Dear Laity and Clergy of GNJ,
I write to you today with a heavy heart. I have always experienced appointing clergy to congregations as a sacred act that I approach with deep prayer, openness and recognition that God speaks through the clergy, laity and cabinet. All have an important role in decisions of appointing clergy to congregations.
The itinerant system, appointing clergy to churches, was initiated by John Wesley and institutionalized by the first Methodist bishop, Francis Asbury who understood that assigning clergy to churches would aid in the spread of the Gospel.
I am deeply saddened that two caucuses that seek to divide United Methodists based on theological understandings, Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association and its New Jersey affiliate, have called into question an appointment I made this year. They have said that an appointment this season was motivated because the pastor was a supporter of theirs and was leading the congregation out of the denomination. They further asserted that the pastor was given a new appointment without following The Book of Discipline and without following the procedures of consultation. These accusations are false. This is the first time in my 17th year of making appointments that I have been publicly accused of such abuse of the sacred trust that I promised at my consecration as a bishop.
I would normally prefer not to draw more attention to such an accusation except that Good News, the Wesleyan Covenant Association and its New Jersey affiliate have continued their false accusations even when Good News and the Wesleyan Covenant Association were provided with information about the circumstances of the appointment. They have not only sent messages across the denomination, but our conference journal was used to secure a list of GNJ clergy and laity addresses, and they have been communicating this false information directly to many across GNJ. Superintendents and I have been contacted by people in GNJ about whether this is true and if not, why are we not responding to such egregious accusations.
I have chosen to respond for the integrity of our system and the work of the cabinet. The issue involves the appointing of a pastor who the superintendent and I have worked with for more than four years to address issues and his refusal to accept an appointment. The following are the circumstances that led to the appointment change and ultimately the clergy person surrendering his credentials.
- The initiating of an appointment change was the result of a four-year long process surrounding concerns of the former pastor’s leadership.
- Over the years, the former pastor was asked to move more than once, and on each occasion, the former pastor said he would not leave the church he was presently serving and that he would only serve his current church and no other church in GNJ. This is a clear violation of The Book of Discipline and the practices of itineracy.
- I met with the congregation’s leadership and SPRC committee on more than six different occasions over the years about the former pastor’s leadership. The superintendent met with the pastor and congregation’s leaders even more than this.
- I supported the pastor’s return to the congregation with certain stipulations.
- We have a consultation process that includes an opportunity for a pastor to indicate any limitations (limited itineracy) that a pastor may share with the cabinet about being moved, and the former pastor did not indicate that he had limited itineracy.
- The former pastor was disrespectful to the district superintendent, and on one occasion indicated to the congregation that the bishop was to be forbidden to enter the church.
- This year when a move was discussed in early March, the cabinet followed its prayerful discernment process and indicated a move should go forward.
- Recently, following a sermon preached by the former pastor, members of the congregation voiced their concerns. For instance, the former pastor used the story of Moses and Pharaoh, and compared himself to Moses and said, “I am Moses appointed by God to this congregation not by a man or an organization.” He went on to say that he had let the leaders of the church have too much authority and that he would be taking back authority. Following this sermon, people of the congregation asked for the former pastor to be suspended. I made the request to the board of ordained ministry who prayerfully deliberated and voted to suspend the former pastor.
- I offered the opportunity for the former pastor to continue to serve at his present appointment if he would apologize for his disrespect to the superintendent and acknowledge that he did not follow through on matters he agreed to. He indicated he could not do this and without being asked, surrendered his credentials.
- There are accusations that the appointment was because of the pastor’s participation in the WCA and his stance against any change in The Book of Discipline about ministry with and by the LGBTQ. This is false. Our work over the past four years with the pastor had nothing to do with his affiliation with the WCA or ministry with and by LGBTQ persons. The cabinet and I act with integrity in assessing and appointing pastors.
Good News or the WCA and its New Jersey affiliate never reached out to me about what occurred, even though I had sent the above information to them. It is regrettable that there are people who are using this matter to divide people in our denomination. This has been painful for the congregation and its lay and pastoral staff, the cabinet and many in GNJ. I want to assure all our clergy that the appointment process under my leadership has never been nor ever will be used to hurt a clergy person or a congregation because of their theology or if they have chosen to leave The United Methodist Church. Likewise, we would not appoint someone to a church to attempt to change the theology or because the church may want to leave the denomination. In fact, we have aligned appointments in which the clergy person and the congregation have expressed a desire to leave the denomination.
The cabinet and I grieve that any clergy person or congregation seeks to leave The United Methodist Church, but if a clergy person or congregation has made this decision, we have and will continue to work with people so that they may move to what God has next for them.
Regretfully, I believe there will be additional letters and statements that will be published, which will continue to sow seeds of discontent. I recognize that there are people who are discontented, and we pledge to continue to work with you to address issues or to help people find a different path forward. We will not continue to engage in the public discord, but focus on the mission and serving Jesus Christ and trust God will sort out people’s differences.
I give thanks to God for each of you. I have found that our clergy irrespective of their theology are called and committed to make disciples of Jesus Christ and grow vital congregations for the transformation of the world. I have also found our laity regardless of their convictions, ultimately seek to follow Christ into the world to serve God. There will be challenging days ahead, and the cabinet and I remain committed to help all our congregations and pastors to thrive and move forward as the church of Jesus Christ. I invite you to join in such a commitment.
Keep the faith!