Wrestling with Hope: NEJ Begins with Memorial Service and Communion

July 10, 2024 | | GNJ News, Messages from the Bishop


The first day of legislative work at the 2024 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Pittsburgh commenced with a solemn service of remembrance and communion, setting a reflective tone for the days ahead. The service honored the late bishops William Boyd Grove and Sudarshana Devadhar, whose leadership left a lasting impact on the church.

GNJ lay delegate Bethany Amey-Sutton read Genesis 32:22-32 from the Inclusive Bible, recounting the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of God. This passage framed the theme of wrestling with one’s inner struggles and seeking God’s blessing.

Bishop John Schol, the resident bishop of Eastern Pennsylvania and Greater New Jersey, who will be retiring in August, delivered a poignant sermon. He began with a humorous childhood anecdote about wrestling with his father and brother, drawing relatable laughter from the audience. He then transitioned into a deeper message about the spiritual wrestling that Jacob experienced.

“Jacob sent his family and his luggage on so that he could deal with the baggage he was carrying most of his life,” Schol explained. He unpacked the four “sins” or burdens that Jacob had to confront: grudges, judgment, despair, and management over vision.

Grudges Over Forgiveness

“Jacob chose grudges over forgiveness,” said Schol. “You probably aren’t human if you haven’t been hurt by someone in the past. You surely are not a United Methodist!” This elicited affirming laughter and calls from the congregation. Schol emphasized that true forgiveness flows through God’s grace and releases the hold that past actions have over us.

“What I have come to realize is that holding grudges is easy work,” Schol shared. “Forgiveness is deep and lengthy prayer work.”

Judging Over Compassion

Schol noted that Jacob’s grudges led to judgment, fueled by his own insecurities and need for validation. “Compassion begins with the complete and utter outward mindset of Jesus,” he said, highlighting the breadth and depth of Jesus’ compassion for the woman at the well, the blind beggar, the “IRS worker in a tree,” the lame man by the pool, and many others. 

Despair Over Hope

Schol addressed Jacob’s choice of despair over hope, describing how desperation can lead to deceit. “Despair leans on what we can’t do,” he said. “Hope is knowing that there are things we have not even seen or imagined that God is just waiting to do.” 

Management Over Vision

Finally, Schol contrasted management with vision, urging the church to move beyond mere rule-following to embracing God’s broader vision. 

“Management is about how we control the future; vision is about how we unleash God’s future,” he said. “Management begins with what mechanisms will ensure people do the right thing; vision begins with God’s dreams and what is the right thing to do.”

A New Vision and Name

Ultimately, Schol explained, Jacob’s wrestling led to a resurrection experience and a new name, Israel. “God helped Jacob leave old unwanted baggage behind – old grudges, poor judgments, despair, and worn-out management approaches – and raised him up to cross over the river to forgiveness, compassion, hope, and a new vision for himself and the people.”

Schol concluded by reflecting on the lives of Bishops Grove and Devadhar, who led with kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and hope. “God did not do much wrestling with our brothers Suda and Bill because they were an easy resurrection for God,” he said, honoring their legacy.

After the sermon, Schol presided over communion. Seven communion stations were served by diverse bishops, delegates, and youth representatives, reflecting the diversity of the Northeastern Jurisdiction.

Moving Forward with Hope

As the first plenary session began at 10:00am, the delegates prepared for holy wrestling of their own – hard conversations and legislative work ahead while carrying with them the spirit of hope and renewal. “Let’s travel a resurrected future together to the other side of the river,” Schol urged, inviting the Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church to embrace a future shaped by God’s vision.

The 2024 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference is from July 10-12, 2024. For ongoing updates and reflections from the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, follow the proceedings here.