Judging from Bishop John Schol’s Jan. 20 letter to members of the affiliated Eastern PA and Greater New Jersey conferences, last week’s joint Cabinet retreat at the Mission Resource Center generated emotional highs and lows.
The EPA&GNJ Cabinet met for three days for prayer, study, strategic review of appointments and discernment, during what the letter described as “a very challenging season.”
Members were saddened by dual tragedies in the death of one’s nephew and the news of a GNJ pastor’s late-stage cancer diagnosis. The Rev. Hoo Sug Lee, Bishop Schol reported, “is in significant pain; yet his faith runs deep, and his spirit is resolved to God’s will.”
But emotions were high on Wednesday evening at St. Mark UMC in Hamilton, as the bishop installed GNJ’s newest superintendent, the Rev. Ronell Howard, to lead the Central District. “It was a glorious celebration and worship of God’s ministry and presence among us,” Schol wrote in his letter.
Indeed, the nearly half-full sanctuary seemed to elevate, brimming with the Holy Spirit, as robed clergy and other guests stood, swayed, clapped, raised hands and sang along to heartful hymns, praise and gospel songs performed by the Rev. William Carter III.
Bishop Schol introduced Howard and shared her story—from growing up in a Muslim household, to being ordained a Baptist minister, to being received into The United Methodist Church. Along the way, she earned her Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was awarded for her excellence in speech and homiletics.
Indeed, her homiletical prowess inspired the gathering in a timely sermon aptly titled “Creating Amid Chaos.” Howard preached about Genesis, extoling God’s creation of order, light and life from chaotic darkness. She called on listeners to do likewise in taking on the dreary, daunting challenges facing our churches, our denomination and our society today.
‘Don’t just turn on the light; be the light!’
“Don’t just turn on the light, be the light,” she proclaimed, recalling how God self-illuminated the world three days before God’s creation of luminous celestial bodies.
“We have questions hanging in the air, just like the people for whom Genesis was written,” said Howard. “God, what will become of our beloved denomination? How can we do ministry with dwindling budgets and small memberships? What do we do about deep denominational and cultural divisions, about young people leaving the church in droves, about crumbling buildings, about lost souls in the world that we can’t seem to connect with?”
Howard previously was a pastor, a regional resource director for clergy and churches, and a leader of GNJ’s Journey of Hope to End the Sin of Racism. In her vision for the Central District, she called on members to “join together in turning on lights that have been dimmed and rolling up our sleeves to bring order where there is chaos, that we might flourish, reach more people for Christ, baptize more babies and watch them grow.”