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Good News on a Great Connection

Amid reports on institutional angst and anguish (including the recent letter from the Council of Bishops) what is often lost is the great good news of tremendous ministry taking place through the United Methodist Connection. Friends, there are some really great things happening in mission and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Connection.  Great news that came out of the Council of Bishops includes (but are not limited to!): 1.News that we have taken a giant leap towards our goal of raising $75 million to fight the killer disease with Imagine No Malaria. 2.  In our focus in establishing Vital Congregations through “New Places for New People,” the UMC Connection has blown past our benchmark goals.
  • We can celebrate that with just 37 conferences reporting so far, there are 91 new church plants for 2013.  The Western Jurisdiction has already doubled the amount of church plants from the previous year.  So far we are planting in the United States approximately 11 new churches per month.  Our total number of new churches since 2008 is 776!
  • East Africa alone reports 442 new churches or faith communities.  The General Board of Global Ministries reports that we have started more than 574 new congregations outside the US since 2008 through Mission Initiatives.  We now have more new faith communities (“New Places for New People”) in Vietnam than we have churches in Minnesota!
  • Our Congregational Vitality Initiative transforming existing congregations into robust, vital congregations for the 21st Century is succeeding.  Bishop John Schol (lead Bishop on the Vital Congregations project, which is a part of the Focus Area on “New Places for New People”) reports an increase in the number of vital congregations in the United Methodist Church in the United States.  This is based on both a critical review of the metrics (worship attendance, mission engagement, professions of faith, small groups for bible study and spiritual formation, and extravagant generosity) and the developing pattern of metrics reports.  This is really great news!
3.  The Central Conference Pension Initiative (CCPI), which was established to provide pensions for retired clergy in Africa, has reached its audacious goal!  Pensions are now provided for the poorest pastors in the global United Methodist Church.  Should you happened to see Mr. Earl Cox (a layperson from First UMC, Fort Worth, or Dr. Tim Bruster (Senior Pastor of First UMC, Fort Worth, or Bishop Chamness) join with me in offering them your heartfelt thanks!  These three (along with many others!) championed this great work of God.  Brothers and sisters in Christ have food on their table tonight because of their work. There is more to share, much more.  We heard reports of new initiatives in ministry with the poor, leadership development through scholarships and special training opportunities, etc.  The Four Focus Areas (New Places for New People, Leadership Development, Ministry with the Poor, & Combating Killer Diseases) are moving forward in the name of the Lord! Here in Central Texas there is also good news on the great connection known as the United Methodist Church.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is a tremendous mission outreach ministry of the UMC.  It is at work in our name offering the love and help of Christ to those in need.  I came home from the COB meeting with two letters of announcement waiting for me.
  • “I am very pleased to announce that United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has approved your grant request up to the amount of $200,000 U.S. Dollars for Continued Recovery West Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion 2013 from November 1, 2013 to November 1, 2015.”
  • “I am very pleased to announce that United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has approved your grant request up to the amount of $200,000 U.S. Dollars for Granbury Tornado Continued Response 2013 from November 1, 2013 to October 31, 2015.”
Our mission work is not just over “there” but right here at home in the Central Texas Conference! Our Conference Center for Mission Support is following up with appropriate local officials on these projects. I remember well standing in the lobby of the Terrace Hotel at Lake Junaluska on a break from our COB meeting when Bishop Rudy Juan approached me with tears in his eyes.  Bishop Juan has become a good personal friend.  We’ve worked together on the “New Places for New People” Focus Area.  He is the resident bishop for Manila in the Philippines.  As we talked he poured out his heartfelt concern for the people and churches of his country as Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines.  I assured him of our prayers and support.  With Methodists all over the world, we are taking a special offering for relief efforts through UMCOR. The United Methodist News reads in part:  “A few weeks ago you had probably never heard of Tacloban, one of the cities in the Philippines hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan. Because of the support of United Methodists, UMCOR is one of the first groups to get into this devastated city with emergency relief supplies. typhoon relief UMCOR was uniquely positioned to do this because of the strong United Methodist Church network in the Philippines, the staff on the ground who were ready to take action, and the generous support of donors like you.” The great connection of ministry known as the United Methodist Church is working.  In the name of Christ we are offering help and hope here at home and around the world.  I want all to know this good news! Closer to home but of similar excitement is the emergence of a true partnership with the Eastern Mexico Conference of the Methodist Church in Mexico.  The Central Texas Conference is taking a Thanksgiving offering for this missional outreach.  The funds will be used to support CTC ministry work teams travelling to Eastern Mexico as well as teams from the Eastern Mexico Conference travelling to Central Texas. Internship programs through the John Wesley Seminary in Monterrey and scholarships for students at the John Wesley Seminary will also be supported via this Special Offering.  I invite you to join with Jolynn and me in giving both to the UMCOR Typhoon Relief for victims of Typhoon Hiayan in the Philippines and the Thanksgiving (Thanksliving!) offering for a true mission partnership with the Eastern Mexico Conference.