by Vance Morton*
Each year, about a week before we pack up the Conference Service Center and head out to join in fellowship, worship, learning and business with the members of the Annual Conference, I receive an e-mail from my friends and colleagues at United Methodist Communications (UMCOM) reminding me that as the communication arm of the CTC, it is my duty to send them a summary of the proceedings from our Annual Conference meeting as soon as possible after the meetings are concluded. (It seems that they would be better served to remind me of the evils of run-on sentences. ;-) My first thought upon getting this reminder is usually “as soon as possible will be after spending time reacquainting with my wife, kids and pillow.”
My next thought is always, “How in the world am I to summarize the power, energy and potential generated whenever the people of the Central Texas Conference gather in just a few paragraphs?” Of course, the answer to that is, “I can’t, but I’ll do the best I can.” What follows is the report submitted to UMCOM of our time spent together in Waco, Texas from June 3-6, a.d. 2012.
Official Summary Report of the Central Texas Annual Conference Meeting
June 3 – 6, a.d. 2012
There was something special in the air in Waco, Texas on the evening of Sunday June 3, and it wasn’t the syrupy sweetness from the local Dr. Pepper bottling plant. Rather, it was a spirit of anticipation, a spirit of excitement and a spirit of possibility that permeated the halls and sanctuary of Austin Avenue United Methodist Church as the members and guests of the 2012 Central Texas Annual Conference gathered for Opening Worship. These feelings, fostered by a year of living in and working under the direction set forth by the Exodus Project, were nothing but bolstered during the rousing and inspirational service featuring music from the choir of St. James UMC in Temple, Texas, and Worship Arts of St. Andrews UMC in Arlington, Texas, and the message from Conference Preacher Dr. Joy Moore.
A purposeful and well-planned agenda designed to transform the feel of Annual Conference from that of a business-only meeting to a time of learning, celebration and worship in which the necessary business of the conference is efficiently completed helped ensure that the spirit of Opening Worship was carried throughout the three-day meeting. Besides the inspiring messages brought forth by Dr. Moore, those assembled were treated to teachings from Dr. Gil Rendle regarding the “wilderness” times the conference and the church in general now face due to the changing world around us. As in past years, the Clergy and Lay Memorial worship service, the Retirement Service of Honor and Gratitude and the Service of Commissioning and Ordination served to remind the Annual Conference members of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. However, it was the Service of Repentance, designed to recognize and repent for actions taken against the native peoples of all nations that moved those gathered in surprising and profound ways.
In his Episcopal Address
, Bishop J. Michael Lowry, who is completing is first quadrennium as the conference’s episcopal leader, continued to set the direction for the conference as one that is missionally focused and adaptive to the challenges and changes faced by the church in a “post-Christendom” world.
During his address Bishop Lowry shared the narratives of three souls within the conference that illustrate how the church can and is changing lives. By illustrating the dire need for vital congregations with some alarming statistics that showed a decline in U.S. worship attendance of nearly 300,000, he pressed a call to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources of the conference on fostering, sustaining and increasing the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ. After celebrating the progress made throughout the conference in the areas of professions of faith (+28%), baptisms (+25%), confirmation classes (+102%), churches with gains in worship attendance (+133%), churches with at least one mission team (+68%) and churches engaged in community Outreach, Justice and Mercy ministries (+41%), Bishop Lowry shared several of the learnings from the past year and detailed how we would address what isn’t working and cultivate those processes that have been fruitful.
While many of the ministries and missions of the conference were celebrated throughout the meeting, a few special awards and acknowledgments were bestowed on members of the Central Texas Conference during the meetings, including
- The Harry Denman Evangelism Awards, recognizing those whose life and ministry exemplifies the teaching of Christ and the Great Commission, were presented to Denise Bell-Blakely, pastor, Mt. Zion/Perry Chapel UMC, Waco, Texas (clergy recipient) and Seth William Locke, DeLeon First UMC, DeLeon, Texas (youth/laity recipient)
- The Morris Walker Award, given by the Conference Board of Laity to those who demonstrate "above and beyond" service to their local church, community and conference, was conferred to Bliss Dodd, a member of First Fort Worth UMC;
- The Conference Merit Award, given to a student headed towards a United Methodist affiliated school, was given to Forrest Stanley-Stevens of First Stephenville UMC;
- The third annual Bishop’s Excellence in Preaching Award was presented to Rev. Quinton J. Gibson, senior pastor, St. James UMC, Temple, Texas.
The Bishop also took a few moments of personal privilege to share a special word of thanks and gratitude to outgoing conference Lay Leader, Steve McIver for his eight years of outstanding service as CTC Lay and Assistant Lay Leader.
Of course, in between the worship, teaching sessions and celebrations, the business of the conference was conducted. The main points of business prayerfully considered and/or voted upon during the three-day session included
- the public endorsement of Rev. Dr. Mike McKee as the conference’s official episcopal candidate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference;
- the hearing and approval of reports from the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, Center for Leadership and Center for Mission Support, as well as the Cabinet, the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Conference Core Leadership Team;
- updates on the progress of and new classes for the Healthy Church Initiative;
- updates on the progress made towards the goals set forth by the Exodus Project;
- an update on how far the conference has come against its giving goal for Imagine No Malaria (to date the conference has given more than $440,000 – nearly half-way to achieving our 5-year goal in just two years;
- the passing of a budget of approximately $9.75 million for the conference – the fifth consecutive year that the conference has passed a budget lower than the year previous;
- and the approval of relocation of the Conference Service Center to a new building being built on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas.
Bishop Lowry ordained nine elders and three deacons and commissioned five others into the ministry of elder or deacon. The membership of the conference stands at 166,532 which is an increase from 2010 and the 38th consecutive year of membership growth for the Central Texas Conference. The average weekly worship attendance stands at 46,607, down 313 persons. While the church school membership numbers rose 5,287 persons for a total of 63,076, average attendance saw a loss of 751 for an average of 21,562 in attendance each week.
*Vance is the director of Communications & IT for the Central Texas Conference. firstname.lastname@example.org