The GNJ Annual Conference is expected to bid farewell to some valued churches and institutions when it votes on several key resolutions during its annual session May 21-23.
One resolution would approve eight congregations’ disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church, based on ¶2553 of the Book of Discipline, that allows churches to leave by December 31, 2023, with the property they hold in trust “for reasons of conscience regarding the actions or inactions of The United Methodist Church around human sexuality.”
Those congregations have “met the timelines and explored and discerned disaffiliation through the process outlined in the Greater New Jersey Conference and have voted by a two-thirds majority to disaffiliate,” according to the resolution.
The churches are: Bethany UMC of Wayne; Cornerstone Church of Englewood; Grace-Bethel UMC of Leonia; KCC of Englewood; First Korean UMC of Cherry Hill; St John’s UMC of Turnersville; Sicklerville UMC; and Elmer UMC.
“United Methodist connectionalism is one of our core values,” states the resolution. “We grieve the loss of these congregations, and all the ways that they have mattered to our fellowship and mission.”
The Conference will also approve the closure of six churches, while giving thanks for “all the blessings made possible by the clergy and laity who have contributed to their ministry and mission.” They are: Bethel UMC and New Beginnings UMC, both of Camden; First UMC of Bradley Beach; St. Matthew’s UMC of Newark; Stratford UMC; and Trinity UMC of Stony Point.
The Conference will also formally dissolve its covenant agreement with The Bergen Point Community Church, which became a federated church in 1971 that included the former Bayonne UMC.
And finally, Conference members are expected to approve the sale of The Pinelands Center at Mt. Misery because maintenance and other costs have made the property financially unsustainable. Now owned by GNJ’s Next Generation Ministries, revenue from the sale will support Next Gen’s mission as outlined in its 10-year strategic plan.
The Pinelands Center was purchased in 1947 by the Southern New Jersey Annual Conference for youth camping and retreat ministries. “We recognize and honor the service, call and ministry of countless campers, leaders, and clergy over the course of 75 years,” reads the resolution.
In other legislation, the Conference will likely endorse a list of 11 Advanced Special projects for local church support through second-mile giving. And members should approve required Equitable Compensation for pastors, church parsonage standards, arrearage policies, pension and health benefits recommendations, and revised Safe Sanctuary policies and practices to help ensure the safety of children, youth and vulnerable adults in all church facilities and activities.
A proposed new 2023-2026 Strategic Direction will be presented by the Extended Cabinet and Connectional Table for consideration and approval. While furthering GNJ’s current affiliation with the Eastern PA Conference, its goals include increasing GNJ’s vital congregations from 48% to 60%, an ambitious goal fueled by the “five ministries/markers of vitality: worship, small groups, mission, stewardship and making new disciples.”
The plan offers key strategic ministry initiatives to generate “passionate disciples, vital congregations and transformational leaders.”
The 2024 Budget Legislation, before proposing fiscal policies and projected income and expenses, first links them to the quantitative mission goals. That includes recruiting pastors; training and equipping ministry leaders and facilitators; and helping congregations participate in generous giving, community engagement and the goal to end the sin of racism.
Fiscal proposals include a combined rate of 15.3% for conference and general church apportionments but a reduced rate for congregations in low-income communities under the Journey of Hope Plan. That anti-racism plan also calls for GNJ to give up to 100% to two general apportionment funds, Black College and Africa University, from any year-end budget surplus.
The Conference will also hear and act on non-GNJ resolutions, including endorsement of The Christmas Covenant, a set of legislation and constitutional amendments that the UMC’s delayed General Conference in 2024 will consider with the goal of “establishing regional equity in the structures of the (global) church for missional effectiveness while sustaining connectional unity.”
Two final resolutions concern the ongoing, destructive problem of sexual abuse. “A Safer GNJ” calls for steps to address the trauma of sexual abuse survivors and to provide training and resources that can help prevent future abuse. “Reclaiming the Narrative” asks the body to censure Bishop John Schol for his handling of a sexual abuse case and calls for sexual ethics training and policies.