By Melissa Lauber
Holy conferencing, church politics, worshipful moments and soul-stirring testimonies merged at The Hotel in College Park Oct. 31-Nov. 4 as the Baltimore-Washington Conference opened its doors to the 152 delegates and six youth delegates of the Northeastern Jurisdiction.
“After six plus years of planning, with its starts and stops, push forward and then pauses, it was great to accomplish the 2022 NEJ Conference,” said the Rev. Tony Love, who led the Jurisdiction’s planning committee. “The NEJ session provides the larger church with entry points for celebration and courageous, holy conversation about what we value. Being ‘one in ministry to all the world’ is a value and I remain hopeful that our actions will continue to reflect such.”
One of the highlights of the session was the assignment of bishops to the 10 annual conferences, which span 13 states and the District of Columbia. Bishop LaTrelle Easterling was re-assigned to the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences for the next 18 months. “I am happy, I am humbled, and I am hallelujah-proud to be the servant leader” of these two conferences,” the bishop said.
The 30 delegates and reserves from the BWC and nine delegates and reserves from Pen-Del, along with members of the bishop’s Cabinets, celebrated her on-going presence as their leader.
Another highlight of the Conference was the episcopal election of Hector Burgos, from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, who became the first Latino bishop to serve in the Northeast Jurisdiction.
When Burgos was an infant, and his mother was fearful that he might not live, she told him, “Hector, abre tus ojos – open your eyes,” he told the delegates in interviews on Nov. 1. That refrain from his mother continued throughout his life.
Taking the stage after being elected, Burgos echoed his mother’s plea: “Abre tus ojos … look for the blessings and opportunities God has for us,” now Bishop Burgos told the church. “Friends, the world needs us … all of us. … Let’s go and reform the world, in Christ’s name.”
While the delegates originally chose to elect two bishops at this session, there was a seeming deadlock between two of front-runners – the Rev. Jay Williams of the New England Annual Conference, and the Rev. Alyce Weaver Dunn of Western Pennsylvania. Following the 17th ballot, late on the final night of the session, the delegates voted to postpone another episcopal election to the NEJ’s 2024 Session.
The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo, an Elder from the Baltimore-Washington Conference who serves as General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race, was also a candidate for the episcopacy. He was endorsed as a candidate for the episcopacy by MARCHA, the denomination’s Hispanic caucus.
Arroyo acknowledged the intensely personal, emotional and spiritual dimensions of being lifted up and considered as a candidate for the episcopacy, as he sought to help United Methodists “… write the narrative of a church that embraces our multiple identities and gifts. … Let us be the church together,” he said, “without fear of leaning in toward the hard work of being beloved community.”
On the sixth ballot, the Rev. Tony Love, who serves as assistant to Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, became a write-in candidate and garnered many votes over seven ballots. “Just to have my name raised by my colleagues and faith friends was truly a gift to me. Humbled, honored, affirmed and unworthy … that described the moment well,” he said following the session.
One of the ministries that unite the members of the NEJ is the Call to Action. In 2016, the Revs. Joseph Daniels, of Emory UMC in Washington, D.C., and Lillian Smith, of Cheverly UMC in Upper Marlboro, issued a Call to Action to end systemic racism. Annual Conferences, through their Directors of Connectional Ministries (DCMs), were tasked with ensuring several goals that addressed white supremacy and the building of beloved community were pursued.
On Nov. 3, the DCMs reported on their progress during the past six years, which included the death of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police and a number of other events that further galvanized the church’s efforts to address racism.
Christie Latona, the director of Connectional Ministries for the BWC, reported that the Call to Action encourages United Methodists to embrace justice as a spiritual discipline and to take bold and brave steps to eradicate systemic racism and end white supremacy.
Within the BWC, she said, more than 80 percent of local churches are on a pathway toward racial justice and more than 40 percent are taking action to build beloved community. (Learn more about the BWC’s ministries to Building Beloved Community.)
Following the report, an impromptu sharing of the pain caused by racism in our church and culture poured forth as delegates went to the microphone to share their stories and their insights on addressing whiteness.
From the BWC delegation, several delegates shared their witness, including Sharon Milton of Emory Fellowship UMC in Washington D.C. “Thank you for allowing us to share our hearts,” said Milton, who shared insights into how her heart is broken as she works with black youth at her church, who have lost their friends to gun violence, and the church’s inability or unwillingness to change our culture. “Faith without works, is dead,” Milton said. “It’s good that we hear about this. But it is time we put our faith into action.”
Following the conversation, Arroyo went to the microphone. “I know the importance of sacred space to hear the pain and trauma,” he said. “I think its harmful to open the space and not continue to the journey.” He invited the NEJ College of Bishops and Vison Table to partner with the General Commission on Religion and Race “… so that when we gather in 2024, knowing our stories, we can address the systemic and institutional barriers of racism together,” Arroyo said. “I invite you to walk with me.” The delegates voted to accept this invitation.
The impact of members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference was felt throughout the session. Among them:
- The Rev. David Simpson, a retired BWC Elder, serves as the NEJ treasurer. During the session, delegates adopted a $1,064,600 budget. Through its mission shares, the BWC will support the NEJ by paying $41,271 each year.
- The Rev. Ginger Gainer-Cirelli, pastor of Foundry UMC, presented a resolution, crafted by her and five other BWC members, called “Lead with Integrity. “The resolution acknowledges that some churches and leaders are disaffiliating from the denomination, calls upon all United Methodists to move forward in fairness and integrity, and asks that only those who intend to remain within the denomination be eligible to serve in positions of leadership. The resolution passed by a vote of 86 to 63.
- BWC members were also part of creating and presenting other resolutions adopted by the NEJ, including “Supporting the Christmas Covenant” and “Queer Delegates call to Center Justice and Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC.”
- The NEJ is the only jurisdictional conference that has youth representatives. Serving for the Baltimore-Washington Conference were TJ Putney and Jaelyn Tharps of Jackson Chapel UMC in Frederick.
- In a memorial service, delegates celebrated the lives of Tom Price, a former lay delegate who served the BWC in youth ministries, and Bishops Joseph Yeakel and Felton Edwin May, who led the conference from 1984-1996 and 1996-2004.
- The Rev. TR Chattin, a retired BWC Elder who also served on the NEJ Committee on the Episcopacy, gave a speech honoring Bishop Peggy Johnson, whose retirement was officially certified, and her spouse, Rev. Mary Johnson, a retired Elder in the BWC.
- The Rev. Bonnie McCubbin, BWC’s director of Archives and Pilgrimage, lent several historic artifacts to be used in the bishop’s consecration service, including the bell from Cokesbury College, Methodism’s first school; and the kneeler, cut from the altar rail of Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, where the famed evangelist, Rev. E. Stanley Jones, first received Christ in 1901.
- The delegates took an offering for Seeds of Security, a ministry of the BWC that supports victims of domestic violence and Bishop Mark Webb auctioned off a cup of coffee for the ministry, raising $1,200, bringing the total offering to $3,875 for this vital mission.
- Many members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference also offered their gifts in helping to craft and perfect legislation, providing music and worship experiences for the session, publishing the Daily Christian Advocate, overseeing registration and on-site logistics, serving on NEJ Committees, and even leading moments of dancing during the breaks between plenary sessions.
The next session of the Jurisdictional Conference is scheduled to be held in July 2024 in the Western Pennsylvania Conference.