Council of Bishops' Update

Christ gave gifts for some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. - Ephesians 4:11-12
 
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
 
I have just returned from the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Oklahoma City where I shared great hope and prayerful concern with the 133 United Methodist Bishops from around the world. 
 
The Council of Bishops is the world-wide leadership of The United Methodist Church. Our church is on four continents and represents more than 125 nations. We have more than 12 million disciples and we are growing, particularly in Africa and Asia.
 
I want to share with you some important conversations about the church that we discussed last week.
 
Ebola
We heard an update about Ebola from our bishops in affected areas. There is much pain, grief and fear. As I have shared with you before, United Methodists are on the front lines working to bring healing and relief. We had prayer with our bishop colleagues and pledged to continue to educate and work toward ending the Ebola outbreak.
 
Repentance
The Council of Bishops participated in a service of repentance with representatives from the Oklahoma Indian Conference. After the 1830 Indian Removal Act, many Native Americans were forced to leave their homes in the east and march to territories west of the Mississippi. It was called the Trail of Tears and thousands died of exposure, starvation and disease in the journey.  Methodists supported and participated in the Indian Removal Act. As bishops of the church, we recognize that discrimination against Native Americans continues to this day. Greater New Jersey is one of several conferences that had an act of repentance at its annual conference session. The act of repentance is evidence of our commitment to be in ministry with all people and to fulfill Jesus’ call to repent, reconcile and love all people.
 
Human Sexuality
The Council of Bishops continues to listen and to lead the church in the midst of differences.  The bishops have had continual prayer and conversation about our ministry with gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people. Like the church, the bishops are not of one mind. We have bishops who firmly agree with the church’s present prohibition on ordaining gay and lesbian people and performing same gender holy unions and marriages. We have other bishops that think our stance should be changed at the next General Conference. We also have bishops who want to see some change or gradual change. The bishops represent the diversity of opinion within the church. I believe it is healthy not to be of one mind. Within the Council of Bishops, I find that in the midst of our differences, we work with one another, respect one another and learn from one another. We also want to ensure that in the midst of difference, we offer grace and understanding rather than closed doors, closed minds and closed hearts. I would like to see more of this attitude throughout the church. At its most recent council meeting, the bishops reaffirmed the statement that we may not agree but we are united in serving and leading the church together. The bishops are emphatic that we and the church are to be in ministry with all people and we are to offer God’s grace to all people. All people includes gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people. The following is the statement released by the bishops.

As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church. We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people. We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.

Vitality
I experience within the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey significant theological diversity and a commitment to serve and work together in the midst of our differences. This is probably one of the reasons we are leading U.S. conferences in growing vital congregations.  The bishops received a report on congregational vitality and God has blessed us in Greater New Jersey. We have the second highest percentage of congregations growing in worship attendance in the U.S. We are in the top ten in the percentage of highly vital congregations. We are a leader in making new disciples. We also are a leader in our jurisdiction in involving worshipers in small groups. Our unity and our commitment to grow vital congregations are bearing fruit. I want to thank the clergy and lay leadership of our congregations for your outstanding efforts and spiritual leadership. Attached is a link to a report on congregational vitality within the denomination which includes a chart that shows congregational vitality conference by conference. 
Click Here to View Report
 
Imagine No Malaria and the Mission Fund Campaign
The bishops heard a report from international global health care leaders about how our Imagine No Malaria Campaign is having an impact on ending deaths by malaria. The United Methodist Church is a world-wide leader in this effort. To date, we have pledged and raised more than $65 million toward our denomination’s $75 million goal. We want to reach this goal by General Conference 2016. This includes Greater New Jersey’s $2 million pledge. Our $2 million pledge is critical toward reaching the $75 million goal and I ask you to continue to participate in our Mission Fund Campaign. Through the end of October, we have raised and pledged $763,322 for Imagine No Malaria, $3,281,726 for Sandy Recovery, and $616,554 for local church mission.  Your support is making a difference.
 
Thank you for your commitment and work to witness to the world that diverse people can serve well together, can impact communities and can grow vitality to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
 
I am blessed to be a bishop of the church at this time. There are challenges that utilize and stretch my gifts. There is hope. I am particularly blessed by the people called United Methodist in Greater New Jersey. You are passionate in your witness in the world, you affirm diversity and are committed to be in ministry with everyone. This is a gift and I am blessed to be your bishop.  Thank you.
 
Keep the faith!
 
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey