03.30.21 | Communications
Plans have recently been announced by the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops to affiliate the Peninsula-Delaware and Baltimore-Washington Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church. With the affiliation, which becomes official on Sept. 1, the two conferences will be led by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling.
The affiliation connects the more than 400 churches of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference and the 600 churches of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in many common ministries. Under the leadership of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, some conference staff, resourcing and opportunities for discipleship are shared to better equip local churches to grow in vitality and serve our communities.
Under the leadership of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, the affiliation is a unique partnership between the Peninsula-Delaware and Baltimore-Washington conferences, which connects the leaders and members of more than 1,000 churches to share resources and create vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Started in September 2021, the work of the affiliation was affirmed by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in November 2022 and this configuration for mission and ministry was extended through August 31, 2024.
The affiliation began on Sept. 1, 2021, as part of a financial measure to provide episcopal leadership to all of the annual conferences of the Northeastern Jurisdiction. To answer questions, a virtual townhall was held. See a video of that informational meeting.
What is an annual conference?
The annual (sometimes referred to as “regional”) conference is described by the church's Constitution and other parts of the Book of Discipline as the “basic unit” of the church. Supervised by a bishop, the annual conference has a central office and professional staff that coordinate and conduct ministry and the business of the conference. It likely has a director of connectional ministries, treasurer, directors of program areas (such as camping), communications director, and other staff as deemed appropriate for the annual conference and as required by the Book of Discipline. Clergy and laity also serve on conference boards, commissions, and committees. The clergy and an equal number of laity gather each year for an Annual Conference Session, presided over by the bishop appointed to lead that conference.
What is the Peninsula-Delaware Conference?
The Peninsula-Delaware Conference of The United Methodist Church has 416 churches, with approximately 81,100 members, in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Its office is in Dover, Delaware. Peninsula-Delaware Conference’s vision statement is “Connected Christians offering the Hope of Jesus Christ in today’s world.” Learn more on its website.
What is the Baltimore-Washington Conference?
The Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church has 615 churches with approximately 150,000 members in Washington, D.C., parts of Maryland, the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and Bermuda. Bishop LaTrelle Easterling was elected as a bishop in July 2016 and began serving the BWC on Sept. 1, 2016. Its mission statement is “Inspiring and equipping local faith communities to develop disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Learn more on its website.
Why was it necessary for the NEJ College of Bishops to take this action to affiliate the two conferences?
The COVID pandemic and other factors presented unprecedented challenges in the life of the church. In 2021, two bishops: Peggy Johnson and Jeremiah Park, requested retirement. The pandemic postponed the 2020 General Conference session to 2024 and the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference to 2022. This made it necessary for the NEJ College of Bishops to create new models of episcopal coverage.
The retirement of the two bishops left seven active bishops to lead 10 annual conferences. The Book of Discipline authorizes the College of Bishops to provide coverage of open episcopal areas until new bishops are elected and assigned by the Jurisdictional Conference.
How is episcopal coverage being provided in the Northeastern Jurisdiction?
At the November 2022 NEJ Session, the Committee on Episcopacy announced the following configuration for coverage:
- West Virginia Conference, Western Pennsylvania Conference and Susquehanna Conference – Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball
- Baltimore-Washington Conference and Peninsula Delaware Conference -- Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
- Greater New Jersey Conference and Eastern Pennsylvania Conference – Bishop John Schol.
- Upper New York Conference – Bishop Hector Burgos
- New England Conference – Bishop Peggy Johnson
- New York Conference – Bishop Thomas Bickerton
Is affiliation a fancy word for merger?
No. Leaders in both conferences and the jurisdiction have emphasized that both the Peninsula-Delaware and Baltimore-Washington conferences will maintain as separate organizations with independent operations, structure, and finances while partnering in training and ministry.
What can local churches expect?
With the affiliation, very little of the day-to-day operations of the local church will change. However, leaders from both conferences are working closely together to share programs and resources to better equip local churches in their discipleship. Initially, some of the areas in which both conferences are connecting in new ways include training and learning opportunities, young people’s ministries, anti-racism ministries, congregational development, and communications. The Extended Cabinets from both annual conferences meet together monthly and a Chief Administrative Officer, the Rev. Erica Robinson Johnson, oversees the shared work of the affiliation.