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2010 Greater New Jersey Annual Conference

June 3-5, King of Prussia, Pa.

KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - More than 1,300 people gathered at the Valley Forge Convention Center here under the leadership of Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar for the eleventh session of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. The Conference met from June 3-5 under the theme of "Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World: Building the Church by Our Presence."

During his Episcopal Address, Bishop SudarshanaDevadhar called the churches of the GNJ Conference to action. "John Wesley gives us seven manifestations of how we live out the ministry of presence," said Bishop Devadhar. He explained these areas concern the poor, slavery, prisons, liquor, politics, war, and education. Presenting his address in the context of the four focuses of The United Methodist Church, he encouraged clergy and laity to continue to ask, "Are we a sacramental presence of Christ in everything we do?" He urged prayerful consideration of whether God is calling us to be risk takers, caretakers, or undertakers.

The Conference Preacher/Teacher was the Rev. Stephanie Hand, a provisional deacon from Western North Carolina Annual Conference who has been recognized in the area of Christian education and youth ministry. She roused and inspired the attendees in her three preaching sessions. The Rev. Dr. John Holbert, the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology, led two morning Bible studies where hundreds of participants were challenged with thoughtful ruminations on Biblical examples of presence. The Rev. Dr. Esther Chung Kim, Assistant Professor of History of Christianity at Claremont School of Theology, and the Rev. Dr. Kadi Billman, John H. Tietjen Endowed Chair in Pastoral Ministry: Pastoral Theology, Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, preached powerful sermons at the Tribute Service and Commissioning Service respectively. Both are clergy members of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

The Dean of the Appointment Cabinet, the Rev. Sung Ahn, presented the District Superintendents' report in which the leadership of GNJ was encouraged first through song and then through a report of suggestions for disciple making for the transformation of the world. The superintendents urged the churches toward Christian Perfection with a goal of 100 percent of Shared Ministries paid in the upcoming year, celebrating the fact that the Conference has paid 100 percent to the general church for three years in a row. They also emphasized the importance of discerning and equipping leadership and taking risks in ministry, while deepening spiritual experiences, citing a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as an example.

In her report, Conference Lay Leader Ressie Fuller encouraged the lay leadership of the Conference during her report. "The laity in this Conference are not just hearers of the Word; they are doers," said Fuller. She discussed the certified lay minister program with a graduating class of 29 along with other laity-led ministries in the Conference. She encouraged the leadership to be aggressive and strong. Fuller shared her presentation with Melodie Jilson, co-president of the Conference Youth and Young Adult Ministry Team.

"Where's the beef?" was the question posed by Bishop Devadhar during the Ordination Service. Quoting George Barna's thoughts of "ecclesia exitus," the Latin term for church drop out, he said people are dropping out of church for several reasons. Some see gaps between what is practiced and preached; some have had previous bad experiences; and others are not finding the experience of God they are seeking. Bishop Devadhar reminded listeners that it is neither the size of buildings or endowments that make the difference in ministry. "It is the ability of the people of God to ask the right questions at the right time that makes a difference," he said. "The unchurched are asking us, our youth are asking us, and the world is asking us that same question: Where's the beef? Or the fish? Or the kimchi? Or the tofu? Or the carne?" The point being that people yearn for substance in our mission and ministry.

In the course of the Annual Conference one person was commissioned in the Order of Deacons and seven persons were commissioned in the Order of Elders. One woman was ordained as Deacon and six men and five women were ordained as Elders. The average age of the ordained elders is 42. The Rev. E. Roy Riley Jr., Bishop, New Jersey Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was the ecumenical guest at the ordination service. Bishop Felton Edwin May and Rev. Dr. David Graybeal also participated in the ordination service along with others.

A number of reports and resolutions were dealt with in the course of the Conference's business. Of note was the "Study on Effectively Fulfilling Our Missional Responsibilities" report wherein the Rev. Dr. Doug Ruffle reminded the assembly of the ripe mission field available in our area.The report offered various recommendations, including one new church plant a year, forming "revitalizing clusters" in each of the nine districts, equipping clergy and laity for cluster and healthy church development, and a Pilot Program for Growth for churches not receiving new members through professions of faith.

A Structure Task Force reported on recommendations for changes in staffing and committee structures within the Conference and a resolution supporting the national MARCHA resolution on immigration was approved.

A generous $100,000 donation was made to create an endowment that will support the spiritual formation of youth and young adults of the Conference. The endowment, donated by Paul Smith Jr. and Patria Agustin-Smith, will primarily support scholarships for the annual Taize pilgrimage, spiritual and missional pilgrimages for the youth and young adults. The Conference also honored the Rev. Dr. Maxine Beach on her retirement for her outstanding ministry as Dean of the Drew Theological School.

Membership in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference stands at 94,201 down just .06 percent from the previous year. This is a remarkable considering the net loss of membership at an average percentage of two percent and above in the last few years. The Conference also celebrated a 7 percent increase in Confessions of Faith in 2009 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 49,988, down 2.3 percent, but representing a 53 percent attendance to membership ratio. Sunday school attendance stands at 16,308, down 7 percent. However, the Conference reports 33,665 participants in Faith Formation groups, an increase of 6 percent in United Methodist Men and an increase of 8 percent in United Methodist Women memberships.

From Jack Shaw and Jessica Stenstrom