Photo Credit: Shari DeAngelo
“In everything, acknowledge God, who makes straight our paths.”—Proverbs 3:6
Two hundred and eighty-three years ago, John Wesley had a moment of spiritual revelation, a moment he felt his “heart strangely warmed,” a moment that led to the advent of Methodism and a moment that was the catalyst for who we are today as United Methodists.
On the day we celebrate what is known as Aldersgate Day, GNJ welcomed conference members and guests to day one of a two-day Annual Conference. On this second year of hosting a virtual event, the words of Proverbs 3:6 seemed to pervade the energy found at the Mission Resource Center that sunny day as a small group of clergy and staff gathered in fellowship and trusted in God to lead them forward on their journeys. Much like the “voice” of Wesley was heard long ago on Aldersgate Street in London, so too were the voices of many at the MRC and online as stories of courage and circuitous routes were told and stoles were wrapped around shoulders of the newly ordained.
“Celebrate!” said Bishop Schol. “Celebration reflects an attitude of gratitude to God and others and gives thanks for what we have, instead of looking to what is next. Celebration also changes things.”
Bishop Schol celebrated GNJ clergy, laity and the lay certified ministry and lauded women clergy on the 65th celebration of when they were given full clergy rights in the Methodist Church. From discipleship at any age to clergy paying it forward to help the underserved, Schol celebrated the wonderful ministries at GNJ and the people who infuse vitality into local churches.
“We have more ministries than we can celebrate, but the one that’s impacting people’s lives in these ever-changing and challenging times, is the hospitality ministry,” said Schol who recognized churches who are feeding the homeless, caring for the marginalized and making masks to keep those in their communities safe.
Amid the challenges are signs of hope, said Schol who is looking forward to working together toward ending the sin of racism and building congregational vitality through A Journey of Hope and a rebirth of worship and ministry following the pandemic.
In celebration of our similarities and differences, Schol said, “We are a holy communion of different races, ethnicities, cultures and perspectives united by the Holy Spirit, driven by the mission of Christ and bearing the good news of an unmerited grace that changes lives and transforms communities.”
Following the Episcopal Address, Conference Secretary Rev. Shelley Smith opened the session, emphasizing God’s grace and calling to “pour out your spirit in each of us,” each of us “at the point of our need.”
Rev. Juel Nelson, director of leadership development, encouraged laity and clergy to take advantage of what the new Leadership Academy will offer and how it will help church leaders connect, grow and lead. During the first and second rounds of the short-term courses, 110 laity took part in the new program designed to foster a collaboration between clergy and laity.
From short-term courses to those that directly align and support A Journey of Hope, the Leadership Academy “is truly a collaboration between laity and clergy,” said Nelson whose foray into proclaiming God’s word began when she was only 13 when she preached her first sermon at her home church in Edison.
Rev. Enger Muteteke, who will be a GNJ director of resourcing this July, said A Journey of Hope is continuing to move forward with the selection of the consultant, Fearless Dialogues, who will equip 150 leaders to lead the project into the next phase of providing training support to our churches as we grow our vitality and engage in the community and work together to end the sin of racism.
Helping to strengthen the mission, the conference passed legislation to strengthen the five-year plan–ensuring equity, ensuring congregations in low-income communities are apportioned shared ministry at a reduced amount and ensuring that all congregations are treated the same regardless of their shared ministry.
As the names of those who passed in the last year were read, Rev. Dr. Gina Hendrickson called on people to remember all who died since the last Annual Conference.
“We haven’t been able to grieve together, to hug each other,” said Hendrickson who cited many “dark valleys” she encountered over the past year.
“The 23rd Psalm has been balm for my soul,” she said as she encouraged everyone to let it become their voice as it has for her and to “fear not!” Hendrickson will transition from her leadership as Northern Shore District Superintendent to become the lead pastor at First UMC of Moorestown on July 1.
In addition to ceremony, the two-day service was balanced by some impactful legislation that helps to move our ministry and mission forward. On Monday, GNJ passed legislation related to the Trustee Enabling Resolutions, which gives the Board of Trustees the authority to carry out its work, set minimum salaries for clergy and approve 11 advance specials for mission and ministry in the community.
The GNJ Designated Fund Policies legislation was postponed to the adjourned session, which will be October 14, when the financial and property sales reports will be provided.
Although not part of the original program, GNJ quickly responded to the sexist clause found in the United Methodist Men report in the Preconference Journal by sharing testimonies and passing new legislation, which was presented by Rev. Iraida Ruiz De Porras, Commission on Status and Role of Women chairperson, and senior pastor, Christ UMC in Lakewood (sidebar).
CFA Chair Vasanth Victor shared with us that billing collections this year are up 29%, and that our churches have received about $5.9 million in PPP funding in 2021. He also reiterated that vigilant efforts would continue to be made toward budget control and oversight.
Also passed was Intersectional Peace with Justice legislation from the United Methodist Women (UMW) as presented by GNJ UMW President Sue Zahorbenski to “work for justice through compassionate service and advocacy to change unfair policies and systems” and “provide educational experiences that lead to personal change in order to transform the world.”
The legislation, making the Educational Society of the GNJAC a subcommittee of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, also passed. The Educational Society has provided financial help through scholarships and loans to students pursuing ministry in the former Southern NJ Annual Conference and GNJ since at least 1863.
At the Service of Passage, GNJ celebrated the ministries of 22 clergy who retired, including Palisades District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Gina Kim who has faithfully served God full time for 30 years as youth pastor, associate pastor, senior pastor and district superintendent.
On Tuesday, Rev. Kim called on everyone to “tap into the reservoir of the power of the Holy Spirit,” and Bishop Schol encouraged us to narrow our paths and focus more on clarity, play and loving and nurturing each other to become closer to God.
GNJ commissioned and ordained 13 clergy, including Bridget Galvin as a provisional deacon; David Ledford, Jaemyoung James Lee, Joshua Shuster and JiSun Yang as ordained elders; and Brendan Galvin, Elouise Hill-Challenger, Eunkyong Kim, Geralda Aldajuste, Hyunsook Song, Hyun Woo Kim, Laura Steele and Tiffany Murphy as commissioned.
The service was graced by two powerful and passionate testimonies from Laura and James who shared with us their unique circuitous journeys that brought them to this place and how they listened to the voice of God along the way.
“To that voice today that says imposter, I say impossible,” said Laura as she shared with us her journey from growing up with a single mom, battling the Imposter Syndrome and discovering her voice.
Speaking in spoken word form, James delivered poetic prose as he too spoke of his arduous journey to discover his calling. “After three jobs and three kids, I heard the small voice again…I was told, ‘James, I love you for who you are, not what you do.’”—it was then that he pursued a life of ministry and learned to “live a life of no walls.”
Although not spoken, each of the 13 clergy present that day for the ceremony embraced their own unique stories that led to them being there. For some, the reaction was visible, for others, more introspective. For Dr. Tiffany Murphy, who recently attained a doctorate in leadership of missional church renewal, she felt gratitude for those who journeyed with her (story coming in July Relay).
GNJ COSROW Response to Harmful Remarks in the GNJ Pre-Conference Workbook
Bishop Schol, clergy, and lay members of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, my name is Iraida Ruiz de Porras, pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lakewood, NJ. I am also a member of the GNJ Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
I stand here today with a heavy heart representing the commission to raise a deep concern regarding remarks published in this year’s Pre-Conference Journal that are part of the report of the GNJ United Methodist Men.
The mission of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) is “to challenge The United Methodist Church at all levels to work for full and equal participation of women in the total life of the denomination, including ordination of women, equal access to policy-making and recognition that Jesus Christ calls men and women alike to salvation, liberation, discipleship and service in church and society.” Words from Paul to the Galatians affirm that “There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)”
Over the past two days the GNJ COSROW drafted the following legislation for the prayerful consideration of the Annual Conference session.
To see the new legislation, visit the “Recap” at www.gnjumc.org/2021-annual-conference/.