During its recent 67th annual Awards Assembly, the United Churches of Lycoming took a look into its future while celebrating its past.
In addition to celebrating the 25th anniversary of Shepherd of the Streets and the three winners of the Ecumenical Service Award, the talk of the night at St. Joseph the Worker Parish was the future of United Churches.
"United Churches has been here for 67 years," said United Churches Executive Director Gwen Bernstine. "And with any luck, it'll be here for 67 more."
Ecumenical Service Award winners James Joseph Foran, second left; Phillip D. Landers, center; and Gail E. Landers are flanked by the Rev. Danesta Whaley, left, UCLC president, and the Rev. Gwen Bernstine, UCLC executive director.
Yet the United Churches of years ago is not the same organization it now is, or will be in the future, she said.
At last year's assembly, discussions began over where people wanted to see United Churches go in the future. This year, they took it one step further and began discussing a draft the futuring committee wrote, including a name change.
The proposed name given at the assembly was United Churches: Lycoming County Faith Connections, with the slogan "Connected through faith, united in service."
Its goals include:
Being persons and congregations of faith who care about their neighbors
Celebrating unity through faith in action
Respecting people and communities in their faith journeys
Believing in the broader mandate of Jesus to care in tangible ways such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked
Facilitating cooperation and understanding on faith, life and justice issues
Energizing people by mobilizing congregations and communities in response to emerging needs.
"The church is good at looking ahead but spending most of the time looking in the rearview mirror," the Rev. Rob Manzinger, pastor at First Baptist Church, said.
As shown in the annual golf tournament, United Church's support does not only come from churches. Many of the funds that came to support the second-biggest golf tournament of the year came from businesses and community organizations, he said.
"Times change," Manzinger said. "Needs change. We need your help. Futuring is tough work because we don't know what the future holds."
The committee formed in January to try to assess what the future holds for the organization.
After Manzinger announced the committee's draft, he asked those gathered around the tables what their general response was, what they particularly liked or had difficulty with and what modifications they wanted to be considered or issues discussed.
"I'm moving forward," he said. "Won't you come with me?"
Just before representatives of the futuring committee talked about possible changes, three winners were presented the annual Ecumenical Service Award.
Gail E. Landers received the award for dedicating much of her life to helping children be all they can be.
Bernstine announced her as a winner because she assisted in the establishment of the Latch Key program in Williamsport and the Children's Learning Center at Pennsylvania College of Technology, built structures to help educators of children, served on mission trips, developed the Footsteps to Follow Newspaper Editorial Ministry for United Churches and participated as a caseworker for United Churches Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee.
As she accepted her award, Landers announced, "I'm not done yet."
Shortly afterward, her husband, Phillip D. Landers, received the award, as well, for his time spent carrying on the tax services for the elderly, Habitat homeowners and Journey House clients, the Rev. Kenneth Wagner-Pizza, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church, said as he announced the award. Landers received it also for his leadership and vision as a delegate to the National Synod of the United Church of Christ from the Penn Central Conference, his leadership as a caseworker and opening up his home to foreign exchange students and children from the city.
"Thank you so much," he said when he received the award. "This really has been a partnership with Gail and I."
To prove that point, his wife joined him as he received the award. Being involved in the flood of 1996 "really helped us serve more appropriately," she said.
The third award went to James Joseph Foran for providing leadership in the Crop Walk, area food pantries and St. Anthony's Center, as well as serving as a panelist for the Human Sexuality and Family Living dialogues in the Williamsport Area School District, serving as director of religious education at Ascension, St. Lawrence and now St. Joseph the Worker Parish, fostering family and community relationships for inmates and donating bone marrow to two strangers.
"I appreciate this and it's an honor to be able to serve the community in whatever capacity," Foran said.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Shepherd of the Streets, a poster contest was held for children in kindergarten through eighth grades. The theme was "Together we make a difference."
Children received awards in different age groups based on them capturing the theme in their poster.