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HURRICANE RESPONSE: Great Faithfulness in the Face of Disaster ©

The Apostle Paul famously called for a special offering for the Jerusalem Church and Christians suffering in hard times during a famine in the 40s A.D. Those words of almost two thousand years ago are easily echoed today in response to the great faithfulness of the churches of the Central Texas Conference in offerings for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ’s gospel. They will do this because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone” (2 Corinthians 9:11b-13).

From the depths of my heart I want to express a gratitude to the members and churches of the Central Texas Conference.  A preliminary report from our Conference Treasurer is that some 120 churches (some with repeated donations) have responded today with a total amount of money currently at $244,665.04.  In addition, a number of churches and individuals have given directly and are not being included in this amount.  We are still receiving money for Hurricane Relief and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) on a regular basis so the final amount should be a good bit higher. To all, God bless you for your great faithfulness in the face of disaster. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we reached the 100% of Central Texas Conference churches responding!

Disaster Response Coordinator for the Central Texas Conference, Rev. Ginger Watson, shared a report last Sunday afternoon (September 24th) at the regular meeting of the CTC Connectional Table. Some notes from that report are:

  • We have small depots for supplies at First Hillsboro, Tenth Street Taylor, Lifepoint and Comanche UMCs.
  • A Genesis UMC member with a trailer loaded with over 100 flood buckets, 500 hygiene kits and diapers to take those desperately need items to Conroe.  When he arrived, the warehouse was completely empty.  His load of supplies was an answered prayer.
  • Leah and Stan Gregory with others delivered similar loads of supplies to those in South Texas (the Rio Texas Conference) at Kerrville.  Many other similar loads have headed into recovery areas. Rev. Watson estimates that we have provided well over 1,000 flood buckets along with several thousand hygiene kits. 300 more flood buckets head south this week!
  • Trained ERT (Early Response Teams) have come from a dozen churches across the conference. Over 150 additional CTC members have received critical and necessary training as ERTs.
  • Genesis, Polytechnic UMC and a number of other churches have provided greatly needed bedding on an emergency basis.  Volunteers from First Hurst and White’s Chapel have also provided Ministry Safe childcare volunteers to work with evacuee children.

The list goes on and on! For all of it and more yet to come, I thank you. Your faithfulness is a blessing to many. Ginger Watson (our Disaster Relief Coordinator) reports that “our primary focus is on the Rio Texas Conference (which includes the areas of Rockport and Aransas Pass) because of their extreme need and lack of support.”  She adds, “We have now shifted our emphasis on flood buckets and hygiene kits to mold remediation products. Our plan is to take completed buckets and kits to the Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana so that they can be deployed to Harvey or Irma relief, as needed.”

God bless and keep you for your great faithfulness in response to disaster brought on by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma!

Engage! Missional Transformation in Love, Service and Relationship with Others ©

This coming October, we have a significant opportunity to grow our missional outreach to those in our local communities through a CTC-sponsored event entitled ENGAGE: Transforming Missions. The ENGAGE Conference is scheduled for Oct. 6-7 at Temple First UMC, and is designed for clergy and mission leaders seeking to grow deeper relationships with the persons they serve.

Through the opening sessions with Tom Bassford, a leader in transformative mission ministry, and breakout sessions led by our own Central Texas Conference mission leaders, participants will have the opportunity to learn from and dialogue with other leaders about best practices of relational mission ministry.  The key is “relational mission ministry.”  The ENGAGE Conference focuses on helping churches make the transition from ministry that meets emergency needs into individual and community transformation through relationships. I invite the reader to click the following link for a brief video discussion on ENGAGE (the video is also available below). In it, Rev. Dawne Phillips, Director of Missions for the Central Texas Conference, and I discuss the importance of local churches moving toward doing transformational missions.  The Conference will connect our core mission, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, with the WIG as together we seek to reach out in love, justice and mercy to all.

The keynote speaker/teacher is Dr. Tom Bassford. Tom Bassford is Founder and President of Significant Matters and SATalks in Olathe, Kansas, a non-profit organization working with churches, faith-based groups, community stakeholders and philanthropic organizations to tackle complex societal issues in sustainable ways. Before founding Significant Matters, he pastored for more than 30 years and has been involved in the work of church missions both locally and internationally for over 40 years.

In 2014, under Tom’s leadership, Significant Matters launched SATalks, a TED Talk type of gathering and video website to explore and demonstrate ways to create sustainable transformation through church missions.  They also launched the Missions 3.0 Network for churches wanting to move their mission work beyond “helping that hurts.” SATalks and Missions 3.0 exist to accelerate the learning curve around sustainable approaches to missions and connect those early pioneers trying to make it happen.

ENGAGE is an outstanding opportunity for churches to send a team who can participate in a variety of breakout sessions and then return home with ideas to consider for mission focused on making disciples in their local community.  Registration information can be found on the Central Texas Conference website.

Living the Big Three ©

For last 7 years as bishop of the Fort Worth Episcopal Area, The Central Texas Conference, I have stressed the critical importance and centrality of what I call the “big three” as the focus of our work as a Conference “energizing and equipping local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

1. Christ the Center
2. Focus on the local Church
3. Leadership development for both lay and clergy.

These three key foci dominate my thought and work. They form the core of strategic engagement with congregations and the larger mission field in living our future as a Conference in faithfulness to the Lord God. Various other importance ministries – vital congregations, inclusiveness and cultural sensitivity, missional outreach both locally and globally, Connectional Mission Giving (CMG), the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI), the Small Church Initiative (SCI) small group development for spiritual growth & Bible Study, campus ministry, CTCYM (Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission), etc. – are to be an outgrowth of living the big three in full faithfulness to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As we (The Central Texas Conference Cabinet) prepare for our Inventory Retreat (the beginning of work on clergy and local church appointments for 2017-2018) next week, a number of various pieces of information and insights have risen into my consciousness. I want to share them with you.

First, in vital congregations we always, always, look at a combination of narrative (story) and metrics. The two should never be separated and a positive change in the narrative (the stories being told of congregational/community life) usually precedes a change in the metrics.

Anecdotally we have heard more stories of professions of faith this last year. The year-end “Congregational Vitality” report reflects the change in narrative that was being reported. Our year end data showed:
• A 2% increase in worship attendance
• Professions of faith had big growth this year – up 27%! All districts showed increases in Professions of faith. (a Huge shout of “Hallelujah!” and “well done!” to all!)
• Four of the six districts showed growth in both worship attendance and professions of faith.
• Over all giving is up 5% (but the data is not yet complete).

Secondly, I note from the regular Conference Communications “Quick Notes” that the work of UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee on Relief) has received special commendation for its practice of putting every dollar received in offering to work in a specific relief effort. We are blessed to support such a vital ministry both here in the United States and around the world. Furthermore, significantly, the Central Texas Conference has benefitted directly from this offering in response to tornados that have hit our Conference on three separate occasions over the past year and in relief work for people in the area of West, Texas. The “Quick Notes” article is as follows:

UMCOR earns 4 Star Rating from top U.S. charity evaluator. The CTC Disaster Response Team has worked hand-in-hand with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) for 14 years, rebuilding homes and lives all across Texas and the U.S. A vital piece of UMCORs ability to respond is in its business model of putting every cent donated to a particular relief effort directly to that effort. This is made possible by the continued generous donations received during UMCOR Sunday, which pays all of the organizations overhead and administrative costs. UMCOR’s strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency have earned the highest possible ranking from America’s largest independent charity evaluator, Charity Navigator.

I covet your prayers for us as a Cabinet during our Inventory Retreat next week (Tuesday through Thursday). “The goal I [we] pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Conclave and Kenya ©

Like many of you, my year has begun with a full slate of ministry activities.  It began January 3rd with a day and a half in the office to answer emails and plow through paperwork accumulated from the Christmas – New Year break time.  The afternoon of January 4th I drove to Austin, Texas for the twice yearly South Central Bishops Conclave.  The Conclave is a gathering of the active (i.e. residential or non-retired) bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church under the sponsorship of the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF).  It is an invaluable time of learning and sharing.  Using the Harvard Business School case study approach, we wrestle together with leadership challenges facing us and the church as a whole in our work.  Often we have a special presentation on a critical subject or issue facing the church.  We engage in this time of significant learning and sharing under the guidance of Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant for TMF.  His most recent article on Courage is a seminally insightful document about leadership in the Protestant Church in America during the second decade if the 21st Century. The Conclave is one of the most valuable times of learning that I have.

 I arrived home from the Bishops’ Conclave on Friday evening in time to finish packing for a Saturday morning flight to Kenya (via Dubai).  For the second time it is my great privilege to take part in an ongoing ministry the Central Texas Conference has (along with about 10 other U.S. Conferences and teams from Germany and the British Methodist Church.  Many churches and individuals from across the Central Texas Conference (CTC) have been involved in this God-honoring ministry.  Dr. Ken Diehm, then Senior Pastor of First UMC, Grapevine, Texas helped pioneer this work.  On this trip, under the leadership of Rev. Dawne Phillips, Director of Missions for CTC and Dr. Randy Wild, Executive Director of the Center for Mission Support, we have joined a key group from the Oregon-Idaho Conference led by Rev. Jim Monroe and Rev. Sue Owen.  Jim and Sue have served as pastors and District Superintendents in Oregon and more recently as missionaries at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya.

 Bishop nThombura asked that we come back to share in teaching clergy along with engaging in other critical mission ministry.  Jim Monroe and I have spent the two previous days teaching a seminar on the Bible and Preaching for pastors in the Methodist Church of Kenya (MCK) at Kenya Methodist University (KeMU).  It was an exciting and challenging time of teaching.  Some of the Pastors have seminary degrees from Schools of Theology in Kenya, England and the United States.  We dealt with a question related to the controversial “Jesus Seminar” and I had a challenging conversation with a graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary in DC.  Other pastors have very little education and almost anything we can share is greeted with appreciation. We will be heading to Nairobi, to repeat our two-day seminar there.  Overall, we will have addressed approximately 350 to 400 pastors.

 Meanwhile the combined team made of folks from both Conferences have been holding a medical clinic out in a remote area of Kenya that does not have regular access to medical treatment.  Sharing with schools (a deworming clinic, supplies, etc.), the ongoing historic work of Methodism in education is bearing rich fruit in Kenya!

 While the outlying clinic work is taking place, half of our combined group has been rotating in and out working on a project high in the hills.  Through the great ministry of Maua Methodist Hospital, a single mother of four (including a three month old infant) with AIDS (from the Father of the infant who has disappeared) was living in a shack (barely standing) made of two wood walls and two plastic sheets.  It is poverty and desperation at its worst and lowest.  Additionally the elderst daughter (11 years old) also has AIDS.  A Christian neighbor brought her tremendous need to the attention of the hospital and working together hospital staff, the local village and our mission team have built a house for the family (two rooms; the kitchen is outside and the “restroom” is about 15 feet behind the house) in one short week!  Frank Briggs, Jim McClurg, Randy Wild, and Tom Larson (from Bend, Oregon) left before dawn over nearly impassible roads to finish the house building before the 11 am community wide celebration and dedication of the house.  It was a Kenyan version of an emergency “Habitat” house build!

 Tomorrow I have been asked to preach and assist Bishop nThombura in the installation of a new Synod Bishop in Thaarka, Kenya.  A Synod Bishop is the equivalent of our District Superintendents.  (Bishop nThombura is called the Presiding Bishop.)  While I am there, the rest of the team will be spread out preaching at other churches in the area.  We are tired but phenomenally blessed by this ongoing shared ministry.  The CTC and its member churches should be deeply gratified to learn that the ministry so many of our congregations have taken part in is continuing to share the Word and Way of Christ.  Together we are sharing with Christians around the world in building a vibrant Christian witness in Kenya! 

 I must give a special shout out to Grapevine UMC in closing.  There is a “Guest House” (the Kenyan version of a Retreat Center) in Meru, Kenya (the center of Methodism in Kenya) named after Dr. Ken Diehm.  I had visited it two years earlier and after our Pastors School presentation I got to stop by for a brief visit again.  The work continues to go forward.  Most of the 2nd floor is now finished and initial construction is taking place on the 3rd floor.  For those who are from the CTC, think of the Diehm Guest House as their Glen Lake.  I learned that follow-up teams from First UMC Grapevine have continued to come and work on the Guest House.  What a tremendous blessing of faithfulness!  This is truly a work of the Lord.

 We will land at DFW the afternoon of January 22nd after a 6 hour flight from Nairobi to Dubai and a 14 hour flight form Dubai to DFW.  After a day of sleeping and recovery, I hope to be back in the office on Tuesday, January 24th.  We have a Cabinet meeting coming up on January 30th.

Recovering the Methodist Movement ©

A while back a friend called my attention to a March 2013 article by David Brooks entitled “How Movements Recover.”   A part of what grabbed my interest is the often repeated comment about the “Methodist” movement.  Movemental growth in the church for a justice cause or evangelism or mission impact or spiritual growth etc. is an indwelling and outreaching of the Holy Spirit.

In brief summation, Christian movements are periods of revival or reawakening to the original mission of the faith.  Commonly, “Methodism” is referred to as a movement in the Christian faith (a great element of spiritual revival and vitality).  By way of contrast, movements are different from institutional advancement.  They focus on the primary mission and contain strong elements of growth reaching out to new groups. [Allow me to emphasize that both!! institutional advancement and movemental engagement are needed.  If movements are not ultimately institutionally shaped, they dissipate and ultimately amount to little beside a passing fad.  If, on the other hand, movements are choked out by institutional rigidity, desperately needed renewal is lost.]

At any rate what intrigued me about David Brooks Op Ed piece in the New York Times was the way he connected the recovery of the Christian faith as a movement (not just an institution) to reaching out to embrace the world in all its messiness- rather than seeing the church as an ark closed off from the rest of the world, riding out the storms.  St. Augustine “reacted against any effort to divide people between those within the church and those permanently outside.”  Brooks continues, “His ideal church was firmly rooted in doctrine, but yearning for discovery.”

Brooks writes from a predominantly Roman Catholic perspective but there are deep insights for us Methodists in his work.  He points to the witness of Pope Francis commenting, “It’s hard not to be impressed by someone who says he prefers a church that suffers ‘accidents on the streets’ to a church that is sick because it self-referentially closes in on itself.”

We do well to listen and wrestle at this juncture.  How do we hold tight to core doctrine and yet remain open and engaged, yearning for discovery?  Rigid self-righteous boundaries are not only unfaithful; they will surely kill us.  Conversely, a lack of boundaries leads to meaninglessness and ultimately will also just as surely kill us.  Many of my colleague bishops speak of the need to be an outwardly focused church.  The four focus areas of the United Methodist Church (new places for new people/new faith communities, ministry with the poor, leadership development, and Global health – Imagine No Malaria) are vibrant expressions of an outward focus which seeks to recapture a movemental character.  So too are attempts to recapture a holistic holiness – holiness of heart and life that is both social and personal.

And yet, our cultural and denominational obsession with immanence as both the locus and focus of ministry suffers from a lack of transcendence.  A full blown doctrine of the Trinity with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit active in our world as subject (not just object) is desperately needed. The theologian David Bosch (as Alan Hirsch reminds us) has rightly written, “discipleship is determined by the relation to Christ himself not by mere conformity to impersonal commands” (D. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 67; taken from Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).  Hirsch himself goes on to comment, “Apostolic movements make this a core task, because when we really think about it, this is perhaps the most strategic of all the church’s various activities”  (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).  He [Hirsch] goes on to reference Mother Teresa, “We must become holy not because we want to feel holy but because Christ must be able to live his life fully in us.”

As much as I resonate with David Brooks’ correct insistence on an outward focus in to the world in love-induced mission, by itself it is not enough.  There must be an upward dimension as well for the enterprise to be sustained.  The work of Kenda Creasy Dean and others on “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” warns us of the desperate need for both immanence and transcendence, for both parts of the cross.  The apostolic genius of the original Methodist movement reached out to the world in love and reached up to God in holiness.

A Great Work of Justice ©

One of great ministries taking place in the Central Texas Conference is Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) under the leadership of Rev. Brooks Harrington.  MJM is an outgrowth of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.  Their website (http://methodistjusticeministry.org/) offers the essentials:

“The Methodist Justice Ministry was founded in 2006, first to protect indigent women and children from domestic violence, neglect and abuse; and second, to help them to new lives free of violence, abuse, fear and self-loathing.

The MJM is thoroughly faith driven. Its legal director, Brooks Harrington, is an ordained United Methodist minister as well as a licensed attorney. Our scriptural motto is: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

Since the MJM began, we have represented in court the interests of hundreds of women and children from low income households. We have not only obtained but also enforced court orders for protection, for custody, for denial or restriction of visitation by the abusers, and for child support and medical support. And we have counseled with more than 1,000 individuals desperate for help.”

Recently an illustrative story of MJM’s ministry highlighted this great work of justice. A young woman, 30 years old, named “Bella” (not her real name) with children aged 14, 11, 8 and 7 came to MJM for help getting out of an abusive marriage. Bella could neither read nor write. Her abusive husband had left her for a younger woman and threatened her if she disputed custody of the 4 children.

Traumatized and depressed, she found love and support from the staff at MJM. They agreed to not only “take the case” but also to provide support and a future of hope. MJM won the case helping her to retain custody, but there is more to the story. They are arranging and paying for adult education classes so that Bella can learn to read and write. They set up two licensed professional counselors plus a case manager to work with her in putting life back together. They are helping her develop skills to earn a living for her family.

This is a great work of justice. In sharing the story Rev. Harrington adds: “I would like to tell you that Bella’s story is unusual. But it isn’t. We have handled dozens of cases like Bella’s over the ten plus years the MJM has been in ministry.  Even so, people like Bella are deep in the shadows. They are too scared and alone to ask for help, or to know whom to ask, or to believe that help exists or that they deserve help. We’d very much like to see and help more Bella’s. We’re praying for that. Lord, send us more Bella’s.”

Vital congregations are engaged in ministry with the “Bellas” of this world.  They are reaching out in ministry with the poor – offering the love of God in help and hope.  Their ongoing ministry includes something in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 calls every week from people seeking help.  The caseload is growing.  It takes special technical expertise to work in MJM.  This is ministry with the poor, one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.

There are many other examples of ministry with the poor spread across the churches of the Central Texas Conference.  My challenge for every congregation and Christian is to get involved.  In the words of the Apostle James, “faith without action has no value at all” (James 2:20).  Pray to be led as individuals and as a congregation, and the Lord will guide you into a great ministry of justice!

Flood Relief for Our Neighbors ©

The pictures and news reports are graphic.  The flooding is historic in size and scope.  The impact has been described as “catastrophic” by The Central Texas Conference’s Coordinator of Disaster Response Rev. Laraine Waughtal.

Already the response by Central Texas Conference (CTC) churches has been tremendous!  Rev. Waughtal and a team of trained Early Responders have already delivered a 6×12 trailer full of supplies with more than 200 buckets of cleaning supplies plus many school kits and health kits. Well done you saints of the Lord!

LA flooding responseWhen I asked her what more was needed, Rev. Waughtal responded with a trinity of needs – Money, buckets and trained Early Response Teams.  The detailed instruction in the lead story of our conference website bears repeating by way of emphasis.

  1. Please cover everyone with prayer.  From emergency personnel, to churches, the people who have been directly affected, families who are still trying to reach loved ones and all those helping with the continued rescues and the start of recovery, etc.
  2. Please make more cleaning buckets!  Louisiana needs anything and everything you can make at this time. Flood buckets generally cost about $65 and contain basic supplies such as detergent, sponges and soap that allow flood survivors to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up. You can click here to see a list of supplies and how to build “flood” buckets. Once they have been built, please take your cleaning buckets to First United Methodist Hillsboro (315 E. Elm St. Hillsboro, TX) as this is where we store our CTC Disaster response supplies. The CTC Disaster Response team will make another run to Louisiana as soon as the cleaning buckets are ready and take them to the appropriate location.
  3. Please do not go to Louisiana at this time. This is at the request of the Louisiana Conference as well as state officials. They need to be able to focus on what is happening right now and keep visitors, even those with the best of intentions, to a minimum at this time. [Trained early responders can be of big assistance and should coordinate going through Rev. Waughtal.]
  4. If you feel led to give financially, please give to the UMCOR advance # 901670.

It wasn’t long ago (this past June) when we were reaching out (with support for our neighbors in Louisiana!) to those suffering in the Central Texas Conference due to flooding. Once again we hear all call from the Lord to Christian service and generosity which echoes the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke10:25-37). The admonition of Christ lingers in our hearts and minds … “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).

 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, One Week Later from Louisiana Annual Conference on Vimeo.

A WITNESS IN HONOR OF ST. PATRICK ©

“I rise today in power’s strength, invoking the Trinity,
believing in threeness,
confessing the oneness,
of creation’s Creator.”

Thus opens the full text of the famous Celtic prayer St. Patrick’s Breastplate. There is more, much more, to the prayer but the opening lines anchor Patrick not in mythology but far more importantly in Christian theology.  St. Patrick’s Day is more than a day to celebrate all things green.  We do well to honor St. Patrick as a giant of a Christian leader, missionary, evangelist and bishop.  Even more, in celebration of the life and ministry of St. Patrick, we remember in order that we might learn and recommit ourselves to this same great mission in the name of Christ.

His story is a compelling witness to the Christ as Lord of his life and to his love in Christ through the Holy Spirit even for those who mistreated and harmed him.

Captured as a young boy and taken to Ireland as a slave, Patrick lived there for 6 years before miraculously escaping and returning to his native Briton. At age 48 – well past life expectancy in the 5th century – Patrick received a vision from God to return to the land of his imprisonment to share the gospel.  Ordained as a bishop and appointed to Ireland as history’s first missionary bishop, he arrived back in this wild and barbaric land with his assistants in 432 A. D.

For 28 years until his death in 460 A. D. he poured his life out leading others to Christ. He and his company baptized thousands, planted about 700 churches, and he ordained perhaps 1,000 priests.  “Within his lifetime, 30 to 40 (or more) of Ireland’s 150 tribes became substantially Christian. …Patrick’s achievements included social dimensions.  He was the first public man to speak and crusade against slavery.  Within his lifetime, or soon after, ‘the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare decreased,’ and his communities modeled the Christian way of faithfulness, generosity, and peace to all the Irish” (George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, p. 23).

I invite the reader to pause with me and deeply consider Patrick’s witness. In doing so I am reminded that he sought to honor and serve Christ in all he did, with the fullness of his very life!  Patrick’s return to Ireland was courageous.  His witness to Christ was electric.  His sharing of the Christ’s saving grace was bracing.  He offered a new possibility, a new way of living in and through Christ that converted a land.

George Hunter’s brilliant book The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again closes with the profound insight learned from St. Patrick.  “The supreme key to reach the West again is the key that Patrick discovered – involuntarily but providentially.  The gulf between church people and unchurched people is vast, but if we pay the price to understand them, we will usually know what to say and what to do; if they know and feel we understand them, by the tens of millions they will risk opening their heat to the God who understands them”  (George Hunter, The Cesaint_patrickltic Way of Evangelism, p. 121).

We who live in a land more pagan than Christian need to learn again from this great man. We are called like he was to share a witness of Christ for a people spiritually starving, living in a druidic darkness of fear, bombarded by religious quackery, and overdosing on confectionary falsehood.  We need to offer God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  The claim laid upon Patrick is laid upon us by the Lord.

A brilliant teacher and communicator of the gospel, Patrick used the ever-present native plant, the shamrock, as a symbol of the holy Trinity. Each leaf witnessed to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a prayer which comes, legend has it, from the breastplate of St. Patrick.  I read it first in the old Book of Worship for the United Methodist Church.  I use prayer regularly, and I invite the reader to pray the prayer as well:

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ before me, Christ beside me.
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger” (Taken from The Book of Worship of the United Methodist Church, 1964 edition, p. 244).

The Sons and Daughter of the San Antonio Episcopal Area are Going Home ©

Rio Texas, Central Texas & the Work of a Bishop

By now many regular readers of this blog are aware that I will be serving as one of four bishops providing episcopal supervision to the Rio Texas Conference until Sept. 1. Bishop Janice Huie (Texas Conference) will serve as the bishop of record. Bishops Joel Martinez (retired), Robert Schnase (Missouri Conference) and I will each provide specific areas of leadership for the Rio Texas Conference. The vacancy in the Rio Texas Conference (San Antonio Episcopal Area) was created when then Bishop Jim Dorff resigned from the episcopal office and surrendered his credentials as an elder in the United Methodist Church for misconduct.

four interim bishops for Rio Texas-HuieThe team approach for covering an episcopal area is unprecedented. Each of the four bishops selected to server Rio Texas was elected to the episcopacy out of one of the predecessor conferences that united to form the new Rio Texas Conference. (Bishop Martinez was elected out of the Rio Grande Conference. Bishops Huie, Schnase and I were elected out of the Southwest Texas Conference.) For all of us, there is deep sense of wanting to help with a conference we love. As one of my colleagues put it, “the sons and daughter of the San Antonio Episcopal Area are going home.”

Wfour interim bishops for Rio Texas-Martinezhere all of this gets very difficult is balancing the work of our assigned conferences – to which we are all deeply committed – with the need to engage in compassionate leadership for the Rio Texas Conference.

In my case, next week will combine attempts to meet with both the Central Texas Conference Cabinet and the Rio Texas Conference Leadership Team & Cabinet (two meetings). It means driving to Oklahoma City on Monday for a meeting and then driving back in time to catch a flight to San Antonio Monday night. Tuesday morning will involve a planning meeting with the four interim bishops for Rio Texas-Schnasefour bishops in the morning and a meeting of what we are calling the Rio Texas Leadership Team in the afternoon. We will then meet with the Rio Texas Cabinet Wednesday morning. I will fly home that afternoon and hope to make it in time to join the Central Texas Cabinet in session. Then there’s the Texas Wesleyan Board meeting on Friday, and Saturday finds me at First Round Rock for a Leadership gathering in the morning and in Glen Lake that afternoon to meet with the Vital Leadership Academy.

I hope to spend the whole final week of January in Central Texas. The heart of the week will be sharing with Dr. John McKellar in teaching the High Octane Preaching class. The first week in February involves the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) College of Bishops meeting at Perkins School of Theology. Followed by our Central Texas Conference Cabinet Inventory Retreat the next week and the launch of the 2016 Bishop Brown Bag Book Study the following week. And so it goes.

People ask me all the time what a bishop does. My short answer is “lead.” My slightly longer answer goes back to the historic understanding of the office as it developed both in the biblical church (see I & II Timothy) and the early Christian church. The word bishop means overseer. The bishop has oversight (guardian) authority for both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ. Spiritual authority involves the great teaching office of the episcopacy. A bishop guides the church to continue in the Apostles doctrine and prayers (see Acts 2:42). The “temporal” part of being a bishop involves earthly leadership of the church in very practical ways – assigning clergy, providing oversight of fiscal accountability, helping establish systems of education and learning, dealing with legal concerns and property issues and most of all, guiding missional strategies that “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” That is the short answer.

Being a bishop is awesome and incredibly humbling. Most days I love the ministry. Some days it is very, very hard. I am honored to be going home to help Rio Texas. I love being the bishop of the Central Texas Conference. I ask for your prayers and support in the difficult eight-month period of joint oversight.

Ministry and Mission Celebrations ©

Amid all of the bad news we hear, often the good news gets lost. Many of us have experienced the reality of two manifestations of the church existing side by side within the same Conference.  On the one hand there are those places of shrinkage, decline and lament.  On the other hand, there are those mission stations of the advancing Kingdom of God (i.e. churches) that are reaching out in new and vital ways to offer Christ by word and deed to our fear soaked world.

In this season of Advent the great hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” becomes our prayer. Consider verse 7:

O Come, Desire of nations bind
all peoples in one heart and mind.
From dust thou brought us forth to life;
deliver us from earthly strife.”
(Hymn No. 211, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal)

Advent reminds us not only of the Lord’s coming birth but also to look for signs of God’s presence today! Last week I attended a meeting of the Conference Council of Finance and Administration.  The news was good.  Really good.  Churches are reaching out in all sorts of ways with enhanced ministry and mission to share the love of Christ with others.  We have a great deal of ministry and mission to celebrate.

We celebrate:

  • Two awards from the General Board of Global Ministry (GBGM) and the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA).
  • The highest Conference giving to Latvia through the Mission Initiative
  • The highest increase in missionary support in the United Methodist Church in 2014 (of 54 US Conferences) through The Advance as a part of General Board of Global Ministry missional outreach. This includes missional effort in a host of different countries (including but not limited to)
    • Kenya
    • Latvia
    • Honduras
    • Panama
    • Mexico
    • Tanzania
    • Congo
    • Macedonia (the Balkans) to name a few
  • The General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) recognition for giving 100% of a Connectional Mission Giving as a part of the worldwide UMC
  • The highest percentage payout through November for Connectional Mission Giving (CMG) since 2008.

This great work of sharing in the name of Christ is not limited to overseas but is taking place in our very midst!

We celebrate:

  • Recognition for CTCYM (Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission) work with recovery in Louisiana
  • Navarro, Williamson, Ellis, Erath Counties flood relief work through the Conference and significant financial support from UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the great disaster relief work of the United Methodist Church globally)
  • Tremendous ongoing ministry through our office of Disaster Response and Volunteers in Mission which includes long-term involvement with places that have suffered from natural disasters (relief and help that stays after others have left!)
  • Partnership with the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference

On top of this great mission and ministry effort I also want to celebrate and gives thanks for the larger connection to the church we call the United Methodist Church. Churches and groups of the Central Texas Conference has engaged in many (!) mission trips at Sager Brown and aid to Louisiana in recovering from floods.  With the news of serious flooding in part of our own Conference here in Texas, I received a check for $7,000 from the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Don Cottrill, Provost of the Louisiana Conference, wrote:

Enclosed with this letter is a check in the amount of $7,000 made to the Central Texas Conference. This is a donation from the Louisiana Conference to your Conference to assist with the recovery efforts from the recent disasters that have impacted your area and your congregations. Along with this check come our prayers for you, those in leadership of the response efforts, and those personally involved in these disasters.
“The Louisiana Conference remembers with gratitude the response from your Conference Cabinet and membership to our own natural disasters. We know the difference you and many others made to us through prayers, volunteers, and monetary contributions to aid in the long process toward recovery. This is a small way to say ‘thank you’ and to support you in whatever ways are most appropriate.”

In this time of Advent we have much to give thanks for and celebrate! Truly the Lord is leading us!  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – God with us!

 

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