June 24, 2011

Volume 157, Number 15

Inclusion embodies extravagant hospitality
First deaf delegate joins in Southwest Texas annual conference session

This year’s annual conference session included the first deaf delegate, Earl Ryburn (center). Interpreters were available for all worship services and business sessions.
By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor
More than 1,300 lay and clergy delegates gathered in Corpus Christi June 8-11 for the 42nd session of the Southwest Texas Conference, a session that made history in welcoming the first deaf lay delegate to ever participate in worship services and business sessions.

Earl Ryburn, a delegate from New Life Deaf Fellowship in San Antonio, “listened” to business sessions and guest preachers through interpreters using American Sign Language.

This year delegates chose General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates and alternates, among other important business.

Delegates met to worship together, conduct annual business and elect General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates during the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session June 8-11.

The numbers

The Rev. David Seilheimer, conference treasurer and secretary, reported that membership in the conference was down by 50 this year to 118,733 members, even while the conference sits in one of the “fastest growing population centers of the United States.”

“The trend of that loss is unconscionable in my mind,” Seilheimer said.

Hispanic membership, however, increased by 123 from last year, he added—a 2 percent increase up to 6,173 members, which he finds to be a “very helpful sign,” Seilheimer said.  The conference has doubled the number of Hispanic members in the last decade, “doing something good that we need to do better.”

He reminded delegates that 50 percent of the elected General Conference delegation is comprised of Hispanic leaders.

“We have tremendous leadership among the Hispanic population,” Seilheimer said. “The Hispanic population in South Texas is the youngest population. Sometimes I think our failure to bring in Hispanics is not the difference of race or language. It’s that we’re not very good right now at dealing with young people. We need to be reaching out to those people who are younger.”

Worship attendance is down by almost 1,000, which Seilheimer labeled “troubling because worship attendance usually foreshadows membership.” Baptisms are down by 131 to 1,622. Confessions of faith are up by 40 to 2,226.

He said medium churches—those with a membership of 100 to 1,000—are the most effective in producing confessions of faith.
Non-capital local church expenditures from 1989 to 2009 increased from 70.2 million to 107.3 million.

“One of the reasons I mention that figure is that 107 million is a lot of money,” Seilheimer said. “We have a lot to work with. We are not a poor church. If our stewardship were better, we’d be even stronger in this area. We have financial resources that will allow us to do our work.”

The amount of money churches spend per member has increased at about 1.5 percent per year, but giving has not increased relative to inflation, Seilheimer said. Apportionment giving has remained virtually steady.

Statistics show a trend toward lay staff increasing and clergy staff decreasing, although compensation for both lay and clergy has remained steady between 40 and 50 percent of church budgets. Program expenses have remained flat at about 5 percent, Seilheimer said. The number of churches per pastoral charge has decreased.

This has increased the number of part-time local pastors appointed in the conference over the past 20 years, he added. The number of elders appointed has decreased while the number of full-time local pastors continues to increase, doubling in the last 30 years.

The age of clergy elders had increased significantly, Seilheimer said, with a large number of them eligible for retirement. The average age of full-time local pastors has begun to decrease. Part-time local pastors tend to be much older.

“There is always more to be seen,” Seilheimer said. “And our future is not necessarily dependent on our past. There can be important things in the rearview mirror, but there are more important things in what’s ahead. We write our own future.”

“The time is now,” said Bishop Jim Dorff. “The declines in worship attendance and membership in our annual conference, in this mission field God has provided, they’re just not what God wants from us. This is a spiritual issue. This just isn’t what God needs and expects from us in terms of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I fully anticipate and expect that all of us will put our shoulders to the plow. When we gather here in this place next year, our report will look different. Our work is not done. There is room to grow in Christ. Unless you are laboring in a mission field in which every single person in that mission field is in a vital, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, we are not done. I have yet to find such a community or such a place.”

More than 1,300 lay and clergy delegates met June 8-11 in Corpus Christi for the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session.
The benefits
In the Rev. Ellen Ely of the Board of Pensions, the board and the Southwest Texas Conference were commended for “prayerfully working for the conference.” Some concerns have been voiced about how the financial decisions of other annual conferences will affect Southwest Texas, but the conference is currently in good shape.

In 2001, the board introduced a new health plan to streamline the out-of-pocket payment process in order to exercise “good management and good stewardship.” There has been no major premium increase in three years.

This year, a new clergy benefit has been arranged: clergy members who use the Methodist Hospitals in San Antonio will not have to pay out-of-pocket deductibles for services.

The finances
Joe Vasquez of the Council on Finance and Administration, said the conference budget this year will increase by 5.3 percent because members of the extended Cabinet in 2010 decided to give their pay increase back to the church. The 5.3 percent in accounting for that increase, which was “passed down this year to the extended Cabinet,” he said.

“We try to do everything we can,” Vasquez said. “We realize we’re here for ministry, but money is the engine that runs the car, and we need it to run the car in order to do the ministry.”

The reports
Patti Zaiontz, director of Mt. Wesley in Kerrville, said the conference center is still recovering from the powerful storm that blew through about a year ago. They recovered enough to “welcome 431 youth and staff for the largest Midwinter ever held,” she said.

“We are still conducting repairs on the campus,” she said. “We’re balancing repairing the buildings and maintaining groups that want to come to us so we don’t have to turn anyone away.”

The new churches
The Rev. Larry Howard, interim director of New Church Development and Transformation, said the office, whose mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ through the establishment of new faith communities and the transformation of existing ones,” has three goals: start a minimum of two faith communities annually; increase effectiveness by providing coaching for congregations and pastors to increase worship attendance and participation in mission; and grow Christ-centered churches celebrating a Wesleyan tradition of unconditional grace.

Howard introduced the Rev. Ruben Saenz, former pastor of El Buen Pastor in the Rio Grande Conference, as the new executive director of New Church Development and Transformation.

“I enter into a land that has already been plowed by many pioneers for the past 150 years,” Saenz said. “I’m grateful for the work that’s already been done, and I’m hopeful to continue being fruitful. God is working things out so the growth and vitality and renewal of the Church is somehow recaptured.

“We are in the perfect position to lead the way for the rest of the denomination as we do ministry in this ethnically diverse area. We are learning and working out how to effectively do ministry in multicultural contexts. We have a tremendous opportunity to be applicable to the rest of the church.”

Saenz said it takes a $220,000 grant to start one new church, and the conference’s goal is to start two a year. Leaders are also looking at starting mission congregations—faith communities or existing congregations that are active in significant mission outreach and disciple-making but limited in resources—because they don’t cost as much money.

The first challenge in the office, he said, is to “continually increase the financial support.” He said $20,000 will provide 10 new church pastors with training; $30,000 will provide support for two new faith communities/mission congregations to reach out to special neighborhoods that are strategically chosen; $35,000 will gift a coach to work with pastors for three years; $50-75,000 will provide salary and health insurance and housing; $75-100,000 will provide the physical equipment needed to start one new church; $250,000 will start one new church next year; $1 million will start four new churches; and $5 million will endow one new church start “until Christ comes.”
The first challenge in the office, he said, is to “continually increase the financial support.” He said $20,000 will provide 10 new church pastors with training; $30,000 will provide support for two new faith communities/mission congregations to reach out to special neighborhoods that are strategically chosen; $35,000 will gift a coach to work with pastors for three years; $50-75,000 will provide salary and health insurance and housing; $75-100,000 will provide the physical equipment needed to start one new church; $250,000 will start one new church next year; $1 million will start four new churches; and $5 million will endow one new church start “until Christ comes.”

The office will continue to identify promising new church pastors and appoint them to “communities where they have a natural affinity.” It will also be focusing efforts on gaining Hispanic members. In 2005, Saenz said, Texas became a majority-minority state, with 50.2 percent being Hispanic and 12 percent being African American.

Howard said the office will also be working on improving existing congregations through the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI), an initiative that starts with pastoral leadership development and works its way to church transformation. In August 2010, the conference started a pilot project of HCI with some selected congregations. In September, they will open it up to all churches.

“We want to grow Christ-centered churches celebrating Wesleyan traditions,” Saenz said. “We seek to increase the church’s reach, to become a people who do no harm and all the good we can do and who stay in love with God. We want to speak to human issues from a sound Biblical and theological perspective.”

Delegates also voted 384-325 to petition General Conference with a membership clause that includes people regardless of “race, color, national origin, status, economic situation, sexual orientation, gender choices and gender identity.”

Next year’s annual conference session will begin one day later in order to accommodate the lay delegates, who typically have to miss three days of work, Dorff said. It will be a “great experiment,” he added. Dates are set for June 7-10.

Bishop delivers state of church address

By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor
Bishop Jim Dorff told the more than 1,300 delegates at the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session that the “time” to embrace reformation “is now” during his Episcopal address June 9.

“As always, I am making the same Episcopal address to both (the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande) annual conferences,” Dorff said. “Each conference has some of its own unique issues to address in the coming year. At the same time, we have much in common. I am more convinced than ever that God has placed us here for a high and noble purpose. In this area, we have been given all we need to enter into a new season of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

“The issue now is whether or not we understand our purpose and whether to embrace it.”

“If we are determined to live and serve in only the same old ways, it means we have not honestly come to grips with who we are and what we need to do.”

He said it’s his firm conviction that God has led the conference “to the threshold of this new beginning” because of all the many conversations that have happened in the past year, which provide “a glimpse of the new possibilities God has placed before us.”

In the past decade, the Southwest Texas Conference has decreased in both membership and worship attendance, he said. In 2001, the conference had 120,000 members and 52,000 in worship every Sunday. In 2010, it had 118,000 members and 47,000 in worship every Sunday.

The Rio Grande Conference has “seen similar decline,” Dorff said.

During the same period, the counties within the bounds of the Southwest Texas Conference experienced a total growth of more than 1.1 million people, he said. Of even greater significance is the fact that the growth in those counties was 77 percent Hispanic.

“Our Episcopal Area is in need of a call to action,” Dorff said. “However, I believe that we are at a time in our common life in which we can move beyond a call to action. It is my firm and enthusiastic belief that we are gathered in conference to proclaim with one voice that now is the time.”

He said he believes now is the time because the Bishop’s Commission on Area Cooperative Ministries presented a report that recommended both the Rio Grande and the Southwest Texas Conferences embrace a collaboration.
“The recommendations embodied in the report will not go away,” Dorff said. “The conversations that are recommended as concrete actions will go forward, and if we shall participate in them with an earnest desire to seek God’s will for our area, God will do amazing things through the work of this commission.

“We are one ministry, one mission and one people in this area. Not two. The recommendations embodied in this report move us toward truly shared existing conference agencies. They can provide a new platform for mission and ministry. The questions raised are vital and long overdue. The time is now.”

He also believes the time is now because of consultations with the Financial Advisory Conservation Team (FACT) and leaders in the conference. The team is bringing recommendations for change to both annual conferences and will provide leaders with feedback for the Area as a whole.

This year, he said, leaders will also be entering into a “year-long discernment” process of rearranging conference staffing and organization. He will be convening an assessment team to work with conference and district agencies to make sure all resources are aligned in both conferences. Any recommendations for change will be presented at the next annual conference session.

The team will also provide recommendations about the best connecting points for Area ministries, he added.
He also believes “the time is now” because of the creation of a new Office of Clergy Development, made possible through Methodist Healthcare Ministries and headed by the Rev. Teresa Welborn. Her work will include collaboration with superintendents for identifying needs and opportunities for clergy development.

And, lastly, he and other leaders are engaged in the development  of new measures of congregational vitality, assessment and accountability where the growth of current disciples can be measured more effectively.

The last three years, he said, conference leaders have been discerning how to create a culture of growth, considering questions like: Who is supposed to grow? How is growth measured and what does it mean for individual churches? How can we do this?

“For too long we have spent time and energy trying to explain why we weren’t growing,” Dorff said. “We spent precious time and resources on the wrong thing. We grow because that’s what disciples do. They grow—in faith, in love of God, in acts of justice and mercy.

“Every single church is a mission outpost, nothing more and nothing less. It is a place from which the seeds of the gospel are received and then sown into a hurting world. The whole world. We are beginning to understand, to be redefined to grow. The time is now. We need not just talk anymore about our task. Rather, we must put our hands to the plow. The harvest is plentiful. The workers are here. The time is now.”

The church in the 21st Century means new

By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor
Conference Lay Leader Jay Brim challenged lay delegates to “step it up” during his lay leader’s address at the Southwest Texas Conference annual conference session in Corpus Christi.

He recapped Bishop Jim Dorff’s five reasons to know that “now is the time” for change: the assessment and accountability of offices; a new Office of Clergy Development, led by the Rev. Teresa Welborn; alignment of the San Antonio Area resources; the Financial Advisory Consultation Team (FACT” consultation and follow-up; and the recommendation of the Bishop’s Commission on Area Cooperative Ministries to embrace a merger between the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences.

Brim said that when The United Methodist Church was the most evangelistic, they were not even an institution. The “Methodist movement” spread right across North America, making one out of every three people claiming a denominational claim a Methodist.

In the late 1860s, the Methodist movement was starting two churches a day throughout the United States.
“We were not an institution,” Brim said. “We were a movement.”

In 1968, the Methodist Episcopal Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren, which created The United Methodist Church.

“What our church leaders did in that period between 1968 and 1972 was make a series of small compromises,” Brim said. “That began unintended consequences.”

The Church has become 14 general bodies, a Council of Bishops, a Connectional Table, a judicial council and a general conference that claims to speak for The United Methodist Church as a whole.

He showed delegates the 2008 Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions, which represent the cumulative efforts of the general conferences over the last 40 years. He then showed the 1902 Book of Discipline and the Book of Worship, both of which fit in his coat pocket.

“Does anybody here think this,” he said, holding up the 2008 Discipline, “is a better way of doing ministry than this?” He held up the 1902 Book of Discipline. “We’ve got to change the way we do business.

In 2009, he said, the Council of Bishops issued a Call to Action and set up an Interim Operations Team, comprised of seven people who met most recently on June 16 to sum up their two years of “findings.” On June 23, he said, he will have a conference call with other leaders to work on legislation to take before the General Conference.

“A number of us are talking constantly about what must be done,” Brim said. “We must cut down on the number of authority units in the church. We’ve got to find a way to focus our efforts for worldwide ministry in a way that brings back trust. We have to ensure that our apportionments are paying for the right things.

“General Conference is a seriously flawed institution, but it is our central focus as an institution. We’re going to work hard to try to bring through that body some ideas that, in the next four years, will change things significantly.”

He said that may include removing the boards of most of the 14 general agencies and moving the authority to a small body that’s like the Connectional Table but that isn’t the Connectional Table. Or it may mean making the Connectional Table smaller.

“We need leadership that is committed to acting decisively to changing our direction and regaining the fervor we once had,” Brim said. “We need to return to being the best lay witnesses to the gospel the world has ever seen. Bishop Dorff has laid out for us a solid path to ignite our ministry in the Southwest Texas Conference. The time to act is now.”

He encouraged lay members to take their notes back to their churches, report about what they’ve learned and then act on it.

“Tell your people what we’re trying to do,” Brim said. “Help them gain an appreciation for a connection as something that is moving forward, that we’re doing together. We are not just one congregation. We are 350 churches. We need all our churches to recognize that connection and feel they are working together to build what we have here.

“God has given us a fertile area for witness. We have very few pastors to reach that 1.1 million people who moved into this area, but we have 118,000 laity. In this room, we have 750 laity, all of whom are leaders. We all have different gifts. We need to put those gifts to work as witnesses and act now.”

25 candidates commission, ordained during service

The Rev. Ray Altman is ordained an elder in full connection during an ordination service at the Southwest Texas Conference annual conference session.
By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor
Bishop Jim Dorff told the 25 candidates being ordained or commissioned during a special service June 10 that the Bible—and our very lives—are full of Almighty God saying, “You did what?”

The ordination service, attended by more than 1,000, was held in the Selena Auditorium of the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi during the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session.

“I fear that Almighty God is gonna look at me and say, ‘Hey, Jimbo. You did what?’” Dorff said to a laughing audience. “I fear that sometimes in our annual conferences Almighty God is going to look at us and say, ‘You did what?’

“I pray for you,” he said, pointing at the rows of candidates, “that when Almighty God looks at you, that he says, ‘You did what?’ very seldom. But I think God does, despite our best efforts.”

Dorff referenced the story of dry bones that become flesh when the breath of God revives them.

He said he believes the church’s biggest problem is that “we have not yet quite found the difference between the terms restoration and reformation.” Until we figure out the difference, Dorff said, he believes God is going to continue to say, “You did what?”

The farther along in his life he gets, he said, the more he longs to be restored and the more he needs restoration. He said he has recently “discovered and realized a great blessing: poor eyesight.”

“I always thought it was a problem God had given me, but oh no, it’s a blessing,” Dorff said. “Here’s why I know that: every evening when I retire, the very last thing I do after I put down my book is take off my glasses and set them on the nightstand. It has become my custom over the years to not pick up those glasses again until after I have gotten up in the morning, gone to the bathroom, gotten myself ready for the day, gotten myself dressed and as I’m getting ready to go out the door.

“You need to realize what this means: every day when I look in the mirror, I see a blur. But it’s even better than that. When I look in the mirror every day and I see a blur, I see myself as I was 30 years ago. God performs the miracle of restoration on me every single day. It’s wonderful.”

But it’s a lie, Dorff said—because he is nothing like he was 30 years ago.

“I wonder if those bones, with that sinew and that breath, if those people were really the same nation they had been before,” Dorff said. “No. They were the House of Israel, but they were different.

“In our churches, do we pray for restoration, or do we pray for reformation? You preachers, do you preach about restoration or reformation? Restored. Reformed,” he said, pretending he was molding something in his hands. “I’ve gotten to where I kinda like what I see when I look in the mirror with my glasses on. I pray to God the reformation process never stops.”

Dorff said John 5 contains a story about Jesus going to the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and walking into the portico, where dozens of lame, ill and sick people are gathered. Jesus approaches one of them, a man who’s been there for 38 years and asks him, “Do you want to get well?”

The man doesn’t answer the question but explains that he’s been waiting for someone to carry him down to the pool while the water is being stirred because that’s when the healing happens.

“Can you hear Jesus say, ‘You’ve done what?’” Dorff said. “ ‘You’ve been sitting here for 38 years waiting for someone to take you down to the pool? Pick up your mat and go!’ and he did. When he got up and walked away carrying his mat, do you think he was restored to the man he used to be? No, he was reformed.

“This guy had gotten into his head that his purpose in life was to get somebody to take him to the pool, and what he really needed to be doing was getting up. The United Methodist Church was formed more than 40 years ago. Can you hear the man say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been here 38 years, and nobody’s taken me down to the pool. Every four years somebody comes to talk to me about strategies about how to get to the pool.’

“You did what?”

He told all gathered that “maybe this is about being open to the reforming power and presence of Almighty God.”

“In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what you did,” Dorff said. “It matters what God did. Beyond that, what matters is that Almighty God can look at each of us and say, ‘Look what I did.’ I’m here to tell you that is good news.”

San Antonio District news
So, how are you connected?
Carl Rohlfs
My sons attended Texas A&M University.  Much is said about the “Aggie Connection” – a connection that promotes fraternity and affinity around the globe and is often a pathway to jobs and opportunity.  As one son likes to say, “It’s not the grades you make; it is the hands you shake!”

Sometimes we use the words “well connected” to describe someone who has a social web that is full of people that will assist one in getting things done – effectively and efficiently.

From my perspective, the United Methodist Church, by definition is “well connected” – at least that’s our DNA. However, too often we allow our “connection” to digress to institutional issues – deployment of pastors; staffing of congregations; pastoral support and benefits; apportionments (where together we can do much more than all of us could do without our connection); and institutional representation (Boards, agencies and Bishops…and maybe even District Superintendents). But, our “connection” is much more, though we often overlook the possibilities.

How often do we look for ways to support other congregations? How often do we seek opportunities to include other congregations in the missions we practice? How often do we turn to other UMs for information and/or assistance? How often do we log on to District, Conference and General Church websites? How often do we spontaneously send funds to UM congregations afflicted with natural disasters? How often do we promote worship attendance for our traveling members through our connection? How often do we celebrate our corporate accomplishments (such as Nothing but Nets) instead of seeing only what we might have accomplished in our own congregation?

Recently, many of us traveled to “Mecca by the Sea” (Corpus Christi) and gathered at Annual Conference for the 42nd meeting of the Southwest Texas annual Conference and the 153rd year of Annual Conferences in Texas. Surely, there was much made of our institutional connection – pensions, minimum salaries and health insurance for pastors and employees; reports from agencies (universities, homes, foundation, community centers, our publishing house and more); administrative business and even a General Conference petition. However, if we paused a bit, we could see the fabric of our connection.

When we participated in the Ordination Service, we connected ourselves to 2,000 years of “laying on of hands” that goes back to the first Apostles. When we voted to receive new clergy into our Conference, we connected with congregations that are “birthing” representative ministers for the United Methodist Church. When we held the Memorial Service we connected the lives of faithful representative ministers and spouses who have served faithfully and persevered powerfully on behalf of a Kingdom not made with hands. When we gathered for Holy Eucharist we connected ourselves to that great cloud of witnesses that surround us and we supped at Table with the Risen Lord of Life.  When we sang “And Are We Yet Alive” we connected with the spirits of Charles and John Wesley and with the Holy Spirit of God, still dreaming of how each of us will fulfill the divine dream in our work. Our UM Connection provides us unique avenues and opportunities to accomplish our mission effectively and efficiently.

So, how are you connected? 

Some may be “well connected” because they know the right people or shake the right hands; but we United Methodists are no less “well connected” as we gathered at Annual Conference to renew our inspiration and our hope; and then re-deployed ourselves into our respective mission fields that are distinct, but thanks be to God, inseparable.

San Antonio District happenings
Interpretation of the Bible
Terry McCandless
The San Antonio District Leadership Development Office is pleased to offer a survey course in Biblical interpretation.  This twenty-session survey course will lead you to a greater understanding of the Word as you learn to approach scripture contextually and historically through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience. You will strive with your classmates and instructor to develop a personal process for approaching scripture that enables you to take ownership of and be knowledgeable about how God’s Word informs the living out of your faith. There is no charge to attend the course other than purchase of the textbook, An Introduction to the Bible, by Clyde E. Fant.  For more information or to register, please contact Terry McCandless at the District Office or visit the District Web site.

United Methodist night at the Missions
Terry McCandless
On the evening of August 19, the San Antonio District of the United Methodist Church and the San Antonio Missions Baseball Club will celebrate “United Methodist Night at the Missions.”  Our Missions are doing well this year and are scheduled to play the Springfield Cardinals.  Tickets for the game are $8.50 (upper reserved) with a portion of each ticket sold going to support children and youth camperships within the San Antonio District. Representatives of our District will be singing the National Anthem and throwing out the “first pitch!”  All who attend are encouraged to wear a United Methodist shirt of some kind to celebrate our connection. 

“United Methodist Night at the Missions” is a fun night out for folks of all ages!  Bring your kids, bring your Sunday school class, your youth group….bring everyone for a great evening of fun AND    support children and youth camperships.  In addition to a great evening out, we can help make sure NO CHILD misses out on the wonderfully formative events that Christian camping can provide.

For additional information or to order tickets, please contact Terry McCandless at the District Office.  SEE YOU AT THE GAME!

Victoria District news
Can you really trust the church?!

“I Trust the Church!”

I realize that it can be dangerous! That there are predators in the church, (lay and clergy), but I seek the Kingdom of God! I believe in the virtues of the church community! The United Methodist Church! I believe the church sees the gifts and graces of young people and helps God call them into ministry. Church people are not perfect people but those who are committed usually assist in the salvation of the predators, the unsure, and the deeply troubled. I trust the church! 
Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.

Labor not for the things that perish; that rust and moth do corrupt; that are here today but gone tomorrow; that do not add to the Kingdom of Heaven nor glorify our God, the Precious Heavenly Father.

The more we do for Him, the more He will do for us.

Whatsoever a man sows; so shall he reap.

If he sows to the Kingdom of Heaven; he shall reap the blessings and the bounty of the same.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and God will add unto you all the blessings thereof. Amen.

©09/19/2002 Jim Welch

We seek an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We believe in the Triune God. So you are never alone, as a widow, or a widower, as a young person in prison, or as a single person; because we purport intimacy with a God that never gives up on you.

I trust the church!

Let me ask the question, “can you trust the church?”

  • Is intimacy possible in your church setting?
  • Is church that place where all that we do is done to authentically honor God’s presence?
  • Intimacy in the Church is a way in which people are more empathic than sympathetic…..

If the pastor is so holy that he is unreachable the Laity will give up and go home. The old saying is true, you cannot be so “heavenly bound that you are no earthly good!”

In the Victoria District, I listen closely to all of the men and women of the Victoria District who are people of trust seeking to create communities of trust and intimacy.

As a district we believe that “best days are still ahead of us, not behind us.”

 “I trust the church!”

Victoria District happenings

Seniors Shine!
First UMC, Victoria

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)

I can think of no better verse to sum up the atmosphere at First UMC Victoria on May 29th, Senior Graduation Sunday. That morning we recognized four youth who would be graduating from high school this year; Spencer Driver, Tyler Friedel, Amber Henderson, and Rachel Wortham. In addition to a breakfast given in their honor, these seniors were also recognized in worship. We couldn’t be prouder of them!

What made this Sunday particularly special though was not what the seniors received, but what they gave to the rest of the church. You see, two of the seniors decided that they wanted to lead the entire worship service. Spencer Driver and Tyler Friedel coordinated with each other to take over the leadership duties for the morning. Tyler lead the Prayer for Understanding and read the first two scriptures, while Spencer lead the Prayers of the People, read the third scripture reading, and gave the Benediction. Spencer also gave the sermon, which was a poignant and apropos look at some of the transitions we go through both in life and spiritually. It was truly awesome to simultaneously see the whole of the church learning from its younger generation, and a younger generation setting an example of Christian leadership and service. 

To top off the festivities, three seniors were also awarded scholarships on behalf of the youth program and the church. To be considered for the scholarship, seniors must submit an application and then go through a personal interview. The scholarship candidates this year have all made school a priority while also participating in extra-curricular activities that benefit their school (i.e. Band, Basketball, Cheerleading, etc.).  Spencer Driver, Tyler Friedel, and Amber Henderson each received $500 scholarships.

What a huge joy it is to not only celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating seniors, but to have them give us a gift of love in the form of leadership and service!  Hmmm........perhaps another free and undeserved gift of love played a motivating role here!

River Ministry

Staples UMC recently began a new “River Ministry” with Heroes on the Water (HOW), an organization that serves wounded military men and women. Participants kayak down the San Marcos River, taking time to fish and relax, healing body, mind, and spirit. Staples member, Debbie Powers said, “These heroes have shown amazing courage and made personal sacrifices to protect us and our nation.” 

“We have a wonderful location on the San Marcos River where we gather, share in fellowship, a delicious meal, make new friends, enjoy God’s beautiful natural creations and have fun.”  Parishioner Denise Glendenning adds. “It’s a way to give a little something back to the soldiers who’ve given so much on our behalf. Hopefully, they feel love and support while trying to enjoy the beautiful country they defended.” 

God’s beautiful natural creations and have fun.”  Parishioner Denise Glendenning adds. “It’s a way to give a little something back to the soldiers who’ve given so much on our behalf. Hopefully, they feel love and support while trying to enjoy the beautiful country they defended.” 

United Methodist Women news

Bishop Mike Lowry preaches at service

The Black Methodists for Church Renewal performed during a special worship service at the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session.
By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor

Bishop Mike Lowry of the Fort Worth Episcopal Area told United Methodists gathered at the June 10 worship service inside the Selena Auditorium of the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi that they have “taken Aqaba.”

He was referring to a battle during World War I, when Aqaba controlled the northern approaches to the Suez Canal. At the time it was considered impassable and unapproachable—a game changer in the war. After a battle, a man named Lawrence traveled across the Sinai Peninsula with a bodyguard to personally inform the British Army in Cairo that Aqaba had fallen.

“It was our vision as Methodists to reform the continent, and today we’d say the world, and spread Scriptural holiness across the land,” Lowry said. “I submit that we have taken Aqaba.

“We have taken Aqaba with ministries that reach out to the hurting and homeless,” Lowry said, “with sites that have this grand sweep and venue for lobbying love and justice and mercy in the halls of Congress and America. We’re engaged in taking Aqaba across our world through four focus areas and a dedicated commitment to end malaria and AIDs.

“We’re committed to reaching out and combating poverty, not for the poor but with the poor. We are sold out to developing a new generation of leaders as we taken Aqaba. And we’ve committed to new places for all people. We have so taken Aqaba today that we are planting churches in regions of the world in places that are hard to understand.”

Lowry said one of the biggest indigenous churches was in China and was begun with Methodist missionaries.

But Aqaba, he said, is a metaphor for the situation in which the Methodist Church finds itself.

“Don’t miss it,” Lowry said. “We’ve taken Aqaba. But the struggle continues. The war goes on. We’ve taken Aqaba, but war still rages around our world. The struggle against terror and disease still haunts our world.

“If it isn’t the evident stuff of racism and colonialism, if it isn’t the reality of war and conflict that still rages across our world, if it isn’t that, then we know what it’s like to live with massive greed and hedonism, struggling to claim the throne of our lives. Does it settle on you like it settles on me?”

“Of what do we speak? We speak of an almost-forgotten doctrine. It’s the doctrine of sin, as embarrassing as it is, as modern as we would like to claim to be, the doctrine of sin is alive and well in our world today, and, I’ve got to own it, it’s alive and well in me. It’s there in greed, racism, hedonism, sexism, colonialism, a host of different ways and settings. It’s there in plain, simple indifference.”

He said the “strategic situation” has changed decisively in Jesus Christ, and now we live beyond that strategic situation to “offer the drink that alone truly quenches the deepest thirst.”

The call to which Paul bids us come, Lowry said, is to preach Christ crucified.

“We absolutely know the greatest way to share the gospel is when we interweave together with the proclamation of Christ with deeds of love and mercy and justice,” Lowry said. “when we name the name, do the deed and live the way.

“We live beyond Aqaba. The strategic situation has changed decisively. Now it’s our time to share Let the work of Paul settle into the essence of your being.”

The Rev. Kim Cape preaches at Opening Eucharist service
By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor

It’s no secret that The United Methodist Church has seen steady decline over the last few decades, said the Rev. Kim Cape, general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Cape spoke June 8 during the opening eucharist and memorial service of the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session.

Our focus, she said, needs to be on nurturing vital congregations.

To create vital congregations “who claim this world for Christ, we do what Wesley would do,” Cape said.

“We sing,” she said. “We sing hymns and songs that teach theology, that enlighten the spirit and the mind. We pray that God will change our hard hearts and our harder heads.

“I believe we have the resources to do what God calls us to do. We must reclaim our genius. Methodists lead with grace, not guilt. We combine head, heart and hands better than anybody. Our gift is proclaiming God’s grace to a hurting world.”

Vital congregations don’t just happen, Cape added. They take disciplined leaders—both lay and clergy members—in partnership with the holy spirit to create vital congregations.

“We should ask God to show us for whom his heart burns and listen to the answer,” and then pray for the holy spirit to make our hearts burn for them too, she said.

Wesley, she said, would “do hospitality so radically that it turns into evangelism.” He would “go where the people are.” He set an example in getting out in the community, where the “hurting people” were.

State leaders in Texas, she said, figure out how many prisons are needed based on the reading level of the state’s fourth graders.

What if some “good Methodist people” decided it would be their congregation’s goal that every first grader would read with comprehension, and members spent three afternoons a week working with children.

“That would do lots of things,” Cape said. “It would give kids a chance at life, and the teachers and principals in that school might think, ‘These Methodists do give a damn. Maybe we should check them out.’

“Education fights poverty, drugs, unemployment, and did I say poverty? What does it take to be a vital congregation? It takes involvement in and caring for our communities. What better gift could you give a child than access to a productive life?”

Commission recommends a collaboration
By Rachel L. Toalson
Managing Editor

The Bishop’s Commission on Area Cooperative Ministries invited the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conferences to embrace a collaboration.

Representatives reported June 9 on the commission’s two years of research and discernment during the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session in Corpus Christi June 8-11.

Bishop Jim Dorff formed the commission in 2009. The commission was comprised of leaders from both conferences.

The commission, whose purpose was to examine whether both conference could be more effective together, was chaired by the Rev. Beverly Silas and the Rev. Ruben Saenz, new executive director of New Church Development and Transformation.

“We believe that to reach the field more effectively, we should be one church, one mission and one people,” Saenz said. “United Methodist in the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences are connected by a common heritage, location, mission field and belief in Jesus Christ.. We have the power of God to transform lives in the world.

“If we cannot embrace each other, how can we embrace those who live in our mission field? Now is the time to think of our differences not as a basis of division but as distinctive gifts we bring to our mission fields. Now is the time for both conferences to step toward each other, to be bound by Christian love, to step more fully into the world we are called to be in mission with.”


$50,000 awarded in Peace with Justice grants

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) has awarded grants totaling $50,000 to 18 Peace with Justice ministries. The grants are awarded in conjunction with the denomination’s Peace with Justice Sunday, which witnesses to God’s demand for a faithful, just, disarmed and secure world.

Peace with Justice Sunday, June 19 this year, is one of the six denomination-wide Special Sundays with offering. Established by the 1988 General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body, Peace with Justice Sunday supports programs that advocate peace and justice at home and around the world.

Half of the Special Sunday offering is retained in the annual conference to fund local peace with justice programs. Half is remitted to the General Board of Church & Society to help fund U.S. and global work in social action, public-policy education and advocacy.

Grant awards were determined by GBCS’s board of directors during its spring meeting at Florida Conference’s Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park.

Recipients comprised one Central Conference project and 17 in four of the five U.S. jurisdictions. The Northeastern Jurisdiction had one recipient, South Central two, Southeast five and North Central nine. The Central Conference award went to a youth-oriented project in the Philippines, and a Northern Illinois award is for a ministry in South Sudan. The Southwest Texas Conference did not receive any grants this year.

San Antonio District
Carl Rohlfs

Kathy Kafora
Admin. Assistant

Terry McCandless
Program Director

16400 Huebner Road
San Antonio, TX 78248

District Office           Program Office
(210) 408-4520           (210) 408-4533
                Fax: (210) 408-4521


District calender

18    Welcome Picnic, Bracken UMC, 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.

4     District Office Closed.

19    UM Night at the Missions! Watch for further details.

5      District Office Closed.
13    Interpretation of the Bible class, UM Center, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Victoria District
Terrence Hayes

Linda Curl
Admin. Assistant

Judith Johnson
Program Director

Lori Koonce
District Editor

5606 N. Navarro, Ste. 217
Victoria, TX 77904

District Office               Program Office
(361) 573-4233            (361) 573-4233
               Fax: (361) 573-4392


District calendar

23-25    Bishop’s week at Mt. Sequoya.
26-30    Sr. High Youth Summer Camp, Cathedral Oaks.

4          Holiday, Office Closed.
3-9       UM Army, Ganado First UMC.
12        Trustees, Cathedral Oaks, 1 p.m.
10-14    UM Army, Cathedral Oaks.
17-23    UM Army, First UMC, Port Lavaca
25-27    District Jr. High Camp, Cathedral Oaks.

15-18    Mt. Sequoia Boot Camp
23         Pastors & Professionals, 9:30 a.m.
24-28    Cabinet Retreat, Corpus Christi.