Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. -2 Timothy 2:15, The Message
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I have just returned from the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Berlin, Germany and I wanted to update you on the meeting as well as important steps in our own ministry and our upcoming annual conference session.
Each year, lay and clergy representing our congregations gather for annual conference. Methodists have been conferencing in the United States since the 1784 Christmas Conference in Baltimore, MD. We conference yearly to set direction and policies for how we operate. At our Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, we will be blessed by spirited worship, celebrate the strong progress we are making, identify our challenges and set direction for our path forward. We also will honor our retiring clergy and commission and ordain new clergy leadership.
I call on all of our churches to pray for our Annual Conference Session, May 28-30, in Wildwood, N.J. At our opening worship in Wildwood, we will be receiving a special offering for our Mission Fund which is dedicated to rebuilding homes damaged and destroyed by Superstorm Sandy and ending deaths by malaria in Africa. We have raised just over 50 percent of our goal and need to raise $4.5 million by 2018. I want every congregation to receive an offering on the weekend of either May 17 or 24 for the Mission Fund to be shared in an envelope with your church name and address at our Annual Conference opening worship. It will be the largest offering ever received at Annual Conference and it will help save lives and restore homes.
Greater New Jersey (GNJ) Ministry
We have made strong progress toward the strategic ministry plan we set in 2013. By God’s grace, the vitality of our congregations is growing, we are making more new professions of faith, giving is up dramatically, and our mission work in communities and around the world is transforming lives. We want to build on our momentum. We recognize that historically, our staff has focused on maintaining our churches and conference life. We need to shift staff focus into growing leadership and congregations that connect with the mission field. The Connectional Table Executive Committee asked for a study of our superintending ministry as well as our overall ministry to identify how we can move from maintenance to mission. We learned from this study that more than 50 percent of our superintendents’ and 45 percent of our connectional ministry staff time is used to maintain our present ministry rather than to help grow leadership and congregations that connect us with the mission field throughout GNJ.
A task force made up of laity and clergy from across the conference has been working on this issue and I look forward to their recommendation of how we can take the next steps with our strategic ministry plan. The task force has two mandates: 1) make proposals that will help us move our mission forward – make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world, and 2) make proposals that will not increase shared ministries for our congregations. I invite you to keep this work in your prayers.
The Council of Bishops’ Meeting, Berlin, Germany
When I return home from a Council of Bishops’ meeting, I realize how blessed I am to be a Bishop of the United Methodist Church and to serve Greater New Jersey. Gathering, worshiping and working with leaders of the church from around the world deepens my faith and conviction to serve Christ.
The Council of Bishops met for the past week and it is the first time they met in Germany. I worshiped with a local United Methodist congregation, saw remnants of the Berlin Wall and visited a concentration camp. I spoke with disciples in Germany about the ministry of the church. I was particularly moved by the concentration camp which housed up to 20,000 Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and political activists at a time from 1937 to the end of the World War II. On the wall, I saw the pictures of 11 young men in a crude medical lab. These young men, between the ages of 8 and 17, were housed in the concentration camp and used for medical experiments. I saw the cell of Christian theologian Martin Niemöller who said:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
You cannot visit a concentration camp and ever be the same again. I plead with you that when you see prejudice and hatred in the world to do something. As a people of faith we are called to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. – Micah 6:8.
During our Council of Bishops’ meeting we also reflected on the riots in Baltimore and around the country following the killing of African American men by police officers. There is deep racial and religious conflict around the world and your bishops are concerned for all people, particularly for those who suffer because of prejudice and racism. The Council of Bishops has written a pastoral letter to the church. You may find a copy of the letter by clicking here and you may share it with your congregation and friends.
We, the bishops of the church, also affirmed the direction we will lead the church from 2017 through 2020:
- Make 500,000 new disciples and double the number of highly vital congregations
- Start two new faith communities a day (2,920 new faith communities over four years. A new faith community may be a new congregation, a new worship service that attracts new people; a new small group in the community that attracts new people, and a new house church)
- Reach 1 million at risk children with lifesaving interventions
- Engage 30,000 school or educational institution partnerships to be in ministry with children in poverty
- Cultivate a culture of call throughout the church.
These are challenging goals. We have already been working on them and our work will continue to strengthen our ministries for a world-wide United Methodist movement.
We also spent significant time in prayer for the 2016 General Conference. Bishop Cho of Virginia led us through guided prayer as we prayed and meditated silently, sang and prayed aloud for the future of the church.
I am glad to be home after a week-long meeting in Berlin. I am glad because what I find at the Council of Bishops’ meetings, I experience here in Greater New Jersey — a diverse group of disciples of Jesus Christ who are committed to local and global witness and justice, who want to give their best for God, who in the midst of challenges pray, worship, work together, and who make daily sacrifices for the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. Thank you.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey