Bishop Lowry Named One of Four Interim Bishops to Rio Texas

Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops decides on unique approach for filling vacant episcopal leadership in Rio Texas Conference

by Vance Morton

An unprecedented approach to filling a vacancy in an episcopal office has been approved by the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops. During a called meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, North Texas Conference Bishop Mike McKee, President of the SCJ College, outlined a team approach to share leadership for the Rio Texas Conference. After discussion and prayerful consideration, the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops voted to adopt the plan that brings Bishops Mike Lowry (Central Texas), Janice Huie (Texas), Robert Schnase (Missouri) and Joel Martinez (retired) together to form a team to provide episcopal leadership for the Rio Texas Conference until Sept. 1.
Currently three episcopal vacancies - Oklahoma, Rio Texas and Texas – are scheduled to be filled during the 2016 South Central Jurisdictional Conference July 13-16. Once elected, bishops assume their offices on Sept. 1.
Bishop Huie will serve as the bishop of record for Rio Texas and will have final responsibility for all appointive and other decisions requiring the bishop’s authority. Bishops Lowry, Martinez and Schnase will fulfill episcopal functions for the conference as decided by the episcopal team.
All four of the bishops asked to serve as interim bishops have ties to the old Rio Grande and/or Southwest Texas Conferences (those two conferences came together in 2015 to form the current Rio Texas Conference). Bishop Lowry pastored served local churches in San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Harlingen and Kerrville as well as serving as the Southwest Texas Conference Executive Director of New Church Development and Transformation prior to his 2008 election and consecration as Bishop.
“I spent the majority of my pre-episcopal ministry in the old Southwest Texas Conference prior to being elected bishop,” recalled Bishop Lowry. “As a child of that conference, I bring a great love and respect for the people and ministries of the newly formed Rio Texas Conference. I’m humbled by this opportunity shared with Bishops Huie, Martinez and Schnase to help the local churches of Rio Texas continue to move forward in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
When asked what this meant for his work in the Central Texas Conference, Bishop Lowry quipped that it means his calendar will need a bit of an overhaul, but emphatically reaffirmed that he remains the bishop of the CTC. “While I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead, I remain fully dedicated to and focused on the ministries and mission of the local churches of the Central Texas Conference. The great work of offering Christ to all and sharing in the great kingdom building work of love, justice and mercy is in full effect all across the Central Texas Conference. I’m more energized than ever to be a part of these great works.”
The team approach to episcopal leadership is a new one for all those involved, but one Bishop Lowry and the SCJCOB believes is the best way to continue the mission of the Rio Texas Conference. “This is an unprecedented and unique approach for addressing the challenging transition of the Rio Texas episcopal office,” stated Bishop Lowry. “I applaud the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops for its prayerful consideration and willingness to step outside of traditional thinking to help the Rio Texas Conference and its local churches. I’d also like to thank the people and churches of the Central Texas Conference for their support and patience as we live into this new leadership paradigm”
Bishop McKee officially announced the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops’ decision to have Bishops Huie, Lowry, Schnase and Martinez serve as the episcopal leadership team to the Rio Texas at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13. The following is the letter sent to the people and churches of the Rio Texas Conference.
Dear Clergy and Lay Members of the Rio Texas Annual Conference,
Light and Grace to you in this Epiphany Season.
Thank you for your faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You have begun a new thing with the creation of the Rio Texas Annual Conference. The spirit in which you have come together to journey a new path has inspired many persons to imagine what God can do in the midst of committed United Methodists.

During this difficult time of transition in the episcopal office, the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops has been in prayer for you and your continued witness. When a vacancy occurs in an episcopal office, the College has the responsibility to name an interim bishop to serve until bishops are elected at a jurisdictional conference. The College has asked bishops who are sons and daughters of the former Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conferences to form a team who will provide episcopal leadership and supervision. Bishop Janice Huie of the Texas Conference, Bishop Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, Bishop Joel Martinez, who is retired, and Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference have agreed to come home to serve in the conference and area they love. Bishops Huie, Lowry, and Schnase will continue to serve in their respective annual conferences. With Bishop Martinez, they will divide the responsibilities of the Bishop of the Rio Texas Conference. Bishop Huie will be named as the interim bishop of record.

The team approach is unique, but I am confident that it will serve the Rio Texas Conference well until a new bishop is assigned to the Rio Texas Conference at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July. That new bishop begins serving on September 1.

I have had the joy to work with the Cabinet of the Rio Texas Conference and am grateful for their leadership and faithfulness.

May God continue to bless your witness.

Michael McKee
President, South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops