Bishop Lowry Announces Changes to the Central Texas Conference Cabinet

North District Superintendent Ginger Bassford's decision to go back into the local church this year compels unexpected Cabinet changes.

by Vance Morton*
Bishop Mike Lowry, episcopal leader of the Central Texas Conference UMC, has announced the following changes to the Cabinet: Rev. Dr. Ginger Bassford has decided to forgo her final planned year as the North District Superintendent and return to the local church. Rev. Mike Ramsdell, who was announced last month as the new West District Superintendent, will instead step in and fill the vacancy left by Ginger and become the new North District Superintendent. Rev. Dr. Lisa Neslony, senior pastor at Smithfield UMC, has been appointed as the Superintendent of the West District. Rev. Leah Hidde-Gregory will remain as the new DS for the Central District.
When Bishop Lowry began to pray about and plan for the make-up of his Cabinet in 2016 and beyond, he knew that he would need to fill two very big pairs of shoes/boots this year due to the retirement of Revs. Carol Woods and Don Scott. What he didn’t know was that another pair of shoes would drop, creating an unexpected third opening on the Central Texas Conference Cabinet and causing him to alter his already announced plans for the North and West districts.
Once again Woody Allen’s classic quote rings true: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
It became apparent that the plans were going to indeed need to change when, earlier this month, after weeks of consideration, prayer, conversation and more prayer, Ginger shared her desire to be considered for appointment to St. Barnabas UMC in Arlington. (The current Senior Pastor of St. Barnabas, Rev. Will Cotton, will be appointed as Senior Pastor of First UMC Round Rock, replacing the retiring Rev. David Adkins at Conference). “While I was in no hurry to see Ginger leave the Cabinet or take her away from her DS leadership roles in the North District where she has done some amazing work, I believe this to be an excellent fit for St. Barnabas, for the community and for Ginger.”
When asked her thoughts on leaving her DS role a year earlier than expected, Dr. Bassford shared that the decision had been a tough one. “I love being a DS and will miss working with and for the people and churches of the North District, as well as my colleagues on the Cabinet,” Ginger said. “I have a deep love and appreciation for the congregations and clergy of the North District and the life-changing work they do. I feel deep grief about leaving. At the same time, I feel incredibly blessed to be going back into a local congregation and especially to St. Barnabas. I’ve wished to pastor there since the early 90’s and can’t wait to discover all the areas where they are already in ministry and dream with the congregation about new ways that Christ calls us to bear witness together, in the community and in the world.”
With Dr. Bassford going back to the local church, Bishop Lowry had to find someone who could take the baton from Ginger and continue to run the good race at the North District. He quickly discerned that he needed to look no further than the [then] newest member of the Cabinet, Rev. Mike Ramsdell. While there was genuine excitement for Mike and from Mike about the opportunity to go back to his ministry roots and serve in the West District he cares for so deeply, his skills and years of experience as a large-church pastor convinced Bishop Lowry that the North District was where Rev. Mike Ramsdell needed to be.
“A number of our larger churches are in the North District, and Mike’s experience and high level of excellence as a large-church pastor makes him uniquely qualified to serve as the North District Superintendent,” stated Bishop Lowry. “His wealth of experience in building vital congregations which are faithful and fruitful, and his high level of commitment for the people and local churches of the conference make Mike an excellent choice for any of our districts. However, it is his experience and long-term success at the large-church level that led me to make the difficult decision to move him from the West District to the North.”
“Rhonda and I were very much looking forward to going back to our ministry roots of the West District and very much believe the people and the ministries coming out of that part of the conference are vital and will continue to be in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Rev. Ramsdell said. “However, we are also thrilled to be able to serve in the North District. I know and love the North District well, having spent the majority of my ministry in the North Texas area.  It’s an area that contains so many churches, pastors and people we know so well. This kind of partnership is exciting, challenging and something I am eager to begin.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the people and churches of the West District became an afterthought. Quite the opposite really, once the decision was made to move Rev. Ramsdell to the North, Bishop Lowry began to pour and pray over his short-list of pastors with the appropriate skills, gifts, graces and passions to be an effective mission strategist for the West District.

Dr. Lisa Neslony

Newly Named West District Superintendent 

As he considered and consulted with members of the Cabinet and other conference leadership, one name kept bubbling up to the top – Dr. Lisa Neslony, senior pastor at Smithfield UMC.
“Actually, Lisa had been on my mind for a while now to someday take on the role of District Superintendent,” recalled Bishop Lowry. “I just thought that we were probably a year or so away from making that move. However, when Ginger decided to make the move back to the local church, it became obvious that the time to bring her on board was now.”
The West District isn’t new to Lisa. She has an impressive track record of success at Morton Chapel and De Leon UMC, where she developed several exciting and ground-breaking ministries as pastor for seven years. Her true affinity for the churches and culture of the West District allowed Bishop Lowry to make the move in 2016, and though it was a move he had considered for some time, it came from “out of the blue” for Dr. Neslony.
“I was extremely surprised and honored when Bishop Lowry called me and asked if I would consider serving the West District,” Lisa recently said. “But I was also torn about leaving Smithfield. I love the people of Smithfield more than words can convey. For the past seven years, we have laughed, cried, fought, celebrated, prayed, hoped and dreamed together. And not being able to be a part of the conclusion of the HCI projects taking place there was a tough decision. After several days of intense prayer, I felt convinced that God will provide Smithfield with every grace to move forward in faithfulness with their new spiritual leader. And I am counting on God to give me all the spiritual gifts I need to lead and serve the local churches of the West District.”
While this may not have been the way Bishop Lowry envisioned things would turn out a few months ago, he is quite sure that the Holy Spirit was and is at work in this decision and throughout the ministries of the conference. “We are living and serving in a time of change,” Bishop Lowry reminded. “It is an exciting time and an important time. Again, I want to thank all those who are coming off the Cabinet for their remarkable service to their districts, the conference and the connection as a whole. Obviously, I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I’m infinitely confident in the One who does, and I look forward to adding Lisa, Mike and Leah’s gifts and voices to the Cabinet.”
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 CEB).