Eight members of First Church were among the 1500 lay and clergy delegates who attended the Rio Texas Annual Conference 2019 sessions in Corpus Christi from Wednesday-Saturday, June 5-8. They share their impressions here:

Special Events – Noble Doss
I particularly enjoyed two events, one for its specificity and the other for its general application.
The first was the 2019 Mission Breakfast entitled “Border Stories: Acompañimiento Along the Texas-Mexico Border.” The panelists were leaders of Mission Border Hope, Eagle Pass; Methodist Border Friendship Commission, McAllen; and San Antonio Justice for Our Neighbors. They specified, through personal witness, the unimaginable need, overwhelming odds, Spirit-filled workers, amazing optimism, and achievable places for us at FUMC to become involved with our Border brothers and sisters.
The second was the Annual Peace and Justice Dinner featuring Bishop Karen Oliveto from the Mountain Sky Conference, including 378 congregations in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Bishop Oliveto is married to Robin Ridenour, a deaconess in the UMC’s California-Nevada Conference. Her message spoke in general but with amazing passion about her dream that “we live into a beloved community….living boldly as the body of Christ…..loving so fully and completely that the neighborhoods surrounding our churches are utterly transformed by the love that spills out of our walls and into those communities.”

Teaching Sessions – Clay Daigle
Tom Berlin, author of Reckless Love – Jesus’ Call to Love Our Neighbor, taught an abbreviated version of his “Reckless Love” training series during the plenary sessions of Annual Conference. Tom developed the underlying framework of his message as he began to pay more attention to what Jesus did than what Jesus said. Where did He go? With whom did He eat? What Tom discovered was a Jesus who always went to the marginalized and the less valued. Jesus’ love crossed boundaries in ways that startled his disciples and incurred disapproval from religious leaders. If we want to live like Jesus today, we must recognize and remove the boundaries we ourselves have drawn. We must intentionally expand our circles to enable new ways for God to work through us. Such connections are possible if we root all our decisions and actions in deep love. Even small things like every email. Every Facebook post. Every encounter. By emulating the boundless, and boundary-less, love of Christ, we can bring about meaningful change and realize the Kingdom of Heaven in this life.

Plenary (Business) Sessions – Sharon Doss
Bishop Robert Schnase’s presentation on demystifying clergy appointments highlighted the UMC’s unique itinerant system for appointing clergy to congregations. In the Wesleyan tradition, UM pastors are “called to be sent.” The primary purpose that drives all appointments is the mission of the church, not making a pastor happy or a congregation content but matching clergy and congregation to unreached people in the community of the church. Bishop Schnase outlined nine additional appointment principles that guide these critical decisions. John Wesley thought that the “probability of doing more good by going thither than by staying longer where we are” reflected this “called to be sent” tenet. In that spirit, we rejoice that Michael is “going thither” to do even more good at Canyon Lake and that Taylor and Cathy are “staying longer” to do even more good with us!

Worship – Cindy Walter
As is so fitting, the Annual Conference of our Rio Texas Conference opened with worship on Wednesday evening, and closed with the ordination worship service on Saturday. The opening worship was led by Bishop Robert Schnase. He preached on the theme for the conference, “We make the path by walking ~ hacemos el camino al andar.” The singing was led by a praise choir from San Antonio. English and Spanish were spoken and sung in beautiful harmony throughout. Bishop Schnase pointed out that the Rio Texas Conference is the only bilingual conference in the United States. The Service of Remembrance was held on Thursday evening. Two of our own previous pastors were remembered in this service: Dr. Jack Heacock, and Rev. Lon Speer. The culmination of the Conference was the Commissioning and Ordination service on Saturday. The choir from St. John’s United Methodist in Austin provided inspiring music. Fourteen people were either commissioned or ordained. It was very moving to witness this diverse group of people united in committing themselves to serve God and God’s church with their whole selves. The sermon was given by four people from the conference, including a young woman in her teens, and the Bishop. They spoke on “A Life Worthy of the Calling: Prayers for Boldness and Joy, Voices From The Conference.”

Workshops – Lauren Perry
On Friday afternoon, all the delegates attended different workshop sessions. There were eight different sessions delegates could choose from that covered topics ranging from church growth to marketing to worship outside of church walls. I attended a workshop called “Border Realities and How to Respond.” The session was led by Dr. Robert Lopez, El Valle and Coastal Bend District Superintendent. Dr. Lopez recounted heartbreaking stories from migrants and refugees who had escaped unimaginable and life-threatening violence in their countries of origin only to be detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
We also learned about the UMC’s Migration and Refugee Response Ministries in the El Valle District. Churches can partner with the Humanitarian Respite Center (HRC) in McAllen and Good Neighbor Settlement House (GNSH) in Brownsville. Both of these organizations provide essential items, such as snack bags, clothes, and hygiene kits, to migrants and refugees who are beginning their journey north to await their court dates.
Lizzie Wright, the Executive Director of Justice for Our Neighbors in Austin, spoke about their ministry of providing free, high-quality immigration legal services to refugees and immigrants.
The most important takeaway from this session for me was our undeniable call as Christians and Methodists to affirm the dignity and worth of migrants and refugees.

Voting for General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegates – Rick Ortiz
What an honor it was to attend my second Annual Conference; the first where clergy and lay delegates for the General and Jurisdictional Conferences were selected. It was a great educational experience, and I am still soaking it all in!
The organization for electing clergy delegates appeared to be more structured than the election of lay delegates. I would assume this is largely due to the name recognition among fellow clergy.
In addition, I was very impressed by the level of negotiating that occurred, i.e. individuals supporting candidates would communicate to others to ultimately ensure those elected represented more progressive views over traditional views. Technology such as texting and visual charting also helped in making the delegate elections run smoother and more effectively.
Of course, there was a lot of drama that occurred to finally get to the final delegation, the majority being progressive.
I was proud to represent FUMC Austin and use my vote to hopefully change minds and broaden ideas.

Laity Session – Bob Garrett
At Thursday’s laity session, delegates heard from leaders of the Rio Texas Annual Conference’s lay leadership team, lay servant ministries, and participants in the deaconess and home missioner ministry, in which lay women and laymen are called to lifetime service with various of the United Methodist Church’s ministries. Teresa Keese and Abel Vega, who were among the Rio Texas Annual Conference’s lay delegates to the 2016 General Conference and 2019 Special General Conference, reported on those two gatherings. People aspiring to be lay delegates to the General Conference in Minneapolis, MN, May 5-15, 2020, and the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in The Woodlands, July 12-16, 2020, were allowed to step to the mic and state their names, home churches, and districts. No speeches were allowed because of lack of time. Still, the brief glimpse of the candidates was useful because voting began only a few hours later.

Other delegates from First Church were Sandy Wilder as well as Brooks Schuelke, Capital District Lay Leader, and Mary Faye Randolph, Capital District United Methodist Women President. Pastor Taylor and Pastor Cathy were there, of course – and we are delighted to report that Pastor Taylor was elected as a clergy delegate to General Conference 2020.
The entire group was pleased to represent our wonderful congregation by participating in the important work of the Annual Conference session, and would be glad to talk with any Sunday School class or other small group interested in learning more.