Overflowing with Scriptures, Hymns, and Tongsung Prayers: Northeastern Jurisdiction Gathers in Pittsburgh

July 9, 2024 | | GNJ News

Gathering at the River’s Edge

Delegates from across the Northeastern Jurisdiction have convened in Pittsburgh, known as the “City of Bridges,” at the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers merge to form the Ohio River. The 2024 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, under the theme “Overflowing with Hope” (Romans 15:13), has seen heightened anticipation following the General Conference’s decision to fund six bishops to oversee the region’s ten annual conferences.

Before delving into the agenda, delegates spent a day engaging in spiritual disciplines, prayer, and deep discussions to center themselves. Tuesday morning’s worship, crafted by the Black Methodists for Church Renewal and Rev. Amy Wagner of Western PA, addressed repenting the sins of racism within The United Methodist Church.

Rivers and Rocks: A Symbolic Reflection

Rev. Beth Jones of the Susquehanna Conference and director of Deep Green Journey, along with Rev. Antoine “Tony” Love from the Baltimore-Washington Conference, guided the attendees through a reflective pause. The initial restlessness gradually subsided into a deep silence, highlighted by the soft sound of water flowing from two pitchers at the back, symbolizing an invitation to the Holy Spirit.

Jones introduced a unique exercise involving large rocks sourced from Pittsburgh’s three rivers. She explained how these rocks, carved and reshaped over time by the natural elements to be what it is today, mirrored the formative experiences of individuals by scriptures and hymns. Delegates were invited to inscribe these rocks with scriptures and hymns that have significantly shaped their spiritual journeys. 

The Rev.’s Beth Jones and Antoine “Tony” Love leading a time of meditation. James Lee photo.

The discussions proved to be spirited and rejuvenating. Elizabeth Fisher from Eastern Pennsylvania recited Psalm 37 in Spanish, calling it “life-giving,” while Creed Pogue from Greater New Jersey highlighted the healing and guiding power of prayer with Philippians 4:6-7. A New York delegate shared a spontaneous poem inscribed on their rock: “My rock has a hole in it. Now the birds can come and drink.”

The Rev. Jennifer Cho of GNJ had written on her rock a passage from 1 Thessalonians 5 starting with “Rejoice always.” She reflected, “We are in the eye of the storm right now, but no matter what, God is with us. ‘Rejoice’ has a different meaning to me at this moment, yet I know that regardless of the outcome, we can rejoice.”

EPA delegate Elizabeth Fisher reciting Psalm 37 in Spanish. James Lee photo.

EPA Lay delegate David Koch remarked that the rock writing and sharing was the highlight of the morning. “We got to talk to each other more than we had in the past. This is a positive start.”

When representatives from each group shared their reflections, each recitation of scripture and hymn verses chipped away at the anxiety in the room and reshaped it with hope.

The College of Bishops closed the sharing session. Bishop Ernest Lyght, representing the group, inscribed a verse from Charles Tindley’s hymn “The Storm is Passing Over” on their rock:

“Courage, my soul, and let us journey on,
tho’ the night is dark it won’t be very long.
Thanks be to God, the morning light appears,
and the storm is passing over, hallelujah!”

A Prayerful Confluence

In the afternoon, Beth Jones led the conference in a session of Tongsung Kido (통성기도), a Korean prayer tradition where Tongsung means “cry out together loudly” and Kido means “pray.” Each annual conference was highlighted one at a time, while the rest of the delegates joined in a loud collective prayer of blessing for each.

EPA delegates (from left to right) Lenorah Thompson, Alicia Julia-Stanley, and Barbara Revere receiving prayers of blessings from fellow NEJ delegates. James Lee photo. 

With legislative sessions set to begin on July 10, delegates are preparing for hard conversations regarding bishop elections, conference boundaries, and the jurisdiction’s strategic direction. Yet, the collective spirit of the gathering is uplifted by a shared commitment to advance together, fortified by the powerful scriptures, hymns, and prayers that have carved, shaped, and guided them along the way.

The 2024 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference is from July 10-12, 2024. For ongoing updates and reflections from the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, follow the proceedings here.