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Praying Our Way Forward: Seeking God's Face in Uncharted Territory

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
Phase two of the “Praying Our Way Forward” initiative began January 1, 2017. During this season of seeking God’s leading for the future of the United Methodist Church, each annual conference will spend a week of focused prayer in preparation for the Special Session of General Conference, February 24-26, 2019.
 
Recently, we had the privilege of speaking with District Superintendent of the Central North District and Cabinet Dean Rev. Kip Gilts about “Praying Our Way Forward.”
 
Q: Rev. Gilts, what is the purpose of “Praying Our Way Forward?”
 
A: The purpose of “Praying Our Way Forward” is to seek God’s face and guidance through uncharted territory. When the Council of Bishops meet, they will undertake decisions that will have a huge impact on the UMC. “Praying Our Way Forward” is a way for us to align our hearts with God’s heart rather than dictate to God, or each other, how this should play out. We want to move in the Spirit of Christ as it is described for us in Colossians chapter three- with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
 
Q: Each Conference has been assigned one week to spend in focused prayer during this phase of “Praying Our Way Forward.” What will that look like in the TAC?
 
A: We will have a video devotion available each day to emphasize the importance of seeking God’s face. Seven different people in the Conference will be sharing during these devotions. We will hear from Bishop Jones, and two members of our Conference who are serving on the Commission for the Way Forward, Leah Taylor, and Rev. Jessica LaGrone, will share with us as well. Some of those who share during this week will be clergy, others are laity.
 
We have also enlisted The Prayer Institute of Windsor Village UMC. The team has authored a prayer that we will seek to have in the bulletin of every church in the conference on the same day. Members will be encouraged to pray this prayer every day during our week of prayer.
 
Q: What is our objective during this time?
 
A: It is wonderful timing for our Conference, because our week falls at the beginning of Lent. During this time, we want to align ourselves with God’s desire for our lives and church. We hope there will be a revival of hearts, and a returning to purpose for those of us who are easily distracted from our mission. From there, we hope that same spirit will multiply throughout the Conference.
 
We are also seeking God’s guidance in an area where we really have not figured it out yet. We are much like 2 Chronicles 7:14. We are seeking God’s face, trying to turn from our own sinful ways, and humbling ourselves before God. We need a movement of the Holy Spirit to provide a way forward for us that we have not yet seen.

See daily prayers at https://www.txcumc.org/umcprays or select "going" with Facebook Events to receive daily reminders.

 

Sharing God's Love with Food from the Heart

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
“Are they here yet? Are they here yet?”
 
Each Thursday, the children begin stopping by the Lead Counselor of Duke Elementary Crystal Bryant’s office in anticipation of a special delivery. The children aren’t excited about new playground equipment, or an ice cream party. They are eager to receive the food bags from Shepherd of the Heart UMC, Pearland that will feed them all weekend long.
 
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13 million American children live in homes where there is simply not enough to eat on a regular basis. These children often depend on free and reduced cost school breakfasts and lunches for their nutritional needs.
 
And for some of these children, that means they go hungry each weekend.
 
Shepherd of the Heart UMC Finds Its Mission
Three years ago, Shepherd of the Heart UMC began to look for a way to both serve their community and get involved in local schools. When they found that many local children were going to school hungry, they knew they had found their purpose.
 
The church founded Food from the Heart, a ministry that packs food bags to feed local children over the long weekends and school holidays. In their first year of ministry Food from the Heart worked with one school, but soon word spread about the church that shared God’s love with children by ensuring they had enough to eat.
 
“Later that first year, another school heard about us and what we were doing,” said Pastor Christi Conway. “The school counselor reached out to us and said they had some foster kids who needed meals for the weekends. They asked if we could help. We said, ‘Sure!’”
 
This year, Food from the Heart has added two more schools to their ministry. During the 2017-2018 school year, they project that they will provide an astonishing 11,200 meals to kids in need. It is a tremendous undertaking for a small church with an average attendance of 100.
 
A Community Effort
Shepherd of the Heart is doing the unimaginable by ensuring that everyone is part of the ministry. They often pack bags as a congregation immediately after Sunday worship. On those days, they have close to 100 percent participation from service attendees. Children as young as four or five-years-old join the food bag assembly line. The church’s day school helps out from time to time as well. Shepherd of the Heart also hosts community pack days, and local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops who want to serve. The church even included the ministry in their Super Bowl celebration, packing 300 bags on the evening of the big game.
 
Food from the Heart has not only changed the lives of hungry children, it has also profoundly impacted church members. The entire community of faith has been united in sharing God’s love with the local children in a tangible way. “We have seen people join the church over this,” Conway said. “They just so happen to come on a Sunday morning when we are packing bags and want to be a part of a community that doesn’t just talk about loving their neighbor. Instead, we are doing something about it.”
 
School counselors have expressed how deeply grateful the children and their parents are for Food from the Heart. Often when a child misses school on food bag distribution day because of illness, their parents will call to ask if they can come pick up their child’s food. Shepherd of the Heart’s commitment to loving the children in their community ensures that the answer to “Are they here yet?” will always be “Yes.”















 

Welcome to a Church Where the Bread is Fresh, the Coffee's Hot… and the Waves are Epic

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
Galveston is a city of beautiful old churches. Churches crowned with soaring steeples, and adorned with breathtaking stained glass and magnificent pipe organs. At first glance, Galveston Central Church is much the same.
 
But look deeper. This church is utterly different.
 
Come As You Are
Step inside the doors on a Sunday morning to find that a section of wooden pews has been replaced with sofas, loveseats and recliners. A modern worship band goes through instrument checks on a stage beneath the pipe organ. An eclectic group of worshippers including native Galvestonians, students, families, professionals, and a large number of homeless men and women greet each other over snacks and mugs of coffee.
 
Powerful speakers blast a Top 40 song, chosen to reflect the day’s theme. People on the street outside are drawn in through the open doors by the music and their own curiosity. Steadily, the space fills. No empty seats here. A homeless artist, Robert, moves his canvas near the stage. Today’s message is taken from Genesis chapter one. While the pastor speaks, Robert will work alongside him, painting his interpretation of the creation story.
 
Breathe deeply to find the sanctuary is filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Everything about this place says, “Come. You are welcome here…just as you are.”
 
“We actually mean that,” said Rev. Michael Gienger.
 
A Creative Community of Radical Grace
When the four remaining members of 130-year-old Galveston UMC turned over the keys to Gienger three years ago, they did so in the hope that new life would fill their beloved church home. Gienger set out to build a new faith community with eyes firmly set on a guiding vision “to be a creative community where radical grace is both believed and practiced.” That vision has led Central Church to undertake an unusual approach to ministry. Members practice sustainable gardening to feed their hungry neighbors. They develop deep relationships with the homeless that reach far beyond a feeding or clothing outreach. “Our homeless population feels like this is their church, that they are part of the congregation,” Gienger said.
 
Through a partnership with St. Paul’s UMC, Central Church has formed Iconoclast, an outreach program that seeks to help at-risk students break free from the “school to prison pipeline” by helping them envision a successful future through the power of poetry. 
 
But perhaps no ministry of Central Church is more unusual than Surfer Church. Each Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m., Gienger meets a small group of surfers on the beach to share in a devotion. Afterward, as the last rays of sunlight play across the surface of the ocean, the members of Surfer Church take to the waves.
 
Gienger is excited as Central Church enters its third year, but he also knows there are fresh challenges ahead. Since they have outgrown their space, the church is exploring the possibility of moving to two services and beginning a building project. Leadership is also serious about moving beyond “crisis management” with their homeless community. They want to explore ways to empower their homeless friends to achieve greater stability.
 
And they forever want to seize the opportunity to offer true hospitality and community to their community. Gienger knows it will rarely be easy, “Grace is always messy,” he said.
 
It is also beautiful. A new member, Scott, came to Central Church as a homeless alcoholic searching for grace, and he found it. After his ocean baptism last summer, he was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he wanted to give something back to his church family. “All I can do is make bread,” he said to Gienger.
 
“From day one, I had prayed that we would be able to have fresh baked communion bread,” Gienger said. “I wanted to the church to smell like fresh-baked bread when you walked in.”
 
And now, because of radical grace, it does.










 

UMCOR School Kits Help Children Find a New Normal After Harvey

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg

Struggling Children Lose Everything
Students at Barbara Jordan Elementary in Richmond, Texas had only been in school for a few days when Fort Bend ISD canceled school due to Hurricane Harvey. Initially, the cancellation was only for two days, but Hurricane Harvey was far more destructive than anyone expected. The students did not return to their classrooms for almost three weeks.
 
When the boys and girls walked back into their school, the excitement over the start of a new school year had been lost along with their belongings and homes. School officials estimated that up to 80 percent of Barbara Jordan Elementary School children and their families had lost almost everything. It was a crushing blow to a student body in which 47.2 percent of the children were economically disadvantaged, and 62.2 percent were classified as “at risk.”
 
The staff of Barbara Jordan Elementary desperately wanted to reopen their school in order to provide their students with some semblance of normalcy, but they needed help to do it. The children’s school supplies had been lost along with everything else. If the children of Barbara Jordan Elementary were to return to the task of learning, they needed the tools to do it.
 
UMCOR School Kits to the Rescue
“The staff of Barbara Jordan Elementary sent an online request to UMCOR asking for relief supplies,” said Rev. Scott Moore, Director of the Center for Missional Excellence. “We deployed 500 school kits to replace what the kids had lost and get them back in school.”
 
Five months later Moore received a surprise in his inbox: a heartfelt thank-you from the students of Barbara Jordan Elementary. A photo of the smiling children holding their new school supplies was accompanied by note from the school guidance counselor and brightly colored thank-you cards from the children.
 
“This is why we do Disaster Ministries,” Moore said. “Today these children are back at school with paper, pencils, crayons, and scissors as they try to get back to a new normal.”
 
The students and their families have a long road to recovery. Life will undoubtedly be difficult for many months to come as they struggle to replace all they have lost. School, however, will continue to be a haven of stability for the children of Barbara Jordan Elementary.  Thanks to the Center of Missional Excellence, and the generosity of UMC members who have faithfully constructed UMCOR school kits, the teachers and students now have the educational tools they need to lay the foundation of a bright tomorrow.
 
Your church can make a difference in disaster relief. Find out how to join the UMCOR School Kit ministry at the UMCOR website or visit The Center for Missional Excellence.
 





 

VCI: Athens UMC Finds a New Vision and a Path to the Future

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
As Rev. Jason Smith of Athens FUMC works on his sermon, bits of debris rain down on him from the ceiling. His laptop is powered by a nearby light switch, a necessary adjustment since the outlets in Smith’s section of the facility have stopped working.
 
But Smith couldn’t be happier. Sure, his facility is in dire shape, but his church is vibrant.
 
A New Season of Ministry
Just a little over two years ago, Athens FUMC was struggling. “The church had been through a lot of brokenness over the past five years,” Smith said. “We saw an attendance decline of around 130 during that time.” As church leadership discussed the situation, they came to two conclusions. They wanted to change the way Athens FUMC was approaching their community, and…they needed help to figure out how to do that.
 
The Vibrant Church Initiative was the answer. In the autumn of 2015, Athens FUMC invited VCI to come help revitalize their church. After evaluating the church’s strengths and weaknesses, the VCI Consultation Team detailed five Prescriptions for new life at Athens FUMC. The starting point was for VCI Coach John Stephenson to help the church establish a vision to guide them.
 
The members of Athens FUMC walked the streets of their community and prayed, seeking God’s leading. Since many of the members live outside of the neighborhood surrounding the church, they were unfamiliar with their mission field. The congregation emerged from their prayer walks with their eyes opened to and hearts burning for their community. They were sure that God wanted them to more actively invest their gifts and resources in the families and schools surrounding their church.
 
“One of the first things we did was change our policy to allow non-profits to use our facility,” Smith said, “Our church gym is now the number one used event location in Athens.”
 
But Athens FUMC didn’t stop there. They began reaching out to the local schools to find out how they could come alongside them to care for students. While they are working to establish those connections, they are busy loving the children closer to home. The church began approaching their relationship with the day school that meets on their campus with a new intentionality. Before, the school was a tenant. Now, the children are a cherished part of the church ministry and an important part of Athens FUMC’s vision for the future.
 
Prescriptions for a Change
Athens FUMC took the other four Prescriptions seriously as well, and in doing so overhauled their leadership structure, established a clear pathway for discipleship, reevaluated their facility needs, and changed their worship format. A former Cokesbury service, held at 8:30 a.m. was moved to 11:00 a.m. and transformed into a new modern worship service. In order to accommodate the format, church members invested not only funds but hours of manpower to overhaul a former fellowship hall to create a beautiful and welcoming new worship space. The sacrifice has paid off. Attendance has doubled in that service alone.
 
To date, Athens FUMC has met all of the VCI Prescriptions, and are in the process of writing themselves new ones. A new building project is on the list. Church leadership envisions a beautiful, inviting space that is large enough for everyone to gather.
 
Smith believes in VCI. The evidence of new life is all around him. A children’s ministry that cared for three children, has now blossomed to twenty-five. Overall attendance is up by 100 people each Sunday and shows no sign of slowing. It is the kind of growth that any pastor would cherish but for Smith, the most meaningful changes are less tangible. “Nothing is more rewarding than to see your entire church behind the cause of reaching outside your walls,” Smith said. “The process is hard. It is difficult. But it was worth the effort and sacrifice.”
 
Could your church benefit from VCI? Contact Mike Tyson, VCI Director at mtyson@txcumc.org 713-521-9383. You may also learn more by visiting the VCI website, https://www.txcumc.org/vci
 
 

Warm Bread and Good Conversation - A Recipe for Simple Church

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
Simple Church began with a question- “What if?”
What if we stripped church down to its most basic form? Get rid of the building. Shelve the programs. Whittle the budget down to bare bones.
What would be left?
 
Teaching, of course, but our communities of faith are also about the relationships we build with each other so…good conversation is a must. Simple Church founder, Rev. Zach Kerzee, thought back to where those two elements were the most purely present in his own life, and remembered the Thursday night potlucks he and his fellow students had when he was in divinity school. Kerzee felt there was something special about gathering Christ seekers around a dinner table. Jesus certainly seemed to think so too. It was around the dinner table that Christ ministered to those who didn’t feel welcome in the local synagogue. What if Kerzee began a church that followed His example? And that is just what he did. In 2014, the Harvard-Divinity School graduate and lifelong-Methodist from Texas founded the first Simple Church in Grafton, Massachusetts.
 
The TAC and Simple Church
In October of 2017, Perkins School of Theology graduate and member of the Texas Annual Conference, Pastor LyAnna Johnson, began the second branch of Simple Church in Worcester, MA as a TAC church plant.
 
Johnson’s very last class in seminary was a church planting course. It was there that she first heard about Simple Church. Six months later, she discovered Kerzee was doing a nation-wide search for someone to begin a second branch of Simple Church in Worcester, MA. “When I was offered the position, the Texas Annual Conference graciously allowed me to accept it. I am very grateful,” Johnson said.
 
The Worcester branch of Simple Church is guided by the same values as the original church plant. Johnson keeps costs as low as possible and adheres to a monastic fundraising model. While she and Kerzee bake bread to sell at local farmer’s markets, they are also praying for their congregants and community. In addition to generating funds to meet the financial needs of Simple Church, the pastor’s presence at the farmer’s market provides an opportunity to share the love of Christ. “We are selling bread, but we are often having very pastoral conversations with people who may or may not know they are speaking with clergy,” Johnson said.
 
Both branches of Simple Church take place around a shared meal. After the pastors share a short sermon, attendees discuss the message while they eat. To keep costs low, the potluck meal is always accompanied by fresh bread baked by the pastors. Another central dish is a vegetable soup made from the produce the pastors earn when they work on a local organic farm. Both Kerzee and Johnson also contribute to the financial needs of their churches with a wood-fired pizza catering business and by creating engaging web-sites for other worship communities.
 
Hospitality as Outreach
Simple Church Worcester differs from the Grafton branch in one primary way. While Simple Church Grafton rents meeting space from another local church, the Worcester branch intentionally meets in secular space. Although Johnson treasures her traditional church upbringing, she feels God has called her to share the love of Christ with those who would otherwise shy away from church. Breaking bread with these individuals is a proven, and ancient, way to do just that.
 
Simple Church is, at its heart, a ministry of connection. Connection to each other through meaningful conversations of faith. Connection to God through prayerful work, honoring His creation, and loving His people. It is a ministry that dares hope that in the process of making those connections around a dinner table, that we might all draw nearer to the table of God’s grace where our souls are fed with the Bread of Life.







 

Denzel Washington Renews $1 Million Gift to Wiley College to Fund Debate Program

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 00:00
Two-time Academy award winner Denzel Washington was recognized at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, for his contributions toward raising awareness around the world about the value of debate education. Washington was honored during the awards ceremony in late January for the nation's first Historically Black Colleges and Universities Speech and Debate Championship Tournament, which was held over three days on Wiley's campus.

In accepting the award, Mr. Washington pledged to renew a $1 million gift to the College to continue his funding of its debate program. Washington first donated $1 million to the school in 2007 to support the re-establishment of its debate program, which had been inactive since the early 1900s, when it was led by English professor and poet, Melvin B. Tolson. Washington starred in and directed the film, "The Great Debaters," which chronicled the history of the team under Tolson's mentoring and coaching.

Washington regularly checks in with Wiley's debate team to encourage its continued success. He last visited Wiley in 2015 and had lunch with the team. He was surprised on that visit when he was presented an honorary doctorate degree for his philanthropy in the field of education.

"We are thankful to Mr. Washington for his generous gift to sustain our debate program and ensure its longevity," said Dr. Haywood L. Strickland, President and CEO of Wiley College. "Through his support of Wiley College, he has preserved the legacy of the original Great Debaters, while also ensuring that current generations of students can carry forward Tolson's legacy of excellence. We are forever indebted to him."
Since the rebirth of the program, which is officially known as the Melvin B. Tolson/Denzel Washington Forensics Society, the team has earned more than 3,000 awards and has twice won the Overall Sweepstakes Championship and the Individual Events Sweepstakes Championship of the Pi Kappa Delta National Comprehensive Tournament, a prestigious debate competition that Tolson's teams were not allowed to take part in.
After a standing ovation for Mr. Washington during the awards ceremony, he was joined on stage by Bob Eisele storywriter and scriptwriter for "The Great Debaters" and Jeff Poro, storywriter for the "The Great Debaters," who were also recognized for their work.

Washington was also one of the three inductees into the newly formed HBCU Forensics Hall of Fame during the awards ceremony. Other inductees were Tolson, posthumously, and Dr. Thomas F. Freeman, the legendary and longest-serving speech and debate coach, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., trained Barbara Jordan, and also trained Denzel Washington for his role in "The Great Debaters."
Last fall, Wiley College formed the HBCU Speech and Debate League, which hosted the tournament, thanks to a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Photo and article reprinted with permission from The Marshall News Messenger.
See original article

 

Jazz Scholarship Soiree - Trinity UMC, Houston

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 00:00
Jazz Scholarship Soiree
Saturday March 17, 2018
6:30 pm – 9:30 pm, Venue opens at 6:00 pm for viewing Silent Auction items
 
Change a student’s life! This has been the charge of the Higher Education Ministry at Trinity United Methodist Church for nearly two decades. To ensure our college-bound students have every academic advantage to excel as productive members of our community, and perhaps more importantly, society at large, we provide scholarships to help them with their tuition and fees. Please join us as we honor this year’s recipients during a celebratory evening which includes a light dinner, a silent auction, and live entertainment.  The ticket price is $35 per person.  Together, we can make a difference!
 
Event Location: The Studio
7511 South Freeway, 288 @ Holly Hall
Houston, TX 77021
Contact: Lillian Rogers-Martin
(713) 528-2356
Monday – Thursday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
 

Share Your Stories: Easter and Women’s History Month

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 00:00
Is your church planning something special for either Easter or Women’s History Month? We would love to hear about it!
Email Interim Editor, Sherri Gragg at editorcc@txcumc.org

 

Thank You for your Generosity

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 00:00
TAC extends a special thank you to the 551 congregations that paid their apportionments in full in 2017. 
See the full list (PDF)

UMCOR Sunday - March 11

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 00:00
Natural disasters may destroy homes, communities and cities, but they do not destroy the love of God. A new video highlights the long‑term, vital work of hope and healing accomplished by UMCOR, as well as the ways that connectional giving allows the work to be done at a moment’s notice. Share this powerful video with your congregation as we approach UMCOR Sunday on March 11.

 

UMCOR Sunday (fourth Sunday in Lent) Previously known as One Great Hour Of Sharing, this Sunday enables the United Methodist Committee on Relief to reach out through worldwide ministries of food, shelter, health and peace.
 
Resources for UMCOR Sunday

Information on special Sundays
 

Best Communication Idea Contest: Call for Entries

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 00:00

The Conference Communications office is looking for a few great communications ideas!  Regardless of your size or location, we want your communications ideas for the third annual Best Ideas in Communications Contest. (i.e. Social media, brochures, photos, videos.)
 
We are looking for great ideas, small and large to highlight at the 2018 Texas Annual Conference. Winners will be recognized with a prize.

Your success might be that your church started a Facebook page or did a special video for your church anniversary. The members of our committee welcome ideas and success stories that we can share across the conference. We will pick several winners, award prizes, and congratulate them at Annual Conference this May. Because this year’s Annual Conference theme is We Love All God’s Children, special consideration will be given to projects involving children.
 
To enter the communications contest, send the information below to Shannon W. Martin, Director of Communications at 5215 Main, Houston Texas 77002 or email to smartin@txcumc.org by April 17, along with a picture or sample if one is available. If you have questions, feel free to call 713-521-9383, ext. 326.
 
Church Name:
Church Address:
Website:

Submitter’s Name, Phone contact and Email:

Project Name?
Goal of project?
How was it a success?
What were the results?
 
Please make certain that your church has obtained written permission for any children to be used in your projects (videos or photos) as well as permission for us to share the communications piece online if your church wins.


 

Worship Planner and Worship Leader Workshop March 3rd

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 00:00

Worship Planner and Worship Leader Workshop
Saturday March 3rd from 9am-1pm at Westminster UMC
5801 San Felipe, Houston TX 77057
 
Speaker
Rev. Jackson Henry,  Director of Music Ministries at the General Board of Discipleship Ministries
 
Workshop Topics  
  • Worship planning and resources
  • CCLI top 100 songs in regards to Wesleyan theology
  • Focus group on the United Methodist HYMNAL REVISION
  • What are the obstacles for congregational singing and music in worship today?
 
This is for laity, clergy, preachers and anyone who serves on a worship team.  Refreshments and a box lunch will be provided.
Registration Fee: $25
Register at http://www.wumc.com/events.html
Childcare available upon registration

See Brochure

 

Easter Resources – 2018

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 00:00
The Easter Season, also known as Eastertide or the Great Fifty Days, begins on Easter Day and ends on Pentecost. Focusing on Christ's resurrection and ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), Eastertide is the most joyous and celebrative season of the Christian year. We celebrate the good news that in Christ’s death and resurrection we, and all creation, are continually being made new by God’s love and saving grace.
 

Worship Planning Resources 

7 Ideas for Holy Week and Easter

5 out-of-the-box Easter outreach ideas

Wesley hymn devotions for Lent and Easter
 
Meditation on the Cross: What Do You See?
 
Easter invitation and Outreach  Step-by-Step

Frequently Asked Questions: Lent and Easter
 
Simple Holy Week and Easter Ideas that Inspire
 
Rethink Church: Easter and Outreach Resources
 
Discipleship Ministries: Lent and Easter Resources 

Remembering Holy Week: Celebrating Easter at Home 
 
Search for more resources through Discipleship Ministries
 
*Text from UMC.org

   

 

Prayers for Florida

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 00:00

Please join me in praying for those who were injured and killed Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and for their families as well.
- Bishop Scott Jones
 

UMC Bishops Mourn Victims of Florida School Shootings

In the wake of the school shooting in Florida, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has issued a statement of grief, mourning the victims of the shootings and called for prayers of repentance from the  culture of death and cycle of violence.

The statement issued by Florida Area Resident Bishop Ken Carter, who is also the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, reads as follows:

"On this Ash Wednesday, our services announced the biblical imperative to "repent and believe the gospel."  In light of today's shootings, we repent from our participation in a culture of death, we acknowledge the harm we do to others, and we claim the power of the cross that breaks the cycle of violence and retaliation.  We also grieve with the communities of Parkland and Coral Springs, Florida, in the deaths of seventeen persons and the wounding of many others on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A number of surrounding United Methodist Churches have students at this school, and our connection will support their healing ministry in the days ahead."

SOS Buckets for Harvey Victims are “First Aid Kits for the Soul”

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
Throughout his ministry, Henri Nouwen served as a professor of theology on the campuses of some of the most prestigious universities in the world, but toward the end of his life the renowned priest and author returned to his truest calling- the pastorate. His chosen parish was L’Arche Daybreak, a community for the profoundly intellectually disabled in Toronto, Canada. Nouwen’s writings from his tenure at Daybreak reflect his deep belief that grief must be healed in the presence of God. “By inviting God into our difficulties,” wrote Nouwen, “we ground life—even its sad moments—in joy and hope.” This conviction, that we navigate the landscape of grief by walking with God through times of loss, is at the heart of Unleashed’s SOS Bucket ministry.
 
First Aid Kit for the Soul
Unleashed is a ministry focused on helping individuals discover and respond to God’s call, but when Hurricane Harvey struck, the team found themselves putting their teaching into practice as an organization. As Harvey barreled toward the Texas coast, the Unleashed team was busy preparing for a full schedule of retreats but their careful plans were swept away with the rising flood. All around the country, especially in Texas, United Methodists were turning their attention away from their day to day ministries and toward the immediacy of recovery. As thousands of congregants began assembling UMCOR flood relief buckets to meet the most urgent physical needs of flood victims, the Unleashed staff answered God’s call to use their gifts to minister to families grieving the loss of their belongings and homes. “We came up with the idea of adapting the concept of prayer stations in order to facilitate the process of restoration for the hurricane victims,” said team member Haley Brown. “We wanted to offer them a quiet moment to wrap their head around what had happened.” From that vision, the Unleashed team developed SOS Buckets, “emotional first aid kits” designed to usher the brokenhearted into the healing presence of Christ.
 
Brown chose the “SOS” symbol, universally recognized as a cry for help, to reflect the ministry’s mission- “Searching Our Souls for What Feels Like Home.” Each kit is packed with a variety of tools to guide the recipients through various devotional experiences that have been carefully tailored to speak to their season of loss. The buckets contain scriptures passages, a journal, prayer prompts, hands-on activities, and simple instructions of how to use the contents. SOS Buckets also include six thoughtfully curated playlists of songs to minister to recipients during their season of grief.
 
Comfort for All Who Grieve
To date Unleashed has distributed more than 200 hundred SOS Buckets to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As the ministry begins assembling 200 hundred additional buckets for the next stage of distribution, they are also planning for the future. The SOS Buckets have been so well received that the team hopes to broaden the ministry focus to include anyone who is struggling with grief. Unleashed hopes the SOS Bucket ministry will continue to assist a wide range of people to invite God into their sorrow and find a “place that feels like home.”

















 

La Familia Metodista

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
After a long hiatus, Hispanic Ministries has reintroduced the Texas Conference to ¡Avivamiento! On February 3rd, the gathering of Spanish-speaking churches throughout the Conference provided a venue for Hispanic members of the TAC to worship and fellowship together and learn more about the bright future of Hispanic Ministries. Bishop Scott Jones delivered the evening’s message.
 
Contagious Joy
The excitement was palatable in the sanctuary of First UMC Pasadena as the praise team took their places. As the first notes of worship music filled the room, the congregation stood and began clapping in unison while a procession of 42 children filed into the sanctuary. Each pair of children held a brightly colored Latin American flag between them, one for each country of origin represented by Hispanic members of the Texas Conference. As they took their places at the front of the sanctuary, the congregation erupted in joyful praise.
 
“There is something to get excited about when seven hundred people get together to worship the Lord,” said Director of Hispanic Ministries, Rev. Arturo Cadar. The event offered the 25 Hispanic worship communities within the Texas Conference the chance to come together as one family. The carefully planned evening began with a shared meal. The cooking team from Crossroads UMC spent hours upon hours lovingly preparing tamales, rice, and charro beans for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Hispanic congregations throughout the Conference pooled their resources to lead the service in vibrant and creative worship. A worship band led by Rev. Roberto Blanco began the evening’s praise. They were followed by a children’s dance team, a dramatic presentation, and a joint choir.
 
Bishop Scott Jones
Bishop Scott Jones both greeted the congregation and read his chosen passage of scripture in Spanish prior to delivering the evening’s message. Jones affirmed his deep love for his “familia Metodista,” while challenging those in attendance to spread the love of Christ to all people. He warned against the danger of the church “turning inward” rather than reaching outside of the sanctuary doors to share the gospel with those in need. His challenge is powerfully relevant for the Texas Conference where, in the Houston area alone, 13 UMC churches are located in neighborhoods that are sixty percent Hispanic. “We must be a church that looks like God’s plan for the whole world,” Jones said.
 
Hispanic Ministries is excited to embrace the Bishop’s challenge to take the gospel to a hurting world. Cadar envisions ¡Avivamiento 2018! as a launching point for the next era of Hispanic Ministry. “The purpose of the event is to keep our congregations informed of the approach that Hispanic ministry will have over the next few years so that we can all work together to achieve the goal we have proposed to make disciples of all nations and to increase the Hispanic membership of our conference,” Cadar said.


To learn more about Hispanic Ministries, visit https://www.txcumc.org/metodistashispanosdetexas or contact Rev. Arturo Cadar at acadar@txcumc.org. Follow Hispanic Ministries on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Video of the full service 
 

Planting Seeds of the Gospel in Southeast Asia

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
In the heart of Southeast Asia, Laos lies nestled between Vietnam and Thailand. It shares a border with both China and Myanmar to the north, and Cambodia to the south. Three ethnic groups, each with their own language, share the diverse landscape across 17 provinces. Laotians are 67 percent Buddhist, 30 percent Animist, and 2 percent Christian. It is this challenging mission field to which Bishop Scott Jones has been assigned to serve as the bishop of the Laos Mission Initiative.
 
Recently, Bishop Jones led a team to Laos that included his wife, Mary Lou, and four members of the TAC Board of Ordained Ministry: Rev. Romonica Malone-Wardley, Dr. Linda Christians, Rev. Dr. Jeff McDonald, and Dr. Jeff Olive. We are honored to hear from Bishop Jones about his trip, and why we should all be excited about God’s work in Laos.
 
Q: Bishop Jones, please share with us how you became an integral part of the United Methodist Church in Southeast Asia.
A: Every United Methodist church has a bishop. We are planting United Methodist churches in Laos and Thailand. Most of the day to day work is done by indigenous pastors under the supervision of missionaries. However, a bishop works with the missionaries to supervise the mission. The Council of Bishops assigned me to be the bishop of these two mission initiatives.
 
Q: What was the purpose of your most recent trip?
A: I made this trip to hold the annual meeting of the pastors- one meeting in Laos, and one in Thailand. Last year we commissioned 12 pastors in Laos. This year I taught for a full day covering pastoral care and stewardship. In Thailand, I commissioned three pastors. Four members of the Board of Ordained Ministry of the TAC went with me. They examined the candidates and approved them for commissioning.
 
Q: What is the Asia Mission consultation?
A: The Asia Mission consultation was a time of sharing among the people involved in the five mission initiatives in East Asia. In addition to Laos and Thailand we are planting churches in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Mongolia. During the meeting we shared our best practices so that we could all learn from each other.
 
Q: Why are you excited about our work in Southeast Asia?
A: We believe that Christ has commanded us to take the gospel to the whole world. God opened doors in both Thailand and Laos and we are building on them. The churches there are small, but we are planting seeds that will make a huge difference in years to come!










 

Children’s Church: There’s No Place Like Home

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
In the spring of 2017, Elizabeth Gallardo arrived in Houston with her husband, Frank Acosta, to serve at Fairbanks UMC. Acosta and Gallardo had previously served as pastors for eight years in their home country of Cuba. Now God was calling them to a new season of ministry in Texas. Acosta would fill the role of Pastor of Hispanic Ministries, beginning a new Spanish language service at Fairbanks. Gallardo became the church’s Pastor of Youth/Children’s Ministries.

Hispanic Ministry at Fairbanks UMC
As Acosta began working to establish the new Spanish language service, Gallardo turned her attention to the children surrounding her new church home. She found that the community was incredibly diverse. Sixty percent of the families in Fairbanks UMC’s neighborhood were Spanish speaking, but there were other immigrant families as well; A significant number of them were African. The large number of apartment complexes in the area meant the area was population dense. So, there were children. A lot of children, all of whom need to hear about God’s great love for them.
 
But how to reach those children? How could she somehow break past the barriers of countless apartment walls to forge relationships with parents so that they felt comfortable allowing their children to go to church with a stranger?
 
Then, Gallardo envisioned a solution. She wouldn’t begin by taking those children to church. Instead, she would take children’s church to them.
 
Children’s Church To-Go
Gallardo’s first step was to make a list of every apartment in the area, and cold call them to find out whether or not they had a community room or clubhouse. Once the list narrowed to include those that did, she called again. Would the manager allow her to host a monthly children’s event in their common area? Time and time again doors shut, but eventually two apartments said yes to the children’s ministry of Fairbanks UMC.
 
On two Saturdays each month, Gallardo leads a team of volunteers from the Spanish speaking congregation of Fairbanks UMC in taking church to the children. They teach Bible stories, play games, and lead in crafts and worship. And they always, always feed the children a meal.
 
As the children’s ministry of Fairbanks UMC has faithfully tended this mission field, God has opened other opportunities for ministry. Many of the children’s parents have agreed to allowing the volunteers to take their children to the church campus on the first and third Tuesday of each month for a similar service to the one held in the apartment clubhouses.


 
Moving to Sundays
Whenever she can, Gallardo now gives the children she serves the opportunity to attend Sunday services at Fairbanks UMC. Due to the lack of any other transportation, Gallardo, who is expecting her first child any day, makes multiple trips to and from the apartments in order to bring as many children as possible to church. She is earnestly praying that God will provide a more suitable source of transportation so that more children will be able to attend Sunday services.
 
“When we arrived at Fairbanks, I realized that the children in the community needed something,” Gallardo said, “and I believe that if we reach those children, we will reach their parents too.”
 
 
 

La Familia Metodistas

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 00:00
By: Sherri Gragg
 
After a long hiatus, Hispanic Ministries has reintroduced the Texas Conference to ¡Avivamiento! On February 3rd, the gathering of Spanish-speaking churches throughout the Conference recommenced, providing a venue for Hispanic members of the TAC to worship and fellowship together, and learn more about the bright future of Hispanic Ministries. Bishop Scott Jones delivered the evening’s message.
 
Contagious Joy
The excitement was palatable in the sanctuary of First UMC Pasadena as the praise team took their places. As the first notes of worship music filled the room, the congregation stood and began clapping in unison while a procession of 42 children filed into the sanctuary. Each pair of children held a brightly colored Latin American flag between them, one for each country of origin represented by Hispanic members of the Texas Conference. As they took their places at the front of the sanctuary, the congregation erupted in joyful praise.
 
“There is something to get excited about when seven hundred people get together to worship the Lord,” said Director of Hispanic Ministries, Rev. Arturo Cadar. The event offered the 25 Hispanic worship communities within the Texas Conference the chance to come together as one family. The carefully planned evening began with a shared meal. The women of Crossroads UMC spent hours upon hours lovingly preparing tamales, rice, and charro beans for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Hispanic congregations throughout the Conference pooled their resources to lead the service in vibrant and creative worship. A worship band led by Rev. Roberto Blanco began the evening’s praise. They were followed by a children’s dance team, a dramatic presentation, and a joint choir.
 
Bishop Scott Jones
Bishop Scott Jones both greeted the congregation and read his chosen passage of scripture in Spanish prior to delivering the evening’s message. Jones affirmed his deep love for his “familia Metodistas,” while challenging those in attendance to spread the love of Christ to all people. He warned against the danger of the church “turning inward” rather than reaching outside of the sanctuary doors to share the gospel with those in need. His challenge is powerfully relevant for the Texas Conference where, in the Houston area alone, 13 UMC churches are located in neighborhoods that are sixty percent Hispanic. “We must be a church that looks like God’s plan for the whole world,” Jones said.
 
Hispanic Ministries is excited to embrace the Bishop’s challenge to take the gospel to a hurting world. Cadar envisions ¡Avivamiento 2018! as a launching point for the next era of Hispanic Ministry. “The purpose of the event is to keep our congregations informed of the approach that Hispanic ministry will have over the next few years so that we can all work together to achieve the goal we have proposed to make disciples of all nations and to increase the Hispanic membership of our conference,” Cadar said.


To learn more about Hispanic Ministries, visit https://www.txcumc.org/metodistashispanosdetexas or contact Rev. Arturo Cadar at acadar@txcumc.org. Follow Hispanic Ministries on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Video of the full service 
 

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