2011 Texas Annual Conference
'Remember and be faithful' offered as a roadmap to increase church vitality
By Eleanor L. Colvin*
The 2011 gathering of the Texas Annual Conference shined the spotlight on the challenges facing the conference and denomination, while simultaneously testifying to God's ability to sustain and strengthen the church.
Although declining membership and worship attendance coupled with historically low apportionment receipts (84 percent), everything seemed to be bad news. However, the good news continues to be that God is faithful. Hence, the conference theme: "Remember and Be Faithful."
A fountain flowed from center stage, throughout worship and business sessions, to remind participants that the power and presence of the Holy Spirit was imparted to all believers through baptismal waters and still dwells in and among all who believe. That spirit is eager to usher in transformation and change that glorify God.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie's Episcopal Address called for change in order to curb the "creeping crisis of relevancy" and general decline. "When one part of the connection is frail, the whole body is weakened," she said. "The United Methodist Church in the United States is our mother, and our mother is not well."
Among the things crippling "the mother" is the church's inability to attract younger generations like Jacqueline Gunner, a 30-something-year-old delegate from St. Paul's UMC Port Arthur. Having been raised in Methodism and now worshipping in a church that is just shy of 100 years old, Gunner can testify to the travails of transformation. "I've seen how, when a church is stuck in traditions and doesn't evolve with time, you lose out," she said.
Gunner's cause is not unique, given that the average age of United States citizens is 35 and the average age of United Methodists is 57, according to a recently released video from the General Board of Health and Pension Benefits, which Bishop Huie utilized during her presentation.
When asked why she doesn't simply move to another church (or denomination) with more young adults, she responded without hesitation: "I'm loyal...This is my church. Why go somewhere else and start anew? This is my home." Drawing from personal experiences, Gunner said, "I just renovated my bathroom at home. It cost money, but I'm not going to move because my home needs some renovation."
Renovation is a key to revitalization, or as Conference Lay Leader Leah Taylor stated, "A vital disciple is a changed follower of Christ."
In her Episcopal Address Huie explained the denomination's Call to Action recommendations in light of transformation already occurring in the annual conference. Taylor noted that the Call to Action "gives us a tool to use as we look at how we might change for the future."
To do this, lay and clergy leaders and the churches they serve must be spiritually renovated in order to transform the communities around them.
Keynote speaker the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection spoke to this as well. "Change, innovate, improve or die," he said while holding an iPod and a 45 LP record in his hands. Tracing music's evolution from records and 8-tracks to the iPod, he demonstrated the need to continue advancing in ministry.
Despite the less-than-stellar statistics, Huie commended the gathering to consider the infinite possibilities before them. "We may not have as many resources as we'd like, but what we have is sufficient," Huie said. "God is not finished with us yet!"
New church starts remain an area of ministry that embodies new possibilities as new places of worship are developed for new people. Three new churches were chartered this year: Hope Community UMC, Lakeside UMC and The Watershed UMC.
These three churches along with other new church starts in the conference reported worship attendance of about 2,500, which offsets the decline in attendance in the TAC. One hundred percent of the new churches reported at least one profession of faith in 2010-2011; whereas, 63 percent of all TAC churches reported a profession of faith, which is still well above the denominational average of 47 percent.
"The Texas Conference is leading the church, and I'm grateful to be your bishop," Huie said, while also challenging the conference with this question: "In a sea of change, what is the risen Christ asking of us?"
In other business, the Texas Annual Conference commissioned 12 elders and one deacon, and ordained 19 elders and two deacons. The average age ordained clergy was 42.
Lay delegates elected to the General Conference were: Don House, College Station, Texas; Andy Hernandez, Montgomery, Texas; Reggie Clemons, Houston, Texas; Gil Hanke, Nashville, Tenn.; Leah Taylor, Houston, Texas; Gib Walton, Houston, Texas; Eleanor F. Colvin, Houston, Texas; Tom Wussow, Kingwood, Texas; Donna Schlitt, Houston, Texas; and Sue Sullivan, Texarkana, Texas.
Clergy delegates elected to the General Conference were: Elijah Stansell, Huffman, Texas; Chap Temple, Cypress, Texas; Morris Matthis, Sugar Land, Texas; Nancy Kellond, Spring, Texas; Steve Wende, Houston, Texas; Jim Welch, Kingwood, Texas; Kenneth Levingston, Spring, Texas; Tommy Williams, Houston, Texas; Janice Gilbert, League City, Texas; and Matt Idom, Palestine, Texas.
Lay delegates elected to the Jurisdictional Conference were: Eddie Erwin, Houston, Texas; Donel King, Houston, Texas; Sterling Allen, College Station, Texas; Carolyn Huntsman, Lovelady, Texas; Ben Lohmer, Houston, Texas; John Worsham, Houston, Texas; Melba Wilson, Port Arthur, Texas; Scott Atnip, Huntsville, Texas; Marquice Hobbs, Houston, Texas; and Bill Brown, Tyler, Texas.
Clergy delegates elected to the Jurisdictional Conference were: Keith Whitaker, Pearland, Texas; Justin Coleman, Houston, Texas; B.J. Hightower, Houston, Texas; Ben Trammell, Richmond, Texas; Pat Sparks, Missouri City, Texas; Cynthia Harvey, New York, N.Y.; Tom Pace, Houston, Texas; Jessica LaGrone, Conroe, Texas; Rob Renfroe, The Woodlands, Texas; and Jim Bankston, Houston, Texas.
Texas Annual Conference membership stands at 285,016, down 2,115 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 106,207, up 2,198. Church school attendance stands at 44,978, down 645.
* Eleanor L. Colvin is the Director of Communications for the Texas Annual Conference.