2013 Central Texas Annual Conference
June 9-12, Arborlawn United Methodist Church, Fort Worth, Texas
If at first blush you find the themes of "Embracing Change/New Ways of Thinking" and "Getting Back to Basics" to be in conflict, if not diametrically opposed with each other, you would not be alone. You also would not have been in attendance at the 147th Central Texas Annual Conference to witness the preaching, teaching, actions and discussions that served to weave these two themes together into a tapestry of hope and direction for the Central Texas Conference.
Presiding over his fifth Central Texas Annual Conference meeting, Bishop J. Michael Lowry served as the conference preacher and continued to lead the conference through a wilderness of change that began with the 2011 adoption of the Exodus Project. Each time he rose to preach, he did so with three core convictions for the conference at the top of his mind...
- the need to engage in deep cultural change that embraces radical discipleship to the way of Christ;
- the necessity of empowering local churches that are committed to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world;
- and the prerequisite step of developing the next generation of lay and clergy leadership.
While Bishop Lowry's messages were focused on the future, they were also firmly grounded in the roots of our past - both Wesleyan as well as in those of early Christians known in their time as "Followers of the Way." With each of his five messages, Bishop Lowry did not fail to inspire towards tomorrow and remind that we must reclaim the great doctrines of biblical Christianity - doctrines such as a focus on Christ as Lord; original sin (i.e. the radical human flaw found in all); The Good News of salvation; discipleship as a way of life; and walking with Christ in transcendent & transforming spiritual formation.
The Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, author of numerous books including "Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church," and faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary, continued to weave the ideas of change and tradition together with her unique and renowned insight for ministry to and for youth and young adults. During each of her three special teaching sessions - one for an assembly of the laity and two for the entire membership - Dean demonstrated the need for adults (church leaders, teachers, parents, mentors&ellipsis;) to model their faith to youth - not just preach or teach it and to make sure that today's youth and young people understand that "this faith stuff" truly matters.
One new aspect of this year's conference was when the membership gave of their time and actively engaged in five different mission projects. In just a couple of hours, the CTC AC2013 members and guests built 25,000 Kids Against Hunger kits, 150 UMCOR bedding kits, 180 UMCOR sewing kits, 1,300 snack sacks and wrote as many as 300 JFON advocacy pieces of correspondence.
Other highlights of the 2013 Central Texas Annual Conference included&ellipsis;
An Episcopal & Lay dialogue session (in lieu of the traditional Episcopal Address) with Bishop Lowry, Conference Lay Leader Kim Simpson and young adult Lay Representative Kylie Campbell focusing on the ways that the laity of the CTC is working and can work to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world;
General Ray Bailey's breakout session on "The Ten Commandments of Leadership";
A stirring tale from the Center for Leadership on how the conference is employing Wesleyan spirituality and theology, the transformation of local churches, clergy and lay leadership, ministry with the poor, new churches, accountability and extravagant generosity in the development of the next generation of leadership;
The revelation that in the first two years of HCI, 102 clergy members have participated in Pastoral Leadership Development groups, as well as 391 participants in lay leadership development programs;
The announcement that for the first time, the Central Texas Conference is joining with Path 1 to provide a church planting internship and that the conference has at least four new church starts in the works for the coming year; and
- A report on just a sampling of the many ways the people of Central Texas are being the hands and feet of Christ in their communities, state, nation and world.
Many more of the ministries and missions of the conference were also celebrated throughout the meeting, and a few special awards and acknowledgments were bestowed on members of the Central Texas Conference during the meetings.
The Harry Denman Evangelism Awards, recognizing those whose life and ministry exemplifies the teaching of Christ and the Great Commission, were presented to the Rev. Joel Robbins (clergy recipient) and Chris Rowe, (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 Darcy Deupree (lay recipient) and Will Cotton (clergy).
The Conference Merit Award, given to students headed to a United Methodist affiliated school, was given to Kevin Gregory and Joy Dister.
- The fourth annual Bishop's Excellence in Preaching Award was presented to Rev. David Alexander, pastor, Mansfield UMC.
While there was a determined effort to spend as much time as possible during Annual Conference in worship, service or learning sessions, the business of the conference was, of course, fully addressed. Chief among that business was the unanimous adoption to receive La Trinidad United Methodist Church into the Central Texas Conference. The body also voted to move the date of future retirements, moving and conference appointments to July 1; approved the proposed budget for the conference; overwhelming voted to approve all four Constitutional Amendments as put forth by the 2012 General Conference; and voted to elect delegates to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences at the 2014 meeting, as permitted in the 2012 Book of Discipline.
Bishop Lowry ordained four elders and commissioned nine others into the ministry of elder or deacon. The average age of those ordained is 49 years young and the average age of those commissioned is 38. The membership of the conference stands at 166,857, which is an increase from the year prior and the 39th consecutive year of membership growth for the Central Texas Conference. The average weekly worship attendance stands at 46,894 (in the principle worship services), which is up 287 persons. Church school membership numbers dipped a little from the year previous for a total of 69,240, down 186 persons.
- J. Vance Morton, director of communications & IT, Central Texas Conference