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“Throw your net on the other side of the boat and you will find some.” – John 21:6.

United Methodists in Greater New Jersey went fishing for disciples at the 2015 Annual Conference in Wildwood May 28-30 as more than 1,500 people registered and attended the conference – a record number for Greater New Jersey. We were reminded that we must cast our nets in new and untried waters in order to live out our mission of making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Our worship was uplifting and joyful. A procession of children carrying handmade fish followed the Bishop into the center of the Convention Center to open our time together. Nicole Caldwell-Gross, Director of Mission and Multi Cultural Ministries delivered an inspiring sermon which focused on how the church can remain hopeful amidst many challenges. “… Moving the nets in our congregations and in our community within the stream of our own spirit may upset the current but still Jesus is persistent in calling each of us to cast our nets on the other side.” The message was received with a standing ovation at its conclusion.

General and Jurisdictional Delegates
Once every four years each Annual Conference elects delegates to send to General and Jurisdictional Conference. At conference, we elected the following representatives:

General Conference Clergy Delegates
Tom Lank
Jisun Kwak
Eunice Vega Perez
Varlyna Wright

General Conference Laity Delegates
Lynn Caterson
Judy Colorado
Bethany Amey
Rosa Williams

Northeast Jurisdictional Clergy Delegates
Drew Dyson
Grace Pak
Tanya Linn Bennett
Gina Hendrickson

Northeast Jurisdictional Clergy Alternates
John DiGiamberardino
Chris Heckert
Steve Bechtold

Northeast Jurisdictional Laity Delegates
Stephen Quigg
June McCullough
Jee Hei Park
Creed Pogue

Northeast Jurisdictional Laity Alternates
Carolyn Pendleton
Cyndi Kent
Sherri Shumate

Bishop John Schol outlined all we have accomplished and the path we need to take forward in his annual Episcopal address. He celebrated the power of the Holy Spirit moving through Greater New Jersey:

  • More than 700 people attended the first IGNITE youth conference.
  • We have grown in vitality by increasing the numbers of disciples in small groups, disciples in mission work, disciples giving to mission and professions of faith.
  • We have raised more than $5 million to date for the Mission Fund.
  • A Future With Hope, our Sandy recovery mission, has completed 150 homes and is working on another 55.
  • We have grown in our shared ministry giving and collections putting our conference on sound financial footing.

Joining Bishop Schol were leaders of Greater New Jersey including John Bishop, Chair of the Council of Finance and Administration, Rosa Williams, Conference Lay Leader, Vicki Brendler, Chair of the Connectional Table, Vanessa Wilson, Chair of Religion and Race, and Hector Burgos, Director of Connectional Ministries. The leadership outlined our financial outlook, new laity opportunities, resourcing opportunities for clergy and congregations and our commitment to cultural competency.

Highlights of the presentation included A Future With Hope staff members reading inspirational quotes from volunteers who have helped in Sandy recovery and Bishop Schol interviewing young people about what inspires them in ministry.

Rev. Andrew Forrest from Munger Place in Dallas, Texas, led us deeper with teaching on how to reach the “nones,” or the unchurched. He shared passionately about how we need to use 3 simple words to make change in our churches, communities and lives: Love Goes First.

The 2016 budget was passed and John Bishop, Chair of the Council of Finance and Administration, announced that thanks to the generosity of the churches in the conference, and allocations from the Board of Trustees and Pensions, the mortgage for the new conference center is scheduled to be paid off in 2015 which will save the conference $1.7 million over the next 25 years.

Key legislation brought before the body included conversations around how Greater New Jersey will handle human sexuality issues and the commitment to cultural competency. To help create conversation and understanding within our own conference, attendees were asked to gather in small groups with people who held different views from their own to share their feelings and experiences, all in a true spirit of Holy Conferencing. The legislation on human sexuality was passed by the body. In addition, the conference passed legislation put forth by the Black Methodists for Church Renewal to create a task force and promote dialogue regarding equal justice, restorative justice and racial justice.

Conference Workshops
More than 800 people attended eight workshops designed to help equip our spiritual leaders to make vital congregations. The workshops included Time Management for the Christian Leader, Communicating Faith, Worship Planning as Hospitality, Covenant Discipleship Groups, The Irresistible Church, The Joy of Giving and Urban Missions.

Stop Hunger Now

More than 200 volunteers helped pack 30,000 meals to support Stop Hunger Now’s effort to feed people around the world, which includes sending 1.2 million meals to earthquake victims in Nepal.

Mission Fund Campaign
Well over $100,000 was collected in a special offering for the Mission Fund campaign which now stands at more than $5 million raised for A Future with Hope, Imagine No Malaria and mission work in our local churches.

We celebrated the life’s work of 31 clergy who retired this year. Their combined service totals more than 726 years of ministry.

Ordination and Commissioning
Nineteen candidates participated in the ordination and commissioning service. We celebrated and welcomed these new spiritual leaders with a special service recognizing their journey in ministry.

Clergy and laity reconnected with old friends and met new ones over lunches, dinners and informal gatherings. Our fellowship included inspiring music by Mark Miller and the Festival Choir.  All 1500 attendees left Annual Conference ready to “cast their nets on the other side”.