Neptune, NJ – The GNJ Way Forward Team, met April 25 with a focus on renewing Methodism in Greater New Jersey, in the wake of deep disagreement and conflict in the denomination on the issue of homosexuality, which was not resolved at the February Special Session of General Conference.
The focus of the GNJ Way Forward Team meeting was on renewal with a goal of growing faith and commitment by turning the church outward. “An outward Methodism can offer a renewal that comes not by changing people but by freeing them for witness and mission in the world”, said the Rev. Sang Won Doh, convener of the team. Together, the team sees a possibility that new expressions of United Methodism can provide disciples the freedom to focus on the greater mission of the church while holding together the key values all United Methodists have in common such as history, relationships, mission and administration.
The group recognized two keys to finding a way forward. Legislation and judicial council rulings may determine polity but will not change people and that fundamentally the divide in the denomination goes deeper than disagreements about how to be in ministry with the LGBTQI+ community. The divide stems from fundamental differences in theology and interpretation of scripture.
The team met with a sense of urgency and a commitment to be part of the solution. They agreed most people of Greater New Jersey do not want solutions decided for them. National and global groups are working on these issues and those present expressed that the work at the local and regional level will provide solutions that fit within GNJ’s context.
GNJ has been a historical pace setter for the Methodist movement. GNJ’s Annual Conferences dismantled segregation before the General Conference acted to dismantle the Central Jurisdiction (a policy to separate African American churches from the White churches from 1939 to 1968). The leaders at the April’s meeting affirmed they are prepared to work together to lead the church forward once again.
GNJ’s Way Forward Team was formed by the Special Session of Annual Conference held in March and the members were elected to participate. The annual conference commissioned the team to propose a plan to the GNJ Annual Conference that:
- supports congregations in different contexts to be in ministry with the LGBTQI+ community
- respects and honors one another based on theological and cultural differences
- shares hopes, concerns and learnings with other conferences around the world
The Way Forward Team was joined at the April meeting by the GNJ Connectional Table which is comprised of the elected leadership in committees, commissions and agencies.
During their time together, The GNJ Way Forward Team centered themselves on receiving and listening to the Holy Spirit. The Rev. Shawn Callender Hogan, who serves as spiritual director for the team, opened and closed the session with prayer, times of silence and reflection from selected biblical passages. Each member of the group also agreed to a covenant, based on the denomination’s Way Forward covenant, to honor confidentiality and respect one another’s differences. The team will be using the tools of the Arbinger Institute’s Outward Mindset to facilitate their discussions.
The Way Forward Team is at the very beginning stage in exploring different expressions. The next meeting is scheduled for May 13. They will report to the Annual Conference session in May so that members can provide feedback on plans for the summer.