Annual Conference 2017 Wrap Up

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“Rejoice always” -1 Thessalonians 5:16

United Methodists in Greater New Jersey gathered together to rejoice in God’s faithfulness at the 2017 Annual Conference in Wildwood, N.J., May 21-23 with more than 1,400 people in attendance. Bold, forward-thinking visions were shared as we were called to step out on the edges of faith with joyful hearts and the Conference responded with bold actions. Click here to watch the wrap up video. 

Key Actions That Will Shape GNJ Future

  1. Approved a $900,000 budget cut and a new Shared Ministry formula that will save money for congregations for years to come. The Shared Ministry formula uses a fixed percentage that will require the Conference to budget and spend Shared Ministry dollars based on the health and vitality of the congregations.
  2. Approved a Next Generation Student Ministry plan that challenges GNJ leadership to:
    1. Work with congregations to have 12 or more active youth engaged in faith formation and discipleship in the community
    2. Develop 10 college campus faith communities with 75 or more students
    3. Reinvigorate a 21st century camping experience
    4. Grow the IGNITE Student Conference to 5,000 participants
    5. Develop 1,000 leaders to lead student ministries
  3. Approved a 10-year intercultural competency plan that will develop laity and clergy to be more culturally competent so that we strengthen and grow diversity, inclusion and collaboration
  4. Approved work to begin on a 2019-2023 strategic ministry plan
Commissioning, Ordination and Retirement
This year’s Annual Conference session opened with a service to commission and ordain 22 clergy on Sunday evening.  Bishop John Schol’s powerful sermon invited leadership to choose joy over happiness, to move to the margins of faith and practice real life joy and hope in one’s leadership. In addition, 37 clergy were recognized for their more than 700 years of service at the closing worship on Tuesday.
Leadership Addresses
In the Episcopal Address, Bishop Schol challenged Greater New Jersey to rejoice in our progress and our trials. He outlined the key challenges disciples face in the world, denomination, communities and congregations, and presented a path forward that includes four pillars: passionate faith, transformational leadership, vital mission partners and money. He encouraged GNJ to lead the way for the denomination to move to the edges of faith where hope and joy live. He promised to be the bishop for the whole church, rejoicing in diversity even if there are different understandings of the scriptures. Rev. Hector A. Burgos, Director of Connectional Ministries, led a Leadership Address that included remarks from Sang Won Doh, Chair of the Connectional Table, Rosa Williams, Conference Lay Leader, Vanessa Wilson, Chair of the Commission on Religion and Race, Debbie Barnett, Chair of the Council on Youth Ministries and Blair Goold, Chair for the Council on Young Adults. These leaders shared their visions for a new strategic plan, a recommitment to adult baptisms, a bold, God-sized vision of a Next Generation ministry plan and a commitment to intercultural competence within GNJ.
Mission Fund Campaign
An offering for the Mission Fund was taken and more than $44,500 was collected to help eliminate death from malaria and rebuild homes for people struggling to get home following Superstorm Sandy.
GNJ Strategic Direction and Legislation Highlights
The body reaffirmed the direction of GNJ to recruit and develop transformational spiritual leaders to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transformation the world with the GNJ Connectional Table resolved to lead GNJ in a process to develop a new strategic plan for 2019-2023. The 2018 budget and a new Shared Ministries formula was passed which will convert the formula to a flat rate of 16.3%. The flat rate will allow more resources to be used at the local church and will require the conference to seek outside funding sources through its vital mission partners to grow resources. A new student ministry plan was passed rebranding the GNJ Camping and Retreats Board into Next Generation Student Ministries and expanding its oversight to include all youth and young adult ministries including IGNITE and Campus Ministries.  Additionally, a 10-year intercultural competence plan was passed so GNJ can lead the way as bridge-builders living into a calling to be a church for all people and nations to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Service of Remembrance
Rev. Dr. Varlyna Wright delivered a message on casting our cares and anxieties on God, relying and depending on our faith with an understanding of God’s strength and faithfulness. “It’s easy to rejoice when things are going well,” Wright said, “It’s a challenge to do so when feelings of grief, loss, and hopelessness surround you. But God cares about you, and that is the time to rejoice.” We worshipped, relying on God’s sufficiency, remembering our loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord since the Annual Conference session in 2016.

Stewardship Foundation and Advancement Report
The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation addressed the conference on their work and partnership with Wespath investments, the largest faith based reporting investor. Through Wespath’s socially responsible investing, United Methodists are creating change in the world and how companies do business. Wespath has more than $22 billion invested including over $20 million in NJ affordable housing initiatives and a school in Newark. Wespath shared that they use women and minority owned firms that achieve above the market benchmarks. Through Wespath’s Godly, socially responsible investments, GNJ is becoming strengthened. The congregations were encouraged to learn more about investing through the GNJ Stewardship Foundation with Wespath.

Conference Workshops
More than 1,100 people attended five workshops inspiring spiritual leaders with creative strategies to think big and pursue excellence in the church. The workshops included a creative session on discovering the power of the narrative experience, creating new spaces and engaging vitality, developing a diverse community, leading congregations through change, and financial security.

Rise Against Hunger
More than 200 volunteers working in unison systematically and excitedly helped pack 30,000 meals in just an hour and a half to support Rise Against Hunger’s effort to feed people around the world with a bold mission to end world hunger by 2030.

Intercultural Competence
Guest speaker Erin M. Hawkins, General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race, spoke to the 2017 Annual Conference on Intercultural Competency. She challenged United Methodists to be bridges and bridge-builders in our communities and commended GNJ for its 10-year cultural competency commitment. “What greater time for the church to be the church than when there’s so much division?” she said. “This is the work Christ beckons us toward.” Hawkins is a lead official of the denominational agency that cultivates racial inclusion and the full participation of all people into the work, witness and life the United Methodist Church.

Retired NJ Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein spoke about segregation within New Jersey School Districts and an effort to integrate public schools through magnet schools and other innovative strategies that are being used around the country. Bishop Schol asked the GNJ Board of Church and Society to follow up on this effort.

Throughout the conference, powerful videos of our work together were shared. Click here to view and download. In the next few weeks, live stream videos of the worship services and teaching speaker will be posted to the website and announced in The Digest.

Laity and clergy rejoiced together over all that is happening and set to happen within GNJ in the past, present, and future. Many reunited with friends and made new connections during lunches, dinners and informal gatherings. Annual Conference attendees left with hearts of joy, thanks and gratitude, challenged to step out in faith and into bold, new visions for the future.

Annual Conference Firsts
First GNJ AC to break the 1,400 registration barrier
First GNJ AC to pack 30,000 meals in 90 minutes
First GNJ AC to have a NJ Supreme Court Justice speak (retired Justice Gary Stein)
First GNJ AC to have over 1000 participants in workshops
First GNJ AC to ordain a Haitian Woman
First GNJ AC to commission a Chinese Woman

And we adjourned 30 minutes ahead of time