Rooted (GNJUMC Annual Conference 2019)

Rooted: 2019 Episcopal Address to the 2019 Annual Conference Session of Greater New Jersey United Methodists

May 19, 2019, Episcopal Address, 2019 Annual Conference Session of Greater New Jersey

Like a tree planted by the water, sending out its roots. -Jeremiah 17:8

The roots of faith and the Methodist movement run deep throughout Greater New Jersey. In GNJ we have two towns named after Francis Asbury, streets named after Methodists – Wesley, Simpson, Webb, Heck, Ebury, Cookman, Dow, Whitfield and Methodist Road, one General Church agency, four mission agencies, two Methodist Universities, a premier Methodist prep school, five camp meetings, nine senior living facilities, two camps and 540 congregations.

George Whitfield’s fiery preaching in North Jersey and James Early’s class meetings in South Jersey launched one of the great Methodist movements. The movement grew because it was rooted in grace, evangelistic preaching, small groups, the appointment of pastors to congregations and communities, and a commitment to grow disciples spiritually and engage them in mercy, justice and advocacy ministries throughout the region.

A tree planted sending out roots.

Methodism continues to be a missional force within the region. In 2018, 25,306 GNJ United Methodists engaged in community ministries through our congregations serving 553,451 people in our communities. We raised and gave $3,154,339 for local and worldwide mission.

GNJ Raises up Leaders

GNJ congregational leaders demonstrate powerful leadership every day in their churches and in their communities. Judy Colorado worships at Emmanuel UMC in Springfield where she serves as a lay speaker for her congregation. She serves on the GNJ Board of Laity, is the Gateway North District Lay Leader, Vice Chair of the Council on Finance and Administration, and serves as a trustee for our mission partner, United Methodist Communities. Over the last four years she has represented our conference as a lay delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Her leadership does not end at the church doors. Last month she was named one of NJ’s top nurses for her role as Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President at Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health. Last week, she was one of 21 nurses honored from across the world by the Nurses With Global Impact Organization during its 3rd International Nurses Day held at the United Nations. Wow! Judy’s commitment and leadership are moving the church and its mission forward.

We consecrated and ordained 18 clergy, commissioned a new missionary and licensed 18 new local pastors. We also recruited new clergy to serve in GNJ that includes a Hispanic clergy person, 3 African American clergy persons, a Haitian clergy person and 2 Korean clergy persons. We certified 41 lay ministers and raised up 6 new certified lay ministers. We are transforming the world as we raise up leaders to make disciples and grow vital congregations.

GNJ is a tree planted sending out roots.

GNJ Makes and Sends Disciples

Carol Trimmer from Central UMC bakes and sells 350 pies each year to fund the mission work of her church. Kristen Raine of Sharptown UMC is leading her youth to go deeper in faith with mission trips to Philadelphia and running the vacation Bible School. Her own personal journey includes going deeper in her faith with women’s retreats and small group leadership. Paul Klitsch of Cokesbury UMC started the Soles4Souls Ministry in his church, collecting 3,634 pairs of shoes that are recycled for use in Haiti, Kenya and Tanzania. He is a part of Cokesbury’s feeding ministries and coordinates the annual trip to Red Bird Mission. GNJ is rich with disciples who serve Jesus Christ in their churches and in their communities.

Our disciples send deep roots as they worship regularly, engage in small group learning, serve in their community, give generously and invite others into a journey of discipleship.

GNJ Grows Vital Congregations

James Lee, who was commissioned last night, serves Wesley Church, a multicultural congregation in South Plainfield. In the last year, the worship attendance grew by 50 people including a reengaged and active youth group.

Other congregations are seeing similar transformations. Bountiful Korean in Martinsville has tripled in worship attendance. Island Heights UMC renewed their focus on young families and celebrated 30 baptisms in the last three years.

Congregations grow strong roots as they connect with the people in the community to learn and engage with those who are seeking and searching for meaning and purpose. Congregations that connect with the people in the community and consistently evaluate their ministry and adapt to changing times are growing spiritually and numerically. They continue to improve their worship, small groups, service in the community and giving to mission beyond the congregation. They inspire and equip their people to make new disciples.

In the past year we have started two new congregations, five new faith communities and seven congregations – four African American, one Hispanic and two Anglo congregations – are moving from part-time to full-time clergy appointments.

Our congregations are like trees planted sending out roots.

GNJ Transforms the World

We transform lives and the world everyday as we offer ministries of hope, healing and wholeness. Our work in Puerto Rico and Tanzania has restored homes and families and brought new understanding of the scriptures, the church and the world. Last year we witnessed transformation at the Tanzania Annual Conference Session when they changed their vote concerning women in service to the church after they saw GNJ’s courageous women teaching and leading.

Our work, our ministry is in vain if we are not transforming lives, the church and the world. The purpose of our ministry is change, deep and wide change that stretches out through Wesleyan rootedness that is changing the landscape:

  • From segregated to integrated schools
  • From racism to ending privilege and creating a socially just world
  • From single culture congregations to cross racial appointments and multicultural congregations
  • From gender bias to valuing women and men equally
  • From disability discrimination to creating a barrier free church and world where all people are treated as abled
  • From excluding the LGBTQI+ community to welcoming and affirming all people
  • From uniformity to unity through different expressions
  • From an absence of Christ to a passionate following of Jesus

If there is no transformation from current conditions to something new, if there is no change of the heart, or no transformation in the systems and conditions of people in our communities, then our work is not the transformative power of Jesus Christ, but a human effort that falls short of the redemptive and resurrecting power of God.

God has a great future for us as we allow the transformative grace of Jesus Christ to reign in our hearts and is evidenced by our love for God and our neighbor.

GNJ’s Mission Partners Are Doing Transformative Ministry

This transformative ministry is being extended even further through our mission partners.

A Future With Hope has cultivated 20 Hope Centers that are bringing hope, healing and wholeness to the people in our communities. Two years ago, we said we would launch 100 Hope Centers across GNJ. We are 20% of the way toward our goal: Hope. A Future With Hope is also working on plans to help churches transform underused property into affordable housing units that include new worship spaces and places for Hope Centers that reach deep into communities. A Future With Hope is extending the mission of GNJ and transformation in communities.

The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation is growing assets for ministry and mission through the 101 congregations that are invested through the foundation. The Foundation now has more than $46 million under management in socially responsible investments that are creating a better environment, equal employment, fair wages, better schools, and affordable housing. The Foundation is also assisting our congregations to lead giving and stewardship campaigns to grow ministry and capital budgets. The Stewardship Foundation is extending the mission of GNJ and strengthening congregations and the ministry of generosity.

Next Generation Ministries is reaching young people in new and innovative ways.  Last year, they reopened camps and this year they are expanding our camping programs. They have launched a civil rights journey for students called the Joshua Generation, introduced Cultivate internships for high school and college students and oversee four Next Gen campus ministries including new ministries at Drew and Rutgers Universities. The IGNITE Youth Conference continues to grow to more than 1,500 people, but more importantly it is reviving youth ministry and welcoming new disciples of Jesus Christ. Next Generation Ministries is extending the mission of GNJ by transforming the lives of young people.

The Centenary Fund continues to support clergy retirees, their spouses and health care for all GNJ retired clergy. Listen to what one of those spouses wrote to us:

There are no words for what I want to say to you….  I am so very grateful to you all for your consideration and generosity.  You cannot imagine the relief that I feel having this burden lifted from my shoulders. We planned for many things that might happen in retirement – but never even thought of this nasty disease that has claimed him.…Now you all have done this wonderful thing – you see God led me to you.

The Centenary Fund is extending the mission of GNJ with those who served the church faithfully.

The Miracles Everywhere Campaign has exceeded all expectations by raising more than $4 million toward our $6.2 million goal to bring relief to Puerto Rico, provide education and resources for a Hope Center in Tanzania, strengthen Next Generation Ministries, and undergird A Future With Hope mission work. Your generosity is extending miracles everywhere.

Our mission partners are trees planted sending out roots.

We have exceptional ministry across GNJ that is vital, life changing, transformative, and growing. We have a great future ahead because God is with us and we have committed to raising up leaders to transform the world as we make disciples and grow vital congregations. Take courage, God is leading us into the future. We have a future with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

General Conference

In 2004, I was a delegate to the General Conference held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was like many other General Conferences – more legislation than is humanly possible to deal with well, people wearing buttons, hats, stoles and carrying signs proclaiming their view and advocating that their cause is the right way. Like other General Conferences, people gathered in different camps about different issues. Yes, the LGBTQI+ community and disciplinary paragraphs related to homosexuality were on the agenda, as they had been for the 30 years before that time. People moved into their camps, gathered their allies and sought to get the votes so their side would win. Something different also emerged. Something I had not experienced in the previous three General Conferences I attended. Leaders from different groups began to talk about an amicable separation. That it was time for the United Methodist Church to separate. To me, it just felt wrong, ungodly, the wrong message to send to the world.

On the last day of General Conference, I, with five other delegates, went to the same microphone. There was one person from each of the five U.S. jurisdictions and one from outside the United States. We boldly proclaimed what became known as the unity resolution. It called for the United Methodist Church to be one in the midst of our differences and for us to continue to work and serve together. The unity resolution passed by more than a 90% margin. We would continue as a UNITED Methodist Church.

Today, if I were a delegate to General Conference, I would again go to the microphone with someone representing each jurisdiction and someone from outside the United States, and we would again offer a resolution. But this time it would be different.

It is time.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, there is a time for everything under the sun, and this time, we would offer legislation that it is time 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. We would offer a resolution that we stop weakening the Wesleyan witness in the world and diminishing our mission in the world by allowing for new expressions of Methodism to emerge.

Here’s why: while we have been working to maintain or change our polity, we have fewer congregations, fewer disciples, fewer people going into ministry, smaller Sunday schools, fewer missionaries and decreased mission in our communities and around the world. We need renewal and our renewal will not come by maintaining or changing a handful of disciplinary paragraphs.

We are also seeing colleges, universities and other institutions disassociating with the United Methodist Church. The board chairs and presidents of four institutions in GNJ contacted me about their affiliation with the United Methodist Church and I have been called upon to present or defend the recent General Conference action with two different boards of trustees.

In the past few years the Wesleyan Covenant Association has emerged to support congregations to align in a different expression to renew the church and maintain theological commitments important to them.

Additionally, Germany and other areas outside the United States, including Africa and the Philippines, have indicated that they are seeking new ways to affiliate because of the recent General Conference decision. The bishops and conference leaders from the United States Western Jurisdiction have issued a statement that they will not abide by the recent decision of the General Conference. Across the country, including in GNJ, thousands of clergy and laity have been signing statements that indicate they cannot abide by the General Conference decision.

New Methodist Expressions

We are at an impasse. New expressions must emerge so that we can renew the church and turn it outward. The task before us is to identify what we will continue in common and allow different expressions so that people live into our differences without fear of being called closed minded and discriminatory, or fear of a complaint being filed, or the knowledge that others are harmed by our rules.

The endless attempts to change or maintain disciplinary paragraphs has become not only unproductive but not of God. We are spending energy, time, money and emotion on our differences and it is the mission, witness, people and yes, the church, the body of Christ that is being hurt. In our fervent desire to change or maintain the Book of Discipline, we are hurting the body of Christ, crucifying Jesus all over again.

When the church has reached this point, year after year, General Conference after General Conference, it is time, yes, time for us to find new expressions in which we bless one another, set one another loose for mission, and free each other to pursue the Gospel with passion. It is not our unity that is at stake, but the salvation, the transformation of lives, communities, and the world.

The cabinet, Way Forward Team, and other conference leaders are supporting moving into new expressions. Today I join them.

I, together with the leadership of GNJ, will lead the laity, clergy and congregations of our great conference to find a way forward that maintains healthy historic connections and releases and blesses one another for what God has next for us. To find new expressions for the Wesleyan movement that unleashes the Holy Spirit through us. Let me be clear: I am not interested in changing a few paragraphs in the Book of Discipline and then call it a day. The Gospel demands more us, of me and of you as leaders of the church of Jesus Christ. God is ready to do a new thing through us, and while it will not look the same, it will be Wesleyan, it will be connectional, it will be transformative, and it will turn the church outward.

What does turning the church outward mean?

  • Outward-serving disciples
  • Outward-reaching congregations
  • Outward-extending conferencing: church and annual conferencing that focuses on developing leaders to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world

Together we will lead for a renewal of the church. A renewed church with a vision from God that renews mission, relationships, congregations, leaders, disciples and our polity. Polity that does not change a few paragraphs but reclaims and renews the polity from focusing inward on the institution to outward focusing on the world and engaging disciples to be in the world.

This renewal will also reclaim and go deeper in our work to end racism, privilege and sexism. We know that the votes in 1956 to ordain women and in 1968 to end segregation did not change hearts. A transformation of the heart takes more than legislation and we will continue our work to grow and deepen our relationships with one another.

A church where the disciples in the pews are a friend of Jesus and friends with the people who live in their communities. A church that is unbound and outbound for the purposes of God.

This is not to say that we will no longer be connected, no longer connectional. We know there are things we do together that are not only important to us, but are transformative. I envision different expressions that continue to connect us like streams flowing into the same river. Like rivers share the same water from different streams, we will share the best that we have in common – heritage, mission, relief and recovery work, mission partners, and much more.

We have important values and ministry that demand we remain connectional and we have differences that require new expressions that set us loose for the Gospel.

Some of you are asking why us, why now? If not us, then who? If not now, then when? The people of Greater New Jersey have always led the denomination.

The roots of Methodism started here and we are deeply rooted in Methodism’s future. It was New Jersey Methodists who helped dismantle the segregated Black Central Jurisdiction and the primarily white conferences by merging together in 1966, two years before the General Conference voted to dismantle the Central Jurisdiction. GNJ Methodists helped to create one of the first seminaries to train ministers by starting Drew University. GNJ Methodists created one of the first higher education institutions for women in the country at what is now known as Centenary University. You ordained Ruth Marion Ellis, one of the first women ordained in 1956. Bishop Prince Taylor was the first African American bishop of a predominately white conference, where? New Jersey. We have been at the forefront of the Next Methodism throughout history.

God is calling us together to work on the renewal of the church, to turn the church outward again. To cease our disciplinary fights and renew ministry with the people in our communities. This is God’s time, this is our time to help the larger church see this can be done by blessing one another rather than hurting one another. Supporting each other to move forward, rather than living in fear of complaints. To serve the world rather than trying to win. To renew and transform the church, rather than changing a few paragraphs in the Book of Discipline.

There will be challenging days ahead, but we have the leaders, the disciples and the congregations to transform lives, communities and the world.

We are trees planted sending out roots.

What is Next?

During challenging times, times in which we will be exploring new expressions, we will not stop planting trees, sending out roots, spouting new branches and bearing fruit. The need for mission is as urgent today as ever before. The poor, the children, those searching for answers, the homeless, those who confront racism, sexism and classism every day cannot wait for us to figure out our way forward. They do not have the luxury of time. They need us today.

So, while we work on our way forward, we will continue to expand our mission to transform the lives, communities and the world as we raise up transformational leaders to make disciples and grow vital congregations.

We will continue to:

  • Raise up Hope Centers who bring hope, healing and wholeness in our communities. We are looking for 75 more congregations.
  • Reach the next generations of disciples through campus ministries, camping ministry, and youth ministry programs. We are looking for 30 congregations over the next year to start or grow youth ministry programs.
  • Be the miracle that helps bring miracles everywhere. We are looking for the next wave of 100 congregations to be a part of the Miracles Everywhere campaign.
  • Invest through the Stewardship Foundation to grow assets that are socially responsible assets.  We are looking for 10 new stewardship partners.
  • Start new faith communities. We are looking for 10 congregations that want to start a new worship experience, a second site worship service, or start a new small group in the community. Pilot a new expression for what is next for the Methodist movement in Greater New Jersey. We are looking for 50 churches who will help us explore what God has next for the United Methodist Church.

God is not done with the Methodist movement in Greater New Jersey. The leaders and disciples of GNJ see a great future with God. We are ready to plant new seedlings, grow new trees, send out deep roots, grow new branches for what God has next for us. We see new generations of disciples, new Hope Centers, new expressions, new faith communities, new leaders, new disciples, all for God’s movement to transform the world.

We are trees planted sending out roots.