by Vance Morton*
Members of the Central Texas Conference Connectional Table gathered for the first time as an official conference organization Tuesday evening, Jan. 10, to listen to and learn from each other as well as begin to coordinate information and serve as one of many informational feedback loops throughout the conference.
The Connectional Table is a collective that was brought to being via the Exodus Project and is a place designed to make sure that the ministries and organizations (both lay and clergy) from around our great conference are not only represented but that their voices are heard and counted in the conversation as we travel the wilderness road of change. You can see a listing of those initial organizations and ministries on the Connectional Table page of the conference website. The group is inclusive in nature and collaborative in style and transparent, accessible and accountable in all its relationships. And as you can see from the diagram to the right [click the image to enlarge], it is an essential piece of the information coordination efforts of the conference and is one of many “feedback loops” between the local churches, the conference and the Core Leadership Team.
After a few moments of introductions and discussion of the evening’s agenda, this inaugural meeting was turned over to Bishop Lowry to lead the conversation regarding the direction, purpose and mission of the Connectional Table, which, not surprisingly, is in lock-step with the overall mission of the conference and the general church. In his opening statements, Bishop Lowry illustrated the need for the Connectional Table to help lead the way for change and new ideas as we work to “be the church today” by reading from Hebrews 12: 1-2. “So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.” (CEB)
The race that is laid out in front of us, according to the Bishop, is the need to transform our churches into vital congregations that are relevant to and meeting the needs of the world in which we live today. Gone are the days in which churches existed to be “members only” establishments – focusing inwardly on the needs of their particular congregation. The change necessary means that we must become outwardly focused and missional in nature. It was recognized by those gathered at the CTC Service Center Tuesday evening that while necessary, this isn’t an easy ask. In fact, it was brought up that the best predictive data available shows that as many as 20-30 percent of churches will not make it in this new era of the church. This is why the new ideas coming out of areas like our campus ministries, the Healthy Church Initiative process, the Vital Congregations tools and the Council of Bishops' Call to Action plan are ripe to be embraced and put into motion.
Bishop Lowry also articulated the immediate need to identify and develop the next generation of leaders – clergy and laity – for the conference and have them trained and in place within the next ten years. One of the ways discussed for jumpstarting this initiative was to insist that at least one-third of all the nominations for conference leadership be folks who have never shown up on the conference leadership roles before.
The gathering also took time to recognize the need to celebrate all that the conference does well, especially as we begin to embrace and enact the changes being brought to light through the Exodus project. As such, it was made clear that one of the roles of the Connectional Table was to make sure that the strengths of the conference are identified and celebrated so that we can put our resources and time behind the projects and programs in which we already excel.
As the meeting adjourned, the mood of those gathered was one of eager anticipation in what we, as a conference unified and steeled by our mission, vision and values, can accomplish. Remember that the Connectional Table is just one of the many ways that the conference is working to energize and equip the local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but it is a fabulous way to make sure your voice is heard and counted. So don’t be shy in sharing your ideas, hopes, concerns and plans with the members of the Connectional Table so that they can bring them up and add them to the key feedback loop for the CTC.
Those attending this inaugural meeting were (from left to right) Bishop Michael Lowry; Rev. Penny Stemley, Coordinator of Conference Restorative Justice Ministries; Rev. Laura Whitley, pastor of Joshua UMC; Rev. Kay Hawkins, Director of Camp Glen Lake and Still Water Retreat Center; Joe Boatman, United Methodist Men Chair; Marianne Brown, Student Ministries Representative; Pat Loomis, Conference Chair of Task Force on Inclusiveness; Rev. Gary Lindley, executive director, Center for Evangelism and Church Growth; Rev. Dawne Phillips, CTC Mission Experience Coordinator; Kim Simpson, assistant conference lay leader; Cynthia Rives, United Methodist Women Chair; Rev. Randy Wild, executive director, Center for Mission Support; Steve McIver, conference lay leader; Dr. Georgia Adamson, Assistant to the Bishop and executive director, Center for Leadership and; and Michael Patison, Chair of Conference Archives and History.
*Vance is the director of communications for the Central Texas Conference. firstname.lastname@example.org