From the passage of landmark legislation to the sharing of joyful worship experiences, the first virtual Annual Conference took bold steps and created surprising intimacy for the 857 registered members participating over Zoom and thousands more watching via YouTube.
“These masks can’t hide our joy,” said Bishop John Schol. “These masks can’t hide the sense of God we have with us today!” He opened the two days of conferencing with an Episcopal Address that focused on overcoming the challenges we face.
Schol who urged the people of GNJ to be resilient in his address, said, “We are God’s divine power together. God, give me blessings so I may be a blessing to others.
“My courage comes from God,” said Schol as he offered perseverance and hope. “Crisis deepened conviction, and conviction gave rise to courage. You sacrificed, and God is resurrecting.”
Signs of courage were evident throughout the two days as the people of GNJ passed A Journey of Hope (see insert) and voted to support Black Lives Matter, which move the church forward in its goal to live out baptismal vows by ending the sin of racism.
Rev. Vanessa Wilson, who chairs the Commission of Religion and Race (GNJCORR) voiced her affirmation by saying the actions of the conference “remember, acknowledge, commit and move forward to a journey of hope” for all People of Color.
GNJ voted to sell Camp Aldersgate, enabling Next Generation Ministries to bolster programming for youth and honor the mission and legacy of Henry Appenzeller and Dale Forsman.
“The passing of legislation for the sale of Camp Aldersgate is bittersweet for me,” said Next Generation Ministries Executive Director Eric Drew. “I’m in ministry today because I went to Music Camp at Aldersgate and met Mark Miller and Tanya Bennett. I sang in Appenzeller Chapel. I swam in the Forsman Pool Complex as a counselor. Both my brothers were music campers after me, and my parents would attend the final program even after we were all too old for camp. “What is encouraging to me is that it feels like GNJ can finally take steps forward, together.
Pastors and people in our congregations have a deep love of Aldersgate and desire to resurrect the transformational Spirit present there. The camp properties will become state parks that all can access. The state will care for the grounds and Appenzeller Chapel, and through some proceeds from the sale, we will be able to invest in the future of GNJ Camps and Retreats, passing forward the legacy of missionary Henry Appenzeller, and passing on the spirit of transformation that Rev. Dale Forsman was so passionate about.”
Other legislation that passed included a new slate of leaders as a part of the nominations report, conference advanced specials including the addition of Justice for our Neighbors and the closing of 16 churches.
“We grieve with our sisters and brothers and recognize the pain they are feeling,” said Delaware Bay District Superintendent Glenn Conaway as he presented the churches that closed. But Schol noted that closing a building does not mean a ministry will end and shared as an example Trinity UMC in Ventor will continue a feeding ministry as they work with another local church and the Amish to serve their community.
“This is a great sign of ecumenical work!” he said. GNJ also passed a $12 million budget that continues and expands the mission and ministry of the conference while keeping the percentage that churches contribute in shared ministries flat. For six years the amount congregations are apportioned has been reduced. The apportionment percentage continues at 15.2%, which is lower than the 15.6% goal set four years ago.
The session also featured the Service of Remembrance with a profound and heartfelt sermon from Skylands District Superintendent Rev. Eunice Vega-Perez. The service honored the 50 clergy and lay members who passed in the last year and a half.
She said, “Today we celebrate the cloud of witnesses. We remember them. They are with us in spirit.” The Service of Passage honored 22 retiring clergy who together have served 527 years of ministry and recognized the service of elders, newly ordained and commissioned, local pastors and laity. Representatives from each group lifted the stole of the late District Superintendent Myrna Bethke to pass on ministry to the next generation.
The people of GNJ celebrated the Miracles Everywhere Campaign, which in the past six months has funded more than $800,000 grants from the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fund set up to help those struggling in the face of a pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn. The funding has enabled churches to remain vital and distribute 20,000 meals each month.
Interspersed throughout the sessions and services was beautiful music led by Director of Worship Lan Wilson and the GNJ Praise Band. Music sent in from local churches also played each morning before the session began.
Twenty-two candidates processed into the MRC, marching and dancing to celebrate the Service of Ordination and Commissioning. Bishop Schol called the candidates to be mindful that this is a time for grace, to help others, to break down division and to build unity.
Bishop Schol said in his sermon during the service, “There can be no courage without fear” as he embraced resiliency and the powers of God within us. “Embrace your fears,” he said.
Those commissioned and ordained included: Kimberly Burse, Sung Il Lee, Cricket Brennan, Rachel Callender, Joseph Jueng, Rosario Quiñones, Eun Ok Cha, Juyeon Lee, Marissa van der Valk, Min Ho Cho, Hee Young Lim, Jessica Winderweedle, Peggy Holder, Jisun Nam, Yoseb Jeon, Miso Park, Hyun Hui Kim, Michael Reed, Seunghyun Lee, Dianna Stone, Joshua Mularski, Nova Villa Vitug-Thomas. Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the Bulacan Philippines Annual Conference joined (through Zoom) for the examination of elders to ordain. Nova Villa VitugThomas who was ordained as a member of the Bulacan Philippines Annual Conference, and will serve in Greater New Jersey