United Methodists in Greater New Jersey moved forward in response to the passage of the Traditional Plan at the February 2019 Special General Conference which strengthens the language and penalties involving inclusion of LGBTQ persons in ministry. In GNJ there are people who affirm the action of General Conference and others who are deeply disappointed with those harsher penalties and the failure to provide congregations and clergy with a way to determine how best to be in ministry with the LGBTQ community.
The GNJ Way Forward Team, elected at a March 2019 Annual Conference session, is leading the people of Greater New Jersey forward to explore new expressions of Methodism by turning the church outward and renewing the church to focus on the call to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. In their report to Annual Conference, the GNJ Way Forward Team reviewed their transformational work.
“The current witness and mission of the United Methodist Church is weakened by our division and impasse about human sexuality. New expressions — in the form of models, methods and organization – will provide opportunity for diverse congregations to live authentic beliefs, convictions and practices, while remaining connected, to increase our impact through witness and mission in the world,” reported Rev. Sang Won Doh, the
convener of the team.
On a Monday morning, May 20, in his episcopal address to the conference Bishop John Schol set the tone and direction for what would come in the Holy Conferencing session.
“It is time,” said Bishop Schol, “for the United Methodist Church to allow for new expressions of Methodism so that we stop hurting each other and give room for different theologies, methods for interpreting the Bible and diversity in practicing our faith.”
New expressions will free congregations to focus on making disciples and growing vital congregations, connecting with the community, engaging younger and more diverse disciples, continuing work on cultural competence, ending racism and sexism within the church and developing Hope Centers. Doh, accompanied by the 16-member team that represents GNJ leadership including representatives holding both traditional and progressive theologies, outlined their goals:
- Renew the church by turning the church outward – renew our relationship with God, one another and the community so that we connect a life changing and relevant Gospel message with the people in our communities
- Bless one another — while not all agreeing, we will not inhibit congregations, disciples and clergy from pursuing their convictions and calling
- Identify objectives for congregations to thrive and a structure to support their efforts
- Identify a process and guidelines for ready and willing congregations to model congregational groupings such as:
- Congregations that hold a scriptural view that same gender weddings should not be performed in our churches and that LGBTQ persons should not be ordained
- Congregations that hold different scriptural views and can be together recognizing there will be different practices and understandings of the LGBTQ community’s participation in the church
- Congregations that hold a scriptural view that Jesus invites everyone to participate fully in the life of the church and that all churches should allow same gender weddings and that all churches should be open to the appointment of an LGBTQ clergy person
- Identify the ministry, mission and administration throughwhich we will continue to
connect with one another.
Rev. Amanda Hemenetz, chair of Reconciling Ministries in GNJ and David Wehrle, vice chair of the GNJ Wesleyan Covenant Association gave powerful testimonies detailing their support of the work and their renewed hope in the ministry of Methodists in Greater New Jersey.
During Holy Conferencing, Ashley Wilson, a member of GNJ’s Connectional Ministries team, led the body in teaching the principles of an outward mindset. An outward mindset is focused on breaking out of the box of collusion so that people holding opposing viewpoints can see each other as people and not as objects. Members were called to stand and share stories of transformation using these principals.
Lelia Muckelston, lay member from Pemberton United Methodist Church, shared that she hears God’s call to act now. “God is leading me, and giving me so much of the Holy Spirit,” she testified before the Conference, “God’s just telling me this is where to be.” A school teacher, Muckelston praised the outward mindset training, concluding, “I hope the Methodist church goes in that direction.” The Way Forward Team will create sacred space and processes so that local and conference leadership can assist GNJ congregations to:
- Bless one another without trying to change each other
- Explore new expressions of ministry
- Create Sacred Space for these
conversations to happen
- Thrive during transitional times
- Listen and communicate with transparency
GNJ’s Way Forward Team outlined a timeline that included a Special Annual Conference Session to be called in the fall of 2019. At that time, congregations ready and willing to pilot new expressions will be launched. Fifty-nine congregations have already expressed interest in participating in the pilots.