Greater NJ Annual Conference Meets to Rejoice! (5/22/17)

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in EventReport | 0 comments

Rejoice!  That was the theme of the recently completed annual conference.  Rejoice- sounds kind of “churchy” or “fluffy”…  Rejoice about what? Can we really rejoice?

During his Episcopal address, Bishop Schol made an important point:  “Happiness is based on external circumstances, but joy is based on a deep abiding faith in God.”   He challenged us to choose joy over happiness, to move to the margins of faith and practice real life joy.

Here are some reflections about the conference from our church’s Lay member (who attended the conference along with Pastor Jim).  This was presented in church on Sunday 6/25/17…


A few basics if you’re not used to the workings of the United Methodist church….

PUMC is a member of the Delaware Bay District, which is part of the Greater NJ Annual Conference,  which is part of the NE Jurisdiction, which is part of the United Methodist Church.  Every year, representatives from every local church in NJ meet in Wildwood to worship, learn, fellowship, and to vote on resolutions, reports, and legislation. This is- surprisingly- the “conference of Annual Conference”

Every 4th year, representatives from every Annual Conference gather to vote on proposed changes to the United Methodist Book of Discipline and Constitution. This is called the General Conference. The General Conference met last year, so we’re in what they call the last year of the quadrennial. 



Seven is a good biblical number, so I’ll go with it and pick out seven highlights of this year’s annual conference.  Here they are, in no particular order…

Click each tab to read each highlight, then scroll down to read the summary…

Highlight 1: Pizza!

The conference started on weekend before Memorial Day, but Wildwood was definitely getting into the summer mode. All of the sounds and smells of the summer were there: Loud music, Mack’s Pizza, and of course- “watch the tram car please.” But when I walked the boards, I stuck out like a sore thumb. The “normal” people were wearing shorts and tee shirts… the same clothes I’d rather be wearing. But there I was, dressed in Kakis and a polo shirt with my United Methodist Lanyard flapping in the wind.

It reminded me that we Christians are always being watched. We’re called to bring people to Christ, but when we mark ourselves as Christians, Christ brings people to us. We need to be always be ready to demonstrate our faith and to make sure we really walk the talk.

Highlight 2: Episcopal Address…

Every year, Bishop Schol gives what you might call a “state of the church address.” The theme of this year’s conference was “Rejoice!” The bishop said that to rejoice means that we recognize that God is in the mix. He talked about the difference between Joy and Happiness.

Happiness depends on an outside stimulus to generate a good feeling. It’s sustained by temporary conditions and it doesn’t last.

But Joy goes deeper; it transcends circumstances. It is sustained by hope. He gave an example that Happiness is when you hit a new attendance record on Easter Sunday. But Joy is when just one of those new families returns to church the next week. He challenged us to not become satisfied with Happiness moments but to constantly look for reasons to hope and to rejoice.

One of the quotes I wrote down, “we choose Joy because Happiness isn’t enough.” And I thought about how we can apply that in our church. Happiness might be the feeling we get when we hit our budget for one month. Or when we realized that nearly 100 kids have already signed up for Our Father’s House. Or as we remember the energy in this room each evening during our Vacation Bible School.

But that’s not enough. Joy would be when someone comes to the NA meeting in our Fellowship Hall one Tuesday night and reports he’s been clean for a month. Joy is when a young couple brings their child to VBS, discovers a faith in their child that they had never experienced themselves, and seeks deeper. Joy is when a person’s life is changed by the touch of a Stephen Minister. God calls us to rejoice! “Happiness isn’t enough!”

Highlight 3: Memorial Service…

Every year there’s a Service of Remembrance for pastors who had passed away during that year. The screen shows a name and picture of each person, and you’re supposed to stand if you knew the person whose name is being displayed. I found myself standing a lot this year! There were a lot of familiar names:

  • Former PUMC member Jay Amey
  • Former PUMC pastor Champ Goldy
  • Dot Worth, the mother of our former pastor Lanie Price
  • And, if you’ve participated in the Walk to Emmaus, you’ll remember Fran Ballinger & Mark O’Shields.

The thing that impressed me about this was how many people besides myself got up when I stood. People I don’t know were also touched by the person I remembered. It demonstrated that we aren’t only connected by the name of our church, but we’re also connected by the same Spirit who worked through these same pastors to touch many people in different ways.

Highlight 4: Ordination…

Sunday night was the service of Ordination. In order to become an Elder in the United Methodist Church you have to jump through a lot of hoops: First there’s College and Seminary, then you have to be interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry, then you might become a provisional elder, then you have to do some more stuff for the Board of Ordained Ministry, and then- finally- after years of hard work, you become an Ordained Elder.

This year, 9 candidates were ordained as elders.

One of the pastors ordained this year has a Pitman connection. Some of you may remember John Inverso, who was part of our church about 8 years ago. He went into the ministry, served as a local pastor, and then finished seminary. This year he was ordained as an Elder.

The ordination service hit me on two levels. First, the amount of work and dedication each of these people had in order to be ordained.Secondly, how these itinerate pastors help to connect our churches together.

Highlight 5: Appointments…

Clergy in the United Methodist Church serve as Itinerate pastors; appointed one year at a time, beginning each July 1. For new appointments, the lay member and pastor walk down the center aisle, and the Bishop gives each a copy of the appointment letter.

Bishop Schol welcomes Rev. Glenn Conaway as our District Superintendent

The most important item for us, is that Pastor Jim has been re-appointed to our church. And, Glenn Conaway who is currently the pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Mullica Hill was appointed as our new District Superintendent.

But another interesting appointments was that John Inverso was appointed to the First UMC in Glassboro. Their now-former pastor, Larry Oksten, was appointed to St. Peters in Ocean City.

The appointments reminded me that change is difficult. But it’s also necessary. In order to grow in faith, we have to constantly challenge our routines and accept new ways, fresh ideas, and different people.

Highlight 6: Workshops…

PUMC Praise Team at Washington Lake Park

On Monday afternoon we were given the option of attending one of several workshops. I went to one entitled “Creating New Spaces: Engaging Vitality.”

I didn’t realize it when I signed up, but it was presented by the United Methodist Women, so I felt a bit out of place. But we had some good discussions around the table and traded experiences on how we can engage people by addressing their needs in a way that makes sense to them. Instead of bringing them into our church, we need to go to them where they are. We talked about innovative events like drive-thru pet blessings, feed wagons on college campuses, Open Mic nights and other events that could be done at a park.

The overriding reminder for me during this workshop is how we have an advantage of being connected with other United Methodist Churches; that we can share best practices and come up with fresh ideas to help us reach the people of our town.

Highlight 7: Legislation…

And last but not least- it’s not all about pizza, worship, and celebration. Roberts Rules of order are dragged out, and we do conduct some business during the conference.

This year is the fourth year of the quadrennial, so the schedule was pretty light. Probably the most significant thing was the Conference budget. The good news in this year’s budget is that several changes were made to reduce every church’s shared giving percentage. They want to keep as much funding at the local level as possible. For us, there won’t be a huge difference, but these changes will definitely help our own financial situation. There’s usually a lot of debate when the budget comes up, but this year it was approved pretty easily.

My impression with the Legislative part of the conference is that God has given us resources and He’s given us the ability to manage them.  We seek and strive to know and understand His will, but He still calls us to make decisions.  The decisions we make go beyond any individual person; nobody has all the answers.  Roberts Rules of Order may seem kind of stuffy, but the “Holy Conferencing Process” helps pull together everyone’s views and insights.


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Annual Conference is always a positive experience, and it’s an honor to represent our church. 

As far as legislation goes, there weren’t many issues this year. But as we face our own challenges here in Pitman,  it’s a great feeling to know that we are connected with other Methodists throughout the state…  and also throughout the world.   God is in the mix at all times, and there’s a lot of reason to rejoice.


Views from the Balcony…

Below are some photos of the conference…

The Band:

A  big part of the conference is the worship and music which begins each session.  Conference worship leader Eric Drew (wearing a blue shirt in the right hand picture) assembled a team of musicians from the Clergy and Laity of the conference.  One member of the band was former PUMC associate pastor (now Haddonfield Senior Pastor), Rev. Chris Heckert.



The service of ordination is now held during the annual conference.  The service always opens with a procession of clergy.  The bishop (currently John Schol) then addresses the ordinands & congregation, and conducts the commissioning of Provisional Elders, and ordination of Deacons and ordination of Elders.



Clergy are appointed to a local church on a one year basis.  At PUMC, rev. Jim Bolton was re-appointed (and no ceremony was conducted).  For pastors who are moved to a new church,  however, the new appointments are recognized when the Lay Member and new Pastor from each church walk down the aisle to receive the letter  of appointment from the bishop.


Passing the Mantle:

During the conference, retiring clergy are recognized.  Later, the retirees “pass the mantle” to the newly ordained elders…






For more information…

Further details (including videos and pictures) are available on the Greater NJ Annual Conference website.

The following Conference Summary was made available on the GNJAC website, and is reproduced below (the pictures and text in blue italics was not part of the GNJAC website article)…
Click on the “drop Down” box to read the official summary of the conference.

Details from the GNJAC Website

United Methodists in Greater New Jersey gathered together to rejoice in God’s faithfulness at the 2017 Annual Conference in Wildwood, N.J., May 21-23 with more than 1,400 people in attendance. Bold, forward-thinking visions were shared as we were called to step out on the edges of faith with joyful hearts and the Conference responded with bold actions.

Key Actions that Will Shape GNJ Future

Approved a $900,000 budget cut and a new Shared Ministry formula that will save money for congregations for years to come. The Shared Ministry formula uses a fixed percentage that will require the Conference to budget and spend Shared Ministry dollars based on the health and vitality of the congregations.

Approved a Next Generation Student Ministry plan that challenges GNJ leadership to:

  • Work with congregations to have 12 or more active youth engaged in faith formation and discipleship in the community
  • Develop 10 college campus faith communities with 75 or more students
  • Reinvigorate a 21st century camping experience
  • Grow the IGNITE Student Conference to 5,000 participants
  • Develop 1,000 leaders to lead student ministries
  • Approved a 10-year intercultural competency plan that will develop laity and clergy to be more culturally competent so that we strengthen and grow diversity, inclusion and collaboration
  • Approved work to begin on a 2019-2023 strategic ministry plan


Commissioning, Ordination and Retirement

This year’s Annual Conference session opened with a service to commission and ordain 22 clergy on Sunday evening. Bishop John Schol’s powerful sermon invited leadership to choose joy over happiness, to move to the margins of faith and practice real life joy and hope in one’s leadership. In addition, 37 clergy were recognized for their more than 700 years of service at the closing worship on Tuesday.

Of special significance to PUMC was the ordination of former member John Inverso.  Rev. Inverso will become the new pastor of the First UMC in Glassboro.


Leadership Addresses

In the Episcopal Address, Bishop Schol challenged Greater New Jersey to rejoice in our progress and our trials. He outlined the key challenges disciples face in the world, denomination, communities and congregations, and presented a path forward that includes four pillars: passionate faith, transformational leadership, vital mission partners and money. He encouraged GNJ to lead the way for the denomination to move to the edges of faith where hope and joy live. He promised to be the bishop for the whole church, rejoicing in diversity even if there are different understandings of the scriptures.

Rev. Hector A. Burgos, Director of Connectional Ministries, led a Leadership Address that included remarks from Sang Won Doh, Chair of the Connectional Table, Rosa Williams, Conference Lay Leader, Vanessa Wilson, Chair of the Commission on Religion and Race, Debbie Barnett, Chair of the Council on Youth Ministries and Blair Goold, Chair for the Council on Young Adults. These leaders shared their visions for a new strategic plan, a re-commitment to adult baptisms, a bold, God-sized vision of a Next Generation ministry plan and a commitment to intercultural competence within GNJ.


Mission Fund Campaign

An offering for the Mission Fund was taken and more than $44,500 was collected to help eliminate death from malaria and rebuild homes for people struggling to get home following Superstorm Sandy.


GNJ Strategic Direction and Legislation Highlights

The body reaffirmed the direction of GNJ to recruit and develop transformational spiritual leaders to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transformation the world with the GNJ Connectional Table resolved to lead GNJ in a process to develop a new strategic plan for 2019-2023.

The 2018 budget and a new Shared Ministries formula was passed which will convert the formula to a flat rate of 16.3%. The flat rate will allow more resources to be used at the local church and will require the conference to seek outside funding sources through its vital mission partners to grow resources.

A new student ministry plan was passed rebranding the GNJ Camping and Retreats Board into Next Generation Student Ministries and expanding its oversight to include all youth and young adult ministries including IGNITE and Campus Ministries. Additionally, a 10-year intercultural competence plan was passed so GNJ can lead the way as bridge-builders living into a calling to be a church for all people and nations to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.


Service of Remembrance

Rev. Dr. Varlyna Wright delivered a message on casting our cares and anxieties on God, relying and depending on our faith with an understanding of God’s strength and faithfulness. “It’s easy to rejoice when things are going well,” Wright said, “It’s a challenge to do so when feelings of grief, loss, and hopelessness surround you. But God cares about you, and that is the time to rejoice.” We worshipped, relying on God’s sufficiency, remembering our loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord since the Annual Conference session in 2016.

Of special significance to PUMC were the remembrances of Champ Goldy (former PUMC Sr. Pastor), Dot Worth (Mother of former PUMC pastor Lanie Price), and Jay Amey (former PUMC member & retired pastor).


Stewardship Foundation and Advancement Report

The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation addressed the conference on their work and partnership with Wespath investments, the largest faith based reporting investor. Through Wespath’s socially responsible investing, United Methodists are creating change in the world and how companies do business. Wespath has more than $22 billion invested including over $20 million in NJ affordable housing initiatives and a school in Newark. Wespath shared that they use women and minority owned firms that achieve above the market benchmarks. Through Wespath’s Godly, socially responsible investments, GNJ is becoming strengthened. The congregations were encouraged to learn more about investing through the GNJ Stewardship Foundation with Wespath.


Conference Workshops

More than 1,100 people attended five workshops inspiring spiritual leaders with creative strategies to think big and pursue excellence in the church. The workshops included a creative session on discovering the power of the narrative experience, creating new spaces and engaging vitality, developing a diverse community, leading congregations through change, and financial security.


Rise Against Hunger

More than 200 volunteers working in unison systematically and excitedly helped pack 30,000 meals in just an hour and a half to support Rise Against Hunger’s effort to feed people around the world with a bold mission to end world hunger by 2030.



Intercultural Competence

Guest speaker Erin M. Hawkins, General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race, spoke to the 2017 Annual Conference on Intercultural Competency. She challenged United Methodists to be bridges and bridge-builders in our communities and commended GNJ for its 10-year cultural competency commitment. “What greater time for the church to be the church than when there’s so much division?” she said. “This is the work Christ beckons us toward.” Hawkins is a lead official of the denominational agency that cultivates racial inclusion and the full participation of all people into the work, witness and life the United Methodist Church.

Retired NJ Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein spoke about segregation within New Jersey School Districts and an effort to integrate public schools through magnet schools and other innovative strategies that are being used around the country. Bishop Schol asked the GNJ Board of Church and Society to follow up on this effort.




Laity and clergy rejoiced together over all that is happening and set to happen within GNJ in the past, present, and future. Many reunited with friends and made new connections during lunches, dinners and informal gatherings. Annual Conference attendees left with hearts of joy, thanks and gratitude, challenged to step out in faith and into bold, new visions for the future.



Annual Conference Firsts

  • First GNJ AC to break the 1,400 registration barrier
  • First GNJ AC to pack 30,000 meals in 90 minutes
  • First GNJ AC to have a NJ Supreme Court Justice speak (retired Justice Gary Stein)
  • First GNJ AC to have over 1000 participants in workshops
  • First GNJ AC to ordain a Hattian Woman
  • First GNJ AC to commission a Chinese Woman

And we adjourned 30 minutes ahead of time


Here’s a video summary of the conference that was produced by the GNJAC:

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