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“Enough light to see the hope of God’s call” – Ephesians 1:18

United Methodists in Greater New Jersey imagined a new generation of disciples, vital congregations and a transformed world at the 2016 Annual Conference in Wildwood, N.J., May 21-24 as more than 1400 people attended the conference. Stories of transformation were shared as we were called to abandon security and embrace trust, boldly imagining and anticipating the great things God has in store for us.

Commissioning and Ordination
This year’s Annual Conference Session opened with the commissioning of 13 clergy and the ordination of 10 clergy on Sunday evening. Bishop Schol delivered a powerful sermon that called the conference to step out of the light and into the darkness. “The light of God shines through us best when we are stepping into the darkness.”

In the Episcopal Address, Bishop Schol led the conference in imagining the church with a God-sized vision. He outlined our progress on Greater New Jersey’s Strategic Plan and addressed the church’s struggle with disagreements. His message of unity focused on the strength of our work together in mission and laid out a plan for Hope Centers which will spring out of our A Future With Hope ministries. Hope Centers will engage community leaders and the church in partnership for community development and human services. Bishop Schol called the conference to imagine 100 Hope Centers across GNJ.

GNJ Lay Leader Rosa Williams and four young leaders: Lakesha Groover from Mosaic Ministries, Andrew Ryoo from Greenhouse Church, Charles Perez from Dover UMC, and Joy Foley from A Future With Hope, shared their vision of the church which focuses on church plants, innovative ministries, meeting people where they are and mission in the exceptionally diverse conference of Greater New Jersey.

GNJ Strategic Direction
The conference reaffirmed the direction of GNJ to make disciples and grow vital congregations. It affirmed the nine goals and our continued resourcing through coaching, PaCE groups, the Laity Academy, Team Vital, and Communities of Hope. It also affirmed continuing to start new faith communities and dedicated the sale of discontinued churches to help start new faith communities.

Episcopal Nominations
The Rev. Dr. Jisun Kwak, Delaware Bay District Superintendent, was endorsed as an Episcopal candidate with 65% of the vote. Her nomination will go forward to the Jurisdictional Conference scheduled for July.

Legislation Highlights
After a review of the Maintenance to Mission plan, the 2017 budget was passed. In an amendment to the resolutions presented about church closures, the body agreed to study how best to care for cemeteries associated with churches that can no longer care for them. The recommendation to change Rule #55 to allow the Committee on Nominations to nominate chairpersons for agencies passed after discussion. Because of our own rules and our contract with the Wildwoods Convention Center which required us to stop the session at 1:00 pm, three pieces of legislation were not addressed. These items will be referred to and reported out to the body by November 2016 as follows:

Recommendation to Affirm our Covenant and Accountability: Greater New Jersey Cabinet
Recommendation to Change Rule #77: Church and Society and Council on Finance and Administration
Recommendation to create New Rule #86: Chancellor and the Episcopal Office

Service of Remembrance
Rev. Dr. Virginia Samuel delivered a message on having faith in the midst of grief and clinging to the old rugged cross. She said, “Having faith does not negate our feelings.” We worshiped as wounded leaders, remembering our loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord since the Annual Conference session in 2015.

Imagine a World Without Racism
Guest speaker Dr. Robin DiAngelo led a presentation imagining a world without racism. It was revealing and challenging. A former Associate Professor of Education and two-time winner of the Student’s Choice Award for Educator of the Year, DiAngelo’s scholarship is in White Racial Identity and Race Relations. She challenged United Methodists to develop the skills and mindset necessary to create a socially just society. The body was asked to submit their hopes and suggestions for the United Methodist Church to the task force from the conference who is developing a 10-year plan on cultural competency.

Conference Workshops
More than 875 people attended six workshops inspiring spiritual leaders with creative strategies to think big and pursue excellence in the church. The workshops included Cultural Competence, Evaluating Worship Services, Unlocking the Power of the Imagination, Strategies to Build God-sized Brands, Little Habits to Produce Big Changes, and Financial Security.

Stop Hunger Now
More than 150 volunteers working in unison systematically and energetically helped pack 30,000 meals to support Stop Hunger Now’s effort to feed people around the world with a bold mission to end hunger in our lifetime.

Mission Fund Campaign
An offering for the Mission Fund was taken during the ordination service and more than $63,000 was collected to help eliminate death from malaria and rebuild homes for people with damage from Superstorm Sandy.

General Conference Updates
GNJ Delegates to General Conference shared highlights from the 10-day legislative gathering that ended on May 22.  In the midst of difficult conversations about human sexuality and the future of the church, the delegates shared about the powerful worship services, inspiring preaching and strong fellowship. The delegates distributed a statement from the Council of Bishops which called for a commission to study the issue of human sexuality and come back with recommendations.  In addition to human sexuality issues, the General Conference addressed issues ranging from the budget to pension fund investments, and episcopal areas.  Information on the General Conference celebrations and legislation can be found here.

Service of Passage and other Celebrations
We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the work of deacons, the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women and the quadrennial passage of GNJ committee leadership who are rotating off chair positions on the Connectional Table.  We are thankful for the service of:

Jazelis Adorno-Burgos, Committee on Hispanic/Latino Ministries
Rev. Dr. Vicki Miller Brendler, Connectional Table
John W. Bishop, Committee on Finance and Administration
Rev. Jessica Campbell, Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
Rev. Jonathan Campbell,  Committee on Disability Concerns
Rev. Jennifer Cho, Commission on Equitable Compensation
Rev. Dr. Frank L. Fowler, III, Committee on Episcopacy
Millie Grey, Commission on Small Church Membership
Rev. Shawn Callender Hogan, Board of Ordained Ministry
Cynthia Kent, Board of Church and Society
Dr. Barbara McFarquhar, Board of Global Ministries
Rev. Larry F. Oksten, Council on Young Adults
Rev. William B. Wilson, Sr., Commission on Archives and History
Rev. Paul C. Zorn, Board of Pensions

We also celebrated 32 clergies who are retiring this year. Over 890 years of ministry was represented in the service of our retirees. Rev. Joel Ajo Fernández, former bishop in the Methodist Church of Cuba and pastor in GNJ for the past 15 years, delivered the charge to the conference. You can see the full list of retirees here.

Throughout the conference, powerful videos of our work together were shared. To view and download these video shorts click here. In the next few weeks, live stream video of the worship services and plenary speakers, will be posted to the website and announced in the Digest.

With renewed hearts and minds, laity and clergy celebrated the work God is doing throughout the churches, reunited with old friends and made new connections over lunches, dinners and informal gatherings. Annual Conference attendees left challenged, equipped and inspired to envision the new, to take a risk and to live into what God has in store for Greater New Jersey.