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Updated: 1 hour 37 min ago

Abundant Life UMC Facilitating New Multi-Ethnic Connections

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
The revitalization of a community garden is resulting in a fruitful outreach and harvest of new relationships.
Some of the most important discoveries have started with a sketch on a napkin over lunch. The latest mission field initiative of one church in Lufkin started with a conversation over lunch as well. The music director and a choir member of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and Rev. David Briggs of Abundant Life UMC connected one day to get to know one another better. “Music Director Greg Simmons was very candid in stating that the Episcopal Church was very white and he wanted the church to fellowship with a church of a different race,” shares David. “Since our membership is primarily African American, I quickly agreed to plan a get-together.”
He adds, “We scheduled a Wednesday fellowship between the two churches the following month at St. Cyprian’s. Both congregations were excited to be with one another and the turnout exceeded each of our expectations. After two fellowship gatherings, we decided to deepen our relationship through a shared community mission project. After thoughtful consideration, we decided to partner to revive our community garden located in the heart of a predominantly African American and Hispanic community.”
To bring the two congregations on board, church leaders held the third fellowship outdoors next to a freshly tilled, two-acre garden. “Amidst a backdrop of fertile soil,” David shares, “we announced our desire to cultivate the largest community garden in Lufkin and share its produce with the surrounding community. Both congregations were excited and eager to get started.”
Greg and David decided to appoint two people from each church as the steering team to maintain the garden on a day-to-day basis. “We chose experienced gardeners that know how to drive a tractor,” he adds. The team let Greg and David know when to plant, what to plant, and when to harvest. Likewise, Greg and David shared the information with their respective congregations.
“We framed the goal of our work around growing closer together as brothers and sisters in Christ and to be a witness of God’s love and grace in the community,” he says, adding, “and as a result, we agreed to do everything together.”
Table Talk
The first challenge the organizers faced was figuring out how to get the surrounding community involved. Admits David, “After all, it was a community garden but it felt more like a church garden. After another brainstorm meeting over lunch, we decided the practical thing to do was to organize a community walk-through. We went from house to house, inviting our neighbors to help us maintain and harvest the garden. In return, they would be entitled to as much produce as they wanted. If they were not physically able to help, we would bring the produce to them.”
Pastor David connected with a kind woman who had lived across from the community garden for 40 years. She was enthusiastic about what the churches were doing. “Since she knew almost everyone on every block. When I asked her to put together a list of addresses of people she thought would benefit from the garden, she gave me a list of over 200 addresses,” he shares
Leaders took this plan back to their respective congregations where it was received with excitement. Over 65 people from Abundant Life UMC and St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church were soon walking throughout the neighborhood and recruiting another 60 volunteers and recipients to be a part of the garden.
“For me, the community garden is a means to reconnect with the community. Everyone appreciates fresh food, and I know God is pleased with the work we are doing to show the love and grace of Jesus Christ,” says Abundant Life member Vincent James. St. Cyprian’s member Lynell Stover adds, “Working in the community garden is rewarding because we are working together as a family to harvest fresh food for those in need, as well as ourselves. God is definitely at work here.”
David reports that the garden is growing quickly and the harvest is done together “with the community by our side.” The churches are planning additional fellowships and growing closer together as believers in Christ. Adds David, “The community garden has brightened our witness in the community and has made others curious about how we live, serve, and fellowship together.”
An Added Bonus
This exciting community development brought the church great publicity on the local news:
Members of two Lufkin churches harvest community garden crop to give to people in need

 “I enjoy working in the Community garden because it helps to provide nutritious food to people who need it, but more than that, because we are bringing together people from different parts of the community and building new friendships. There is no better way to do that than by working together in a field, picking vegetables in the heat of the day,” says Bernard Hylands, St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, one of the project initiators. Martha Williams is an appreciative beneficiary of this new endeavor. “I’m not physically able to work in the garden but I greatly appreciate my Abundant Life church family for what they are doing. I thank God for them.”
Abundant Life leaders are happy to help other churches start a similar outreach. The church shares its heartwarming story of a multi-ethnic, multi-denomination partnership on video here.



Bishop Jones Confirms 59 students

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
Kingwood UMC’s thriving confirmation ceremony featuring a record number of confirmands.
At Kingwood UMC, confirmation is much more than a topic of conversation. As a vital congregation, Kingwood UMC Invests in the Young by hosting a nine-month program that helps youth claim for themselves the name Christian and United Methodist. Recently some 59 sixth graders took this significant step in their journey of faith, and Bishop Scott Jones was there to encourage and pray over them.
“We typically confirm about 35-45 students each year,” says youth director Stacey Sweet. “Although our numbers have been steadily going up, this was an unusually big group. I believe that is because we strive to come alongside students and their families to provide opportunities to understand what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ and live that out in their daily lives. My prayer is that confirmation is a transformational year for these students.”
Since sixth grade is a big transition year to middle school, Kingwood UMC’s Student Ministry department strives to help families navigate those transitions by offering programs that boost success at each new level of school. “We kicked off the year with an overnight retreat to get acquainted, worship and learn together, and to write our class covenant,” explains Stacey. Throughout the year, sixth graders participate in many missions outside of their learning time. For example, they worked in two community gardens, served the local church at outreach events and the Society of St. Stephen. “Each student also creates their own family mission project and shared the love of Christ with their neighbors,” says Stacey. Student Jessica MacIntosh completed her family mission project by planting new plants at the church.
Confirmands and other students often participate in worship by serving as acolytes and serving communion. Among other activities, students worshiped at Central UMC in Galveston and helped at the Seeding Galveston event, visited Temple Beth Torah in Humble, and participated in a food drive to benefit Mission Northeast.
 “Our 12-year old daughter, Maggie, has looked forward to her year since 2012 when she admired the confirmation program through the words and emotions of one of her brothers,” shares Paige Carrigan. Maggie describes her confirmation experience as “learning the role of a church member, the history of the Methodist Church and a greater appreciation for Jesus with new and old friends.” Maggie says, “Our class of 59 sixth graders enjoyed mission work, Bible study, Sunday mornings with our pastors, retreats and reading our Bibles at Chick-fil-a, and so much more. All of this taught us to take the love of Christ forward to others. One of my favorite confirmation activities was visiting a local Jewish Temple.”
“As a parent, it was incredible to see our daughter grow from a child in the church to feeling more like a confident member -- through her profession of faith and being showered by the love of Christ and His followers,” Maggie explains.
Confirmation is a priority at Kingwood UMC, as evidenced by a district wide discussion hosted there this spring. Explains Stacey, “We invited pastors, church staff and volunteers to join us for an idea exchange regarding confirmation. The session also allowed participants to brainstorm solutions to challenges and gave all an opportunity to look at the new curriculum and discuss implementation.”  
Confirmation Covenant 2016-2017
We promise to grow in our faith through worship and prayer to strengthen our relationship with God.  By focusing on God and His word, we will strive to demonstrate love and respect to all God's children.  We will spread God's love by sharing God's word, inviting people to learn about God and serving others when our help is needed.  Through prayer, we will follow the path God has set out for us.  We will grow by surrounding ourselves with the prayers, love and support of our family, classmates and church members.  We will anchor ourselves to the Trinity so we can be firm and secure in our faith.

Church Tech Tips

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
The Center for Congregational Excellence has specialists offering free technology consultation to churches across the district.
Neil Connelly is a resourceful member of Atascosita UMC (AUMC) with a knack for technology who learned to live stream the worship services using only his smart phone. Neil’s technology world brightened recently when he heard about Toby Dagenhart, a member of the TAC Communications Advisory Committee with a passion to share his technology expertise with other congregations.
At AUMC’s Vibrant Church Initiative Communications workshop, Neil learned that Toby is the managing director of creative arts and production at Chapelwood UMC Houston, and serves as one of the church resource “specialists” that the Center for Congregational Excellence offers, at no charge.
To improve the audio and live streaming process, AUMC invited Toby to the campus recently to make recommendations. “Toby quickly identified areas for improvement. He was a fantastic resource -- very accessible, knowledgeable and thorough,” Neil says.
Toby, Joe Montes and other members of the Chapelwood technology team consider it part of their job to use their talents not only at their home church – but beyond. “I love helping others leverage technology on behalf of the kingdom,” Toby shares. “We are blessed to have equipment, employees and experience and we want to share those blessings with others, as time allows.”
Specialists “To Go”
Rev. Dr. Jesse Brannen, Director of the TAC Center for Congregational Excellence is thrilled to have a team of technology specialists to offer churches of all sizes. “Subject experts are among our best resources for congregations,” he explains, “and we also have experts in stewardship, communications, leadership, finance and worship planning. We are happy to assist churches go from good to great in any way we can.”
In addition to consulting churches on live streaming techniques and options, Toby’s tech team can also assess and make recommendations on projectors, video screens, sound systems, and other technology related to audiovisual and IT needs. “We truly enjoy working alongside other churches to find new ways to build the kingdom,” he adds. “It is always a collaborative partnership where we learn from others while we share our knowledge.”
AUMC’s Rev. Deborah Proctor says, “We are still in the implementation phase but it’s already clear that Toby and Joe are exceedingly helpful in bringing impartial advice. They met with our volunteer team and helped take the conversation to a new level.” Adds Deborah, “We appreciate these specialists helping expand the audio to include our congregational singing. Our worship team is putting their advice into action to consistently guarantee a quality broadcast.”
Toby’s Tip: Churches Qualify for Google Ad Grants
Church leaders may be excited to learn that Google offers tools to help nonprofits be more efficient, more collaborative and to share their story with a wider audience. Toby has experienced the benefits of Google Ad Grants and he is pleased to share this resource with churches seeking in-kind advertising through Google Search.
Q- How do you get started?
A Step one is to register with Tech Soup, Google’s authentication partner, and once they verify the 501c3 status, churches can bid on key words with their grant money and then create text ads. These words act as search engine magnets and can be targeted to geographical areas or broader terms that might draw an international audience.

A- “For Chapelwood UMC, we’ve used our Google Ad Words campaign to promote Easter and Vacation Bible School activities to our local community, and we’ve used this free resource to promote live worship to a much more global audience,” Toby reports. “This is a measurable tool to expand your outreach efforts. We have received many clicks on all of our ads, and we have more and more people telling us that they found us through Google.”
Q- What about the payment information section on the application?
A- Toby explains, “When registering for the grant program, it is important to ignore the payment information section on the application. Skip over it and you will be able to access your ad word credits later in the process.”
Q- How do you select the best “ad words”?
A- There are tutorials that take a little time but are worth. Google Grants allow nonprofits to bid up to $2 max for keywords.
Q- What is Google Grant Ad Words Express?
A- For nonprofits without volunteers or staff to handle this, Ad Words Express is a simpler, quicker resource to leverage keywords. There is a trade off with expediency and effectiveness, but it is still a good tool to boost Internet exposure.
Q- Are there any requirements?
A- Google requires grantees to log in at least every 30 days and modify something. It’s best to set a reminder on the calendar for this. Churches spend a lot of money optimizing their website, but this is a no-cost and low-maintenance option to grow web traffic.”
To pursue technology help or Google Grant advice from this talented volunteer team, email Toby Dagenhart at tdagenhart@chapelwood.org or call the church at 713-354-4464. The Tech Team will consult with other churches, at no charge, as time allows.

Fun Raising While Fund Raising

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
The Crossing Student Ministry used ingenuity to raise $572 for summer camp during their first-ever “Gnarly Necktie” fundraiser this May at Grace Crossing UMC in Longview. Teams of students created several outlandish neckties, then encouraged the congregation to vote with their dollars on the tie Dr. John Whitehurst would model for his sermon message. Although Pastor John does not typically wear a tie to church, he was not surprised the congregation chose an outlandish creation to make the fundraiser a success.
“It is a joy to serve a congregation with such a good sense of humor,” says Dr. Whitehurst. “They made sure that the first time I ever wore a tie on a Sunday morning at Grace Crossing, it was a pretty gnarly one indeed.”
Funds for Fun
 “Many of our students who come on Wednesday nights to The Crossing are not involved with Grace Crossing,” explains Kristen Ray, director of student ministries, “and many of them couldn't afford to go to UM ARMY or Lakeview without some help from the church. So, we have fundraisers throughout the year to help with the camp fund.”
The youth group’s creativity is also evident in the “Undie 500” and “Mystery Ramble” activities. Notes Kristen, “We just wrapped up our annual Undie 500 where we collect underwear for an agency that puts these in a welcome bag when they place children with a foster family. We collected over 500 pair of underwear in a Little Tykes plastic race car bed in our church lobby.”
Next month, students will partner with the Buckner Foundation this year for the annual Summer Feeding Program. Students will provide food, a Bible lesson and an activity/craft for children who live at one of the local low-income apartment complexes.
Last summer The Crossing students went on their first Mystery Ramble to San Antonio. The students are given just enough information to know what to pack, but they don't know where they are going until arriving at their destination. Students are looking forward to the 2017 Mystery Ramble August 3-6th.
The Grace Crossing youth group also has several Mission Mix-Ups throughout the year. These service opportunities involving The Crossing and the Goodness Graces Women’s Ministry are held to intentionally develop intergenerational relationships through mission work. “Our Mission Mix-Ups are a great way for the youth to get to know other adults outside of their family,” shares Kristin. “These events have been a highlight for both the students and the adults.”
Kyleigh Campbell, 16, agrees, saying, “The friendliness of the staff and other adults at the church -- and the mission work that we do together – are some of the reasons that I keep coming back each week!”
Joey Egbe, 13, agrees that their special brand of support is one of his favorite things about The Crossing Student Ministry. “The adults are great examples as servant leaders,” he adds.
“Grace Crossing is full of generous people who enjoy all the wacky, creative and fun ideas we come up with,” says Kristen. “It’s great for the youth to feel the support of the whole congregation, and our church does that so well.”
Communication Director Stephanie Adams adds, “It helps that Pastor John is always the biggest, goofiest ‘kid’ in the room.”

Pastor Makes History

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
The pastor of First UMC Brazoria is serving in a new ministry role for the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.
This May, Rev. Don Brown, FUMC Brazoria, became one of the first six clergypersons in the country to serve in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary’s “Clergy Support” (ACS) program. The ACS program designates qualified clergypersons to assist as unpaid volunteers to supplement the work of the US Navy Chaplains serving the Coast Guard. “It is an exciting honor to provide support to the real heroes of the Coast Guard,” Don shares. “Chaplain, LT, Ken Espinosa of the Houston-Galveston/Corpus Christi sectors is one busy man. It is my privilege to help him out in any way I can,” says Don.
Ken says, “Don is the first UMC pastor to fill this role in Texas.” Adds Ken, “My territory stretches from Lake Charles to South Padre so, if there is an emergency in one area while I am in another area, it will be very helpful to have Don to assist with ministry needs when I cannot be there.” He is thankful to have an auxiliary chaplain resource through this new program, knowing each of the six appointed clergy have been vetted and are trustworthy and ready for service. “Don is a force multiplier,” he adds, “because he will be helping us virtually double our strength to handle ministry needs much more effectively.”
Somewhat unexpectedly, Don became involved with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) ACS program before the program was officially finalized. “While traveling home from Lakeview last year, I received a call from a friend asking for help in providing a funeral location for a mutual friend who was killed in a civilian aircraft crash,” Don explains. “I offered to have the funeral at FUMC Brazoria. Several senior USCG officers were in attendance who mentioned that an effort was underway to add clergy support to the Auxiliary program.”
“Since then, I have been privileged to assist Chaplain Espinosa in conducting a funeral at the USCG base in Galveston for another Auxiliarist,” he adds. “I have also filled in for him at the ceremony recognizing the 47th Master Cutterman, which is the award recognizing an accrued 20 years of sea duty.”
The thorough application process involved a special background investigation, getting recommendations from a USCG Chaplain, a USCG officer and/or commander, verification of academic training, and approval from his District Superintendent, and the United Methodist Endorsing Agency. “I interviewed with the Commander of Sector Houston-Galveston,” Don adds, “and in May I was officially appointed.”
He describes his first “official” task as exciting and humbling. “I offered the invocation at the Coast Guard Foundation's Houston Gala on May 24th. I was honored to meet Commander of District Eight of the USCG, Rear Admiral David Callahan, USCG, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, USCG.” Following the event he received a Commandant's challenge coin as a thank you. “I already have it in a special case,” he adds.
Adds Don, “The next I provided the invocation for the change of command for USCG Cutter ‘Hatchet’ at the Sector Field Office in Galveston.”
Don has been a member of the USCG Auxiliary (Flotilla 6-10 at Air Station-Houston, Ellington Field) since 2008 and served from 1997-1999 before leaving to focus on his seminary education. “Currently, I serve as the Member Training Officer in Flotilla 6-10 along with my recent appointment to the Auxiliary Clergy Support program.”

Summer Bible Challenge: There’s an App for That

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
St. Luke’s Houston launched a Scripture+Shared app that is engaging families, small groups and individuals of all ages in summer Bible reading, study, videos and more. Members and others are joining the 2017 summer challenge. Get started.  

Glance around any public space – the grocery store, the doctor’s office waiting room and even in most restaurants – and you will notice many of the people looking at their phones. For better or worse, smartphones have become permanent fixtures in our lives. With that in mind, St. Luke’s UMC in Houston decided to develop a smartphone app to deliver its flagship Bible study curriculum.
Unlike most church apps that offer sermon videos, Sunday morning check in, a pastor’s blog, or donation options, St. Luke’s wanted its app to have an interactive Bible study format that would allow users to study scripture in community. “Studying the Bible is one of our five ‘Inside-Out Habits,’” explains Suzi Pitts, SLUMC communication director, “because reading the Bible and discussing it with others is life-changing.” Currently over 2,218 have downloaded the app and almost 1,500 within the church have joined the summer challenge – even people from out of state.
St. Luke’s used the platform, Subsplash, for the Bible study app. It was selected for its attractive pricing and easy-to-use interface that allows customized content. One of the advantages of using an app instead of printed material is that the authors do not have to prepare 12 weeks of material in advance of the study’s launch. New materials were added a week at a time, which also gave time for high-quality video production. Small group leaders had everything they needed and many watched the weekly video together from their phones to a TV via a lightning adapter. “People are also excited that the app offers a way to ask questions,” adds Group Life Coordinator, Katie Montgomery Mears.
The church launched this multi-level campaign to encourage members, attenders and the public to download the app and study the Bible with a friend – to share in community.  “I think some of the genius of this app is the conversational aspect of this technology,” adds Suzi. “You can do this with your toes in the sand, during a lunch break, or in a waiting room. I’m also personally using the app to interact with one of my god-daughters, age 19, who loves it because it’s fresh and fun.”

An app captures the imagination of a broad spectrum of ages, especially in the younger demographic, late teens through 40s. For that reason, St. Luke’s did a broad push on their two social media handles, Facebook (@stlukeshouston) and Instagram (@slumc), since the easiest adapters were likely already active on their smart phones and accustomed to downloading new apps. “We did a few boosts on some of our Facebook posts, increasing views and engagement, and more visits to our website,” adds Suzi. “In addition to the church’s in-house publications, a Google AdWords Pay Per Click campaign advertising “Free Online Bible App Scripture+Shared” resulted in a 4% click-through rate and brought many people to our website to download the app and learn more about St. Luke’s.”

The inaugural study, Journey to Jerusalem, took a look at the arc of Jesus' life, and how Matthew, Mark, and Luke have specific themes and agendas as they tell the story. The 11-week study was comprised of weekly written materials and questions for groups to use in a small-group format, and was enhanced by videos of St. Luke’s senior pastor, Dr. Tom Pace, teaching the material. Daily readings and reflections also reinforced the weekly topic. Dr. Pace, Rev. Thomas Harper, Rev. David Horton, and Katie Montgomery Mears were the key authors. Additionally, the study featured family materials, written by Children’s Director Julie Ellerbrock, which offered activities and memory verses.
Find a ‘Bible Buddy’
This summer, daily Bible readings are available and include Scripture, a brief commentary and a question for conversation with a friend. Users can type into the answer bubble and e-mail their thoughts with their ‘Bible Buddy’ or small group. The next major study, on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, will premier in the fall. “We are taking 20 weeks this summer to read Paul’s letters – not in a piece meal fashion but as a narrative, to better see how the gospel fits together,” explains Katie.

Bringing the entire church together through the Scripture+Shared study is about more than marketing and the coordination of GroupLife lessons. St. Luke’s leaders know that language accessibility is a challenge. To address this, the app has a Spanish portal, as many of the members of St. Luke’s Gethsemane campus are Spanish speakers. The spring study was translated into Spanish, and plans call for Swahili translation to include members who are African refugees.

“As someone who has spent years trying to find software or an app that allows me to use my devices to access scripture, I have been mightily frustrated until Scripture+Shared was recommended to me,” Ken McKay, one of the app’s many users, says. “Its interface is incredibly user-friendly and its capacity to provide access to content, reference materials and specific studies could not suit my needs better. What an amazing experience following that study on a daily and weekly basis, bringing a familiar story to life in ways that reading the scripture or other studies have never done for me before. I will continue to use this app and follow all the new studies on the go. With Scripture+Shared, I am only a ‘power on’ away.”

The ease of access to quality Bible study materials brings a new and unique experience to users, and other churches not affiliated with St. Luke’s have picked up on this. St. Luke’s invites anyone to join them as they study the Bible in community by going to the app store and downloading the Scripture+Shared app. “This has brought a new piece of technology to the church and created some buzz,” adds Katie, “and if that gets people cracking open God’s Word, then yeah!”

Lakeview Conference Center Debuts New Model for Summer Camp

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 00:00
Campers give two thumbs up to the improved camp features and Wesley-inspired curriculum.

Goodbye homework, hello sleeping bags and sunshine! On arrival day for the first two summer sessions at Lakeview, some 1,400 campers came to the piney woods of Palestine by motor coach and car. Students rekindled old friendships and formed new ones as a key part of this annual tradition. “The summer camp staff finally got to meet the campers they’ve been hearing about for weeks,” shares President Rev. Matt Idom. After checking students in, helping unload luggage and conducting health checks, Lakeview leaders hosted the first-ever Sunday arrival cookout with burgers and all the trimmings. 
“When I dropped off the campers on arrival day, they were able to see the layout of Lakeview and be part of the check-in process,” shares Ruth Ann Person, a parent volunteer from First UMC Conroe.
For the past year, the Lakeview staff has been gearing up for Transformed – the theme for summer camp 2017. To make this summer extra special, Lakeview is introducing new curriculum for all age levels, and in all sessions to create consistency.  The curriculum, a mix of hands-on learning, discussion, journaling and instruction, is tailored for four basic age groupings from elementary to high school.  According to camp leaders and youth directors, the new material is solidly grounded in Wesley’s teachings of sanctifying, prevenient, and justifying grace. 
College aged camp lifeguards, program specialists and coordinators began training and staff orientation ahead of camp.  Summer Program Specialist Kyle Garbs, Texas A&M student, shares, “My counselors had such an impact on my life over the many years I came to to Lakeview. Now I’m getting to impact many children over the four weeks I am on staff. I am also helping build relationships via games and activities, and assist with day-to-day camp operations so volunteer staff can have more time with their campers.”
The summer staff has been adding some new traditions with the campers in mind. “Staff development was an intense week of hard work and relationship building that fostered teamwork. That team spirit helped us lead an unbelievable first two weeks of camp,” states Lori Fowler, Jr. High Program Coordinator, Texas A&M Wesley Foundation.  “We could hardly wait for the kids to get coated in colors during the paintball challenge -- one of our newest traditions, and one that is creating lots of smiles, laughter and memories.”
Some of the newest programs include Lakeview Olympics, a County Fair, Messy Games and Aquafest.  According to Hospitality Director Breezy Lake-Wolfe, the different age groups are also having a blast with new activities such as a jump pillow, a rock throwing range, fowling, and bazooka ball.
“It’s been wonderful to have the college staff help with our evening activities and games,” adds Ruth. “In addition to all the new improvements to Lakeview, the food has been great.” Camp photo accessibility is one of the new camp components created for parents.  Lakeview’s media specialists are taking hundreds of shots each day to give parents a sneak peak at their camper in action.  Parents now have the capability of logging onto an online portal and viewing photos daily. The on-line portal can be accessed at www.lakeviewmcc.org. Additional information
is available in the parent guide.  

“Being a Fish Camp alum and now being part of the Christian camp experience at Lakeview has been a whole new journey for me,” notes Kaylyn Knight, Sr. High Program Coordinator from Texas A&M University.  “Having the opportunity to impact kids in a positive way, introducing them to new relationships, and helping them develop a stronger faith has been an incredible experience so far.”


JFON Receives Grant to Increase Legal Representation for Victims

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 00:00
The Texas Bar Foundation has awarded Justice for our Neighbors (JFON) Houston $15,000 to provide affordable, high quality immigration legal services to low income immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, female genital mutilation and human trafficking and educate the public on these issues and immigrant rights.  Funding is for the period of April 28, 2017 to April 27, 2018.

With support from the Texas Bar Foundation and other resources, JFON Houston will be able to continue to provide monthly legal clinics, outreach and education, and direct legal representation to clients, specifically to those in the Galena Park, East End, and the Sharpstown areas of Houston. These particular areas have growing numbers of immigrants and been largely underserved by immigration legal service providers. 

JFON holds monthly legal clinics in two locations in Houston.  Legal services include representation for a variety of immigration cases such as asylum, naturalization, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and U visas, which aim to protect victims of violence.  Successful resolution to cases result in immigrants being reunited with families, achieving immigration status, and enjoying the right to work and engage in civic participation.  JFON also educates immigrant communities about their rights and responsibilities under the law.

SCJ Mission Academy: September 10-13

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 00:00
The South Central Jurisdiction Mission Academy is an event of the United Methodist Church, where those who desire to serve others through hands-on mission service can come together to learn, share, and discuss healthy and effective ways to do so.

The 2017 dates are September 10-13th at the Leadership Center in Aurora, Nebraska. Please review each course description carefully. It will help to print the course offerings and mark your selections before you begin registration. You can also download a schedule of events.

Download a flyer to share with your church

Learn more and register

Seeking Stories of Inter Faith Partnerships

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 00:00
Each January, Christian denominations in Houston come together to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by worshipping together in a way that respects each different worship style and recognizes the incredible diversity that is found in God’s Kingdom. This beautiful worship is just one expression of the many ways Christians work together to express God’s love.

“The Committee on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns would like to hear stories that illustrate the multi-faith partnerships that are happening successfully around us in congregations in our conference,” shares Rev. Janet Stilwell, FUMC Conroe.

“What we learn together helps us reach out to one another. Please share your stories with Rev. Janet Stilwell at jstilwell@fumc-conroe.org. “We will add your stories to those we have already compiled and put them in our annual report so other congregations can celebrate this step toward unity and also gain from the experiences of others,” she explains.

Wiley College Awarded Grant to Grow Debate at HBCUs

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 00:00
Wiley College has been awarded an $83,000 grant to help grow and implement a speech and debate league throughout Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across Texas. See full story from Marshall News Messenger

World Refugee Day: June 20

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 00:00
Imagine for a moment violence erupts on the street where you live. You hear gunshots and the sounds of people yelling. In that moment you realize that you and your family must leave your home as fast as possible. There’s no time to pack food, clothing, water, or remnants of the memories you’ve made. Home is no longer a safe place. What would you do? Where would you go? 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as a person who is forced to flee their home because of violence, war, or persecution. Today, there are 65 million refugees in the world and over half the world’s refugees are children. 

The time is now to show that the global public stands in solidarity with refugees everywhere.  

Today, World Refugee Day, we commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of the world’s refugees. This year, World Refugee Day also marks a key moment for the public to show support for families forced to flee their homes.

The General Board of Global Ministries engages with refugees and other immigrants in the United States, primarily in partnership with Church World Service and/or National Justice for Our Neighbors. Global Ministries’ international work with refugees occurs through the United Methodist Committee on Relief and in collaboration with other humanitarian agencies.

Learn More

Retired Bishop John Wesley Hardt Dies

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 00:00

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church regrets to announce the death of Bishop John Wesley Hardt, who passed away June 18, 2017.  He was born on July 14, 1921.

Bishop Hardt was elected to the episcopacy in 1980 and was assigned to the Oklahoma Episcopal Area. He served Oklahoma until his retirement in 1988. He then became Bishop-in-Residence at Perkins School of Theology, later becoming Bishop-in-Residence Emeritus.  He also served as a Trustee of St. Paul School of Theology, Lon Morris College, Southern Methodist University and Oklahoma City University.

He married Martha Carson on Sept. 13, 1943. They have four children: Betty (Mrs. Ed Lesko), William C., John S., and James J. (known as Joe); eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Memorial Service for Bishop John Wesley Hardt will be on Friday, June 23, 2017, at 11 a.m. at Dallas FUMC, 1928 Ross Ave, Dallas, TX, 75201.  (214) 220-2727.

Condolences may be sent to 4833 W Lawther Drive, Overlook 416, Dallas, TX, 75214.

See Bio for more information

Tropical Storm Watch Issued for SE Texas Coast

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 00:00
Potential Tropical Cyclone 3, expected to become Tropical Storm Cindy Tuesday, June 20, is on track for a possible landfall near the Texas / Louisiana border. Affected areas along the coast can expect light storm surge. Areas inland can expect 5-10 inches of rain with the threat of tornadoes and damaging wind.

Please take precautions and prepare yourselves now with emergency supplies for at least 3 days. If you learn of needs for TAC Disaster Ministries response in your area please communicate those needs to your district office and to the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, Rev. Scott Moore, at smoore@txcumc.org.

See Additional Information


Discipleship Ministry Online Training Events

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 00:00
UMC Discipleship Ministries online trainings cover a variety of topics. This is made possible by support given to the World Service Fund.
Upcoming trainings include:
June 28: Sermons that Communicate Good News
July 5: Conference and District Lay Leaders: What Do I Need to Know?
July 11: Nominations Leadership Development – What’s My Role?
July 13: The Annual Campaign Toolbox
August 4: A Good Death: What Church Leaders Need to Know About Death Preparation for Older Adults
August 15: Tuesday Tea with Melanie (August)
September 7: Funding Ministry with Five Loaves and Two Fishes
See additional trainings and dates

Houston Lay School of Theology Day-Long Course

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 00:00
Taught by Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, Professor of New Testament, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 
 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
5501 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77004
Childcare will be available through St. Paul's United Methodist Church for this class with an advanced request. To secure a space for your child, please notify Priscilla Pope-Levison by 5:00 p.m. August 14, 2017 or call 214-768-2390.

Sign up to receive more information on the Houston Lay School and other opportunities offered by Perkins External Programs by following the link below.
Sponsored by the Office of External Programs, Perkins School of Theology
214-768-2390, theoexternalprograms@smu.edu

Online registration will be available June 1 through August 14, 2017.
Learn more

Communication Contest 2017 Winners Recognized at Conference

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
In these case studies, the top three winners and several other entrants in the third annual Best Idea competition share the backstory on the ideas that led to recent communication successes.
Communication strategies paid off for several churches this year, in areas ranging from improved stewardship to volunteer recruitment, sermon enhancement and long range ministry planning. The Communication Committee of TAC volunteers chose the winners from entries in categories ranging from Web/Social Media, Video/Photography, Print and Free Form using criteria such as 1) use of creativity, 2) storytelling and ministry effectiveness and 3) overcoming obstacles.
2017 LARGE CHURCH WINNER: Chapelwood Houston
Communication Challenge:
“Every year we have a student ministry mission trip called SUMMIT,” shares Chapelwood’s Brad Coleman. “The purpose of the trip is to allow students to discover servant leadership by serving others. We want the students to see that God’s world is larger and more expansive than their own world of home, school and community. They get to experience the satisfaction of hard work and the joy of serving others for a week.”
The students love this project so we often have a great turn-out among the youth. However, we must have enough adult volunteers to provide an appropriate ratio of adults to youth for supervision. “We set out to figure out how could we successfully communicate that adults loved it and call for more volunteers without making a video that felt promotional,” Brad explains. “That’s when we had the idea of picking one adult leader that has made a big impact as a volunteer at SUMMIT to share why he volunteers. We set out to tell his story just for the sake of telling a good story. We knew that if we just showed what God was doing, it would move people to volunteer.”
The video titled “Executive Servant,” profiles a successful businessman that isn’t afraid to get dirty and volunteer with students. “We wanted the viewer to see the contrast of him in a suit in his office and him wearing old clothes on the mission field,” he adds. “We created a custom graphic to go with the video and help define the title - so we set out to do a double exposure of Mark in both settings.”
The video was shown during worship services  -- the first video ever shown that resulted in a standing ovation. “ The story is incredibly moving and has had great response by being shared over and over on Facebook and in generating a big spike in adults wanting to volunteer this year,” says Brad. “It was fun watching Mark in the hallways after the service and the number of people that came up to him saying he had inspired them to volunteer.”  https://vimeo.com/204602200
Communication Committee Chair Kelsey Johnson adds, “I was impressed by this video because it so effectively inspires adults to invest in teenagers and mission work. So often the church makes announcements that spell out the event dates, locations and deadlines and leaves it at that. This video, in contrast, clearly shows the why of the event—it provides a real window into the life transformation possible when someone makes a commitment to serve."
2017 MEDIUM CHURCH WINNER: The Story, Houston (St. Luke’s UMC)
Communication Challenge:
The worship arts team created a video entitled, "He's Got the Whole World" starring pastors and worship leaders to promote new Bluegrass worship service on Sundays at 5pm. Rev. Eric Huffman shares, “We wanted to feature the sort of instrumentation that would be in the new service as well as provide faces from the service that the mission field target can relate to.” Church leaders showed the video in Sunday morning worship, online and most prominently in Edwards Cinemas in Houston just miles from the church. Between mid Jan-March, The Story had 25+ join as members, saying they saw the video. According to Eric, dozens of others in attendance in the weeks following the debut of the service mentioned coming because they saw the video in the theater.
Communication Committee member Lisa Martinson comments, “The Story Houston looks like a place that a seeker could have fun, too. Great idea to share at movie theaters - light hearted, but great music.”
Communication Challenge:
Pastor John Warren challenged the congregation and Facebook (FB) followers to "flood" FB with their favorite nativity scenes each day of Advent. His goal: to refocus the community on the coming of Christ rather than the turbulent election etc. Notes John, “The campaign landed posts from across the country, some beautiful, some humorous. Interactive initiative drew over 2000 "likes" and 22 shares and hundreds of comments.” Kelsey adds, “What a fun, creative idea—and with $0 spent, it's possible for any church to do! Not only did they share engaging content, First UMC Orange also encouraged others on Facebook to post their own photos. This served to build community and create an exciting buzz throughout the Advent/Christmas season.”   
A few of the other “Honorable Mention” submissions impressed the Communication Committee members as well. Holy Covenant UMC, Katy entered the Free Form category with a unique and affordable solution for planning the church calendar by mapping key events for the year on a wall. According to Rev. Fred Willis, ”At a staff meeting, we identified that part of the communication problem in a congregation this size was due to silos -- areas of ministry that functioned well but did so independently and without regard to the other areas. We wanted a way to physically show what was going on church wide (in addition to an online calendar) but in a year at a glance sort of way.” The Facility Coordinator suggested painting the walls with magnetic paint. After that was done, staff members bought reams of thin magnet paper, cut them to size for each event, color coded each paper with the ministry in charge, and slapped them up on the wall to make a moveable/removeable year at a glance.
Adds Fred, “Every ministry team that meets in our new War Room can automatically see what is going on over a year's time from every aspect of the congregation.” Additionally, it helped align different areas of ministry that have never previously coordinated with one another -- to not only schedule events that compliment each other, but also bridge from one project to the next.  “For example,” he explains, “our Trunk or Treat planning team noticed they were three weeks out from a crafts fair, so they created free giveaways that bridged people back to the next event.”  
Many of the volunteer judges loved this practical solution. Notes Kelsey, “Sometimes the simplest solutions make a big difference. Holy Covenant's magnetic wall calendar is an effective tool for long-range planning. Its central location and visibility to multiple ministry areas offers the chance to plan events more collaboratively and to buddy up on initiatives."
Other honorable mention entries included two videos from Good Shepherd, Houston. One, entitled “Around the World in 80 Days” helped promote a sermon series, and the other served as a Christmas special that was broadcast to thousands via live streaming. .”I thought the 80 Days video was a very creative way to increase interest in world missions,” adds Lisa.
In addition, FUMC Fairfield submitted a special communication initiative that provided recipients with in depth background information on the hymns and musical pieces featured each week in worship. For a sample of this, contact Richard Heyduck. One of the judges on the panel praised this project as a “very thoughtful use of the pastor’s passion for history and importance of music and hymns, and gives the congregation a unique view of the upcoming Sunday.”
Two of this year’s entries showcased ways to enhance stewardship campaigns. Chapelwood Houston highlighted all of the various “niche” worship services and ministries in one printed stewardship brochure to provide members with the big picture impact their contributions are making. “We pulled all of the communities' information into one piece in an effort to unify our communities and keep everyone in all communities informed about what is going on in the other parts of our church,” shares Communication Director Karen Firenza.
The Communications Committee was also impressed with the Pearland UMC entry of stewardship videos that documented specific ministry success stories to illustrate tithes and offerings “in action.” Communication Director Rebecca Llenos says, “By sharing these stories, our church family was getting the information they wanted to know, but also learning about the many ministries and programs they were supporting. Sharing this information in a more engaging way has allowed us to have these videos on our website for potential visitors to learn more about FUMC Pearland and to share this information electronically with our members.”

Congratulations to the Recipients of Ministry Awards

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
There were dozens of reasons to celebrate at the awards dinner Monday night during conference, as pastors and districts received kudos for various aspects of ministry done well.
Vibrant, growing churches are actively engaged in successfully reaching out to others in their communities, welcoming new friends into their congregations and making a positive impact in the lives of those around them. This common theme was evident at the small membership church breakfast Monday morning and the awards banquet later that evening during Annual Conference 2017.
Bishop Scott Jones shared thoughts from the book, Resurrecting Excellence: “Too often the church has begun drifting. We’ve begun to accept mediocrity. We’ve begun to decide that how we’ve always done things is good enough…” “In fact that’s not good enough. Christ deserves our best efforts, our best talents, our most creative ideas and what we’re doing in this dinner tonight is honoring you all for finding some method of excellence in some part of your ministry. I’m grateful for all that you’re doing and the awards that are being offered to you tonight. I just want to say congratulations to all of you who are being honored tonight and I’m grateful for your pursuit of excellence in the cause of Christ.”  
Hospitality Committee Chair Rev. Vickie Simons echoed the kudos, saying, “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to award excellence, and hard work, and compassionate hearts. It’s truly an honor to be associated with such great pastors and congregations and we appreciate our event being underwritten by Methodist Retirement Communities and sponsored by The Center for Congregational Excellence.”
The Methodist Retirement Community CEO Ron Jeannette presented the Methodist Retirement Center Impact Award to Christ UMC College Station Rev. Jerry House.

Each year, First UMC - Houston presents the Eric Anderson Award in honor of a slain pastor. Congratulations to this year's recipient, Rev. Emily Chapman, Sr. Pastor at St. Mark's UMC/Pecore in Houston.

The General Board of Discipleship’s One Matters Discipleship Award was given to Rev. David Goran of the Redeemer Campus – Pearland UMC. According to Superintendent Kip Gilts of the South District, “The driving concept behind the One Matters Award is the value of one profession of faith and the value of one baptism,” he explains. “There are many churches that for all sorts of reasons, have lost their effectiveness in reaching those who have no relationship with the grace-filled, life giving presence of Christ. Our church in Manvel had gotten there. Professions of faith and baptisms were both at zero for the last few years. Yet, the area was in a growth spurt with even more growth projected to come. The courage of the people of Manvel Grace UMC to vote themselves into legacy status and give their assets to the Texas Annual Conference for kingdom use, the vision of FUMC Pearland to embrace the opportunity to launch a second campus in this location, The Redeemer Campus, and the power of the Holy Spirit has resulted in phenomenal kingdom growth.” Results include hosting over 400 on Easter and averaging over 200 in worship since their launch in October 2016, as well as celebrating 12 baptisms and six professions of faith in that time. Adds Kip, “David Goran (the campus pastor at Redeemer), Keith Whitaker (the senior pastor of FUMC Pearland), the leadership team at the Redeemer Campus, the leaders of FUMC Pearland, and all those folks of Manvel Grace who looked beyond themselves to what God had in store for this mission field are to be commended for their faithfulness and commitment to the reality that One Matters.” In choosing the recipient of this award, Bishop Jones and members of the Cabinet look for places where there has been a turnaround from no baptisms and professions of faith --- to where they have become almost a regular occurrence. Shares Kip, “The Manvel Redeemer Campus of Pearland FUMC has certainly shown us what that looks like. And this story has only begun to be written.” Pastor David Goran believes the key to church growth is having an external focus. “Inspired by a vision to connect unconnected people to a greater life in Christ,” he shares, “our Redeemer and Pearland Methodist community have really come together to reach out to those unconnected people in our lives. We are praying that as this campus continues to grow we continue to look for those lost sheep in our lives that truly matter to God.”

The Small Membership Church of the Year award was given to Pattison UMC
Rev. Ben Lohmer. Ben shares, “A clear vision, widely and deeply disseminated is of the utmost importance to the success in Pattison, TX. Once we discovered that God has been calling this church to Pass the Baton of Faith to the Next Generation, we were able to take the right steps, in the right order, and with the blessing of resources from God’s people. The language of limitation was replaced with language of abundance, opportunity, and calling. Pattison UMC is set to go onward and upward in its vision and mission to the communities and people of South Waller County.”
Copeland Awards
The Copeland award winners, eight this year, were all determined by the number of professions of faith vs their average worship attendance in 2016. According to Rev. Vickie Simons, "The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and fruit is in the professions of faith. Each church is a wonderful example of the pastor's leadership, the congregation's support and the movement of God's Holy Spirit! All award recipients are to be heartily commended because fruitfulness takes time, nurturance, and a partnership with the Divine!”
Under 100 Average Worship Attendance

Pine Grove UMC in Hemphill – Rev. Sarah Porter 

Mt. Vernon UMC in Frankston - Rev. John Thomas
Reflecting back on this journey, Rev. Sarah Porter shares, “Our efforts were twofold. We began personally inviting more friends, neighbors, and family members through simple conversations and publicizing church events. Neither of which was time-consuming or expensive. Consistency and faith were key as we intentionally focused on those who were not attending church. We reached out to those located near our church (in walking distance) as well as those in towns outside our church. Though we are small and do not have some of the resources of larger churches, we don’t give up on church growth. We keep it simple, show love without conditions, and believe God will make it happen.” She adds, “It wasn't a particular ministry but rather a renewed vision to embrace our UMC slogan - "open hearts, open minds, open doors" that steered us in a new direction. We opened our hearts to people outside our cultural norm. We opened our minds to do things differently, by inviting new people to share new ideas, and we helped to implement those ideas. Our doors have always been opened, but by God's grace we witnessed people of different ethnicities and different ages walk in and sit with us and become one with us. To God be the glory!”
Average Worship Attendance 101-200

Covenant of Faith, Houston -  Rev. Luthur Walker
Average Worship Attendance 201 – 300

CrossRoads UMC – Rev. Arturo Cadar

Average Worship Attendance 301 – 500 

Dr. Paul Clines, Bay Harbour UMC – League City

Average Worship Attendance 501 – 1000 

Rev. John R. Stephenson Faith UMC – Richmond

Average Worship Attendance 1001 – 2000 

Revs. Rudy & Juanita Rasmus, St. John’s UMC – Houston

Average Worship Attendance Over 2000 

Dr. John E. Stephens, Chapelwood UMC – Houston

District Recognition
Two of the nine TAC districts paid 100% of apportionments in 2016. Special kudos go to the East District and West District.


Ordained and Commissioned 2017

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
Frederick C. 'Trey' Burns - Elder

Michael Ryan Gienger - Elder

Stephen Goldsmith - Elder

Andrew Kelly Hook - Elder

David W. Johnson - Elder

Josef Denson Klam - Elder

Russell Warren LaGrone - Deacon

Daniel Lumpee - Elder

Patricia Marie Lund - Elder

Joel C. McKinnon - Elder

John Wayne McMann - Elder

Michael R. McVey - Elder

Steven C. Newcomb - Elder

Carla Price - Elder

Johnnie Simpson Jr. - Elder

Stacy Lee Auld - Elder

Jacob Paul Breeze - Elder

Daniel E. Childs - Elder

Roger Graham Clayton Jr. - Elder

Thomas Williams Comstock III - Elder

Todd A. Cooper - Elder

Heather Theresa Gates - Deacon

Thomas Irl Harper - Elder

Tammy K. Heinrich - Elder

William Douglas Lucas - Elder

Brent Eric Parker - Elder

Paul Bradley Richards-Kuan - Elder

Cynthia Ann Riddick - Deacon

Raegan Elizabeth Seaton - Elder

Lindsay Jane Smith - Deacon

Stephanie McFall Snyder - Elder

Deborah DeFrank Tipps - Elder

Heather Ann Velez - Deacon

Andrew Travis Wolfe - Elder

Trisha Enke Woodruff - Elder

Daniel Sing-Han Yang - Elder


Episcopal Address 2017

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
Bishop Scott Jones delivered his inaugural Episcopal Address to the Texas Annual Conference on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at The Woodlands United Methodist Church.
Bishop began by sharing 1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Bishop reminded the delegates that “we are God’s people by the grace of God.” God’s people, Christians, were described in the second century by Aristides as “they love one another … they don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense but …through the spirit in God.”
He reminded the audience that we are supposed to be that community today.
Bishop Jones has been meeting and talking to both clergy and laity and in all nine conference districts to learn more about “who we are as a conference.” He identified three challenges and four blessings.
He first talked about challenges. The TAC doesn’t reflect the ethnic make-up of our geographic area. In the 58 TAC counties, the ethnic breakdown is:
42% white
33% Hispanic
18% Black or African American
  6% Asian
  1% Multi-racial.
The membership of the conference is:
80% White
16% Black or African American
  3% Other
  1% Multi-racial.
He stated the need to do a better job of outreach to our neighbors who are ethnically diverse and that our mission field is at our doorstep.
The second challenge is the increasing hostility to Christian values. “There is too much racism, too much fear of immigrants, too much sexual immorality, too much greed, too much hatred, and too much poverty.” As Wesleyans, we must be committed to both personal and social holiness.
The third challenge is increasing practical atheism. Bishop Jones explained that as the “behavior of everyday people who act as if God is irrelevant to their lives and to the fate of the world. They prefer to attend soccer practice on Sunday morning than to worship God. They value entertainment more than serving the poor. They make important decisions without regard to moral principles.”
The bishop went on to highlight four blessings in the conference as:
  • a high level of clarity about our mission,
  • commitment to forming transforming lay and clergy leaders,
  • commitment to cultivating growing, vibrant, missional congregations, and
  • commitment to investing in the young.
Finally, the bishop shared his vision urging “all of the congregations in our conference to be widely known and respected for loving all the children.” He also declared that every church in the conference be given a copy of Sue Nelson Kibbey’s Flood Gates: Holy Momentum for a Fearless Church. He closed by stating, “I think, using her eight flood gates, we can unleash the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We can love all the children. May it be so.”
Video of the Episcopal Address