FAQ’s from Info Sessions
Question: What criteria were used to identify the 65 clergy and 45 lay congregational leaders as leaders raising up leaders for disciple-making disciples?
Answer: The criteria used to identify the 65 clergy (Circuit Elders) and 45 lay congregational leaders were based on several categories, including: Number of clergy who attended Coach Training and Outward Mindset Training since 2019, Clergy who have led Lay Servant classes since 2019, Clergy who have gone through RIM since 2019, List of Certified Lay Servants since 2019, Any Laity (Board and/or Agency Chairpersons) who attended Outward Mindset training. These individuals were selected based on their participation in leadership development curriculum between 2018 and 2023, which focused on disciples making disciples.
Question: PAGE 40 says that we have 48% vital contributions. The note on page 42 says 50%. But the report on page 76 is 44% in 2021 and 41% in 2022. Praises for all the good movement. What is the accurate number?
Answer: The GNJ Annual Report on pages 75 and 76 provides the statistics as calculated based on year-end reporting. As it states, GNJ had 44% vital congregations in 2021 and 41% in 2022.
Question: Will seminary students be guaranteed full-time appointments in GNJ, and will there be enough appointments for them?
Answer: While the Discipline has clear language about appointments, we are facing uncertainties and challenges ahead. Our goal of 40 new, potential full-time appointees by 2026 is not a guarantee, but a projection based on anticipated retirements in the coming years. However, we have successfully provided full-time appointments to all seminary graduates connected with Greater New Jersey through the district committees this year. Our greater challenge this year was filling part-time clergy appointments, and we may see more churches connected with each other to make full-time appointments. We will also be addressing this issue in the clergy session. It is a time for all of us to work together to grow vital congregations and develop strong leaders who will help connect with their communities and share the gospel. We need all hands on deck, including our seminarians, current clergy, and laity in our churches, to move in the right direction.
Question: What are the conference’s predictions regarding the impact of increasing employment expenses such as workers’ compensation and pensions, given the recent communications about wage disparities, burnout, and mental health of clergy, as well as concerns about pension contributions not being made by congregations?
Answer: The pension contribution is based on a percentage of salary increase(?); and that percentage is anticipated to be flat; the budgeted dollars increase by an assumed 3% in salaries. However, there is legislation being considered at the next General Conference to modify the pension programs which will change how this is billed, based on the percentage contributed by the pastor. (The new plan is 100% Defined Contribution; the Defined Benefit goes away). When a church does not pay the required pension contribution for its clergy, other churches that are paying 100% to make up for it. It’s crucial that everyone knows the clergy person’s pension is being paid and it’s important for all churches to pay their fair share. When the plan changes to 100% Defined Contribution, it is the legal responsibility of the church to make the payment, as they are deducting this from the pastor’s salary.
Based on recent trends, worker’s compensation is budgeted to increase 5% and we continually work with our broker to negotiate the best rates; the actual renewal is completed after the budget cycle so we do not know the actual increase until that time.
We are aware of the challenges with clergy salaries, as they are not keeping up with the inflation rate. This creates difficulties in terms of recruiting and retaining clergy, as well as for the clergy themselves in keeping up with the cost of living. The cabinet has been discussing this issue and we have even looked at reasonable clergy salaries. We will continue to talk with clergy about this to determine what will be most beneficial for them.
Question: In recent appointments, some clergy had multiple appointments in excess of two. Is there a stop gap to prevent burnout by clergy?
Answer: One new model we are launching this year involves one of our clergy overseeing five churches and working with certified lay ministers (CLMs) and students, as a new way to work with our smallest congregations. We have been struggling to serve our smallest congregations, which might have anywhere from 15 to 25 worshipers, as we don’t have enough personnel. So, we are looking at some different and creative ways of staffing churches, such as having an elder working with those congregations as well. We will try this model and see how it works, and if it doesn’t work, we will find a new model. All of our churches are important to us and we want to serve all of them.
Question: How much of the affiliation between EPA and GNJ, including the strategic direction, is about planning beyond the next Jurisdictional Conference? We are in experimental mode and are not sure what will happen in the jurisdiction after 2024.
Answer: As our team was working on developing a strategic direction, we wanted to celebrate the completion of our five-year plan in 2023. However, we also felt that it was important to set additional goals and focus on what God is calling us to do next. Therefore, we decided to create a three-year plan that would help us stay focused on our national priorities and recommit to our key goals.
These priorities include: the Journey of Hope, which aims to end racism; congregational vitality, which focuses on the health and sustainability of our congregations; and raising up new generations of leaders and disciples. We believe that by committing to these goals, we can stay focused and ensure that we are living into what God has for us next.
Throughout our work, we have been intentional about collaborating with other leaders, such as Reverend Dawn Taylor-Storm from Eastern Pennsylvania, who serves as the DCM there. We recognize that there are no guarantees beyond 2024, so we are doing our best to learn as much as we can and make the most of the time we have. We are also aware of some matching gift opportunities that can help us achieve our goals, and we are working together to take advantage of them.
Overall, our three-year plan allows us to stay focused on our priorities and adapt to any changes or challenges that may arise beyond 2024. We are committed to working together and learning from one another as we continue to serve and make disciples in the years ahead.
Question: How much will all of the disaffiliating churches pay to GNJ by 12/31/2023?
Answer: Approximately $7.1M.
Question: What will happen to the monies that disaffiliating churches pay GNJ? Can the final monies and breakdown be reported for GNJ after 2023?
Answer: The funds will be set aside for the purposes outlined on the terms sheet. Those include: shared ministries from 2023 and 2024, past-due billings, contribution to pensions & retiree health liabilities, missional transition support and legal/administrative fees. CFA will invest the funds and approve distributions. We will explore reporting the final monies and breakdowns after 2023.
Question: How will the Annual Conference vote on the Disaffiliation legislation?
Answer: The disaffiliation legislation will be presented with all 8 churches. Once presented, the Annual Conference may choose to “divide the question” and vote on each one individually or vote on the legislation as presented. The voting procedure will be conducted by a show of hands unless someone calls for a standing or ballot vote.
Question: What is GNJ’s plan for addressing the impact of disaffiliations and congregations unable to meet suggested salaries on the succession of leadership planning for clergy and Laity, as well as the growing cost of seminaries and student debt?
Answer: GNJ’s plan is to focus on growing congregations in order to increase salaries, rather than continually raising equitable compensation. We are also exploring the option of bi-vocational appointments and providing scholarships and financial aid to help alleviate the burden of student debt for seminary education. Drew University School of Theology is a particularly good option for GNJ clergy, with low tuitions and many opportunities for student appointments and Mosaic ministry appointments, which provide housing and a salary to serve a congregation. The recruitment of Korean and African students at Drew has also been a gift, and GNJ is grateful for their contributions to their congregations. Overall, GNJ recognizes the challenges ahead but is committed to finding ways to support their clergy and congregations as they navigate these uncertainties.
Question: How will we care for those churches that voted either 67% to leave but stopped the process or voted over 50% but less than 67%?
Answer: Our superintendents and cabinet are working closely with all churches who want to live out their ministry faithfully, including those who discontinued the discernment process. They provide additional care to those churches and are aware of their situations.
Question: How many churches that had a 67% vote to disaffiliate were denied the opportunity to use paragraph 2553 because they listed other reasons for disaffiliation besides reasons of conscience regarding ministry and human sexuality?
Answer: Two churches voted to disaffiliate for reasons other than human sexuality; hence, by legislation, they could not proceed with the terms under 2553. Both were presented terms to disaffiliate under 2549, but they chose not to accept it. The Cabinet has agreed to work with all churches to discern how to best achieve their mission.
Question: What happens to the churches who have voted to disaffiliate if we vote at conference not to affirm their disaffiliation?
Answer: According to paragraph 2553, the Annual Conference has the final say on whether to affirm or not affirm a congregation’s request to disaffiliate as it relates to human sexuality. Out of the 27 churches that wanted to explore disaffiliation, the superintendents have already been working with the remaining churches that decided not to disaffiliate. The cabinet is committed to working with any congregation or covenant that has a specific theological viewpoint, and if the Annual Conference chooses not to affirm their disaffiliation request, the superintendents will continue to work with them to develop covenants and help ensure their care and viability within the United Methodist Church.
Question: How many clergy are leaving through disaffiliation?
Answer: It’s difficult to provide an exact number of clergy who are planning to leave the United Methodist Church and GNJ, as the situation is complex and constantly evolving. Some clergy have indicated their desire to disaffiliate, while others are waiting for the Annual Conference to vote on disaffiliation. Some are still undecided. It’s important for clergy to have ongoing conversations with their superintendents about their intentions and sense of calling. We value transparency and openness, and once there is more clarity on the situation, we will share that information. At this time, we don’t have a specific number to share.
Question: What is the surplus as of the close of the 2022 books? How much of that is being put in the budget?
Answer: Our 2022 budget called for us to have a surplus of $5,783. We ended 2022 $62K under budget. Importantly, the budget anticipated a $578,535 draw from the GNJ designated funds to balance. Due to our strong cash position at the end of 2021, when we make the decision for the designated fund draw for 2022, it was decided not to take this draw; hence, the funds remained invested.
The approved 2023 budget anticipated using $200,000 from the 2021 surplus to balance. In response to uncertainties facing GNJ AC (disaffiliation, reduced Shared Ministries payments, collection rates, etc.), CFA partnered with the Connectional Table, Cabinet and all Boards & Agencies to immediately shift spending in line with the new budget realties. That created a spending budget that forecasts a $587K surplus. If achieved, we will not need to use the $200K of 2021 surplus funds; and the remaining $387K will be invested in the GNJ designated funds at CFA’s direction.
Question: What are the designated fund balances at the end of 2022?
Answer: There is an error on page 77 of the Pre-Conference Workbook; the balances reported are the 2022 balances, not 2021; we apologize for the error. 2021 balances are reported in the 2021 Conference Journal.
Question: In the 2023 budget are you anticipating to use $587,000 of surplus for 2023?
Answer: Yes. As explained above, this is because we proactively adjusted in 2023 to the new normal and have readjusted spending already so that the long-term mission and ministry of GNJ is preserved to grows and develop.
Question: In the retiree health care portion of the budget is the change of about $400,000 for retiree health care considered sustainable?
Answer: The actual savings starts in the 2023 spending plan and is over $500,000 as a direct result of increase competition in the retiree healthcare marketplace. The approved 2023 budget anticipated a 5% increase in premiums. Due to the timing of the budget cycle, the actual renewal rates are unknown. Our partners were able to negotiate the lower premiums as two additional companies entered the market, forcing United Healthcare to be more competitive. Furthermore, the premiums negotiated are locked in for two years (2023 and 2024). We are not able to predict the future premiums; but we know, in general, healthcare costs are rising and will continue to be a challenge.
Question: Why was it not considered prudent to shift some of the increase to clergy and lay staff insurance
Answer: It was a difficult decision, and we had to weigh the options carefully. We realized that there are only so many pots we can draw from to pay for healthcare, including raising apportionments, charging the churches, or moving it to the clergy themselves. Given the financial pressures that clergy are already facing, we decided that was the best option for this year. However, this decision is subject to change depending on the health of our clergy and other factors; so we will need to reassess the situation next year.
Question: Re: Page 44, lines 36 and 37 in the budget resolution: While giving to the Black College Fund and African University apportionments is laudable, is it sustainable to give all of the surplus, or is this not as broad as it may sound?
Answer: United Methodist Black colleges and Africa University receive only a small portion of the GCFA amount. We already pass through what we receive from our churches at around 90%. The amount needed to make it 100% for these two funds is manageable and consistent with the Journey of Hope legislation that our conference is committed to.
Question: Is the 49% allocation for property operations being retained, and how broad are the expenses being covered by that?
Answer: The fund is for the operations of our property work, which includes legal expenses, maintenance of cemeteries, and other related costs. The goal is to create a separate fund to avoid using Shared Ministries money, which is intended for the mission and ministry support of our congregations. This will also help underwrite the cost of the MRC. The target balance to reach “steady state” as defined in our GNJ Designated Fund legislation is $6M. We will continue to allocate until this target is achieved.
Answer: Which of the Designated funds is being used to support the budget?
Question: The designated funds we have in place allow up to a 5% draw to support the budget; the intended purpose of this is to reduce the dependency on Shared Ministries funds, while maintaining our mission. There are 11 funds that we draw from (the 12th is our Operating Reserve): Harvest Mission Fund, Strategic Disciple Making Fund, Episcopal Office Fund, St. John’s Native American Historic Preservation Fund, Next Gen Ministries Fund, Pension Benefits Operational Fund, Retiree Health Fund, Property Operational Fund, Property Redevelopment Fund, Superintendent Housing Fund, and Episcopal Residence Fund. Each has a stated purpose defined in our GNJ Designated Fund legislation. When the legislation, policies and procedures were originally drafted, all but four of these funds (Harvest Mission, Strategic Disciples, Retiree Health and Property Redevelopment) were anticipated to reach their target balance by 2026 (part of what we refer to as “steady state”). Depending on property sales and investment market performance, it’s possible we will achieve this sooner.
Question: What will happen to funds associated with Pinelands Center after its sale, and how will donors’ intentions be honored?
Answer: The Next Gen Board is currently discussing the sale and how to invest in their mission in raising new generations of disciples. They are looking at all designated funds for Next Gen ministries and considering options such as scholarships and affiliated Camp and Retreat opportunities with Eastern Pennsylvania. GNJ already has churches and campers involved in retreats and summer camps in Eastern PA. The board is committed to honoring the initial donors’ hopes and ensuring that the Ministry of Next Gen continues.
Question: Could the sale of Pinelands be limited to a government or conservation-oriented nonprofit?
Answer: The Pinelands Center is subject to limitations on use and sale by the Pinelands Commission, of which we are a part. Currently, we are in talks with the State Department of Environmental Protection to potentially turn the property into a state park with limitations on use and development. The property could only be used for conservation purposes or as wilderness.
Question: In the Next Generation 10year Strategic Plan, we committed to help build and develop The Pinelands Center. Why are we giving up on that before the end of those 10 years? How did the camp get into such bad shape that we can’t fix it?
Answer: The Next Gen 10-year strategic plan, included investment in Pinelands Center, IGNITE, and Next Generation Ministries to coordinate youth, college, camping, and retreat ministries in Greater New Jersey. The Pinelands Center faced challenges due to the Miracles Everywhere campaign not raising enough funds, low camper and retreat attendance numbers, and the pandemic effect on usage income, particularly from local schools. The board conducted a study that revealed $2-3 million necessary for deferred maintenance needs and renovations. Due to the lack of funds and a sustainable business model, the board decided not to make capital improvements. Greater New Jersey is now affiliated with Eastern Pennsylvania, and some churches have already held camps and retreats at their Camp & Retreat centers.. Students interested in camp should reach out to take advantage of those opportunities.
Question: Will Bishop Schol recuse himself for the Reclaiming the Narrative resolution, and will he have a proxy to speak on his behalf if discussion occurs?
Answer: Roberts Rules of Order outlines that the presider would select another presider in these cases.
Question: The Christmas Covenant asks for rapid action on constitutional amendments that would be needed to make that resolution a reality. How many constitutional amendments would be needed? The group that devised the The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, including Council of Bishops leaders, took pains to create a process that didn’t require constitutional changes.
Answer: Please direct questions to the maker of the Christmas Covenant resolution, Tom Lank.
Question: Does the resolution entitled A Safer GNJ have financial implications, and if approved, are they part of the budget for 2024?
Answer: To our knowledge, no, A Safer GNJ does not have implications beyond costs that GNJ already has in the budget, which include Safe Sanctuaries and Ministry Safe, as well as further development of an ethics curriculum for clergy and assigned laity.
Question: Regarding the average worship attendance on page 76, line 17, does this include online worship? How does this compare to our conference lay membership?
Answer: Yes, the average worship attendance includes online worship. The overall number is slightly lower than 50% of our membership.
Question: On the Annual Report, what is the difference between town and suburban congregations?
Answer: Town churches are in more densely populated areas, such as a county seat, while suburban churches are in sprawling communities without a town center.
Question: On page 76 of the annual report, 20 churches reported 250 or more of average worship attendance in 2021. Three more reported that in 2022. Are there any plans to highlight the paths taken by those bright spots?
Answer: We’re excited to share bright spots and stories about congregations of all sizes connecting with their communities, offering vibrant worship experiences, and engaging in outreach and mission. We’re learning from successful congregations through our Leadership Academy, Pathways resources, and small group discussions. We encourage all congregations to utilize these resources and connect with superintendents to share what’s working well.
Question: On the Annual Report, what is the difference between vital and sustainable congregations?
Answer: The five measures of vitality are: offering a vibrant worship experience, leading new disciples to professions of faith, encouraging small group discussions, hands-on mission, and generosity. Sustainability is based on three areas: finances, property, and people. Vital congregations achieve the five measures of vitality, while sustainable congregations have all three areas working in harmony towards those measures.