As this blog is posted (Tuesday, February 17th), the Central Texas Conference Cabinet is meeting in its yearly “Inventory Retreat.” At our retreat, we look at the needs of the Conference for clergy deployment in the upcoming year. This starts with an assessment of the number of people retiring from active appointive ministry (Christian, lay or clergy, never retire from ministry as long as they are faithful followers of Christ!) and the number of people coming in for appointments (new seminary graduates, licensed local pastors, clergy seeking transfer from other United Methodist Conferences or denominations, etc.) As can be easily imagined, it is extensive and exhausting work. Given the wild swings in need, balancing incoming and outgoing clergy is difficult. Additionally we review and pray over requests by both clergy and churches for possible changes of appointment. We seek to be driven by the Holy Spirit. Together, with all the clergy and laity of the Central Texas Conference under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, a new church is slowly coming into being. I ask for your prayers for the Cabinet on our Inventory Retreat. A critical and exciting (encouraging!) part of work is the growing diversity of the Central Texas Conference. While our dominant ethnic group continues to be Anglo, we have rising congregations with growing diversity. Our ministry continues to expand with the addition of Rev. Samuel Macias (on loan from the Northeastern Mexico Conference of the Methodist Church of Mexico) and the wonderful saints of La Trinidad UMC. We have a number of thriving Korean language (actually multi-lingual – Korean and English) churches, a vibrant Ghanaian language church (begun as a new start a few years ago) in Arlington, a French-speaking congregation, etc. Currently we have 5 different situations where an African-American pastors is serving a mostly Anglo congregation. Likewise three clergy of Korean heritage are also serving predominately Anglo congregations. (This is a dramatic rise from just a few years ago.) Additionally many predominately Anglo and/or African-American congregations are faithfully leaping old ethnic boundaries and becoming more multi-ethnic. In one situation a new church is in the process of being birthed out of two congregations, one predominantly Anglo and the other predominately African-American. Not only are we moving across ethnic lines but also across gender barriers. Among Protestant clergy as a whole, women now make up more than ½ of the seminary students. I believe we are currently at our highest number of women clergy under active appointment and have the greatest number we have ever had on Cabinet. All this and more is a work of the Lord among us. This great diversity calls to mind I Corinthians 12: “There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. … Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink” (I Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-13). Our great diversity and inclusivity is a gift God gives the church through the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Last month, the Cabinet spent a full day in training on “Intercultural Competency Partnership” under the leadership and guidance of General Secretary Erin Hawkins and a staff member from the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). It was a superb time of learning that is part of a larger missional and evangelistic framework to reach all of God’s people. I love the definition of “intercultural competency” General Secretary Hawkins taught us. “Intercultural Competency (effectiveness, agility): ‘The ability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior and/or serve as a bridge when difference is present’” (Mitchell Hammer). We will continue our learning as an entire Conference with Rev. Rudy Rasmus as our keynote teacher at this June’s Annual Conference meeting. It should be another time of great learning! Ultimately all of this is done not for our sake but for the sake of Christ and His church. Moving into Lent we are reminded again of what we are about regardless of ethnicity or gender, “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Once again the Apostle Paul speaks to us from the passages of Holy Scripture. “But we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:23-25). As we make appointments we will continue to be guided by the need to make mission field appointments based on gifts and graces that accomplish the mission. We will continue to lift up core values and commitments with a high Christology, a towering focus on the local church, and an ongoing commitment to leadership development that includes by laity and clergy. We are driven by faithfulness to Christ and service to the mission field the Lord places before us. Ministry is much more than a career. It is a holy calling. We solicit your prayers.