New England Conference & Granite District News
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Feb. 1, 2024

Saint Valentine: letters from prison

In the New England Conference, Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, is when the annual Statistical Reports are due. This year it also happens to be Ash Wednesday, the solemn doorway to the season of Lent.

Also, undoubtedly, on Feb. 14, love is in the air with red hearts, chocolates, and roses. This celebration of romantic love has become an enormous commercial enterprise. But, like many of our cherished holidays, Valentine’s Day harkens back to religious beginnings.

Saint Valentine, whose feast day is Feb. 14, was either a priest or a bishop in the early church and was martyred during the reign of Emperor Claudius II around the year 270. There are many legends associated with this holy man, the main one being his incarceration prior to his execution during which he befriended the jailor’s blind daughter and sent her a letter with his signature that read, “from your Valentine.”

Other legends give him credit for miraculously healing the jailor’s daughter and secretly performing wedding ceremonies for soldiers to spare them from military duty. He was killed for the faith (either beaten with clubs or beheaded), and it is possible that there may have been more than one martyr by the name of Valentine. Likely the early church celebrated St. Valentine’s Day as a substitute for the Roman pagan holiday Lupercalia, promoting health and fertility. Valentine’s Day took hold in the 14th century as a festival of love and romance and has continued as such.

Knowing Saint Valentine’s story, perhaps Valentine’s Day can also be a day for us to consider ministry with those in prison.

Prison ministry is one of the mission priorities mentioned in the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus said to the virtuous sheep, “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36) Our churches tend to focus on the first five.

St. Valentine’s letter writing from prison can be one inspiration for us. We can write letters of encouragement to the incarcerated. We can go further, and volunteer to teach Bible studies and minister to families of those in prison. Every church could be doing some kind of outreach, but it is largely missing from our programs.

There are some efforts happening in our Conference through Kairos Prison Ministry  This program provides Christian-based retreats that are conducted in a prison for 72-hours. There are also “Kairos Outside” weekends that have the same format, and they minister to families of the incarcerated.

There is Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts for the children of inmates, and there are numerous letter-writing projects sponsored by many faith communities. What’s in your area?  The need is great; the lives of those in prison and their families are marked by significant stigma and poverty. Loving outreach can make a difference in the lives of these folks, many of whom are your neighbors.

Prison advocacy is also a vitally important ministry. This is the harder work of speaking up for humane prison conditions, improved services for inmates with disabilities and mental health challenges, and access to programs and resources to help returning citizens. Your voice can make a difference as lawmakers consider budgets and policies. Learn about the issues in your state and write letters of advocacy.

Let’s not forget the larger issue of who is in prison in the first place. Our voice is needed to call out the inequities created by racism, poverty, and classism.

According to the Criminal Justice System statistics, there are 5 million people in this country under some kind of supervision and nearly 2 million are in state or federal prisons or local jails. In 2021 the percentage of incarcerated White people was 31%, Hispanic 24% and Black 32%. Most inmates are persons of color.

God has work for us to do as we call out mandatory sentences for all crimes, pass “racial impact statement laws” to help undo the racial disparities and decriminalize low-level drug offenses.

Prison ministry stories

This Valentine’s Day think of what you can do to become involved in prison ministry in some way. To encourage us, I want to share some stories by members of our Conference who are currently engaged in prison ministry.

Read their stories 

I have personally engaged in this work for over 20 years, and I stand in awe of how much even a small effort done with God’s love can make a big difference. Sources:WikipediaCatholic onlineSentencingproject.orgHistory.com

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Oct. 10, 2023

It is difficult to find the words

Since the violence began on Saturday morning in Gaza, I have been following the increasingly alarming news reports about the war between Israel and Palestine with great concern. It’s difficult to find the words.

Our world is ravaged by war, and this has been the case for as long as humans have walked the earth. What is also true is that war has never solved anything. Land, wealth, and revenge may be the motives, but only justice can bring peace. Where there is no justice there is needless suffering and many innocent lives are lost. Peace can only be accomplished by diplomacy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

It is difficult to find the words.

The Hope School in Bethlehem, which we have been visiting and supporting during the many pilgrimages to the Holy Land with Bishop Devadhar, is reporting missile attacks.

According to their director, Khader Saba:

On October 7th while the children were at school three missiles from Gaza hit the nearby area. Our children were very afraid, three of them collapsed an started screaming. We asked the parents to come and pick up their children. There was an odd mess in the area. All the roads to the school are blocked now and it is hard to move from one place to another. I tried my best to reach the school, trying to fix the damage in the main gate. It seems that somebody tried to damage the main gate and get into the school.

We appeal to all our friends, to pray for peace and calmness in the Holy Land. We hope this ugly war will end soon.

It is difficult to find the words.

But there are words we can say and someone who will listen!

Prayers to God for peace and calm during this time of destruction and fear. I call on all of us to pray for peace and sanity. Call for a prayer meeting at church. Pray at home! Pray on ZOOM! Pray in your car!

Prayer unleashes the power of God in this world. Words of prayer make a difference, and it is something we can all be doing even when it is difficult to find the words.

Bishop's Office

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Brenda Cayer
Administrative Assistant
Phone: (978) 682-7555 ext. 250
Fax: (978) 682-9555
[email protected]

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July 1, 2023

Praying for Korea’s Peace

In 2001, I traveled to South Korea as part of a faculty immersion experience when I was a part-time adjunct professor at Wesley Theological Seminary. We visited many enormous churches teeming with hundreds of worshipers, a full orchestra, and more children than one could count. We also were treated to indigenous cultural experiences of theatre, art, and music.

Very touching to me was the graveyard of missionaries who had come to the peninsula years ago to evangelize. On some of the gravestones there were bullet holes from the Korean War during the 1950s.

The most sobering of all was our visit to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) that separates North and South Korea. The long separation between these two countries left a hole in my heart not unlike the bullets on those gravestones.

So much sadness, isolation, pain, and suffering.

On July 27, 1953, an armistice treaty was signed and the two countries, North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and South Korea (Republic of Korea) were divided. People with one language, a common history and cultural heritage were split apart by politics.

Technically, the Korean War has not ended as there has never been a peace treaty.  My visit to the DMZ with its heavy military presence was proof of that.

The agony of separation and the threat of combat remains a reality on the Korean Peninsula.

Our many Korean pastors serving in the New England Annual Conference brought to our 2023 session a resolution calling for prayer (RS-23-216).

They ask that we: “… pray for a peace treaty to replace the armistice treaty, pray for peace and reconciliation for the many separated families and their descendants, pray for those injured and affected by the Korean War, pray for transforming the demilitarized zone into a peace park, pray for the reunification of the two Koreas, and pray for the world community to work for greater peace in the world.”

This resolution passed unanimously, and so, my friends, let’s take seriously the ministry of prayer that has been set before us. Prayer is the most powerful resource on earth. Peace can happen as we listen to God’s leading and focus on the Holy Spirit’s movement in our world.

Also, I ask you to make it a point to get to know the pastors and laity who are of Korean descent serving among us. Rich and gifted is this Conference with the unique and needed charism of this part of the Body of Christ. As missionaries came to serve in Korea, so now they are serving in the United States — at great personal sacrifice and grace.

If you don’t have a Korean friend in this Conference already, I encourage you to engage in conversation and mutual spiritual encouragement. Learn more about the work of reunification that is happening. Take a pilgrimage to Korea if the opportunity presents itself.

Find ways to build bridges across our cultures, so that we might find that unifying and creative oneness that we share in Jesus Christ.

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May 1, 2023

As Christians, Let’s Commit to Climate Care

Since arriving in New England in January, I have been impressed with the passion of our churches for environmental care.

At last year’s session of Annual Conference you voted to hire a part-time “Climate Coordinator” to engage our churches in practical steps that will slow climate change. You have several “EarthKeepers”  in your midst (people who have been trained by the General Board of Global Ministries to engage in local climate preservation projects.) You have a helpful link on our website (www.neumc.org/creationcare) that directs folks to many resources from our denomination as well as a variety of community-based and state-sponsored efforts. I commend you for this important ministry.

I would like to highlight food waste as part of our stewardship of the earth. If we were honest, we would all admit that we have wasted food, a lot of food, and we often don’t think about its impact. According to Recycle Trac Systems, Americans throw away about 40 million tons of food every year, more than any other country on the planet. The rotting food in landfills creates methane gas, which is warming our planet.

Jesus modeled food conservation on the day he fed 5,000 people. After everyone had eaten, he sent the disciples back out to collect what remained. “Gather up the leftover fragments, so that nothing may be lost.” They came back with 12 baskets full (John 6:12-13).

Rev. Travis Bonnette-Kim, who serves First UMC in Melrose, MA, told me about a program that’s reducing food waste and feeding people in their community.

The Food Drive, which began in 2020, utilizes its extensive volunteer network to recover good food that would otherwise be thrown away and delivers it to people dealing with food insecurity.

The Food Drive partners with over 25 grocery stores, restaurants, farms, and other businesses to recover their excess food, and distributes that food through 24 community pantries, soup kitchens, low-income housing facilities, and senior housing facilities in Everett, Lynn, and Malden, Medford, Melrose, Saugus, Wakefield, and Woburn, MA.

The Food Drive reached more than 145,000 people in 2022, and aims to provide food for some 200,000 this year. Read more about The Food Drive.

How can you personally take responsibility for the food waste in your home and at food-related events at the church? Can you take part in salvaging food from grocery stores that can be donated to feeding programs and food banks? Can you eat all the leftovers in your refrigerator? Find tips for reducing food waste from the EPA

Are there farms in your area that allow people to “glean” vegetables too small for market or left behind by harvesting machines from the fields? The United Methodist Men have long partnered with The Society of St. Andrew (endhunger.org) to engage gleaning work teams. The society has fed millions of people since its founding in 1979. This year alone, they gathered and distributed 2,398,463 pounds of fresh produce, which became 9,593,852 servings of food.

Being a disciple of Christ means taking care of those in need, and food insecurity is a serious problem in this world. Responsible stewardship of the earth’s bountiful resources means many things – including not wasting the food that God has provided for us. This is yet another way we can demonstrate our faith. Each one of us can play a part, and together we can make a difference.

Jan. 19, 2023

Cabinet Appointments
Rev. Jill Colley Robinson and Rev. Taesung Kang

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson is pleased to announce the following New England Conference Cabinet appointments that will be effective July 1, 2023.

After six years on the Cabinet, Rev. Taesung Kang, who serves as Granite District Superintendent, and Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, who serves as Green Mountain District Superintendent and Cabinet Dean, will have their appointments extended for another year.

“I am very grateful to Jill and Taesung for their willingness to continue as superintendents,” said Bishop Johnson. “These are turbulent days for our conference and The United Methodist Church; having experienced leaders in place is critical as we navigate this time of change.”

The Cabinet and the respective District Committees on Superintendency were delighted and grateful to receive the news of these continuing appointments.

“In our short time together, I have come to appreciate the deep faithfulness and exceptional dedication of these two servant leaders,” Bishop Johnson said. “I know their districts are blessed by their leadership.”

Kindly keep Rev. Kang and Rev. Colley Robinson, their families, the staff, leadership, and congregations of these districts in your prayers.