By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
I call the pastors and members of the Philadelphia Area (both Eastern PA and the Peninsula Delaware Conference) to a time of prayer for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference which will be held in our area at the Lancaster Penn Square Convention Center July 12-15.
At this gathering delegates from conferences across the jurisdiction will elect two bishops. Bishop Marcus Matthews will retire, and we have another vacancy from the untimely passing of Bishop Martin McLee. On the night of July 14 the NEJ Episcopacy Committee will meet to determine which bishops go where for the next four years. I may or may not continue as the bishop of this area, but we will know the decision on July 15.
Our episcopal area is the only one in our jurisdiction that has two conferences. Conversations about us dividing and each conference becoming part of two other episcopal areas–as two-point charges with adjoining conferences–appear to be on hold. When we appealed for an extension during General Conference in May the Inter-Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee voted to allow the NEJ to continue to have nine bishops for another four years.
The call for downsizing in the first place came as we fell below the required number of church members to maintain funding for nine episcopal areas in the NEJ. This extension gives us four additional years in our current configuration.
Also General Conference approved a petition calling for a study of how we determine the number of bishops in each jurisdiction. Counting church membership alone may not adequately measure missional potential and the vital need for resident episcopal leadership among conferences.
In today’s society people may participate but are less prone to becoming full members of churches or other organizations or religious entities. The study results will likely come to the 2020 General Conference. This could affect our episcopal area, but signs at this time point to the probable downsizing of the NEJ to eight episcopal areas in 2020. However, nothing is certain.
At the NEJ Conference we will also:
Many faithful lay and clergy members in our area have worked tirelessly for the last four years planning for this event. Our area leadership shines like the sun on numerous committees; and many financial resources have also been contributed.
In addition, the NEJ College of Bishops will meet in the Pen-Del’s Conference’s Easton District on August 9-12 for their annual summer retreat. This is another shining example of our area providing connectional hospitality to others from our heart of generosity.
Please pray for the NEJ Conference and for all our delegations. May they have wisdom and guidance from the Lord. Pray also for the Rev. Derrick Porter, who has been endorsed as a candidate for the episcopacy by the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference.
The Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto, from the Eastern PA Conference, was endorsed by the Hispanic/Latino MARCHA caucus and is thus, also a candidate. He was not endorsed by the Eastern PA Annual Conference, which did not endorse anyone this year.
Whoever is elected, I ask you each to pray for them, for the entire College of Bishops and for our other jurisdictional, annual conference, district and denominational leaders. We all will bear together a heavy mantle of responsibility over the next quadrennium to lead our United Methodist Church faithfully and fruitfully in its continuing, Christ-given mission.
The Spirit of God is moving among us as we make these structural and leadership decisions. But each of us is called to be “salt and light” in our local churches and communities every day. No matter what happens at the NEJ Conference we still have the same mission to make disciples of Christ and live like Jesus, that the world may be transformed.
Recently I heard a Vacation Bible School children’s choir sing the well-known tune “If You’re Happy and You Know it.” Instead of singing the lyrics “If you’re happy and you know it,” they sang “If you’re salty and you know it.” Instead of singing “Clap your hands” or “stomp your feet,” they sang “help a friend” and “show some love.”
That is the sacred, faith and life-affirming work we all have to do whether we are in Lancaster, Pa., or wherever we are. Ultimately, that is the goal of all of these 2016 conferences–General, Annual and Jurisdictional: to order the church in such ways that we can effectively do the work of Christ. That work is making the world more tolerable with our help and our love in the name of our Savior. Amen.