I attended the Greater NJ Annual Conference May 28-30 in Wildwood NJ, as a non-voting member. In my role of Public Theology Advocate, I supported the Reconciling Ministry Network by advocating for inclusive language and support of all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans people. I also supported our Palisades District Lay Servant Ministries by encouraging others to become Lay Servants.
The theme of the conference was "fish the other side of the boat". In John 21 we read that after the horrors of the crucifixion, even though they had been with the resurrected Jesus several times, Peter and some of the apostles went back to business as usual. They went back home to their fishing boats. They had been taught how to fish by their fathers and grandfathers – and their fishing technique was a skill defined by generations of tradition and accumulated practical knowledge. They knew what time to fish, what side of the boat to set their nets, how the currents ran, etc. But, in spite of all this knowledge of the “correct way” to fish, their nets remained empty. The resurrected Jesus called out to them from the shore. He told them to throw their next on the other side of the boat. This went against everything the apostles knew about fishing, but with faith, they followed Jesus’ command. And their nets were overflowing with fish. John 21 NIV
We in the church behave much the same as Peter and the apostles. Even when we learn of, and are inspired by, new approaches to living a faith-based life and growing our church, we often return to business as usual and we return to our traditional techniques for bringing people the Word of God, and teaching them about Jesus Christ, and developing them into Disciples. These techniques and approaches worked well in the past, and they worked well for our parents and grandparents. But, as we all know, they are not working well enough now. The Bishop and the the GNJAC church leaders are asking us to be bold in our faith, and listen to Jesus’ command to throw our nets on the other side – and try new approaches. Here is a video of the Opening Worship Ceremony with the exceptional sermon (starting at minute 38) https://vimeo.com/129575356
I promised to to write about my experiences at the conference, and I will - for this week, let it suffice for me to write that it was an amazing and emotional experience. I will write more about my personal observations and experience of the conference next week. There is much to write, and I don’t want you to lose sight of the importance of this conference’s theme by the volume of my words. So please bear with me, read John 21, and meditate on the theme.
The voting members of conference worked hard to discern what this theme meant to them, their local churches, our conference, and the UMC. The legislation voting results indicate the wide spectrum of diverse opinion as to what this means. There were many pieces of legislation that passed, including legislation in support of ending racism. I will write more about those another week.
The legislation that was the most controversial is as follows:
The first four pieces of legislation petition General Conference 2016 to change the prohibitive homosexual language from the Book of Discipline:
1. Strike from the Book of Discipline "we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider the practice incompatible from Christian teaching; 410 - yes; 339 - no
2. Strike from the Book of Discipline "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our church; 396 - yes; 353 - no
3. Strike from the Book of Discipline "that homosexuality and performing homosexual unions or weddings is a chargeable offense"; 414 - yes; 336 - no
4. Strike from the Book of Discipline "that United Methodist funds cannot support the acceptance of homosexuality or supporting homosexual ministries.” 405 - yes; 344 - no
The last two pieces of legislation call for GNJ support and action for full inclusion of LGBT people and marriage equality:
5. The Greater New Jersey Conference work for the full inclusion of all people including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons and that we oppose the continued restrictions of church law that restricts the full inclusion of LGBT people; 389 - yes; 352 - no
6. The Greater New Jersey Conference makes a public statement supporting and upholding marriage equality in civil law and that we spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully support clergy who are brought up on charges for performing homosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies. 381 - yes; 358 - no
I've posted a video of the Bishop reading the results and his prayer - https://youtu.be/nJnbqORs8qI
And a video of the Bishop commitments to the GNJAC - https://youtu.be/iuaNAeNMMNU
I apologize for the shaky video quality - it was an overwhelming moment for me.
I continue to ask that you pray for me in the role of Public Theology Advocate as I take a stand for Justice. Respond to this blog, or contact me directly, with your thoughts, ideas, and concerns about social justice in the Pascack Valley region.
In Christ's Peace, Lisa
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