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Miracles Everywhere – “You are the God who performs miracles, everywhere” – Psalm 77:14
More than 1,400 people attended and six different languages were spoken and sung during the 2018 Greater New Jersey Annual Conference session, the largest attendance in GNJ history. We approved groundbreaking legislation to continue with a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey to desegregate public schools for 271,000 Black and Latino students and approved a budget that will reduce the shared ministry amount we apportion congregations. The Conference also heard that we grew worship attendance in 2017 and several miraculous testimonies of God’s wonder-working power through the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey. Miracles are everywhere in and through the ministries of GNJ.GNJ approved two new partnerships with Tanzania and Puerto Rico Annual Conferences, enacted Leadership 100 in a new strategic plan that will continue us on a path to develop transformational leaders through 2023 and committed to a campaign to raise $5.2 million for Next Generation, a student ministry seeking to make 2,000 youth and young adult disciples, A Future With Hope to develop 30 Hope Centers in five years and affordable housing, hurricane relief and global mission. Click here to watch the wrap up video.
Desegregating N.J. Schools
In a historic move, United Methodists affirmed joining a lawsuit coordinated by the New Jersey Coalition of Diverse and Inclusive Schools (NJCDIS) to bring a remedy to school segregation for 271,000 Black and Latino students who attend segregated New Jersey schools. Click here to learn more about the lawsuit and GNJ’s involvement.
Puerto Rico and Tanzania
GNJ voted to create a partnership with Methodists in Puerto Rico and Tanzania as a part of the Miracles Everywhere Campaign. Bishop Hector Ortiz of The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico and Bishop Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Region, which includes Tanzania, addressed the 2018 Annual Conference and celebrated GNJ’s partnership and commitment to their regions through hurricane recovery work, starting new congregations, and training pastors to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Together, they joined Bishop Schol in a signing of a partnership covenant before the entire body. Click here for more information.
GNJ Grows Worship Attendance and Completes 5 Year Strategic Plan
GNJ grew average worship attendance in 2017 and through its 2013 strategic plan, over the last four years grew the number of people in small groups and hands-on mission, increased giving to mission, started more than 50 new faith communities, rebuilt 271 homes in response to Superstorm Sandy and launched five new resources to assist congregations, laity and clergy in achieving the mission.
GNJ Strategic Direction and Leadership 100
The Connectional Table led GNJ in a strategic plan for 2019-23, which includes strategies of new faith communities, Next Gen ministries, community development, Hope Centers, cultural shifts and equipping and cultivating 100 clergy and 100 laity who make disciples who make disciples. The body affirmed this plan. Click here to learn more about it.
Miracles Everywhere Campaign
GNJ committed to a new mission campaign – Miracles Everywhere, which will transform and deepen the lives and faith of the Next Generation, partner with Puerto Rico in hurricane relief, launch Hope Centers across GNJ and partner with the Tanzania Annual Conference to train new pastors, build new congregations, and build a Hope Center for mission engagement. Bishop Schol gave a moving account of he and his wife, Beverly’s own commitment to the campaign and shared the results of leadership gifts which total nearly $300,000! An offering for the new Miracles Everywhere Campaign was taken and more than $30,000 was collected to bring the total committed to date to $2.9 million. The full campaign goal is $5.2 million. To read more about the Miracles Everywhere Campaign,click here.
In other actions, we celebrated our A Future With Hope ministry which will complete its 271st house this June. Click here to learn more about A Future With Hope. We approved the 2019 budget which reduces shared ministry to 16.1% so more resources are available to local churches.
Passing the Mantle
This year’s Annual Conference session opened with a service to commission and ordain clergy. We welcomed eight newly commissioned Provisional Elders, five newly Ordained Elders, one Deacon, one Associate Member, eight transfers from other conferences and or denominations, and 19 new local pastors. We recognized 24 retiring clergy for their 550 years of service. Rev. Ron Watts delivered a powerful sermon during the Service of Remembrance that honored the 27 clergy, clergy spouses and lay members who have passed on during the last year.
Episcopal and Leadership Address
Bishop Schol celebrated the miracles in the midst of GNJ congregations and thanked the laity and congregations for their continued leadership and service to develop transformational leaders to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world. He presented a clear path forward for Greater New Jersey, building on what’s been accomplished to take on a new strategic plan that will focus on leadership. He also discussed the challenges United Methodists face regarding how we treat gays and lesbians within our denomination, in our congregations and as clergy. Regardless of the polity within the denomination, the Bishop said now is the time to act for justice and mercy to work toward desegregating schools in N.J. God is calling us now.
“If congregations are growing, but not serving the community, not serving the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, then we are not the church of Jesus Christ,” Schol declared from the stage.
Rev. Hector A. Burgos, Director of Connectional Ministries, led a leadership address that included remarks from Rev. Sang Won Doh, Chair of the Connectional Table, Rosa Williams, Conference Lay Leader, and Rev. Iraida Ruiz De Porras, Chair of the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministries. These leaders shared their visions for a new strategic plan, the progress made in fulfilling mission and the next steps the Spirit is leading GNJ to take in the years to come. They celebrated new faith communities, the success of Team Vital, Coaching, PaCE, Mosaic Ministries, IGNITE, intercultural competence and the work of an Immigration Task Force. They outlined how GNJ will assist 100 congregations to grow from one church size to the next, grow intercultural competency, develop the Next Generation of disciples through summer camps, IGNITE, and campus ministries, and strengthen the resourcing of the laity.
Rise Against Hunger
Volunteers working in unison systematically and excitedly helped pack 30,000 meals to support Rise Against Hunger’s effort to feed people around the world with a bold mission to end world hunger by 2030.
Passionate Discipleship and Eliminating Poverty
Guest speaker Junius Dotson, General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries, spoke on making, shaping and engaging passionate disciples of Jesus Christ. He challenged United Methodists to unpack what it means to truly be a disciple, holding an altar call where he invited members of GNJ to come forward and publicly commit to disciple-making. Click here to learn more.
Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of Church and Society, spoke to the Annual Conference about eliminating poverty, the realities of its root causes, and how we as the church ought to address the issue. “When did we start caring about ourselves more than we care about those who serve and work for us?” she asked. She challenged United Methodists to imagine an economy that works and honors the dignity and worth of all people. Click here to learn more.
Bishop Schol closed the session with moving testimony calling GNJ to go deeper in conversation with each other and with conference leaders about questions they have regarding the governance and legislation before the body.
Worship and Prayer
The conference was led in joyful worship with praise songs sung in six languages, a 50 plus member choir and a special guest performance by Mark Miller during the Service of Remembrance. The prayer team, led by Gina Yeske, coordinated 40 days of prayer before Annual Conference and set up prayer stations throughout the convention center. The prayer team prayed for every delegate by name and prayed over every seat in the convention center before the Ordination Service on Sunday night.
Miracles were Everywhere
This year’s Annual Conference will go down in history as one in which profound decisions were made and plans enacted to transform our community, state and the world. Attendees left inspired, recognizing the miracles in their midst and realizing that they too are part of making those miracles happen.