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My Lenten Journeys

While the season of Lent is metaphorically a spiritual journey for Christians to the cross and beyond, for me as a bishop it is also a season of various journeys around my work on various boards and agencies.  As a bishop I share with other bishops in the United Methodist Church worldwide leadership for the whole church.  Additionally, as with all bishops, I have responsibilities beyond the Central Texas Conference for various institutions which relate to either our Conference or the larger South Central Jurisdiction. This morning I will be attending a Methodist Children’s Home (MCH) Board Meeting in Austin, Texas.  MCH is truly one of the outstanding church-related institutions.  Located in Waco, Texas, MCH lives its motto “offering hope since 1890.”  There is phenomenal Christ-honoring ministry with children that live on the margins of love and care.  This work becomes even more critical as state funding for foster children is cut and service expectations climb.  Where ever we stand on the political spectrum, the church of Jesus Christ is doing a good and godly work in this ministry.  By necessity we need to do more.  Dr. Tim Brown (President of MCH) comments in his Presidential report: “Currently there is also a higher than normal number of children across Texas that are being removed from their families due to abuse or neglect.”  MCH receives some of the children removed by the judicial system from their homes, but the reimbursement rate from the state does not even come close to covering the full cost.  For a people who hear Christ speaking to us saying, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children” (Matthew 19:14), this ministry is immensely meaningful and transforms lives. Sunday will mark a special treat for me.  In the fall of 1974 as young seminary student, I began my seminary internship (think student/teacher) at First United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas.  For me it was a life changing, nine month period of learning.  I was literally blessed to be mentored by an outstanding Senior Pastor, Dr. Jack Heacock.  The Intern Committee (a group of lay people with the Sr. Pastor who guided my work) and the congregation were wonderful.  I remember teaching my first Sunday School class, The Downtowners.  I remember fumbling through the lesson.  They were super supportive and very helpful with constructive positive feedback.  I can remember another situation where a street person came in the office for help and counseling.  She was very suicidal.  A member of the Intern Committee who was also a practicing licensed psychotherapist with immeasurable patience guided my response and the response of this caring congregation.  I can continue with stories but suffice to say it is a joy to return to First UMC, Austin this Sunday. Monday morning (too early for my tastes!) I will fly to Nashville for two days of meeting on the Path 1 initiative of the United Methodist Church.  Path 1 is a branch of the United Methodist Churches’ Discipling Ministries.  (Discipling Ministries used to be called The General Board of Discipleship.)  Path 1 works on new church development in the United States.  We in the Central Texas Conference have been recipients of Path 1 Interns, a program that places potential new church developers (clergy who start new congregations) with mentor clergy and congregations.  This past year David Alexander and Mike Ramsdell at First United Methodist Church of Mansfield have been working with Rev. Jennifer Pick. Among the issues we will be wrestling with are hearing reports on new church planting in the United States for the 2012-2016 quadrennium. (Our denominational goal was 1,000 new places for new disciples.)  A second important task will be preliminary work on setting broad measurable goals for the next quadrennium (2017-2020).  Our third major component involves dialog with Dr. Timothy Bias, the General Secretary of Discipling Ministries, focusing our direction and alignment as we move forward into the future the Lord is calling into being. I have the privilege of sharing responsibilities in this work with Bishop James Swanson (The Mississippi Conference) and Bishop Mark Webb (The Upper New York Conference).  Each Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church is represented on the Path 1 Advisory Committee.  It is a joy to share that Rev. Gary Lindley (Executive Director of the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth of the Central Texas Conference) represents the SCJ (South Central Jurisdiction). [I always want to stress that work in new church development is matched with work/ministry for and with the transformation of existing congregations; what we call “Vital Congregations.”  Bishop John Schol of The Greater New Jersey Conference chairs this effort, and I work with him and that group as the Chair of the Council of Bishops Congregational Vitality Leadership Team.  The two together are a central part of any great ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!] Hopefully I’ll end up back at home late Tuesday evening and back in the office on Wednesday, March 11th.  Saturday, March 14th Jolynn and I will head back out again to Ballinger, Texas where I will be preaching Sunday the 15th.  It is my joy to share with you in our great ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!