Annual Conference 2018
“Annual Conference” is the name given to the geographical region of United Methodism in which we find ourselves, in our case the Rio Texas Annual Conference, stretching from Pflugerville to Brownsville and San Angelo to Columbus. “Annual Conference” is also the name of the yearly several-day gathering of churches to conduct the business of the church, worship together, ordain pastors, and enjoy fellowship.
First Church was represented at Annual Conference sessions by our three pastors and by six lay delegates: Trevor Harper, Davis Covin, Noble Doss, Clay Daigle, Bob Garrett, and Sandy Wilder.
During Annual Conference from June 6-9 in Corpus Christi, we
- approved 2019 apportionments of $9,535,453 (including district ministries, general and jurisdictional apportionments, ministerial support, and other line items)
- ordained or commissioned 18 people
- recognized 29 retiring pastors, including former associate pastors (David Gilliam, Beverly Burk, and Bobbi Kaye Jones) and a former senior pastor (John Wright) at First Church
- attended two workshops of our choice, from among 12 topics
- voted on one amendment to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church
- heard a report from Bishop Schnase about the work of the Commission on a Way Forward
- amended our Standing Rules to create a new Young Adult Ministry Council
- approved changes to the conference’s Child, Youth, and Vulnerable Adult Safety Policy
- heard reports from Lydia Patterson Institute and Methodist Healthcare Ministries
- celebrated more than $900,000 raised from Rio Texas Conference churches for Hurricane Harvey relief
Below members of our delegation share their impressions of various parts of the Annual Conference experience.
Business Sessions and Workshops
By Noble Doss
As this was my second Annual Conference, I was more attuned to the “inner workings” of the meeting, in particular the business sessions. While usually predictable and non-confrontational, one topic (Child/Youth/Vulnerable Young Adult Safety Training) continued to draw discussion and motions to amend. This discussion revolved more around the time constraints of the mandatory training than the actual concept, with which all were in agreement. Suffice it to say, the training staff continues to tweak requirements and Rio Texas churches will all be “safe places” for our youth!
The break-out workshops provided excellent resources for delegates to “dip in” to topics of personal interest. I was most impressed with FUMC’s own Rev. Scott Heare (son of Patsy and Jerry), who provided excellent insight into establishing “satellite” congregations. He was recently assigned to lead Lake Travis UMC and we can be thankful that his ministry will expand to and be fruitful for that area of very rapid growth.
Finally, we were greatly blessed by our own Rev. John Wright’s passionate sermon at the Service of Remembrance. While I have heard his wonderful spirit in action many Sundays, this was, in my opinion, his penultimate message. He retires this year and will be missed but celebrated for his service to us all and to God.
By Clay Daigle
First, let me say that it was a fantastic adventure to join members of hundreds of different Methodist congregations for common worship. The worship styles variously complemented and clashed, the singing soared and lurched, the microphones crackled, the communion logistics required football helmets. I thought it was great. Freed from the burden of human perfection, worshipers laughed with each other, accommodated each other, prayed with each other, and focused on why we were all there. God was with us.
There were worship services in the evening on each of the first three days of Annual Conference. On Wednesday, Ben Trammell (@PastorTrammell) of University UMC in San Antonio preached at the Service of Word and Table; on Thursday, John Wright preached at the Service of Remembrance, held at First UMC of Corpus Christi; and on Friday, Bishop Reuben Saenz, now of the Great Plains Conference, preached at the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. In addition, Jarrel Wilson (@TheJarrel) preached at a sunrise service for Reconciling Ministries on Thursday morning and, though technically not a worship service, M Barclay (@mxbarclay) delivered searing conviction at Wednesday’s Methodists for Social Action (MFSA) luncheon. Three days. Five sermons. Countless stirrings of the soul.
There were a few consistent themes throughout the sermons, the most common of which was to Know. Your. Mission. Several pastors acknowledged that we live in an era of declining church membership; one called it a post-Christian era. But when the Church is no longer a default social institution and starts again being an outpost for God’s kingdom, we have the chance to ask hard questions: Why are we here? What is our mission? Not everyone’s mission is the same, and it is important for each of us to think about what we are called to do. When we know our mission, many things we worry about fall by the wayside. Mission provides energy and focus.
There were also disagreements across the sermons. Having the Commission on a Way Forward on the minds of attendees, some pastors called strongly for unity while others asked how unity can be valued above God’s call to end discrimination in all forms. It is a reminder of how much we need the Spirit to guide us toward a just future.
John Wright’s sermon was a special blessing [John is a former pastor at First Church]. You will be delighted to know that he featured a video (check!), singing (check!), and mentions both his mother (check!) and Kentucky (check!). The Service of Remembrance celebrates the lives of pastors and pastors’ spouses who have died in the past year. John reminded us not only to look back upon those who handed us the baton (yes, he handed out actual relay batons), but to also look ahead to those to whom we will hand our batons to continue the race once our part is done.
By Bob Garrett
As with almost any industrial or occupational convention of this size, Annual Conference has an exhibit hall. It hums with activity on opening day [Wednesday] and Thursday before breakdown commences after lunch on Friday.
Vendors sell jewelry, “scents,” wooden crosses, and finely crafted fireplace mantels. Water Tight Roofing, which had the UT Longhorn in its logo, was selling churches on the idea of replacing their roofs. Employees of Gruene Records sat under a banner that read, “Let’s make something.” Christian music is a good business.
“Clergy Spice,” a group of spouses and significant others of United Methodist clergy people, had a table. This September, the group is having a retreat at a Baptist encampment in Leakey, Texas.
One of the more striking booths was that of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. It tries to rally the church around collective justice causes. Across several tables and bookshelves, MFSA members brought to Corpus hundreds of lightly-used books about theology, scripture and Christian ethics. MFSA volunteers urged visitors to take one or more each.
By Davis Covin
The conference had a focus on the shift from attractional assumptions toward missional strategies. In the past, churches assumed that people would go to church if it provided excellent, welcoming worship services. Church pastors, delegates, and lay leaders will learn the importance of taking the Christian faith out into their networks and neighborhoods. During our plenary sessions, Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey was the special guest for this year and presented about ways to be more missional.
Kibbey serves as West Ohio Conference’s Director of Missional Church Initiatives. She also served for ten years as the Executive Pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, OH. She partnered with lead pastor Mike Slaughter to engage and expand the congregation’s missional involvement to include deep discipleship and global impact. Her latest book is Flood Gates: Holy Momentum for a Fearless Church, and much of the teaching portions of the plenary sessions were from Kibbey’s book. She included videos and personal stories highlighting churches that have seen growth and transformation after taking the new approach with a focus on local missions in the community instead of relying on more traditional methods of recruiting new members.
By Trevor Harper
Some of the most special moments I experience at Annual Conference happen outside of the plenary floor and in small groups, gatherings, and lunches with brothers and sisters from across the conference. This year’s MFSA Peace & Justice Luncheon was no exception. Delegates and members from across the conference gathered to hear from featured guest speaker, Reverend M Barclay, who set the room on fire with the Holy Spirit. As a non-binary, bisexual, transgender person of faith, their spiritual journey began in Austin but took them far from home in order to fulfill her calling. M’s perspective on the issues facing our Church and the grace they have shown facing them, provided an invaluable context for those in the room and an empathy they can carry into further conversations. It was a blessing to be present.
From UMW Luncheons to Mission Breakfasts, these special gatherings outside of the motions and business of the conference enable delegates to explore the issues facing our denomination and our society. Together we can discuss solutions, celebrate accomplishments, catch up on busy years gone by, and enjoy the fellowship that brought us all into the church to begin with.