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2009 Southwest Texas Annual Conference

Southwest Texas Annual Conference
June 4-6, 2009, Corpus Christi, Texas

More than 1,300 Southwest Texas Conference lay and clergy delegates gathered inside the American Bank Center for the annual conference session and helped celebrate 150 years of ministry in the Southwest Texas area.

The gathering was the first over which Bishop Jim Dorff presided. He was elected to the episcopacy in July 2008 and he became the Southwest Texas Conference bishop in August of that year.

Dorff began the conference session urging delegates to create a culture of growth in their congregations throughout the area. "I do not believe God is done with me," he said. "I don't believe God is done with any of you, regardless of your church leadership, the length of your leadership or your competence as a leader. God is not done with me or you.

"And God is not finished with the Southwest Texas Conference or the Rio Grande Conference or the churches in them. When God is done with us, we will know quite clearly. I have yet to receive such a message," he said

To create a culture of growth on his end, Dorff said, he will be spending the next several months evaluating the ministries of both conferences in his area to determine if they could be more effective and resourceful combining efforts. He encouraged leaders, on their part, to be continually looking for ways to join the spirits work in their areas.

"Our Lord Jesus reflected a life that the creative process of God was not and is not concluded," he said. "We must continually find ways to participate with the Holy Spirit in this ongoing creative process and seek to make disciples, do what God calls and go where God calls us to go.
God can create something more out of us tomorrow than we may be today."

Conference leaders held a live auction benefiting Nothing But Nets in Sierra Leon, during which a signed Spurs basketball and a Silver Stars basketball were sold. Bruni United Methodist Church bought the Spurs ball for $2,500 and donated it back to be auctioned again. An individual from San Antonio bought the Silver Stars basketball for $2,500 and also donated it back.

"Every church can participate in this," Dorff said. "It's something you can do right now to save a life. What more of God can you do?"

By the end of the conference session, conference leaders had donated $6,000 but were still participating in a silent auction.

Joe Vasquez, chair of the council on finance and administration, reported that council members have put together a task force to evaluate the conference's current apportionments formula. Task force members would recommend formula changes during the 2010 annual conference session.

"We decided we needed to review the present formula," Vasquez said. "We want to ensure that we are fair to all the churches and that we are fair to the conference.

"Saying that, when it comes time to approve whatever recommendations the task force makes, everybody's not going to be pleased. But you can be sure it's the best possible formula we have come up with."

The Rev. Kim Cape, director of New Church Development and Transformation, reported that her office used a research company to determine areas that were ripe for new church starts in the next few years. The results are in for San Antonio and Austin, but the results for other districts will be in later this year, she said. Nine locations in both San Antonio and Austin are targeted for new church plants. Details can be found at www.umcswtx.org.

"Our responsibility in new church growth is to nurture a culture of growth by starting new churches and strengthening existing churches," Cape said. "We have witnessed thousands of neighborhoods change demographically but we've not started new congregations. We have decided it is time to revive our missionary heart. We've decided it's time to pick up the pace of the new church starts, to offer Christ today for tomorrow, to invite our strong, healthy, vibrant churches to consider repeating that ancient process, giving birth to new congregations to reach the new mission field that surrounds them."

Churches that have committed to starting new congregations include Bulverde United Methodist; First United Methodist, Seguin; Northwest Hills United Methodist, San Antonio; and University United Methodist, San Antonio.

New church starts, Cape said, make up 13 percent of the Southwest Texas Conference churches, but they contribute 27 percent of the church membership. The also account for 20 percent of the professions of faith and 25 percent of all the apportionments that are given. After an audit, Cape said the New Church Development office received $5.5 million for the Offering Christ Today for Tomorrow campaign, which helps fund new church starts.

She urged leaders to follow through on their pledges. But she said all the money the church spends and all the new pastors they recruit will not have any impact if leaders do not invite people to church. "If someone new moves down the street from you, take them a plate of cookies and say, 'Come with me to the First United Methodist Church,'" Cape said. "How hard is that? We can do this. We can do this. Together, with God's help, with Bishop Dorff's leadership and with your missionary heart beating, we can continue the ministry that was begun here in the Southwest Texas Conference 150 years ago."

The Rev. David Seilheimer, conference secretary, reported that the conference churches are in a healthy state financially. Income into the conference exceeded spending.

"The way I interpret that is that we were faithful," he said. "We recognized that we had a difficult year and put some of our capital projects on hold and used some of the money for current expenses.

"We cannot say, as a church overall in the Southwest Texas Conference that our assets and our ability to fund ministry are keeping us from doing ministry. It's simply not true."

He did say that the continuing decline in membership has to be a concern. "We have made steps in increasing new church starts," Seilheimer said. "That should begin making a difference in our membership and the ministry we do in the Southwest Texas Conference.

"We have the ability, the resources in people and in money and in will to do the ministry. Now we just have to go out and do it."

Delegates voted on 32 constitutional amendments, results are available on the conference's website at www.umcswtx.org

Leaders voted to set the 2010 Annual Conference session for June 2-5. For more annual conference pictures or information about next year's conference, visit www.umcswtx.org.

Dorff preached during the commissioning and ordination service June 5. He reminded leaders to hold on to the "vine" that is Jesus Christ.

Seventeen individuals were ordained or commissioned during a June 5 service in Corpus Christi's American Bank Center. The average age was 39.

Individuals on the conference health plan were offered a free health screening during the annual conference session June 3-6.

Membership stands at 119,198, (down) 318 from the previous year. Average worship attendance stands at 48,651, (down) 510 from previous year.

-Rachel L. Toalson