Michigan Conference delegation co-chairs Laura Witkowski and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, comment on the upcoming session of the NCJ Conference, November 10-11, 2021.
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Several weeks ago, Bishop David Bard, as President of the North Central Jurisdictional College of Bishops, expressed this hope. “Together, let us pray that God’s Spirit will use this unique opportunity at this critical time to enhance the future of our ministry for Jesus Christ.” He spoke of the virtual session of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference that will be live-streamed November 10-11, 2021.
There are several unique aspects of this gathering of delegates from the ten annual conferences across the North Central Jurisdiction. First, there will be no episcopal elections. Balloting for bishops was the central function of previous NCJ sessions. Bard described the second unique aspect like this. “We decided to pare down our agenda to focus on three critical areas that either the delegates have been telling us they would like to discuss, or we have identified as critical for the ongoing mission of The United Methodist Church in our jurisdiction. These critical areas are the work of dismantling racism, the future United Methodist Church, and the role and deployment of episcopal leadership within the jurisdiction. The third aspect setting this NCJ conference apart from all others in the past is that it will be held online due to the health risks of the coronavirus.
The NCJ Conference will be live-streamed on this website: ncj.michiganumc.org following this basic schedule:
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
09:00 am Opening worship with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, Wisconsin Conference
09:30 am Conversation on Dismantling Racism
12:00 pm Mid-day break
01:00 pm Conversation on the Future of Episcopacy in NCJ
02:40 pm Conversation on Future of The UMC
05:00 pm Adjourn
Thursday, November 11, 2021
09:00 am Opening worship with Bishop Gregory Palmer, West Ohio Conference
10:00 am Introduce, refine, and vote on a Covenant Statement
12:00 pm Adjourn
Laura Witkowski, the co-chair of the Michigan Conference delegation, remarks, “With our jurisdiction being the only one meeting like this, we could really do something significant. The conversations we are expecting to have will help us build community among our jurisdiction toward moving into the future United Methodist Church.” The Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Witkowski’s counterpart, adds, “Those of us who wish to stay in The United Methodist Church and the NCJ need to have conversations about our vision. We need to engage the conversation about dismantling racism and how to make that central to our work. And we need to envision the leadership that will guide us to our future.”
Bigham-Tsai emphasized the importance of this moment. “This Special Session of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference is crucial at a time when we find ourselves in limbo because of the pandemic and the multiple postponements of General Conference. The NCJ delegates have the opportunity to bring hope to our whole church by engaging in a conversation about our future.” Witkowski notes, “The fact that we are taking some time to have small group discussions focused on dismantling racism is a clear indication of the Church we want to be.”
The 16 members of the Michigan Conference delegation were elected in 2019, expecting to be active at the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, MN, and July 2020 NCJ Conference in Ft. Wayne, IN. Now, 28 months later, they have been unable to fulfill the duties for which they were elected, as the pandemic has driven a series of postponements of those global and regional assemblies. At present, the General Conference is scheduled for August 2022, but there is increasing uncertainty over that plan.
Witkowski sees this current opportunity as a blessing, saying, “Although, we haven’t been able to be involved in making significant decisions due to the postponement of General Conference, our delegation has had the opportunity to participate in two historic events, the special session of the Michigan Annual Conference to move the protocol forward and this special session of the North Central Jurisdiction. I’m grateful for their ongoing participation despite it not being what we expected. God really is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19)!”
“I think that this conversation in the NCJ can open the door for all of us to dream,” Bigham-Tsai concludes. “My prayers are with our bishops and the delegates and all who are planning this event. We are doing God’s work.”