Going into this for the first time, I wondered if it would be a lot of boring business, theological debates and political contention. I anticipated consuming a lot of caffeine to stay awake. Happily, no caffeine was required and it was thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational. The conference began and ended with worship with more worship in between. Spanning four days there were five business sessions that were filled mostly with reports about various ministries going on in Southwest Texas and beyond. Seeing and hearing how God is working in all these places was very interesting and inspiring.
The conference is attended by the pastors and lay delegates from about 350 churches in the Southwest Texas Conference (SWTX), about 1,500 people in all, with the bishop’s staff and others. Bishop James Dorff seemed pretty cool and said this was the 152nd Annual Conference session. It was all quite impressive. And yes, I got to see our own Chuck Smith and some of his people from Victoria, St. Mark’s UMC.
Here are summaries of a few of the many ministry reports:
Methodist Mission Home (San Antonio) – Christian nurses and counselors help pregnant teens offering “a faith, a family, a future.” They do a lot of adoption work.
ImagineNoMalaria.org – the SWTX conference is leading the whole UMC with about 2 million dollars given by the churches so far (above and beyond the conference and church budgets) to combat malaria around the world with the goal of eliminating deaths from malaria by 2015. Our Austin District Superintendent, Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones, is a leader in this.
New Church Development – It was very encouraging to see that throughout south Texas, especially in Austin and San Antonio, there are a lot of new congregations forming, being lead by the younger generation. The ones who are thriving best are 1) supported by a “mother” congregation and 2) have a strong sense of mission and purpose beyond just meeting for worship.
The bishop mentioned one of the big issues in the church at large – how a mainline large church denomination that is slowly in decline can become revitalized and become a relevant influence in the country and the world. The Council of Bishops is working on a “call to action”. Nothing will go unexamined, like the 13 independent general church agencies that seem to be “heavy at the top” (my words) and even the sacred cow of guaranteed pastoral appointments. The bishop quoted Mike Slaughter, a United Methodist pastor in Ohio, who said, “our mission is not to get the world into the church, but to get the church into the world.” Further along this line, we heard a fiery sermon from Rev. Tyrone Gordon, UM pastor in Dallas, who called for our churches to be “go to” churches rather than “come to.” A “come to” church expects the outsiders to come to them. But a “go to” church goes out into the world to rescue the poor, help the needy, and take the message of Jesus out to the people.
The best part for me personally is to think that our Rolling Hills Community Church is part of all this. We are not serving God by ourselves. Not only are we part of this Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, we are especially privileged to also share in the workings and life of our three other denominations: Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), United Church of Christ (UCC), and Christian Church/Disciples of Christ (CCDC).
Here’s a map of all the conferences in the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church: