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2008 Greater New Jersey Annual Conference

May 29-31, 2008, King of Prussia, Pa.

"One in Spirit, All in Ministry, In the Spirit of Fellowship" was the theme as more than 1,000 members met for the ninth Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. In his Episcopal Address, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar offered celebrations and challenges.

He celebrated that:

  • The Greater New Jersey Conference had paid 100 percent of its Shared Ministry Apportionments;
  • The total number of Christian formation groups in the conference increased by 26 percent, and the number of Volunteers Mission teams increased by 156 percent;
  • More than 300 members attended the morning Bible study during annual conference;
  • The conference is sending youth groups each year on the pilgrimage to Taizé, France; the Northeastern Jurisdiction's Mission of Peace; and other mission projects.
The bishop followed up on the four areas of focus set forth at General Conference and offered five specific challenges for the Greater New Jersey Conference including:
  • Reexamining the conference structure at the end of the second quadrennium since the conference merger;
  • Renewing and revisiting the emphasis on ministry to children, youth and young adults;
  • Reversing the trend of membership loss;
  • Renewing and revisiting clergy compensation and health and wellness issues; and
  • Creation of an endowment fund with specific disciple-making criteria.
In line with these initiatives, the conference received reports from the district superintendents, the lay leaders and a special task force.

The Rev. Charles Bender, delivering the district superintendents report, cited numerous exciting and innovative ministries from across the conference and added four challenges for the coming years that:
  • Each pastor and local church find ways to incorporate the "new" membership vow of witness into their ministry;
  • Each local church find ways to renew and reactivate inactive members;
  • Lay and clergy groups throughout the conference read and discuss together Leadership Under Constraints by Gil Rendle; and
  • Annual conference decides and plans to take at least one young lay person and one young clergy to General Conference in 2012.
Conference co-lay leaders Connie Ace and Jay Brown identified several ministries that they found particularly meaningful during their tenure and outlined the laity themes for the next quadrennium: "Disciples transforming the world through our prayers, through our presence, through our gifts and through our service and our witness." They also welcomed new lay leader Ressie Fuller.

In response to a resolution at the 2007 annual conference, a task force was formed to study "Effectively Fulfilling Our Missional Responsibilities." It was a wide-ranging report and dealt with a number of issues concluding with the following recommendations:

  1. Start one new church plant per year.
  2. Form "revitalizing clusters" in each of the nine districts.
  3. Establish recruiting goals for leadership development.
  4. Equip laity and clergy for cluster and healthy church leadership.
  5. Provide opportunities for youth and young adults to participate in mission trips globally and locally, including the spiritual pilgrimage to Taizé.
  6. Invest in the education of youth and young adults for both college and seminary.
  7. Provide lay speaking programs for youth.
  8. Institute a pilot program for growth for churches not receiving new members by profession of faith.
The annual conference commissioned eight probationary elders and one probationary deacon. Bishop Ki Taek Kim, resident bishop from the Seoul Annual Conference, Korean Methodist Church, served as preacher for the commissioning service.

Ordained into full membership were two deacons and 16 elders. Bishop Devadhar preached the ordination service sermon on the theme of "Roll Up Your Sleeves," using Peterson's translation of I Peter 1:13-16 for his text.

Keynote spiritual leadership was provided for the gathering through the inspired preaching of the Rev. Janet Forbes and Bible study leadership from the Rev. Priscilla Pope-Levison. Forbes is senior pastor at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo. She also led the delegation from the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference to the 2008 General Conference and will lead the delegation to Western Jurisdictional Conference. Forbes preached in three worship services around the themes of generosity and interdependence using Acts 2 and Philippians 2 as a scriptural base.

Pope-Levison is a respected writer and professor of theological studies at Seattle Pacific University. She led popular Bible studies attended by more than 300 participants around the themes of humility and hospitality using Philippians 2 and Deuteronomy 10.

The conference enthusiastically endorsed the Rev. Galen Goodwin and the Rev. Vicki Miller Brendler as candidates for the episcopacy. Elections will be held at the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference in July.

The conference celebrated raising $118,250 for the Nothing But Nets campaign, in addition to raising $41,760 prior to conference. Another $76,490 was raised in pledges and through sales of bags sold as a mission project and purchased from an indigenous peoples' service project in Guatemala.

The conference collected $21,644 in special offerings to benefit:
  • The District Superintendent Sustenation Fund, $6,447
  • Northeast Jurisdiction YouthMission of Peace, $4,352
  • Central Conference Pension Initiative, $5,217
  • North Katanga Annual Conference-Congo, $5,628
The conference further celebrated its partnership with the North Katanga Annual Conference in the Congo by receiving a $10,000 legacy gift to build a church in North Katanga.

In hopes of creating a national trend, the conference celebrated the successful effort to ban the death penalty in New Jersey and authorized efforts to seek similar bans in Pennsylvania, New York and Texas.

In other actions, the conference:

  • Approved the CF & A report which proposed an $11.9 million budget, up 2.67 percent, and included the major step of removing membership numbers from the conference apportionment formula;
  • Approved Church and Society resolutions on consumer conservation and justice purchasing.
Membership in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference stands at 96,927, down 2,016 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 53,209, up 369. Church school attendance stands at 18,599, down 112.

-Jack Shaw