grant full clergy rights to women in the Methodist Church and the first African American church to leave the Central Jurisdiction to join a white annual conference. The first woman to be received into membership in an annual conference was Maud Keister Jensen from the Central Pennsylvania Conference. The first church to leave the Central Jurisdiction was Mitchell Memorial Methodist Church in Harrisburg, PA, also in the Central Pennsylvania Conference.

The program began with the annual meeting of the Historical Society during which a major change in the bylaws was passed. The original organizational structure of the HSUMC included four sections: Commissions and Historical Societies, Local Church History, Genealogy and Education and Research. Members could chose a section of their interest to join and a representative from each section was chosen to serve on the Board of Directors. The original intent of the sections was to be able to better address the interests of the Society members. Over the years, however, the section structure proved difficult to implement. Thus, the membership voted to eliminate the sections and establish a Program Committee consisting of four members-at-large, under the leadership of the Vice-President. The members-at-large are to be elected by the remaining Board members two years following the election of the officers, to serve for a four year term. Following approval of this change, the remaining Board members elected Dan Swinson, Carol Roszell, Linda Schramm and Rob Sledge as members-at-large.

HSUMC President Pat Thompson and GCAH President Bishop Toquero
Rev. John Wesley (aka the Rev. Greg Rapp)

The Society also presented its first Saddlebag Selection to Dr. Robert Bray, R. Forrest Colwell Professor of American Literature in the English department at Illinois Wesleyan University, for his book, Peter Cartwright: Legendary Frontier Preacher, published in 2005. The Saddlebag Selection was established at the 2004 annual meeting of the HSUMC to recognize and promote the best book published on United Methodist history, biography, polity, or theology each year.

Following the business meeting, the Rev. Christopher Shoemaker, a clergy member of the South Georgia Conference, and his wife, Kerri, made an excellent presentation on Helenor Alter Davisson. Davisson became the first woman to be ordained in the United Methodist tradition when she was ordained as a deacon by the Wabash, Indiana, Methodist Protestant Conference in 1866. The Shoemakers have done the principal research on the life and ministry of Davisson.

Rev. Richard Allen (aka the Rev. Anthony Alexander)
Camp Curtin UMC

The remainder of the meeting was hosted by the Central Pennsylvania Historical Society under the superb leadership of Milton Loyer and Judith Hill. Thursday evening participants walked a short block to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and were greeted by the Rev. John Wesley (aka the Rev. Greg Rapp) who made a lively presentation on the evils of the slave trade. After Mr. Wesley’s visit, Milt Loyer led the group on a musical journey through the Susquehanna Valley as we sang familiar hymns from the UM Hymnal.

Our tour on Friday took us to historic churches in Harrisburg as well as mission projects sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Conference. The first stop was Camp Curtin Memorial Mitchell UMC – a merger of the former Mitchell Memorial UMC with Camp Curtin Memorial UMC. Camp Curtin Memorial is located on the site of the former Civil War Camp Curtin, named after the Governor of Pennsylvania during the Civil War, Andrew Curtin. In 1989 Camp Curtin Memorial merged with Mitchell Memorial UMC, the first church to leave the Central Jurisdiction to join a white geographically contingent conference.

We were led in devotions and the morning program by Judith Hill, President of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Commission on Archives and History and member of Mitchell Memorial UMC, along with the Revs. Towanda Acey and Vaughn Glover, pastors of Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell UMC. Following the opening devotions the group met the Rev. Richard Allen (aka the Rev. Anthony Alexander, pastor of Grace UMC) who shared the story of segregation in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Afterwards members of Mitchell Memorial shared their reflections on the transfer of their church to the Central Pennsylvania Conference. One of the presenters was the Rev. Bernice Stevens, daughter of the Rev. George Davis, pastor of Mitchell Memorial at the time of the transfer and the first African American woman to be received into full connection in the Central Pennsylvania Conference.

Iglesia Methodista Unida Stevens Emmanuel Dance Program
Grace UMC

After lunch we traveled to the Neighborhood Center and Mission Central – both mission projects of the Central Penn Conference, located in Harrisburg. Mission Central is a huge central clearinghouse for more items donated to local and national mission than most of us could imagine.

Our day ended at Iglesia Methodista Unida Stevens Emmanuel (Stevens Emmanuel UMC) where we heard an inspiring message on our unity in Christ from Bishop Jane Middleton and were treated to a wonderful program of music and dance presented by adults and young people from Stevens Emmanuel and other area churches.

On Saturday we met at historic Grace UMC located in the shadow of the Capital building in Harrisburg. During the 19th century Grace earned the designation, “Mother Church of Harrisburg Methodism,” giving rise to St. Paul’s, Steven’s Emmanuel and Camp Curtin Memorial among other churches. Members of the Central Pennsylvania Historical Society joined the group for their annual meeting, as well.

Distinguished Service Award being presented to the Rev. Pat Thompson
Harris Street UMC

Following morning devotions led by District Superintendent, the Rev. Deborah Heisley-Cato, the Rev. Pat Thompson, President of the HSUMC and author of Courageous Past, Bold Future – The Journey Toward Full Clergy Rights for Women in the United Methodist Church, highlighted some of the new information discovered in conducting research for her book and the stories of some of the women who came into conference membership in 1956. Following Thompson’s presentation, the Rev. Dr. James M. Shopshire analyzed the process involved in Mitchell Memorial’s transfer from the Central Jurisdiction to the Central Pennsylvania Conference. After lunch the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Stookey led the group through the experience of the creation of the United Methodist Hymnal and the myriad of musical resources which have been developed over the past 50 years.

The GCAH Annual Banquet was held on Saturday evening with the Distinguished Service Award being presented to the Rev. Pat Thompson. After accepting the award, Thompson presented the information which has been gathered to date on the four Methodist Protestant women who have been identified as having been ordained as elders prior to the ordination of Anna Howard Shaw in 1880.

A most interesting and informative annual meeting concluded on Sunday morning at Harris Street UMC (formerly an Evangelical United Brethren Church) with the
 Rev. Dr. G. Edwin Zeiders, President of United Theological Seminary, as the guest preacher.

Many, many thanks to Milt Loyer, Judith Hill and the folks from the Central Pennsylvania Historical Society for an outstanding annual meeting!