Monday, July 25, 2016


At the United Methodist Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Lancaster, Pa., July 11-15, our demonstration of hospitality exceeded my wildest expectations!

The Eastern PA Conference, along with some support from the Pen Del Conference, hosted this event, and I am grateful for the many women and men who worked tirelessly, around the clock it seemed, to greet and serve our many guests. People commented to me again and again about how friendly the staff was and how well things were organized. Many thanks to all!

This historic conference gave me many reasons to be grateful. I am grateful that I have been reappointed as the Bishop of the Philadelphia Area for another four years. This has been an answer to prayer, as I feel that my work is not yet finished.

With the strong possibility of episcopal area realignment in 2020, I will be in a unique position to help shepherd that process. I appreciate the many letters, e-mail messages and phone calls saying "Congratulations" and “Welcome back.” Truly it is a blessing to serve in this wonderful area at such a crucial time as this.

I am grateful that we have two new bishops--two new sister-bishops--both sister-bishops of color, joining the NEJ College of Bishops. What a joy to watch Bishop LaTrelle Easterling and Bishop Cynthia Moore Koi-Koi be elected and to hear their words of hope and excitement as they greeted the conference.

God is up to something with these vibrant new leaders. Bishop Easterling will serve in the Washington Area and Bishop Moore Koi-Koi has been assigned to the Pittsburgh Area.

I am grateful for the “Call to Action" to the jurisdiction and the College of Bishops issued by the NEJ BUMP, BMCR, and BLF organizations. This bold, timely statement calls the church to accountability for affirming the value of black lives and all lives of color.

The statement sets into motion a number of agendas for dialogue, training, relationship-building and programming that each conference will be responsible for in the quadrennium ahead. I look forward to the work we can do together to dismantle racism and build bonds of peace.

We have much good work to do in these next four years, empowered by our strong faith and our determination to do what is right. May these be blessed years of prayer, study, spiritual growth and ample commitment to serving others, sharing our faith and growing churches to the glory of God.

And may the fruit of all that we do be revealed in bold new disciples who are engaged in world-changing mission for Christ. To behold that fruit would make me eternally grateful.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Starving for Justice, Running into the Chaos

By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Just days after our nation once again celebrated its freedom on Independence Day, July 4, news and social media reported two fatal police shootings of African American young men in Baton Rouge, La., and a suburb of St. Paul, Minn.  “We are starving for justice” was the desperate cry of a woman quoted in one report. 

That cry should haunt the soul of all Americans and all people of God. America's devotion to its founding principles of “freedom and justice for all” is sorely in need of an overhaul. 

It is tragic when people are starving for food. Indeed, it is doubly tragic because the earth produces enough food to feed twice the need on this planet. Failure to distribute food to neglected areas causes people to starve. Human greed and lack of cooperation create the problem, not scarcity.

The same is true of justice. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and our country was founded on the principle of justice for all people. So when some people are starving for justice while others have plenty, it is contrary to everything we believe in.

When justice is denied to anyone it is denied to all; and all suffer for it, whether they know it or not.  We are one body, one nation, one people. And like the body of Christ, when one part suffers we all suffer. Indeed, those members who have less honor should receive more, so that "the members may have the same care for one another." You can find that bit of timely wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26.

'Running into the chaos'

Following these two tragic killings we were horribly reminded of our connectedness as one body in the worst way. An angry, misguided assailant wreaked deadly vengeance on undeserving police officers at the end of a nonviolent protest march in Dallas, Texas. While they were protecting marchers and maintaining the peace, five heroic officers were brutally slain and many others were wounded.

It was reported that during the worst moments of this horrific scene, as bullets were flying and confused marchers were fleeing in terror, uniformed police officers were seen “running into the chaos.”  It was a haunting report that calls to mind the many law enforcement personnel and firefighters who ran into the chaos of the World Trade Center on 9/11, risking their lives to save lives. 

We are profoundly grateful for courageous public servants who responded back then and still do today to incidents of violence and crisis, putting their own lives at risk to help others.  We are thankfully aware of the overwhelming majority of good police officers who do heroic work compassionately and professionally in our midst.

In every profession there are those who abuse their power or do not treat everyone fairly. They dishonor both their profession and their peers.

There is certainly much work that needs to be done to improve human relations among all people. We as a nation must be healed of our racism and bias, our fear and hatred of "the other," especially those among us who respond to differences with arrogant disrespect and violence, often escalating tension and conflict to dangerous outcomes.

A call to prayer and advocacy

Again, I call us to vigilant prayer and advocacy for our country and for a world where violence, especially gun violence, has become a crisis of unbelievable proportions.  Through advocacy we need to share justice, like food, with people who are denied and who starve for what we have. 

We need to appreciate and support all our public servants who "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly" in the performance of their duties. And certainly, we should honor and emulate those who willingly “run into the chaos” of conflict and danger to save lives.

We are fortunate followers of Jesus Christ, who bore the painful cross of our salvation unto death. So we should do no less by seeking to apply the healing power of God’s love where there is hatred, injustice, discord and violence.

To do so involves sacrifice and putting ourselves at risk.  But just as we are one body, this dual crisis of injustice and violence is everyone’s problem, and it needs everyone's participation to build relationships of trust and respect for all people, especially those who may lack honor and equity in our discriminatory society. Only by suffering together can we survive together and triumph over our common adversities.

The tools of civil discourse--listening, hearing with one’s heart, and sensitively sharing honest perspectives--can go a long way to changing this world’s climate of fear and distrust. The Cabinet and I will have conversations next week about ways in which we can engage the full conference in this vitally important work.

As we go forward please join us in prayer and in your own commitment to change. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

2016 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference: Calling us to pray and be 'salty'


By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

I call the pastors and members of the Philadelphia Area (both Eastern PA and the Peninsula Delaware Conference) to a time of prayer for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference which will be held in our area at the Lancaster Penn Square Convention Center July 12-15.

At this gathering delegates from conferences across the jurisdiction will elect two bishops. Bishop Marcus Matthews will retire, and we have another vacancy from the untimely passing of Bishop Martin McLee. On the night of July 14 the NEJ Episcopacy Committee will meet to determine which bishops go where for the next four years. I may or may not continue as the bishop of this area, but we will know the decision on July 15.

Our episcopal area is the only one in our jurisdiction that has two conferences. Conversations about us dividing and each conference becoming part of two other episcopal areas--as two-point charges with adjoining conferences--appear to be on hold. When we appealed for an extension during General Conference in May the Inter-Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee voted to allow the NEJ to continue to have nine bishops for another four years.

The call for downsizing in the first place came as we fell below the required number of church members to maintain funding for nine episcopal areas in the NEJ. This extension gives us four additional years in our current configuration.

Also General Conference approved a petition calling for a study of how we determine the number of bishops in each jurisdiction. Counting church membership alone may not adequately measure missional potential and the vital need for resident episcopal leadership among conferences.

In today’s society people may participate but are less prone to becoming full members of churches or other organizations or religious entities. The study results will likely come to the 2020 General Conference. This could affect our episcopal area, but signs at this time point to the probable downsizing of the NEJ to eight episcopal areas in 2020. However, nothing is certain.

At the NEJ Conference we will also:
  • consider various resolutions;
  • hear reports from our various mission projects;
  • elect officers and vote on a budget;
  • memorialize those who have passed on since our last conference;
  • engage in an Act of Repentance for sins against indigenous peoples;
  • celebrate Bishop Matthews's retirement;
  • hear the “State of the Jurisdiction” report from Bishop Devadhar; and
  • engage in worship experiences around the theme “Quilted by Connection.” The highlight will be our consecration of the two new bishops on Friday, July 15, at First UMC in Lancaster.

Many faithful lay and clergy members in our area have worked tirelessly for the last four years planning for this event. Our area leadership shines like the sun on numerous committees; and many financial resources have also been contributed.

In addition, the NEJ College of Bishops will meet in the Pen-Del's Conference's Easton District on August 9-12 for their annual summer retreat.  This is another shining example of our area providing connectional hospitality to others from our heart of generosity.

Please pray for the NEJ Conference and for all our delegations. May they have wisdom and guidance from  the Lord.  Pray also for the Rev. Derrick Porter, who has been endorsed as a candidate for the episcopacy by the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference.

The Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto, from the Eastern PA Conference, was endorsed by the Hispanic/Latino MARCHA caucus and is thus, also a candidate. He was not endorsed by the Eastern PA Annual Conference, which did not endorse anyone this year.

Whoever is elected, I ask you each to pray for them, for the entire College of Bishops and for our other jurisdictional, annual conference, district and denominational leaders. We all will bear together a heavy mantle of responsibility over the next quadrennium to lead our United Methodist Church faithfully and fruitfully in its continuing, Christ-given mission.

The Spirit of God is moving among us as we make these structural and leadership decisions.  But each of us is called to be “salt and light” in our local churches and communities every day.  No matter what happens at the NEJ Conference we still have the same mission to make disciples of Christ and live like Jesus, that the world may be transformed.

Recently I heard a Vacation Bible School children’s choir sing the well-known tune “If You’re Happy and You Know it.”  Instead of singing the lyrics “If you’re happy and you know it,” they sang “If you’re salty and you know it.”  Instead of singing “Clap your hands” or “stomp your feet,” they sang “help a friend” and “show some love.”

That is the sacred, faith and life-affirming work we all have to do whether we are in Lancaster, Pa., or wherever we are.  Ultimately, that is the goal of all of these 2016 conferences--General, Annual and Jurisdictional: to order the church in such ways that we can effectively do the work of Christ.  That work is making the world more tolerable with our help and our love in the name of our Savior. Amen.