This is the second letter about congregations seeking to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. The first letter addressed:
- The heart of the matter.
- Who GNJ will be.
- GNJ’s focus.
Dear United Methodist Laity and Clergy in Greater New Jersey,
In this season, we are encountering what Methodism has faced several times since its inception in 1784, churches disaffiliating from the denomination. In the past it has been because of slavery, women in ministry, integration of the church, and today it is because of different beliefs about ministry with and by LGBTQ persons. Let me be clear, LGBTQ persons are not the reason for our differences, our differences are because of our own beliefs, traditions, understandings, and attitudes.
The elected and staff leadership have chosen to be transparent in sharing information about technical challenges and how churches may disaffiliate. The third and final letter about disaffiliation will be shared in May, and will provide the process, costs, and steps to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Greater New Jersey Conference (GNJ).
In this letter I will share:
- Foundational beliefs, theology, and commitments.
- Pathways for GNJ and your congregation’s future.
Foundational Beliefs, Theology, and Commitments
United Methodists have foundational values that shape who we are as disciples, as a denomination, and as congregations. Some of these include the following:
Grace – God’s grace is sufficient for salvation and is offered to all through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Extending God’s Grace – Grace is extended through the sacraments of communion and baptism to adults, youth, and children, inviting all people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and by practicing the Wesleyan means of grace (1).
The Bible – The Bible is the primary authority and revelation for salvation and holy living, and is interpreted through tradition, reason, and experience.
Personal and Social Holiness – United Methodists grow spiritually and are accountable for witness, service and doing justice in the world.
Connectionalism – United Methodists are connected through a web of congregations and organizations that share a common mission, doctrine, apportioned financial mission support, itineracy, and holy conferencing.
Trust Clause – As a connectional church, United Methodists hold property in common. Property of The United Methodist Church is held in trust for the United Methodist mission and ministry. When a church discontinues as a United Methodist congregation, either by closing or disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church, all real and personal property reverts back to The United Methodist Church to strengthen the witness and mission of the church. The third letter will further explain why and how churches in this season of disaffiliation may leave the denomination with their property.
Diversity and Inclusion – United Methodists welcome, include, and involve all people in the life of the church guided by the scriptures, doctrine, and Wesleyan values.
Open Itineracy – United Methodist bishops and superintendents teach, support, and practice open itineracy in making appointments, while at the same time recognizing differences among congregations in theology, languages spoken, leadership needs, and contexts.
GNJ Commitment – In October of 2019, the Annual Conference session affirmed that GNJ is a diverse conference racially, ethnically, linguistically, geographically, theologically, and in beliefs. We are bound together through our common calling to love God and to love our neighbor, and that we have a common mission.
We also said that there will be differences in the way congregations live out their calling and mission. We said that all congregations are called to show hospitality to whoever comes to our churches. We said we would have congregations in which LGBTQ persons would lead side by side with heterosexual leaders and that there would be congregations that would not have leaders or appointments of LGBTQ persons. We understood that there would not be one way of doing and being in ministry, but that we would all love God and our neighbor. GNJ has affirmed this is who we will be, and this is how we continue to form, lead, and serve.
Pathways for GNJ and Your Congregation’s Future
The elected and staff leadership of GNJ are calling all congregations to a time of discernment. The world and church have been through a difficult season and as we emerge from this season, all congregations are invited to discern what God has next for them. Over the next two years, GNJ will focus on its mission and ministry with our communities. This mission and ministry are primarily through our congregations and therefore our emphasis will be assisting congregations to be healthy vital mission congregations.
While there will be some congregations that seek disaffiliation, more than 90% of our time will be spent with the congregations that seek to continue our core mission and values. The pathways for GNJ include, but are not limited to, the following.
- A Journey of Hope Training and Planning – learning, understanding, and growing to end the sin of racism.
- Pathways – discernment and planning for congregations.
- Growing a Vital Mission Congregation – training, planning, and coaching to develop and carry out a plan to grow any one or more of the following: worship, small groups, mission engagement, new disciples, and generosity.
- Missional Sustainability – understanding your congregation’s financial strengths and challenges and steps to strengthen your sustainability.
- Organization – training, planning, and coaching to shift the local church governance structure into a simplified missional leadership board.
- Hope Centers and Community Engagement – understanding, planning, and engaging in community with the community.
- Leadership Academy – training and coaching to develop the leadership capacity of congregations for vitality and fruitful witness and ministry in the community and the world.
- Next Generation – reaching and equipping the church to reach a new generation of younger and more diverse young people.
- Courageous Conversations – congregations seeking a facilitated conversation about theological, or political, or human sexuality understandings and differences within the congregation.
- Conflict Resolution – a facilitated process for congregations experiencing conflict about direction, mission, leadership, or programing.
God has a great future for your congregation and GNJ. All are invited to discern a pathway for your congregation to emerge into God’s vision, and hope for the mission and ministry of your congregation. Together we will be United Methodists, a grace-filled, diverse people, faithfully following God’s calling in each context where our congregations are planted.
Keep the faith!
Bishop John Schol
The United Methodists of
Greater New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania
Equipping transformational leaders for
New Disciples | Vital Congregations | Transformed World
You are welcome to share this letter with others and distribute through your web page, Facebook, and newsletter.
(1) The Means of Grace
United Methodists practice the means of grace. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught that while God’s grace is unearned, we are not to be idle waiting to experience grace, rather, we engage in the means of grace. God’s mystery works in the hearts and thinking of disciples through the means of grace, hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. The means of grace are categorized into works of piety and works of mercy.
Works of Piety
Individual Practices include reading, meditating on and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, holistic healthy living, and sharing our faith with others.
Communal Practices include regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another in small groups), and Bible study.
Works of Mercy
Individual Practices include doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others.
Communal Practices include advocating for and seeking justice, ending oppression, injustice and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of others, particularly the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the children, the elderly and vulnerable persons.
Living the Membership Vows
Every United Methodist is called to witness and actively participate in the life of the church as they fulfill their membership vows.
- Renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of their sin;
- Accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression;
- Confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord;
- Remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world;
- Be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;
- Faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness;
- Receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.