EPA&GNJ Weaves Network of Mutual Ministry Through Affiliation

May 9, 2023 | | GNJ News

The United Methodists of Eastern Pennsylvania and Greater New Jersey are living into their EPA&GNJ connectional affiliation by collaborating in key administrative and program operations. Together, they are focused on jointly cultivating leadership and resourcing vital mission congregations, while viewing affiliation as a call to greater discipleship and stewardship.

The two Cabinets meet and make pastoral appointments jointly. Some pastors are voluntarily crossing conference lines, which benefits particularly Eastern PA with its shortage of available fulltime pastors for its pulpits.

EPA&GNJ is preparing to extend GNJ’s Mosaic Ministries outreach beyond Princeton and Drew theological schools, and Palmer Theological Seminary to include two additional seminaries that are preparing students for ministry in EPA: Lancaster and Moravian. Mosaic recruits seminarians to serve churches and participate in a learning cohort together that grows their excellence in leadership and pastoral ministry, Participants have called it a win-win opportunity for both them and the churches.

Rev. Kate Monahan, Mosaic Ministries

While the program is rebounding from a Covid-related decline, it has “doubled the number of churches and students participating in the new appointment year,” said Rev. Kate Monahan, Mosaic resourcing director. Going a step further, she added, Mosaic will also create and support leadership opportunities for students of all ages to serve in local churches, camps and other ministries of the annual conferences.

Leaders from both conferences’ boards of Ordained Ministry have met together to discuss if there are ways they can collaborate in sponsoring Local Pastor Schools, Orientation to Ministry events, Residency in Ministry and Sexual Ethics trainings, and other facets of clergy preparation for ministry.

Resourcing pastors, churches across conference lines

EPA&GNJ’s Leadership Team is working to upgrade and expand GNJ’s Leadership Academy to offer broader, more flexible leadership education to clergy and laity in both conferences. The newly affiliated Leadership Academy will use its new Teachable Learning Platform to pair convenient asynchronous learning models with synchronous learning.

Individuals and teams will be able to access training at home using online, asynchronous platforms that allow learners to gain recorded instruction anytime, anywhere, at their convenience. In addition, synchronous platforms will allow for live, onsite or videoconference learning experiences with training facilitators.  The Academy will also offer tracks for learning concentrations and certificates. And courses will be action-oriented, with opportunities for applied and hands-on learning that are essential to help students retain and make use of new knowledge.

Ministry resourcing is also being upgraded with four regional resourcing teams, along with regional administrators now serving in both EPA & GNJ and connecting across conference lines.  GNJ’s regions are Metro Highlands and Coastal Plains. EPA’s regions are SouthEast and NorthWest. Each region comprises two or more districts working together with their regional resourcing teams and supported by their regional administrators and district superintendents.

Resourcing pastors and congregations in both conferences is also happening in the Pathways congregational health and vitality initiative. Over 100 congregations in EPA&GNJ are currently engaged inPathwayswhichisundergoingdesign changes, as EPA and GNJ Pathways resourcing staff work together. In addition, EPA&GNJ is launching Engage, a supportive initiative to connect every pastor at least quarterly with a District Superintendent, Assisting Elder or conference staff member to engage in reflective conversation and prayer to offer encouragement.

And GNJ’s Breakthrough creativeworship resource is being expanded to EPA to recruit content writers and attract more users there. The popular resource annually offers pastors and worship leaders about a half-dozen series of thematic Bible studies, sermon starters, worship graphics and more—all resources they can easily adapt and utilize. EPA writers are helping now to prepare themed sermon material for several Breakthrough series in the fall.

Working together to end the sin of racism

Together, EPA & GNJ are committed to dismantling racism through the Journey of Hope initiative and Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural (CR/CC) ministries, including CR/CC pastoral appointments. The two conferences are evaluating metrics to track their performance in various areas, including: investing financially in developing and strengthening racial-ethnic churches and leadership; ensuring that people of color have more leadership roles on conference boards and committees; and reviewing conference policies and procedures for signs of bias and discrimination.

“Our commitment to youth and young adults will include the launch of a year-round discipleship calendar offering opportunities for youth from EPA&GNJ to experience EPA’s camp & retreat offerings and GNJ’s IGNITE, a transformational experience for youth and youth ministry leaders” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, who leads the EPA&GNJ Leadership Team. “Our goal is to send 100 GNJ youth to experience EPA’s summer camps and 200 EPA youth to experience IGNITE in the fall.”

Leaders of EPA’s Commission on Religion & Race and GNJ’s Journey of Hope initiative met at EPA’s Carson Simpson Farm Camp & Retreat Center in late April to develop plans for affiliation in their anti-racism work. EPA’s annual training for churches with CR/CC pastoral appointments on June 3 will be an affiliated training, giving pastors and church leaders from both conferences an opportunity to learn and grow in partnership as they explore CR/CC ministry together.

With EPA’s and GNJ’s websites displayed side-by-side on a laptop screen, digital media consultant Kenny Jahng helps staff begin planning for a new affiliated EPA&GNJ website. John Coleman photo

EPA&GNJ began affiliating its cross-conference Communications work in December 2022, with a unified communications team that serves the many needs of both conferences. That includes production of emailed newsletters and episcopal correspondence, videos, graphic design, websites, requested media resources and the new affiliated newspaper NEWSpirit, which replaces GNJ’s The Relay. The next big thing being developed is an affiliated EPA&GNJ website that will serve both conferences with individual and joint content.

‘Affiliation builds upon gifts of both conferences’

“Affiliation builds upon the gifts of both conferences and offers possibilities for mutual collaboration and grows our ability to further our mission,” said Taylor-Storm, who is EPA’s Director of Connectional Ministries and Assistant to Bishop John Schol. Indeed, Jay Kim, who directs GNJ’s Human Resources and Regional Support Team, is now doing the same work for EPA. And EPA&GNJ’s joint Data & Strategic Analysis Team is collaborating in the development of improved, streamlined church information forms and the collection and analysis of statistical reports. This team, like the Communications team, is working from both conference offices.

“I have enjoyed getting to know staff across the EPA&GNJ and seeing teams work together,” said Eric Drew, GNJ’s Director of Connectional Ministries. “When they gather together, the Cabinet and other teams are full of outstanding leaders who are working well together and finding joy in collaboration.”

Drew preached for a joint EPA&GNJ staff worship service at the EPA Conference Office April 3. EPA now hosts staff worship services and lunches on first Mondays, when the joint Cabinet meets there. And GNJ continues to host worship services weekly on the other Mondays, often with guests from EPA. The services, which include music, liturgy, preaching and Holy Communion, can also be enjoyed by all staff via Zoom.

Drew works with several EPA ministry groups in affiliation, including the Latino/Hispanic Commission and the Prison Ministries & Restorative Justice Team. “I’m excited that the Healing Communities Training, led by EPA’s Prison Ministry and Restorative Justice Team, will be offered to both conferences for the first time through the Leadership Academy,” he said. “And EPA’s Latino Ministry Commission has invited Latino ministry leaders in GNJ to a conversation about collaborative work across both conferences. That’s exciting.”

EPA and GNJ each have a Committee on Native American Ministries (CONAM); and both groups have shared a relationship since they celebrated Native American Heritage Month together in 2017 (See “Celebrating Native American Heritage Month.”) That relationship, and their acknowledgment that we live on what was once Lenne Lenapi tribal land, will be featured in the affiliated video that begins both EPA’s and GNJ’s annual conferences this year.