Last week the Council of Bishops, more than 140 active and retired bishops from Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States, gathered for its biannual meeting. The Council gathered to pray, worship, meet in covenant groups for support and accountability, discuss important matters before the church and world, and receive updates on our progress toward growing vital congregations and our four areas of focus.
One of the most meaningful experiences for me was during the meeting when the bishops all knelt together to seek God’s forgiveness and pray for the church. As bishops, we recognize we are not perfect, and as a Council, we are not always of one mind and are in need of God’s forgiveness.
We also heard an update from those organizing the Special Commission for how we, The United Methodist Church, will work through our differences about homosexuality. The General Conference asked the Council of Bishops to form the Commission to review all of our policies concerning homosexuality. The United Methodist Church does not permit the ordination of gays and lesbians, clergy to marry gays and lesbians and congregations to allow their buildings to be used for same gender weddings.
The Commission is made up of 32 members including laity, clergy and bishops from around the world. Sixty conferences span the globe, and therefore more than half of the conferences do not have a person on the Commission, including GNJ. I have called for GNJ to organize an opportunity for laity and clergy to gather on March 4 to receive input for the Commission from the people of GNJ. You will hear more about this later, but I invite you to set March 4 aside so that you can participate.
The bishops also voted to call a special General Conference in early 2019 to receive and act on a report from the Commission. Some have asked why wait until 2019 to receive such an important and critical report. The bishops are working under the constraint that The Book of Discipline requires any legislation to be presented 280 days prior to General Conference. This will give the Commission a little more than a year to do its work.
Others have asked why not just wait until 2020 for the regularly scheduled General Conference to receive the Commission’s report. I believe having a special General Conference will give us the opportunity to offer our attention to this one item that will shape the future of the denomination. I will keep you informed of the developments as they occur.
Last week the bishops also gathered all of the superintendents, lay leaders, treasurers, connectional ministries staff, communications staff and other leadership to focus on how we will continue to grow vital congregations and align the ministry of the church. GNJ was a model for the gathering. Among conferences in the United States, GNJ has moved to number four in congregational vitality. Hector Burgos, our Director of Connectional Ministries, spoke to the more than 750 leaders gathered about our work together. He did an excellent job, and many in attendance asked him and other GNJ leaders about our progress. We have achieved our fruitfulness because of God’s work through our lay and clergy leadership. Congregations throughout GNJ are making progress in their ministry.
By selecting this link, you will find a report we shared at the gathering. It details our vision, direction, and work. You are welcome to share it with others in your congregation.
Today I ask for your prayers for the healing and uniting of our church and our nation. As we work together, God will bless our witness in the world. Today I am witnessing how difficult it has become for people who have differing views to work together – to hold civil conversations and to address the challenges of poverty, injustice, and hopelessness together. In GNJ I have had a different experience. I witness genuine respect for difference and a willingness to work together in the midst of our difference. We are the light of Christ set on a hill. Let us work together so that we build up one another and the church for the witness of Jesus Christ.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey