The second week of July 2023, Bishop John Schol held three zoom meetings with clergy and laity regarding three challenges EPA is facing: 1) staffing, 2) data, and 3) reports. Bishop Schol also reported on a number of ministries that are going well, and continued to emphasize that the mission of the church is primarily through our congregations and the importance of our lay and clergy leadership. What follows is a synopsis of what Bishop Schol shared about the challenges and the questions and responses that arose during the zoom calls.

Annual Conference Session
Forty percent of the respondents to the annual conference session indicated that one or more aspects of the annual conference session did not go well. Bishop Schol agreed and indicated what occurred at annual conference needed to occur, although a number of survey respondents and zoom felt there were conference members who were disrespectful during the conference session.

During the annual conference session, the conference members needed to reflect and vote on several challenges including disaffiliation of five congregations, address the matter that two additional churches refused to receive any appointment by the bishop, a new strategic direction and collaborating with the Greater New Jersey Conference and a reformatted budget that included all income and expenses for EPA as required by The Book of Discipline. People expressed that there was not enough input, there was too much change, and the changes were too fast. Further, there are a few in the EPA that want to create chaos and division as it aids their personal objectives.

The extended cabinet has committed to listening to and addressing concerns and will be visiting the districts and holding additional zoom sessions.

Currently there are five open staff positions that have been open for months, one has been open for 10 months. The pandemic and inflation has created hiring challenges for all organizations and EPA is paying below the 25% level of the marketplace. This makes us less competitive in a very competitive market for hiring staff. Working with the council on finance and administration and the human resources board, staffing bands and levels have been created and we are moving open position salaries to 50% of the marketplace to assist in attracting experienced and talented staff.

Some have commented that they feel GNJ staff are taking over at the annual conference and in other areas. GNJ staff have donated their time to assist EPA right now until they can be fully staffed.

In the transition of a few staff members, we learned that information, leadership, congregational and financial information was not being inputted into the database. We also have found our former database provider was not performing as we needed them to perform. Also, our information database and our financial database were not able to move information between the two databases. We are moving to a database and are using a database system that at least five of 10 conferences in the Northeastern Jurisdiction use as well as others across the United States use. The lack of data being inputted, and switching providers has created challenges for a number of our congregational leaders to be able to access and input their information. We apologize for the inconvenience and are doing everything we can with limited staff to assist people.

Staff are working through 750 emails from leaders to assist them in accessing information and correcting information. The staff working on this did not create the problem. They are assisting to address the problem. Some of the angry comments and emails to the staff are not helping. Recognize they are doing everything they can to address the issues. We are also hiring a firm for 3-6 months to address the financial data issues.

When Bishop Schol arrived in EPA two years ago, several elected leaders and members of the extended cabinet indicated they were not receiving the necessary reports to make good decisions. Addressing the staffing matters and inputting accurate and all data will address these issues.

EPA has much to be proud of and like every church and organization also has challenges. Please continue to share your experiences and insights so that we may serve you better.


Charge Conference
Have dates been released for when each of the church charge conferences will take place? Having this early will help ensure everyone who needs to be present is able to be available.

Bishop Schol and the Cabinet appreciate the commitment and time of all of EPA’s leaders – especially those in the local church. Charge Conference dates and locations will be shared with pastors by July 27th.  

Charge Conference Forms (Jo/Ryan)
Is there any way you can acknowledge receipt of the reports that were submitted?

Participants receive confirmation of submission for each form received.  We will look into sending a mass confirmation.

Was there a particular reason that Pastors didn’t have full access to all the documents for Charge Conference? 

It is best practice for the reviewer to maintain access until completed.  The form should then be shared with the pastor.  We have downloaded a pdf of the forms so the pastors can see the questions and provide any assistance.  These will be posted on the website.

How can we answer a question about what  question is asking, which has happened again and again in these new reports, if we have never seen the question?

The forms will be posted on the website for your convenience.

If the pastor is responsible to make sure all CC forms are in by deadline, shouldn’t the pastor have access to all the forms?

The SPRC should submit the church and pastor review and share them with the pastor.

Please address why the deadlines of the reports have been moved up so early? 

The rolling deadline was difficult to address, especially when forms were not submitted on time.  Having one deadline will allow the teams to provide this to the pastor and DS for use at the joint Charge Conferences.

Can you give an estimated time frame for help with our charge conference report access?

We are working as quickly as possible to provide access and support.  We have over 750 emails we are working through on top of phone call time with each one.  It is our hope to provide access to new clergy and have them aligned with their new appointments by the end of the week of July 17.

Can the deadline for charge conference forms be extended?

While we are not formally extending the deadline, we will extend grace to everyone who is attempting to complete their forms while struggling to gain access.

When will newly appointed pastors receive access to the new reporting system.  Due to internal leadership changes some leadership did not have access to the new system.  How can we obtain access for these leaders so we can complete our forms. Should we reach out to Jo Fielding directly to obtain this access?

We are aware this has been an issue and are working on the procedures.  We hope to have this link established by the end of the week of 7/17.  This is a joint effort of the Regional and Data Teams.  Please reach out to the charge conference email.

Please speak to the rationale of restricting access of the Clergy Appraisal and Church Profile forms

It is best practice for the reviewer to maintain access until completed.  The form should then be shared with the pastor.  We have downloaded a pdf of the forms so the pastors can see the questions and provide any assistance.  These will be posted on the website.

Are there any training programs available to help pastors and laypeople learn how to complete report forms and comprehend the terminology used in them?

With limited staff and all hands on-deck with inputting new appointments and troubleshooting access issues, we have not yet created the training videos.  We apologize for this inconvenience and will be working on it soon.

My SPRC completed the appraisal form and I still don’t have access to it on Arena, as the bishop says I should. When will that be available to me? My understanding is that as soon as it is submitted, I should have access if I understood the bishop.

We are researching this and will update a solution as quickly as possible.

Will the clergy compensation chart be made available?

The chart is available here:

It would be very helpful if the finished reports could be printed in their entirety.

We have a programmer working on this pdf issue and hope this will also be completed by the end of July.

Can someone speak to the % of forms that were able to be accomplished by the June 30th deadline? It will help us understand much we are still corporately struggling with these?

Is it possible to commit to using the same platform for more than one year so we can perfect the process together?

This platform will be used for 2024 as well.  We have the project on our calendar and will be making a few adjustments based on user feedback and our own learning, but the form will be accessed and submitted in the same way.

Annual Conference
What is the plan to respond to those upset from the annual conference who feel left behind.  You have mentioned that people are feeling left behind, and the church is moving too fast. Would you explain what you mean by this? Moving too fast with what?

The extended cabinet is visiting by zoom and in the districts to hear firsthand people’s concerns and additional input and hopes for the future of EPA.

Will there be parameters for the special session in the fall to keep people from offering amendments and holding votes up?

We will continue to follow our Rules of Order that are adopted by the Annual Conference.

I found Annual Conference disappointing, not for content, but for the disrespect shown to the bishop. How, and I realize it’s not an easy question, do you/we propose to deal with the lack of respect and the, at least perceived lack of episcopal authority

We are working to provide space and time for important conversations related to Annual Conference.  People across EPA are committed and faithful; together, let us seek God’s future for EPA, a future filled with hope.

Have any of the churches which stated that they were leaving given a date certain or are they very much in the beginning stages of this process?

The five churches that were approved for disaffiliation by the annual conference session have until December 31, 2023 to complete their paperwork, title search, purchase title insurance and make their payments in order to disaffiliate. Each church is moving at its own pace.

The Western Pennsylvania Conference has published a list of those churches that have disaffiliated. Has the EPA done the same. If not, why not?

You may find the approved disaffiliating legislation and the five disaffiliating churches by selecting the following link and going to page 50.

I appreciate the 3 problems that you mentioned but isn’t the real problem to find out why 5 churches have already disaffiliated and many others are in the process of disaffiliation and countless others want to disaffiliate but cant afford to isn’t the real problem to answer the question why?

Churches have expressed one or more of the following reasons for disaffiliating.

  • They no longer want to be a part of any denomination and only want to be independent. At the present time, the five disaffiliating churches are all going independent.
  • They do not want to pay apportionments.
  • They want to find their own pastor.
  • The are concerned about a denomination that may allow full inclusion of ministry with and by LGBTQ persons.

While a few of our congregations point to these issues, the challenges of The United Methodist Church and much of the Church across the United States are deeper and are reflections of cultural shifts within society. The challenges of the Church today are living and serving in a much more diverse world and church, connecting with new generations of believers with a compelling and relevant message of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and calling, equipping, developing and supporting lay and clergy leaders to lead vital mission congregations. We continue to organize, resource and provide support to congregations for these greater challenges.

Please address the changes that are possibly coming at the end of the year if a church wants to disaffiliate.

There are only five churches that may disaffiliate and those are the churches that the annual conference approved in May. Several courts have already upheld that the denomination has the right to require that congregations follow the process outlined in The Book of Discipline which concludes December 31, 2023. EPA has followed the process in The Book of Discipline and judicial council rulings.

We grieve that the congregations are leaving and hoped they would have continued with the United Methodist Mission. The impact of the five disaffiliating congregations is that it is less than 1% of our congregations and our budget has been adjusted for the loss of income.

Are we going to continue to be a “Bible based church?”

Yes. The United Methodist Church has always affirmed that the Bible is the primary means of revelation. United Methodist use Scripture to understand salvation through Jesus Christ and recognize the importance of tradition, reason and experience.

Data/Reporting/Budget (Jo)
How long have these “data challenges” been around?

In the pre conference workbook, pages 82-83, certain funds have long term goals. For example, the goal for vital mission congregations is $20 million. How were these goals developed? Who was involved in setting these goals?

Do we have a connection with other friendly conferences, GCFA, or auditing business relationships to train individuals or teams on OUR bookkeeping program(s)?

We are working to migrate our financial data to ShelbyNext which links to our new Database, Arena.  We are blessed that we have many conferences to coordinate with for training as well as brainstorming solutions and sharing in the cost of customization.

Regarding information, when will there be a new Journal, and will there be easy access?

One of the huge challenges with our current database was that it was a small operation, and they did not have enough staff to create the reports we needed.  We have finally received the last report needed for the 2021 Journal and hope to publish that within the next two weeks – both to our website and to Loop, where you can purchase a hard copy.

Is this 25% related to salaries for non profits or general comparison?

The 25% is based upon a study of not for profits, and similar companies where there is no staff comparison.

In the spirit of your earlier reference to transparency in financial information I am wondering when the body might anticipate sightline into a document showing the allocation of cost sharing along with the rationale for allocation with GNJ to become comfortable that it is fair and equitable as well as the same set of assumptions for the 2024 budget ?

Currently, the only position that has a shared cost is the Director of Communications.  The 2024 budget includes 50% of the plan compensation for this position.  All the other positions that work together across conferences do not have any additional compensation and the conference in which they are employed is the conference that pays the salary.  Early in 2024, the Alignment Team will begin working on a report on the work of these teams and percentage of time spent on aligned projects.  We intend to bring this to next year’s annual conference for a vote on the continuation of this staffing model.

With the planned update to the computer systems, the new Database System and Account System, is this part of the Conference Office renovation project?  If not, will this need to be approved by the annual conference?  Will the update be performed by the same vendor so as to ensure the two systems can be integrated?

The change to a new database and financial platform is not something that needs to be approved by the annual conference body.  This is an administrative decision.  The good news is that ShelbyNext is part of the Arena package so the same vendor will be helping us through the migration, and there are multiple other conference who can provide additional resourcing.

Is the Conference open to volunteers, to assist with administrative and data entry tasks?  If so, who would we contact?

We celebrate volunteers who serve across EPA.  If you are interested in serving, please reach out to Jo Fielding at or to Dawn Taylor-Storm at with your area of expertise and your interest. 

Is the conference offering a livable wage for these admin positions?

Yes, we offer a livable wage and we are working to increase our salaries to be in-line with other non-profits.

Are the five available job positions posted on the conference website?

Open positions are posted here:

If we have any suggestions for this process and changes, to whom we will communicate with?

You are always welcome to communicate with EPA Cabinet and Staff.  We welcome your engagement and feedback.  You can find a “contact us” form here or emails for individual staff on the EPA website:

If this is intended as a wide communication and listening sessions for all why does the  first three which are open to laity have two weekday workday session and only one evening option?   And why are there zero non weekday workweek options for the in person Clergy sessions?   This is a barrier for participation of the body of laity and fails to recognize bi vocational clergy …. majority of the Order of Deacons and also LLPs.  This is problematic for those who do not have the privilege of paid time off or work in fields with deadlines etc.

We are working to hold as many listening sessions across EPA as possible.  These are the first sessions; we intend to continue to offer opportunities for feedback and discussion and will be certain to provide multiple opportunities for these discussion to enable wide participation.

Will the special session be livestreamed so non-present members can watch?

We are working closely with the venue and our communications team will provide information regarding livestreaming as soon as possible.

Even with the technology improvement, which is excellent, what is being done or planned to build relationships within our Conference or have we lost our way in being and modeling Christian values. Are we moving out of Humanity and concentrating on computerization only;if so let’s go with AI.

We are the body of Christ.  We celebrate every opportunity to gather as God’s people.  We will continue to provide many opportunities for gathering, including the use of zoom, as new forms of gathering enable participation from persons who may otherwise be unable to gather.  The Cabinet recently reflected on the following article that outlines the importance of many ways of gathering for the future of our congregations: