Blessings Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus,

In four weeks, General Conference will begin in Portland, OR. Every four years, delegates from around the world convene at General Conference to discern changes to our Book of Discipline. The United Methodist Book of Discipline establishes practices and policies for The United Methodist Church.

One of our congregations wrote to a number of congregations asking them to persuade GNJ delegates to vote against legislation sent to the General Conference by the 2015 GNJ Annual Conference Session. The legislation requested the General Conference to change the Book of Discipline’s prohibition for same gender marriages and ordination of gays and lesbians.

I applaud the congregation. Their letter was thoughtful, heartfelt and outlined their concerns. I believe it is appropriate for people to share their convictions and hopes for the church. For this reason, we have posted their letter on our web site and offered a place for anyone from GNJ to share with GNJ’s delegates their hopes and concerns for General Conference. Our delegates will have the opportunity to read your requests. I invite all of us to share them with sincere and heartfelt respect for one another. Let glorifying Christ be our aim and brotherly and sisterly affection be our commitment.

There are two things in the letter that I would like to clarify.

  1. The letter states that I am the first bishop to allow such a challenge to the Book of Discipline on this matter. Since the 1980’s there have been numerous petitions to General Conference by annual conferences to change the Discipline regarding human sexuality. GNJ has also voted on human sexuality legislation in the past.  Bishops cannot prevent legislation that is appropriately submitted to an annual conference session.
  2. The letter states that the Annual Conference members were blindsided at the Annual Conferences Session. Annual Conference delegates received the legislation at least 30 days prior to the Annual Conference session and voted on when and how they would process the legislation.

At General Conference, there will be other controversial legislation that will be discussed and voted on. Some of the legislation includes:

  • Human sexuality
  • Revoking guaranteed appointments for clergy
  • Term limits for bishops which includes retired bishops no longer being a bishop or member of the Council of Bishops
  • An amicable split of the denomination
  • How the denomination will be organized
  • Abortion

There will be things passed or not passed at General Conference that will disappoint some and please others.

General Conference will end on May 20 and I want to share with you what we will do in Greater New Jersey when General Conference concludes. We will refocus our efforts on recruiting and developing transformational leaders to make disciples of Jesus Christ and grow vital congregations for the transformation of the world. We will work on Sandy damaged homes and continue our fundraising to end malaria. I will continue to encourage pastors to lead pastorally and to lead to toward vitality and connecting disciples with people in the community. I will trust pastors to make decisions about how to lead their congregation and be a pastor of all of their people in the church and community. I will continue to be a bishop of the whole church which includes those who are happy with current policies and those who want to see change.

I invite you to join me in prayer for General Conference, for the Church’s mission and for GNJ’s commitment to become more vital. We have been making God sized progress. We moved from the middle of the denomination in vitality to become the fourth most vital conference. We had the second highest increase in the denomination in growing vital congregations. We repaired 209 damaged Sandy homes and raised more than $900,000 toward Imagine No Malaria. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we made 2,193 new disciples, gave $75,000 to UMCOR for their 75th anniversary, kept flat or reduced the shared ministry budget for three years in a row and our recommending a fourth year at the 2016 Annual Conference.

God, every blessing You pour out
We turn back to praise
When the shadows close in, Lord
Still we will say blessed be the name of the Lord

Keep the faith!

John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey

You may share your hopes for General Conference with our delegates by clicking here.

Join us for the dedication of the new Mission and Resource Center on April 15. Click here to RSVP.