Leaders vote to move toward unification
The Rev. Karen Horan, pastor of Gruene UMC, leads a presentation on unification during the Rio Grande Conference’s annual conference session.Resolution to unify will be taken to South Central Jurisdictional Conference
By Rachel L. Toalson
One church. One ministry. One people.
In a historic decision, the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conferences voted during their separate annual conferences to present a unification resolution to this year’s South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July.
If approved by the Jurisdictional Conference, the resolution would unify both conferences and create one brand new conference.
Votes in the Rio Grande Conference were: 142 yes, 47 no and two abstentions. Votes in the Southwest Texas Conference were: 813 yes, 111 no, 11 abstentions.
“I am very glad that both conferences overwhelmingly approved our proposal to take it to the Jurisdictional Conference,” said Jose Palos, co-chair of the Unification Steering Team (UST), which drafted the resolution after a year of research, discussion and feedback sessions. “We are very encouraged that both conferences saw this as an opportunity to respond to the challenging mission field that is before us by agreeing to work much more seriously in doing this together.”
“The strong affirmative vote of both conferences of the San Antonio Episcopal Area gives us strong evidence of God’s will for our future together,” said Byrd Bonner, other co-chair of the UST. “We now enter a time of discernment for God’s path forward for us. We will need to begin with attention to continuing to build a deep and abiding trust between our leaders, our conferences and our people. The journey of the Unification Steering Team took some surprising yet decisive turns during our months of work, including a call to repentance, acceptance and reconciliation.
“Our journey must continue and expand on that path so that whatever design might be eventually proposed will be one borne of our devotion to God, our trust in one another and our commitment to those who have not yet found their way into our pews. Blessings always come with responsibility; the blessing that will flow to us from these votes will be no exception.”
Bishop Jim Dorff said that God will continue to lead the conference leaders in this process.
“We begin now the conversations necessary to work together toward the creation of a new conference,” Dorff said. “We will look together for a new conference for a new day for the 21st century in the San Antonio Area as we move into this new area of our common life together.”
Next steps, pending South Central Jurisdictional Conference approval, include setting up a design team to explore what the “bold new conference” would look like, Bonner said.
Both conference will need to continue focusing “on the mission field that God has called” them to reach and serve as the details of unification are worked out.
“A new team will be formed that we hope will always keep the mission field as the main reason for the work that they will be doing,” Palos said. “The new team can expect challenges as the details are worked on and negotiated, but all of us must continue to seek the guidance of our Lord every step of the way.”
The UST, named in August by Dorff, had its first meeting on two consecutive weekdays in September of 2011. The team led listening sessions early this year to gather feedback from members of both conferences.
It was a unanimous decision to bring the resolution before both the Rio Grande and the Southwest Texas Conference annual conference session, Bonner said.
But in addition to the steps toward unification, he said, the conferences will also take steps toward reconciliation with one another—which became apparent to UST members in late winter and early spring.
“There was an immediate focus on the need for genuine and authentic repentance and acceptance of repentance toward reconciliation,” he said. “The UST is committed to traveling the road of repentance and reconciliation.
“All on the steering team said we have some work to do that doesn’t have anything to do with these human spreadsheets,” Bonner said. “What is in our hearts is much harder for us to deal with.”
During its nine months of research, the UST focused on three questions: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? Who is God calling us to be?
Delegates at both the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conference annual conference sessions take time to pray for God’s discernment before voting whether or not to take a unification request to Jurisdictional Conference.Palos said they turned their focus to the “people who are not with us yet but to whom God has called us to reach out.”
“That means change,” he said. “Brothers and sister, it means change. Change is never easy. It’s not going to be easy. I’m not going to cover that up. If we’re serious about unifying, we need to think about whether we are willing to change—our mindset, our attitudes, the way we work, the way we do our ministry in the local churches, in our local communities.
“I believe very seriously that if we do not change, we will all sink together. That’s what this group, this steering team, has been wrestling with. God is calling us, urging us, giving us the opportunity to change so that we can reach out to those whom God loves and cares for.”
Bonner said the team looked at other conferences that have gone through similar situations—but this one was different because of the factor of race and ethnicity, “the way that racism has played out in our common life together in the San Antonio Episcopal Area.
Karen Horan, a member of the UST said that members began to think about what both conferences needed to do to reach “fourth chair” people.
There are always first chair people, she said—those who have been in the church all their lives, who’ve been in The United Methodist Church for generations, ones who “only really know how it has been.”
Then there are the second chair people, who may be newer or slightly younger, who love the church and feel responsible for the building and the finances, who are, perhaps, “preservation people,” she said.
And then there are the third chair people, who are making their way in, who were, perhaps, born into the church or are new to the area and maybe even United Methodism, those who are “invited to the table but oftentimes asked to remain quiet for a while.”
And then there are the fourth chair people.
“Fourth chairs are reserved for those who are not yet at the table, for those we need to think about, pray about, remember,” Horan said. “They may be those on the other side, maybe even right outside our doors. The challenge has been that those at the table don’t often leave room for the fourth chair. How do we know who they are if we don’t leave the building or the table to go find the fourth chair people? How do we listen to them and love them if we stay huddled around the table ourselves?
More than 60 percent of us don’t do fourth chair ministry very well. We’re not remembering or praying for or listening to or inviting fourth chair people. We have not been loving those people right on the other side. We have not been very obedient in going. It hung over us, and we repented. We literally got down on our knees one day and prayed.”
She invited members of the conference to do the same.
Rachel Wright, a member of the UST, said both conferences have the opportunity to “enter into the sacred, mysterious, painful process” of loving and caring for the people they haven’t yet met.
“We are being asked to fall in love with all the people in our mission field that we don’t even know, to make room for and minister to strangers,” she said. “If we invite them, they will minister to us.”
Bonner reiterated that this change will not be easy.
“I hope you’ve never heard that in any of the listening or information sessions about this proposal,” he said. “This is going to take a lot of work, and it is going to change us.”
Both conferences cast their votes during their separate annual conference sessions, and the ballots were collected and sealed until the close of the Rio Grande Conference’s annual conference session. Bishop Dorff announced the results of the voting in a video that’s posted here.
People of the Southwest Texas Conference face a vital call
Friends in Christ,
May God be given great glory for the recently completed sessions of the Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Annual Conferences. The presence of the Holy Spirit was among us in unmistakable ways. We learned, worshipped, talked, celebrated, ordained, deliberated and voted. From Wesley’s time the Methodists have been regularly called to a period of Holy Conferencing. It seems to me that our conferencing was, indeed, holy. For this blessing I give God thanks and the members of the conferences thanks.
We have been in ongoing conversations in this Episcopal Area for the past several years regarding the possibilities of creating a “Culture of Growth.” These conversations have taken many forms in many different places. Laity and clergy, individuals and groups have taken part. To grow is to move. It is to emerge. It is to look ahead. It is to remain connected to the vine and to bear fruit. To grow in grace and the love of Christ is to allow him to lead us. To grow is to trust in the future, not fear it for it is of God.
Brothers and sisters, hermanos y hermanas, the San Antonio Episcopal Area, through its two annual conferences, has taken a major step toward making the creation of this culture a reality. In overwhelming numbers both conferences voted to ask the Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in July, for their approval for the creation of one new conference in this Area. As we grow into God’s future in this Area we shall move together as one in Christ. A very significant step. One that has been discussed for years. One that will now become the foundation of our growth in mission and ministry.
There are many questions to be answered. Much work in preparation to be done. But the seeds have been sown. The ground is prepared. The soil is rich. Our Lord called upon his disciples to follow, to work and to allow the Spirit to bring forth the harvest. We are in a season of growth. Led by the Holy Spirit.
As we thank God for all the ways that the Spirit has used us in the past, may we not fear the future. Rather, may we enthusiastically embrace it. For all that grows there is no spirit of timidity or fear but one of power and love. I look forward to our common growth into God’s future. It is what we do as Christians.
Gracias a Dios.
And now the real work begins: life after General and Annual conferences
Unification: The strong vote by both Southwest Texas Conference and Rio Grande Conference members to approve the proposition of creating a new conference is a real testament to the hard work done by the joint committee that led the effort, chaired by Byrd Bonner and Jose Palos. They, along with their committee members, did everything possible to ensure that everyone in both conferences knew the ins and outs of the decision to be made, and it obviously paid off. Congratulations, and thank you to Byrd, Jose and all of the committee.
General Conference 2012: The smoke is still clearing from the tense and troubled ending to last month’s meeting in Tampa, and I’m still processing it myself. One key fact learned from it all, at least for me, is that we treasure our “big tent” approach to working through big decisions, and if anyone appears not to have been included a discussion will ensue over whether the decision must be delayed. Some people tend to brush that off as our tendency to want to study everything just a few more years before finally acting, but I think it is more than that.
We have worked hard since the ‘60s to help mend the United States social fabric with regard to gender and racial equality and social justice issues. I believe the United Methodist Church has made a difference in those areas but that we tend to kid ourselves about how deeply we have carried through change in race and gender relations in our own churches. We cannot claim to have made a difference nationally and be satisfied with maintaining our voluntarily-segregated local churches and limited placements available to female senior pastors. The Southwest Texas Conference can be rightly proud of some of its accomplishments in those areas, but we are just above average, not stellar. Ask yourself next Sunday, as you look around your congregation, who is not here because they might not feel welcome or at ease in our midst? I challenge you to find those people and bring them with you to church soon.
A Global Church: The Southwest Texas Conference has reached out to parts of the world beyond our English-speaking comfort zones, but we could do more! As we build our new conference, we need to start with a conscious effort to go southward to all the areas of this hemisphere in which we can have a real impact for Christ now, especially because there are so many Spanish-speaking nations within our reach. Our opportunities to reach more unchurched sisters and brothers within the current borders of the Southwest Texas Conference will still be there for us, and one hope we have out of the unification work is that we will have new energy around carrying the Gospel story to those who live among us. In short, our new conference will be special in many ways, not the least of which will be our placement on the very front line of this markedly-bilingual area of the world. Let us not be limited by the walls of our sanctuaries! Blessings, brothers and sisters, as you carry the message to others.
Bishop Jim Dorff tells ordinands to pack their bags
Bethany Graham gets ordained as a deacon in full connection during an ordination service June 9.By Rachel L. Toalson
Bishop Jim Dorff told the 27 candidates who were ordained and commissioned as full elders or deacons at a special ordination service June 9 to make sure they had their bags packed.
“This journey will take you in some very strange places,” Dorff said. “What matters is what God does through you. What matters is not what happens to you or where you go in your journey. What matters is how the spirit lives and moves and works in and through you.”
The service was part of the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session June 4-7 in the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.
Dorff told the story of being a pastor in his mid-30s and having to spend most of his time visiting hospitals—which he truly enjoyed. But he had an experience that he’s never forgotten—entering a hospital room where he had to visit with a family that had a 2-year-old child who had fallen into their pool.
He still remembers, he said, because he and his wife, Barbara, had a 2-year-old child at the time.
“Now, I gotta tell you, I went into that room as a professional, trained, committed, ordained pastor,” Dorff said. “I want to tell you, I got out of that room as fast as I could. I thought I was going to faint. When I got out into the hallway, I gathered myself, and I said to myself, ‘Self, are you sure you want to do this?’ I did. And I do.
“But this is not all peaches and cream you’re getting into.”
He shared a text from Acts 21—a book he “very seldom” finds himself “wandering around in,” Dorff said. But the text captured him.
Paul was heading to Jerusalem, and he finds himself “among good friends,” and his good friends say to him, “Don’t do it. Don’t go,” Doff said. Paul takes it in, but one of the prophets grabs Paul’s belt and takes it off and then stretches himself out on the ground and ties himself up with Paul’s belt.
The prophet, Dorff said, tells Paul that if he goes to Jerusalem, he will end up all tied up. And Paul says, “So?”
“And he goes on further to say, to this man and to all those around, ‘You are looking at it the wrong way,’” Dorff said. “Because, you see, what all this is about is not what happens to me. What all this is about is what God does through me.
“That’s what this is about. Nothing more, nothing less. There will be times, my brothers and sisters, that you do not know what God is doing. And I want to tell you as you get into this, it is possible that you may end up in Jerusalem, First Church. You might. Doesn’t matter. It does not matter. What matters is what the spirit does through you. Don’t ever forget that. If you do, you will be the one who’s lying on the ground tied up.”
General Conference 2012 includes the best and worst of times
By Rachel L. Toalson
It was the best of times and the worst of times—General Conference 2012.
Delegates to the 2012 General Conference session shared a roundup of the happenings during the 2012 Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session in June.
Jay Brim, conference lay leader and General Conference delegate informed Southwest Texas leaders about his committee’s work on restructuring and the organization of the general agencies of the church.
Proposals to combine general agencies had extensive research, he said, but none of them passed.
“We began the last week of General Conference with a sad mood that we hadn’t been able to do what we thought was the major task of the conference,” Brim said.
A small group had produced a compromise to the proposals that did not pass, and General Conference delegates approved it with a 60-percent vote, after two hours of debate on the floor. It would have trimmed the general agencies down to only five, under a new General Council for Strategy and Oversight, Brim said.
“We were all extremely happy when we were able to pass that and felt we were going to move the church forward with a more streamlined and well aligned way to do church,” Brim said.
Then one of the delegates asked that it be reviewed by the judicial council to see if it was constitutional, and the judicial council found that the plan was unconstitutional and unsalvageable.
Brim said that over the next four years, the committee will look at it again and find a “way to do it with a unified front” before the session in 2016.
During the conference, Brim said, he gave his Stetson hat to one of the African delegates, and the man brought him a “lovely coat” made form the material from which all their delegates had shirts. The Rev. Laura Merrill, McAllen District superintendent, had the cloth made into bags that were sold during the annual conference session to raise money for Imagine No Malaria.
The Rev. Eradio Valverde, Corpus Christi District superintendent, said his committee’s meetings didn’t take as long as some of the others, and he was able to enjoy the beach and other sights in Florida, where the General Conference session happened. He was on the discipleship committee.
His committee did bring a proposal to change “lay speaker ministries” to “lay servant ministries,” and it was passed.
“I have to confess, I immediately said, ‘No way,’” Valverde said. “As a pastor and a district superintendent, I’m aware of and blessed by the work done by those who are certified lay speakers.”
He said some of the other conferences had already changed the name to lay servant, mainly because “when people see speaking they relate to the number one fear of humans—public speaking.”
So the name was changed.
“It’s still going to be the same important ministry but with a different name,” Valverde said.
Teresa Keese, a lay delegate from First UMC, Brady, said her committee—the financial administrative legislation committee—met for long hours. She was involved in the new legislation that would be considered for the Board of Pensions.
She said the general board put together a sustainability advisory group that came back to the Board of Pensions with a plan that was a 15-percent reduction in cost.
“It’s not fun to try to reduce a pension plan,” Keese said. “But it was something that was necessary for the sustainability of the future of our denomination.”
The plan is a restated clergy retirement security plan that is a reduced defined benefit portion, Keese said, a defined contribution portion and now a matching portion.
General Conference also approved a half- and three-quarter-time coverage for pension and benefits that is optional for churches to provide. The Southwest Texas Conference will have to vote on it sometime in the next year. The option “gives more appointment options for part-time clergy,” she said.
A program was also developed that provides severance pay, through conference approval, for clergy members who surrender their credentials.
Delegates also passed a budget that was reduced by 6 percent, which leaves “more dollars for the local church and the annual conferences to use for mission and ministry in our areas,” Keese said.
Some of the greatest blessings, she said, were spending time with delegates, especially the international ones.
“I was inspired by their energy and excitement,” she said. “There is pure faith and concern for the future of The United Methodist Church worldwide.”
Sarah Howell, who attended General Conference for the first time, said it was a complicated experience for her—full of hopes and disappointments, words that did harm and ones that healed. It was both “exasperating and exhilarating.”
“One of the things that make us United Methodists is we are truly a connectional church,” Howell said. “I experienced the most incredible worship services and took part in shaping the future of my beloved church. This, combined with the incredible work we’re doing, gives me hope.
“How was it? Complicated. But was it worth it? Absolutely, in every way.”
Ralph Thompson, a lay delegate from Grape Creek UMC, San Angelo, said two prevailing motivations seemed to guide a lot of the decision making.
“There appeared to be fear of change, fear of difference, fear of everything that is different from what we were used to seeing,” Thompson said. “The counterpart was frustration—frustration on behalf of the young people, of the central conferences, those of us who sympathize with so much of what the church should be and could be.
“I don’t think we can legislate evangelism. It is something we have to feel in our hearts, something we have to want to share with joy. It is something that draws us closer together, rather than dividing us in the legislative setting. I ask us to be mindful and prayerful of who we can be as the church of Jesus Christ so we can spend time reaching out and not protecting that which is within.”
Merrill said she served on the committee that talked about the security of appointment, and there is a replacement of that called transitional leave.
“What had been a fairly complicated process of bringing charges against a pastor for certain offenses has been simplified,” she said. Transitional leave for pastors, as I interpret it, is for pastors who find themselves in a place where there are more preachers than there are places or where the match is not exactly what it should be.
“There is a fear that cabinets will start parking people in transitional leave, but there is reporting cabinets have to do on the Board of Ordained Ministry for the people they put on it.”
She said the leave is approved just like medical leave, and there’s “a lot of transparency built into it.”
General Conference, she said, had its share of division, but, with a few exceptions, she found holy conferencing to be happening.
“Maybe it’s because I wanted it to be true,” Merrill said. “I saw it in people’s faces—authentic respect for one another. I felt touched. I felt that those conversations that were authentic and respectful were a gift of God to me, and it indicated to me that God was in our midst and in the midst of our division and our diversity.
“That, for me, is a hopeful thing. It is, for me, enough to be able to continue. I don’t pretend that divisions don’t matter. I don’t pretend that we don’t have a lot of work to do before we meet again in four years. But I sure want to find hope.”
1,350 delegates meet for annual conference session
About 1,350 lay and clergy delegates met June 7-10 for the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.By Rachel L. Toalson
This year’s annual conference session will go down in history.
More than 800 of the 1,350 lay and clergy delegates voted to present the to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July a resolution to unify the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conferences and create one brand new conference—something for which some conference leaders have been praying for 30 years or more.
If the Jurisdictional Conference approves the resolution, both conferences would be in conversations about what that new conference would look like, said Byrd Bonner, co-chair of the Unification Steering Team, which developed the resolution during a year-long process of research, presentations and discussions.
The affirmative vote was part of the Southwest Texas annual conference session June 7-10 inside the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi. About 1,350 lay and clergy delegates attended.
Pending approval at Jurisdictional Conference, a design team, comprised of representatives from both conferences, will be formed to begin determining what the new conference will look like, said Bishop Jim Dorff. Voting has only just begun, he added.
Because the unification issue was such a prominent one during this year’s annual conference session, Dorff said another short “conference” session will happen Jan. 26 at University UMC, San Antonio, where the Annual Conference Council on Ministries will be invited to share the year’s activities and other business can be discussed.
“We believe that will be a tremendous way to start the new year and a way for groups to have time to let us know what they’re doing,” he said. “They are of tremendous significance, and you need to know about their work so you can interpret and celebrate that in your various churches.”
Top left: The Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session began with a memorial service June 7 inside the Selena Auditorium of the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi. Top right: During a unification persentation, delegates were asked to pray about God’s will for the Southwest Texas Conference. Bottom: Delegates attend a question-and-answer session about unification.
This year’s conference session had more lay members attend than clergy members, said the Rev. David Seilheimer, conference secretary and treasurer. Much of that is due to pastors being in other places or unable to attend because of illness, he added.
Membership stands at 116,919, down 1,814 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 46,548 weekly, down 988 from the previous year. Church school attendance stands at 17,059 weekly, down 1,609 from the previous year.
Twenty-seven people were ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership. Seventeen clergy members retired.
The Rev. Eradio Valverde, Corpus Christi District superintendent, was endorsed for episcopacy.
Joe Vasquez of the conference Council on Finance and Administration, said the churches in the Southwest Texas Conference gave more than $12 million directly to United Methodist connectional causes last year.
“We gave thousands more to support our people who were involved in the fires around Austin,” he said. “We gave thousands upon thousands of hours helping the poor, the displaced and those in need. More thousands of dollars went directly to Imagine No Malaria. Thousands of dollars were given for supplies for buildings, clothing and food. Lives were saved. Imagine No Malaria alone has helped reduce the annual death toll, especially among children, by more than 345,000 souls a year.
“Having said that, lives have been changed. People from across Texas were fed in our food pantries, homes were built and rebuilt and people’s lives that were upended in the wildfires were assisted. Our lives were changed. We became different people as we looked beyond ourselves to the needs of others.”
Vasquez reported that the calculation of apportionments had no change from last year. Salaries were also maintained at the same level.
Guest speakers included Gil Rendle, a senior consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation; Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, bishop of the Phoenix Area; and the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace Church in Florida.
Carcaño talked to delegates about the importance of caring for the needy.
“Love, mercy and compassion, especially as we extend them to those most in need, are the evaluative tools of the reign of God and Christ’s own dashboard of the report of who is journeying with him and who is not,” she said. “ ‘When you did one of these to the least of these, you did that to me as well,’ that is Christ’s report back to us. How are we doing?”
Top: The Rev. Cynthia Kepler-Karrer participates in the wellness health screen at the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session. Bottom: The Rev. Rusty Teeter leads a morning worship service on the shore of the beach in Corpus Christi during the Southwest Texas Conference’s annual conference session in June.She said that many delegates left General Conference 2012 feeling a little fearful, paralyzed, directionless, unable to chart the way forward.
“But the way forward has been charted, the direction has been set and our fear can be banished and the paralysis has been healed,” Carcaño said. “We take our struggles of The United Methodist Church as a sign that God is still at work among us, a God who loves us and wants to save us—save us not for a superficial and ultimately meaningless life but for a deep and meaningful life that will bind us to each other.
“God wants to save us, our individual and collective souls, from self obsession to outward living because it is what does us good. Jesus was serious when he said, ‘It is in losing your life that you will gain your life.’ He was serious when he said, ‘I have come to serve, not to be served.’ He was serious when he said, ‘The last will be first and the first will be last.’ He is trying to save us when he says, ‘Feed the hungry.’
“It is when we live this way, the way of Christ-centered love, that we will see Jesus and faithfully be, with Christ, one ministry, growing the church.”
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace Church in Florida, talked to delegates about evangelism during two worship services.
“If a pudgy Puerto Rican in Southwest Florida, a redneck city, can lead a prevailing church that was ready to close and now is vital and vibrant and, as we’re sitting here folks are coming to know Jesus, it can happen anywhere,” Acevedo said. “We serve the God who can do anything.”
He told delegates that their churches should be a whoever-will-come, whenever-they-come kind of church.
“Here’s a church growth principle: If Jesus will show up in your church, a crowd will show up in your church,” Acevedo said. “Might it be the reason folks don’t show up in our church is that Jesus doesn’t show up? There’s a difference between Jesus’ presence and his power. There were places he couldn’t perform miracles, and my fear is that the churches have become places where that happens.
“When Jesus shows up, the people nobody else wants or sees wills how up at your church. Is my church a whoever-will-come kind of church? Am I a whoever-will-come follower of Jesus? Do you love your music and liturgy, your precious parlor and carpet more than you love people? Do you love church nice and comfortable for you because it’s all about me?
“It ain’t about you and it ain’t about me. It’s about him and lost people.”
Acevedo said that churches that meet the needs of people will have those people beating their doors down.
“But if the only door open is Sunday morning worship, good luck,” he said. “Most of our churches suffer from spiritual malpractice, offering Jesus the healer without offering the people, the places and the processes for healing. Don’t open the trash can lid unless you’re willing to stay there and help them clean it up.
“We are in the business of being conduits of his grace, and people in need are crazy about Jesus. They just don’t know it yet. We need to introduce people to the Savior because the Savior still saves.”
Gil Rendle, a senior consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation, talked to delegates about traveling through the wilderness—comparing this time in The United Methodist Church to the time the Israelites were wandering and came to the Red Sea.
“This is where all the fun is,” Rendle said. “It’s in the wilderness that God forms and reforms God’s people. It’s in the wilderness that we get changed.
“For you and I to be in the wilderness is to walk in with the kind of courage that doesn’t know that God is going to intervene. This wilderness we are living into is one that will challenge us but one we cannot escape. This is where the fun begins for the people who are relating to a living Christ.”
He said we must start “getting used to the wilderness God has led us into” because it changes us—but it also takes time.
“The first step in our transition into the wilderness is to let go of what we have been holding onto for so long,” Rendle said. “This is not a world where people join anymore. This is a world where people participate. If we do not let go, we cannot move on. This is the most painful work of being in the wilderness.
“We don’t know how to make disciples. I was not trained to make disciples. Disciples are changed people who have a changed relationship with Christ, a changed relationship with their families, their community, their world. I was not trained to change people’s lives. I was trained to change their affiliation. I was trained to make them members, not disciples.”
He said that one of the things about the wilderness is “you have to go into the wilderness before you can know the details.”
“What if God’s dream is bigger for you and me than we already know, and what if we take a couple of steps in that direction to find out what’s there without knowing all the answers?” Rendle said. “One of the things we have to let go of is certainty. Wandering demands that we trust God. Wandering requires us to trust God.”
Ellen Ely of the Board of Pensions reported that this season is one of pause in healthcare because “denominational policy will influence benefit plans in the future.” A change in one plan, she said, can affect another, especially in the area of funding. The next three years will likely have “several benefit changes simultaneously that will be challenging to implement.”
She added that health costs have increased significantly for medical services, which is partially why the Board of Pension implemented Cost Plus in 2011—which helps insurance companies audit providers, especially hospitals, for the bills that are received.
Claims spiked in 2011 and 2012, and board members don’t know why, Ely said.
“We don’t know if this is a trend increase or an anomaly, so we’re a little nervous about that as well,” she said. “Funding the pension plan in the long terms is an issue.”
The board is also concerned about how federal legislation has impacted and will impact the health care plan in the future, she added.
“We’ve already implemented several changes in the way of wellness and preventative care to help you own health care,” she said. “We’re carefully watching the outcome of the healthcare repeal, since it can significantly change the healthcare marketplace.”
The board was aware of overinflated hospital markup and “nontransparent pricing” in PPO networks, and they were losing their ability to audit claims to ensure they didn’t pay for things they did not receive, which is why Cost Plus was developed, Ely said.
Hospital providers have been charging 400-1,000 percent above the reported costs of treatment. Cost Plus, she said, “implements a more fair concept to the way a provider is paid, based on the hospital’s own reported cost of services.”
The problem comes when the Level 1 provider (hospitals) are not satisfied with the payment received, and sometimes they may balance bill the patients.
“The process requires more time and patience as it is resolved,” Ely said. “Participants have expressed frustration, stress, and concerns over negative credit reports.”
But the program is working, Ely said. The gross claim costs were about 40 percent higher, the plan costs were about 10 percent higher, but the participants costs were about 40 percent lower. The 2011 savings to participants was about $200,000 less, due to the Cost Plus program.
“I think we would have depleted our reserves if we had not made the change, given the spike in claims,” Ely said. “Cost Plus did deliver the savings we expected. We know it has been difficult, and, therefore, we have tried to implement some processes to improve our service.”
The agreement with Methodist Healthcare will continue this year—participants on the conference health plan do not have to pay a deductible when they use the Methodist Level 1 facilities in San Antonio.
During the session, Dorff urged church leaders to get involved with Imagine No Malaria. The Austin District led the effort in the conference, he said, and $20 million has so far been raised overall for the effort. About half the churches in the conference participate, he said.
The Austin District was selling toddler T-shirts to raise money for Imagine No Malaria. And the Rev. Laura Merrill, superintendent of the McAllen District, had some seamstresses make some fabric from Africa into some bags that were silent-auctioned off during the conference session.
“The need is ongoing,” Dorff said. “It’s a wonderful project for your churches to continue to stay connected to the persons who are part of our global mission field.
“This is not just raising money. This is, in fact, saving lives. What has happened is that through our systems in Africa, there are United Methodist Churches and their ecumenical partners that are delivering bed nets and other treatments to the places that have never had the opportunity to receive any of that.
When the project started four years ago, a child was dying every 30 seconds in Africa. As a result of the Imagine No Malaria work, a child is dying every 60 seconds now.
“This is a tremendous project having a tremendous effect,” Dorff said. “And the work is not done until we get to a point where no children are dying form this disease. I invite you to consider having a place in your church for this work.”
San Antonio District news
Decision to receive Jesus is first of many
Listening to Bishop Dorff’s sermon at our May Confirmation Rally at Northern Hills UMC, I reflected on how the initial decision to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is followed by countless subsequent decisions as one lives out Christian discipleship. It was a great and sacred time as 80+ Confirmands gathered with those – pastors, parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors and prayer partners - who support them in their decision to profess their faith.
The “first” decision in the life of a Christian is the decision to profess the faith. However, professing Christian faith is only the beginning and there follows countless additional decisions as we traverse the journey of moving on to perfection; of living a life that becomes the Gospel. The “first” decision imitates our journey; the subsequent decisions carry us forward and allow God’s hands to recreate us in the image of God. It is never one decision; it is always “Decision & Decisions”.
Confirmation is a Disciplinary requirement under the purview of each UM pastor appointed to a congregation. However, it is also one of the unique privileges of the office. I have often wished I could share Confirmation moments with others who observe, but not near as closely as a pastor. At the Confirmation Rally, I watched young disciples kneel in front of Bishop Dorff and look him eye-to-eye as he pronounced both blessing and challenge. Their eyes were wide and their heads bobbed agreement. Reading their eyes, I imagined their hearts touched and their souls shaped.
Rev. Carl Hohlfs addresses the 2012 Confirmands, families and friends.I watched pastors tenderly hosting their Confirmands before the Bishop. I watched tears flow from the eyes of adults – mothers, fathers, grandparents and congregational friends who obviously knew their respective Confirmand intimately. I watched Confirmands hold their Holy Land olivewood cross gently in their fingers and watched them hold their crosses forward for those loving adults to view them better.
One day the cross is a smooth piece of olive wood slung from a purple ribbon; another day it is a moment of sacrifice made to reflect the values of heaven practiced on earth; still another day the cross is the conviction to standing for justice while standing against popular opinion; and yet another day the cross is the anchor that holds me stout on a storm-tossed sea of life. All Christians have made the “first” decision; disciples keep making the next ones. Thanks be to God.
Bishop James Dorff shares with the 2012 Confirmation Class.Confirmation Celebration 2012
On May 19th, Confirmands from churches all around the San Antonio Episcopal area gathered to worship and celebrate. It represents the culmination of study and prayer that led each of them to a conscious decision to claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Northern Hills UMC and their pastor, Rev. Milton Lewis, hosted the event. The contemporary worship praise team served as worship leaders. As part of the worship service, Bishop James Dorff yoked each Confirmand with an olive wood cross from the Holy Lands to remind these young persons of the choice each has made to “take up their cross and follow Christ.” Amid the laying on of hands by all present, each Confirmand received a blessing and call to service from Bishop Dorff and District Superintendent Carl Rohlfs to go out into the world for the transformation of the world through Jesus Christ.
Victoria District news
Unification is a high calling from God
Not an article on District affairs.
A young ventriloquist is touring Sweden and, one night, he’s doing a show in a small fishing town. With his dummy on his knee, he starts going through his usual dumb blonde jokes.
Suddenly, a blonde woman in the fourth row stands on her chair and starts shouting, “I’ve heard enough of your stupid blonde jokes. What makes you think you can stereotype Swedish blond women that way? What does the color of a woman’s hair have to do with her worth as a human being?”
“Its men like you who keep women like me from being respected at work and in the community, and from reaching our full potential as people. It’s people like you that make others think that all Blondes are dumb! You and your kind continue to perpetuate discrimination against not only blondes, but women in general...pathetically all in the name of humor!”
The ventriloquist, embarrassed, begins to apologize, and the blonde yells:
“You stay out of this! I’m talking to that little creep on your lap.”
I am guilty of laughing at bad humor. The quick and the clever can summon my attention!
Before I was married I used to think that “mother-in-law jokes” were funny but I like my mother–in-law. And so when my Christian Faith kicked me in the dentures I no longer found blonde jokes, darkie jokes, gender jokes, dead baby jokes, race jokes, Bush jokes, President Obama Jokes, Romney Jokes, Mormon Jokes or put downs of any kind funny. [Pray for my full recovery!
It does not make me feel valued to laugh at other people’s misfortunes and/or handicapping conditions. especially politicians. I know the deal! I know the pain. I have been the only non-Korean in the room.
I believe that Unification in the United Methodist Church is a HIGH CALLING FROM GOD!
There will not be any needs for a Ventriloquists or Dummies!
And so, what does the color of a person’s hair, skin, faith, race, gender or gender preference have to do with the worth of a human soul? Absolutely nothing! Our God is a God of unity. Our faith tells us that OUR GOD IS THREE IN ONE AND WE ARE Privileged “TO BE GOD’s UNIFYING ARMY!”
Wings of the Morning Missionaries
Point Comfort UMC
Gaston and Jeanne Ntambo are UMC Missionaries from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Recently, they visited Victoria on their way to give a talk to Point Comfort UMC about the “Wings of the Morning” program. Joyce Brown and Lori Koonce brought them to First UMC Victoria where Rev. Jarrell Sharp and staff were happy to welcome them. Then Gaston and Jeanne were given a tour of Victoria’s historical areas, the park, and the rose garden.
Over dinner at Red Lobster Gaston and Jeanne gave Lori and Joyce a personal vision of missionary experiences in Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Wings of the Morning” is an aviation ministry supported by the United Methodist Church. Jeanne and Gaston serve God in an area of Africa where 6 million people live with no roads for transportation. Gaston pilots a small airplane while his wife, Jeanne, acts as his radio operator from the ground. Gaston brings hope to the critically ill and injured villagers as he evacuates them to health care facilities, or brings in medical supplies, bibles, payrolls, pastors and mission teams.
Gaston and Jeanne Ntambo will speak in churches throughout the USA on ways we can continue to make a “miracle” happen an ocean away.
Victoria Begins New Ministry
First UMC, Victoria
“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” I Corinthians 12
The Congregational Care Committee of Victoria First United Methodist Church provides special support to its members in times of need; they visit those who are homebound, in hospitals and nursing home, or those in a situation where a visit is appreciated.
The Flower Ministry was recently started when flowers from a memorial service were “re-gifted” to the church to bring joy to others. Members of the Congregational Care Committee and volunteers from the congregation are called when flowers from special services such as funerals, weddings, anniversaries, etc., are donated to the church. The floral arrangements are made into smaller bouquets and delivered to those in hospitals, nursing homes, homebound, and other various individuals. The committee is excited about this new ministry and asks the support of the congregation by bringing any used vases to the church and their prayers.
UMW Learns the Secrets of the
United Methodist Hymnal
On May 1 Nancy Childress from the Seadrift United Methodist Church took the members and guests of UMW, Victoria, through the UM Hymnal, explaining all the features. As we learned new hymns, we learned the reason they were written, how to find their author and composer, and how to locate other hymns with the same tunes. We learned that there are indexes to tell us how to find hymns related to certain scriptures or themes. Nancy demonstrated how to use the indexes of hymn meters and first lines of hymns. She reminded us that the Hymnal not only has hymns but services for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Death, as well as other services. Several Creeds concerning specific beliefs of United Methodist can be found in the back of the hymnal. Many long time United Methodists remarked how they had learned things they never knew about our hymnal. We are grateful to Nancy Childress for bringing us this program.
Contacts needed forSeveral series are planned for future issues of The United Methodist Witness, but we can’t write them without you! Please let us know if you have any contacts for the following themes:
future Witness series
Environmentalism—Is your church taking steps to care for the earth? We are in the brainstorming stage of a series that examines the conscious choices churches are making to “clean” up their practices and be better stewards of the planet.
Evangelism—This series will focus on the ways churches in our conference evangelize. What are the ways your church practices evangelism (old-fashioned door-to-door evangelism, serving-while-evangelizing, home-group evangelism)? Let us know!
Health and wellness—what does your church do to promote health and wellness (including physical health, financial health, spiritual health)? Contact us and let us know names of people in charge of ministries that promote wellness within members of your congregation.
Small churches—This series will focus on small churches, examining the challenges of two- and three-point charges, collecting dollars for ministry and keeping up membership numbers while celebrating the unique blessings that come with being a small congregation.
Please send all information to Rachel Toalson at email@example.com or call (210) 408-4524.
San Antonio District
16400 Huebner Road
San Antonio, TX 78248
Fax: (210) 408-4521
4 District Office closed for Independence day.
7 Vital Signs reports are due in to the District Office.
23 Deadline to order tickets for Missions Game and fireworks.
4 United Methodist Family night at the Missions, Fireworks after the game, 7 p.m.
7 Vital Signs reports are due in to the District Office.
5606 N. Navarro, Ste. 217
Victoria, TX 77904
Fax: (361) 573-4392
New District Web site
26 District Trustees, Cathedral Oaks, 1 p.m.