For the first time in three years, the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference met in person from Sunday, May 21, to Tuesday, May 23, at the Wildwoods Convention Center. More than 800 members and visitors gathered under the theme Possibility (from Matthew 19:26) for the first annual conference held onsite since 2019, after managing three years of online sessions.
“Welcome back, it is great to be together in person,” said presiding Bishop John Schol. “I see Jesus-possibility because I have witnessed Christ in you.”
In a time of great change in our church and society, visiting Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi urged conference members, during her Tuesday morning teaching session, to focus not on the uncertainty of mere chance, but on faith in the possibility that “something good or better may happen.”
“You can’t see what you don’t have faith in,” said the episcopal leader of the Western Pennsylvania Conference and co-episcopal leader of the Susquehanna Conference. “You won’t see it if you don’t believe it’s possible.” She ended her session, which drew Amens and a standing ovation, by proclaiming, “We are a possibility together in Jesus Christ.”
Possibility was evident throughout the session.
- Bishop John Schol’s encouraging Episcopal Address, where he offered several local church examples of the Possibility theme;
- in the informative and inspirational Conference Leadership Address;
- in the commissioning and ordination of 15 clergy—two as deacons, 13 as elders—and the commissioning of three deaconesses, plus two compelling, personal testimonies;
- in the Service of Passage, where retiring clergy celebrated newly commissioned and ordained clergy;
- in the unanimous election of new Conference Lay Leader David Yamoah;
- in the $8,000 given to support the conference’s Hurricane Ida recovery efforts (A Future with Hope) and the 7,000 meals assembled and packaged by volunteers for Rise Against Hunger; and
- in the 16 resolutions faithfully discerned, discussed and modified through the legislative process.
That two-day legislative process often reflected the equanimity of John Wesley’s principles of Holy Conferencing and seemed elevated by the frequent prayers, spiritual praise and worship that consecrated the conference from beginning to end. Worship and praise moments were enriched by a band as diverse and gifted as its heart-stirring music, as well as the included sacraments of baptism and communion, and the sermons preached by both bishops.
Bishop Schol called on new ordinands and commissionees to embrace humility and hospitality toward others in their ministry. And Bishop Moore-Koikoi comforted families of deceased clergy and clergy spouses with the assurance that their loved ones are cheering them on from heaven’s cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
“The greatest possibility for our future is through vital mission congregations…(that) connect with the people in their communities in new and relevant ways,” said Schol in his Episcopal Address. He lauded congregations for manifesting faith, vision and courage to weather challenges—from the Covid pandemic, to declining resources and growing demands, to disaffiliating churches. He further commended them for recognizing and seizing mission opportunities in the face of those challenges.
The bishop highlighted three conference resources to help congregations chart new directions in ministry and leadership development, including the Pathways for Fruitful and Healthy Ministry initiative, the evolving Leadership Academy, and the new Engage initiative to offer coaching and other support to pastors and church leaders. He expressed continued encouragement by GNJ’s ongoing commitment and progress to end the sin of racism.
The conference’s Leadership Address—delivered by multiple presenters—emphasized the value and efficiency of developing and offering helpful resources and programs—like Next Generation and Camping and Retreat Ministries—in mutual affiliation with the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference (EPA). That collaborative affiliation is a key aspect of the goal-oriented Strategic Direction Resolution presented by the GNJ Cabinet and Connectional Table.
The conference referred to the Connectional Table a request to create a broadly representative task force to provide more details about the shared roles, authority, procedures and costs of the GNJ and EPA affiliation.
“We will address each of the concerns, build on what we are doing well and continue our mission to recruit and develop transformation leaders to make disciples of Jesus Christ and grow vital mission congregations for the transformation of the world,” Schol informed staff after the conference session.
Members passed numerous including: the Council on Finance & Administration’s proposed $23 million 2024 budget; the Conference Leadership Committee’s Nominations Report; Equitable Compensation for clergy, updates to parsonage standards, clergy pensions and billing arrearage policies; GNJ support for Advance Special local mission projects; and a modified Safe Sanctuaries policy that now includes policies to protect vulnerable adults.
The disaffiliation of eight congregations was approved, as well as the discontinuance of 11 closed churches.
Also passed was a resolution to support the sale of The Pinelands Center at Mounty Misery by Next Generation Ministries, an independent nonprofit that now owns the conference’s former camping and retreat property. Since care and use of the property is no longer financially sustainable, the conference affirmed Next Gen’s intention to sell the land and “strongly urged” it to use any sale revenue to offer “camperships” to help GNJ youth attend other Christian camping ministries.
In addition, conference members endorsed the Christmas Covenant, proposed by leaders in some United Methodist Central Conferences in Europe, the Philippines and Africa. It calls on the 2024 General Conference to reorganize the church into regions, including a new U.S. region, to promote more equity and contextual legislating across the denomination. The resolution proposes that non-doctrinal laws and other matters pertaining only to U.S. churches should be legislated by U.S. members in a regional conference, rather than by the entire, global General Conference.
GNJ members also said yes to a resolution, titled A Safer GNJ, that calls on GNJ to:
- utilize trauma-informed practices and resources that support survivors of sexual abuse in the church;
- require training in sexual ethics and sexual abuse prevention for all clergy, church staff, lay leaders and youth ministry leaders; and
- promote sexual ethics education and resources on GNJ’s website.
The measure also mandates the conference to offer access to and reimbursement for trauma-informed care for those who have suffered from clergy sexual abuse.
The resolution, Reclaiming the Narrative was ruled out of order because the annual conference is not the appropriate body to vote on such legislation. Instead, the conference referred it to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy Committee.
Here is a brief video of some GNJ Annual Conference highlights, produced by Communications Team video producer Corbin Payne and presented at the close of the session. In addition, recordings of the full session, from the livestream video, are viewable on the GNJ Annual Conference web page. (Scroll down to the end of the page.)
Main photo: The Rev. Elouise Hill-Challenger celebrates her ordination with other clergy May 21, during the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. Shari DiAngelo photo