Nov 23, 2022

Bishop John Schol introduced in a letter to Eastern PA Conference members this week an “affiliation” of EPA’s administration with that of the Greater New Jersey Conference and the creation of two EPA regions to forge closer working relationships among the four districts.

Both changes are designed to improve efficiency and effectiveness in achieving the mission of both conferences: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ and grow vital mission congregations for the transformation of the world.”

Bishop Schol and the extended cabinets of the EPA and GNJ conferences have been working for months to innovate a plan and process of affiliation, while informing EPA’s staff and gaining assent from the Connectional Table, Councils on Finance & Administration and other key leaders.

With several conferences in the Northeastern Jurisdiction already sharing bishops, and the possibly of future episcopal area realignments, “It is becoming clearer that alignments and affiliations between conferences will be the future model within the NEJ; and that EPA and GNJ will be working together into the future,” writes Bishop Schol.

‘What is the new thing God wants to do?’

“For months, leadership from both conferences have recognized this possibility and have asked, ‘What is the new thing God wants to do?’”

He identifies as current challenges the Covid pandemic, disaffiliating churches and continuing membership losses as our society becomes more secular and less religious. But he cites biblical examples of God’s beneficial interventions to “do a new thing” in times of human loss, conflict, danger and suffering. And he challenges leaders to perceive the possibility of God’s intervention now.

“What will we do so that the mission thrives during the challenges?” he asks. “After prayer and discernment, we believe that new thing is to collaborate to enhance and grow the mission of Jesus Christ through our congregations.”

Bishop Schol outlines steps already taken to “better align mission and ministry.” Those steps include determining “a common purpose or mission, shared goals, shared commitments and collaborative ministries.” Other steps are still in their planning stages.

To help lead the planning and implementation of the strategic alignments, the bishop appointed Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm to a dual role as Assistant to the Bishop for EPA and GNJ and Director of Connectional Ministries for EPA, beginning Dec. 1.

EPA’s four districts to be paired into two regions

Meanwhile, EPA’s four districts will be paired into two regions—North-West and South-East—to help conference staff and district leaders collaborate and share resources for developing new leadership and vitality among congregations in each region. The GNJ Conference’s six districts are already aligned in two regions: the Metro Highlands and Coastal Plains regions.

The two conferences’ four regions will have a district superintendent for each district, plus assisting (or circuit) elders, regional resource staff and regional administrators. The regional administrators from both conferences will work as a team to support the administration of the districts. And the entire regional team will work together to achieve the mutual mission goals of both conferences.

The two appointive cabinets will work together to make clergy appointments, while leadership development staff from both conferences will work together to develop lay and clergy leadership. Other areas of affiliation will include both conferences’ Connectional Ministries operations and Pathways to Congregational Fruitfulness & Health initiatives to help grow vital congregations, transformational leaders and community partnerships.

Nicola Mulligan, Assistant to the Bishop for Administration and Conflict Resolution will continue to engage with congregations from EPA and GNJ that are experiencing conflict. Meanwhile, EPA and GNJ will combine their Communications offices into one newly organized team to serve both conferences, as of Dec. 1.

Additional EPA and GNJ affiliation will involve ministries focused on youth, camp and retreat centers, urban congregations, anti-racism efforts, and development of racial-ethnic churches and leaders.

Staff will also explore using one database platform to enhance coordination. And both EPA and GNJ will use a project management approach for different projects with one person overseeing all project teams.

Focus on ministry and mission together

“EPA and GNJ will not be affiliating budgets, pension programs, property insurance programs, administrative agencies, chancellors, or legal work,” the bishop’s letter emphasizes. “But we will focus on ministry and mission together and provide administrative support for the ministry life of both conferences.”

His letter includes an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document, a timeline for initiating affiliation steps, and a schedule of three upcoming webinars, Dec. 7-8, to respond to members’ questions and elaborate on the affiliation process.

The FAQ document includes answers to likely questions about clergy appointments across conference lines, leadership development opportunities, finances, staffing, how to evaluate if and how the affiliation experiment is working, and what happens if affiliation does not work as planned.

Read Bishop Schol’s entire letter:
“New Appointment Announcement and EPA/GNJ Affiliation Update

Webinars for Further Clarification and to Answer Questions

  • Wednesday, Dec. 7, 9:30 AM to 10:15 AM
  • Thursday, Dec. 8, 3:00 PM to 3:45 PM
  • Thursday, Dec. 8, 7:00 PM to 7:45 PM

The following link will be used for each session: