From the Lay Leader
Upcoming Trainings & Events
Pastors are encouraged to form a team from their congregation to attend a three session training to create a year-round stewardship action plan and Fall 2017 campaign.TRACK 1: Churches UNDER 250 in average worship attendance
(Must attend all 3 sessions)
Session One: March 25, 2017 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Session Two: April 30, 2017 from 2:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Session Three: June 24, 2017 from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Political Divide and Church Unity
Pastor Chuck Mitchell of Dobbins UMC in Delanco and Pastor Lyssette Perez of the UMC of the Rockaways talk about how faithful Christ-followers are found in both liberal and conservative communities. Listen to ways United Methodists across the political spectrum can move forward together in 2017. Click here to listen.
Listening and Conversation Unites GNJ
Last weekend, clergy and laity throughout GNJ gathered for a day of “Graceful Conversations” in the midst of”Graceful Controversies.” Hopes and aspirations for the future of The United Methodist Church were shared to send forth to The Commission on a Way Forward. Click here for resources, stories, videos and more.
Letter from the Bishop
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Next week the Judicial Council will meet in Newark, NJ to review questions of law and declaratory decisions recently raised within The United Methodist Church. One of the items before the Judicial Council is a request for a declaratory decision from the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. This South Central Jurisdiction includes eight states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The question before the Judicial Council in part asks:
Is the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage lawful under The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
The full request for a declaratory decision may be found here. This question relates in particular to the election, consecration and assignment of Bishop Karen Oliveto to the Denver Area.
I call upon you to be in prayer for the Church, the people of the Denver Area, Bishop Oliveto and the Judicial Council during this time.
The Judicial Council is the “Supreme Court” of the United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council is the final judge concerning all laws enacted by the General Conference (¶201-2719 in The Book of Discipline, 2016) and the United Methodist Constitution (¶1-61 of The Book of Discipline, 2016). The Book of Discipline also contains the Doctrinal Statements, General Rules, the Ministry of all Christians, and Social Principals (¶101-199) which are not laws of the church. Some of the church’s teaching about lesbians and gays are contained in the Social Principles (¶160-166).
The rulings of the Judicial Council are not about guilt or innocence like our American criminal courts. The Judicial Council rules if the laws and/or constitution of the church was followed in a given situation. Their rulings are primarily questions of process: Were the laws of the church properly carried out in a given situation? Like the Supreme Court, the Judicial Council’s rulings can hinge on technicalities. There are often split decisions.
Ahead of the Judicial Council meeting next week, I wanted you to be aware of some of the potential outcomes so that you will not be surprised or confused by the results. The Judicial Council has some very challenging legal questions in each of the rulings it makes. These are some of the possible rulings related to the above question.
- The Judicial Council may rule that the election in the Western Jurisdiction of Bishop Karen Oliveto did not follow church law and refer the matter back to the Western Jurisdiction for the election of a new bishop.
- The Judicial Council may rule that the election in the Western Jurisdiction followed the procedures of The Book of Discipline and that the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto stands. Any active elder in good standing is eligible for election. Because there were no complaints, charges or conviction against Bishop Oliveto for being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual at the time she was elected, Bishop Oliveto was an elder in good standing and therefore electable.
- The Judicial Council may rule that the question raised in the South Central Jurisdiction was before Bishop Oliveto’s election and consecration and therefore is moot and hypothetical. In other words, the question before the Judicial Council must be an issue at the time the question was asked. Or moot and hypothetical because the South Central Jurisdiction does not have standing in the case because they were not the ones electing Bishop Oliveto.
- The Judicial Council may state that they cannot rule on this case because a complaint has been filed against Bishop Oliveto since her election for being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” In other words, the Judicial Council like the Supreme Court may not rule on a case that is before another body until it is resolved. This ruling means the Judicial Council must wait until the case is resolved before it can rule so as not to influence the complaint that has been filed.
- The Judicial Council may rule that while Bishop Oliveto has indicated she is married to another woman that does not mean she is “practicing.” Church law states that a chargeable offense is to be “a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” This may seem to be a technicality but the Judicial Council must rule on the law as it is stated.
I anticipate that there will be news reports, Facebook postings and tweets about the ruling. These can cause further confusion, particularly when a group or individual has a particular belief or agenda and construes the ruling to fit their agenda.
When the final ruling is announced, possibly not until April 29 or later, some people will be happy and others will be disappointed. While some will see the Judicial Council decision as either a victory or loss, I believe we all lose when the church looks for winners and losers. I believe God is calling for all of us to be faithful to Jesus Christ, the mission and the unity of the church during this time. Gain in the kingdom of God is not measured by winning but by how we love and how we work with one another to glorify God.
It is important for all of us to remain prayerful and non-anxious. Many are watching the church and our witness is important. Will we keep moving forward in the midst of difference? Will we remain focused on the mission as we face our challenges?
Regardless of the ruling by the Judicial Council, I will remain the bishop of all the people. I will continue to trust our pastors and congregations to live the Gospel in their context. I will not make appointments to try to change a congregation’s values and beliefs. I believe the scriptures value diversity and difference in the church.
So let’s pray and remain faithful to our calling to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world. Let’s care about those we disagree with and see each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey