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Celebrating 184 Years

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
It’s birthday time for McMahan Chapel, the oldest Protestant church serving in continuous ministry in Texas. Mary Lou Reece, wife of Bishop Scott Jones, will be the guest speaker at the annual celebration service Saturday, October 14th at 10:30 a.m. “I’m honored to be a part of history this month,” Mary Lou said, “and meet many of the longtime members who are continuing the legacy. Mary Lou’s life is one of rich service and leadership, both within the UMC and in business. She is President of Reece Construction Co., a family-owned business that builds bridges and other concrete structures for the highway system. As a specialist in bridges, she is excited to title her comments for the anniversary celebration, “Building a Bridge to Our Future.”

History in the Making
McMahan Chapel turns 184 years old this year. A historical marker in rural Sabine County states that the Rev. Littleton Fowler, a circuit rider, led the church’s earliest services in the home of Colonel Samuel Doak McMahan with forty-eight founding members in attendance.

The church’s unique history as the birthplace of Texas Methodism is shared not only through the historical marker, but also in a local museum that showcases a collection of early Texas Methodist memorabilia including an 1818 Bible, a broadaxe, and a timeline of church milestones between 1833-1902. Rev. Littleton, upon his death at age 43, requested burial under the pulpit of McMahan’s Chapel. His massive marble headstone still rests in the pulpit area, a constant reminder of the faith and work of Texas's earliest Methodist.

The McMahan Chapel Cemetery, where many travelers have stopped throughout history to camp because of a nearby spring, has more than 400 marked graves, some dating back as early as the 1830s. Several of the oldest graves are covered with the locally quarried “blue” rock.

The members of McMahan Chapel appreciate the continuing story of their church. According to Rev. Martin Doran, the congregation holds regular worship services and campus tours. The guest register shows that people from all around the world stop at McMahan Chapel for moments of prayer and meditation beneath the beautiful stained glass windows which memorialize many early Texas Methodists.
The chapel campus is often used for weddings, and Wesley leadership and youth retreats. It is also a popular destination for school field trips. “We even have a play depicting our historical roots featuring the museum caretaker dressed up like Daniel McMahan,” the church secretary, Sandy Newman, said.
The annual celebration is an exciting time for McMahan Chapel, when many former members who grew up in the church return to their church home to celebrate their heritage. This year, the congregation is especially looking forward to hearing from Mary Lou Reese they prepare to “build bridges” from the rich history of Texas Methodism to our vibrant future.


Convocation on Creative Communication

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
In less than the time it took to write this sentence, 7,785 tweets were published. There were 62,973 Google searches, 1,097 YouTube videos viewed. (Internet Live Stats, n.d.) In a world inundated with information, it is more important than ever before for clergy and lay leaders to harness the power of creativity to share the gospel.
The Fall Convocation on Creative Communication is a wonderful opportunity for Tx UMC leaders to develop creative communication skills. The conference is offering a variety of impactful workshops, as well lectures by some of the most inspiring voices in their fields.
Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, seminary president, will speak Monday afternoon to begin the conference. Dr. McMickle draws from his rich career in both academia and ministry. He is also an accomplished writer. He is a contributor to newly published preaching commentaries- Feasting on the Word, and Preaching God’s Transforming Justice. He is the author of fifteen books.
Best-selling author Anne Lamott joins the conference to share from her lifetime of creative work, and journey of personal faith. Ms. Lamott is the author of seven novels, and several books of non-fiction, including her acclaimed book on writing and the creative life, Bird by Bird. Ms. Lamott has also penned several books of essays in which she reflects on faith and the power of grace. She is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, and has taught writing at The University of California-Davis, and at writing conferences throughout the United States.
Dr. N.T. Wright will wrap up the conference on Tuesday evening. Dr. Wright is an esteemed theologian, and former bishop of the Anglican church. Dr. Wright is the professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews. He has also taught at Oxford, McGill, and Cambridge universities. Dr. Wright is the author of almost 80 books.
Anne Lamott’s Monday evening lecture discussing her most recent work, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, is free and open to the public along with Dr. Wright’s Tuesday evening lecture, “Jacob and the Bishop: Where Faith and Art Meet.” Registered participants will have access to the full offering of events.
For registration information, a full listing of workshops, presenter bios, and more please visit the conference page at http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/Events/FallConvocation2017. Perkins School of Theology encourages churches to share the information with their congregations.
Events Open to the Public
Anne Lamott- Monday, November 13, 2017, 7:30 to 9 p.m.
McFarlin Memorial Auditorium, SMU, 6405 Boaz Lane, Dallas, TX 75205
RSVP required. See website.
Dr. N.T. Wright, Tuesday, November 14, 2017, 7:30 to 9 pm.
Highland Park United Methodist Church, Wesley Hall, 3300 Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, TX 75205
No RSVP required.

Luther: Monk, Excommunicant, Revolutionary

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
As a miner and ore smelter, Martin Luther’s father knew what it meant to forge a livelihood out of backbreaking labor. Like most parents, he wanted better for his son. He dreamed of a future for young Martin in which he would he would provide bread for his family’s table with his mind instead of his hands. Martin, his father decided, would be a lawyer.
But deep within Martin Luther lay slumbering the heart of a revolutionary. At the age of 21, he left his studies to choose the very hard labor and abject poverty from which his father had longed to spare him.
Martin Luther abandoned everything to become an Augustinian monk.
Preparing to Change the World
In entering monastic life, Martin Luther was following an inner call that rang purer and louder than simply the call of revolution. Luther longed to know that God was pleased with his life. It was with the bitterest of disappointment that he realized that the leadership of Catholic Church did not share his passion for purity, personal responsibility of faith, and Biblical truth. The church had fallen into corruption, and even to the low of buying and selling of the priesthood. In 1451 Duke Amadeus VIII orchestrated the appointment of his son to the position of bishop of Geneva. He was a boy of only eight years old. (Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought, pg.2, Blackwell Publishers, 2012)
Most disturbing to Martin Luther was the practice of the buying and selling of indulgences. Priests were teaching that they had access to a “treasure trove” of good works, previously performed by the saints, which they could make available to their parishioners for the cancellation of sins…for a price. Martin Luther was incensed. Jesus had already paid for the sins of the whole world! Man was saved through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, not by works.
Martin Luther set out to reform the church from within. He composed his 95 Thesis, detailing what he believed to be the major points in need of change. Then, he did the equivalent of posting it online and seeing it skyrocket to the top of Reddit. He nailed it to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
Martin Luther was excommunicated for his beliefs. He spent ten months sequestered in Wartburg castle. It was during this time that he turned his attention to another point of reform. Martin Luther believed that each man held both the right and the responsibility for his own faith. For this to be a reality, he knew had to get the Bible into the hands of the common man. So, he undertook the task of translating the Bible into German. This advancement, along with the printing press, fanned the embers of the Reformation into flame. The Catholic Church, and the world, would never be the same.
Why Remember the Reformation?
Each year, at the end of October, we pause to remember the Reformation because it formed the foundation for Christianity as we know it. Luther and the other leaders of the Reformation brought new life to a dying church crippled by corruption, and infected by faulty theology. They reaffirmed justification through faith instead of works, empowered individuals to take responsibility for their own faith instead of depending on an intermediary, and placed God’s word into the hands of ordinary men and women.
But the Reformation also had devastating consequences as well.
“The Reformation was a time when Christians in Europe returned to the basic teachings of the Bible, and began to place an emphasis on the importance of personal faith and salvation through faith,” Bishop Scott Jones said. “But there was also a dark side to the Reformation. It split the church into many different denominations.”
This tragic division of the Body of Christ, is why the UMC stresses unity each year on Reformation Day. We, along with the Catholic and Lutheran churches, are intentionally working to forge a new unity of Believers.
In 2001, the Lutheran and Catholic churches approved a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Martin Luther, they agreed, was correct. Man is saved by faith alone. With the signing of the declaration, one of the main divisions of the Reformation officially became a point of unification. When Bishop Jones heard about the declaration, he reached out to be sure the Methodists had the chance to approve the declaration as well.
This Reformation Day, the congregations of the Texas Conference will remember the importance of Bible study and personal faith. We will give thanks for Martin Luther and the other leaders of the Reformation.
And we will reach out to our fellow believers to celebrate our unity in Christ. There will be a special worship service in Houston hosted by the Lutheran and Catholic churches to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. If you are in the Houston area, please join us this October 25th, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 11111 St. Joseph Pkwy, Houston, at 7:30pm.

Meeting Special Needs

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
Woodlands UMC
“God moves here every day,” said Chris Robbins, Woodlands UMC Special Needs Ministry Coordinator. It is a testimony echoed by both the volunteers and the families the ministry serves.
Woodlands UMC’s “Special Blessings Ministry” began in 2004 to serve six families with young special needs children in need of care during the worship service. As the children grew, and their needs changed, “Special Blessings” grew along with them. In 2007, Woodlands UMC formed “Remix,” a youth group for teens with special needs. In 2011, the church launched “Revive” to minister to special needs young adults.
The ministry continues to grow in service today. Recent innovations include expansions to provide areas for sensory sensitive attendees, a specialized curriculum, and a “buddy program” that serves over forty-five people each Sunday ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens. Woodlands UMC wants every man, woman, and child to know that they are loved by God regardless of the challenges they face. “Special Blessings” is intentionally inclusive, adapting as many of the traditional church programs for their special needs participants as possible, including Bible studies, family worship services, and a choir.
“Special Blessings” is a tremendous encouragement to the families it serves. Parents are comforted by the support of their church community as it comes alongside them to provide a safe, and nurturing environment where their children can truly be a part of worship and Bible study, but it is also a blessing to the volunteers who serve. “To help others know Christ’s love is what we are called to do as disciples,” said Melissa Johnson, a thirteen year veteran of the ministry, “I hope that I have blessed them by serving in the ministry at least as much as they have me.”
Marvin UMC
Julie Brown, Director of Children’s Ministry at Marvin UMC, hopes to reach out to “Special Blessings” for guidance as Marvin UMC develops their own special needs ministry. The new ministry, which is in its foundational stages, will be named “Rainbow Kids,” in honor of the variety of challenges the children face, as well as the hope of God’s promise which the rainbow represents.
Marvin UMC has taken the first steps in the formation of the ministry by building an inclusive playground where children of all abilities can play together. The church has also constructed “buddy boxes” in each classroom, equipped with sensory toys, where caring adults are able to work with children challenged with attention disorders. These children, who need more supervision, will also benefit from Marvin UMC’s new “buddy program” in which volunteers will help provide one to one care.

“God is calling us to be all inclusive as well as provide a place for families to leave their children with more extreme needs in a place of safety, love, nurturing, and biblical teaching so that their caregivers can relax, be loved, and spiritually fed,” said Julie.


Renew Your Wesleyan Witness

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
What if you God gave you the power to deliver at-risk children from generational poverty? What would it mean to your ministry, to the world, if He placed in your hands the antidote to spare those children a criminal record? A life bound by substance abuse?
What if you discovered that the power to change their precious lives was, in fact, already in your grasp…
Between the pages of a book.
Children who learn to read at an early age, and have access to an abundance of reading material are more successful in school for years to come. Academic success often offers them the “golden ticket” out of generational poverty. Children who read well are less likely to get in trouble, less likely to abuse drugs. (Ferst Foundation, n.d.)
This is why the Texas Conference is investing in Love All God’s Children, a program designed to impact childhood literacy, health, and help children discover the truth of God’s love. This is why our conference is excited to offer the Social Innovation Workshop, October 25th and 26th. Participants in the workshop will learn more about social innovation, and how we as a conference can impact the lives of little ones through We Love All God’s Children.
The workshop will be based on the new book by Dr. Greg Jones, Christian Social Innovation: Renewing Wesleyan Witness. Dr. Jones will join his wife, Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones, and his brother, Bishop Scott Jones, as speakers in the conference.
The workshop will be held on two dates, in two separate locations for the convenience of the attendees.
“While the Texas Annual Conference is doing amazing things related to children’s health, education and discipleship,” said Bishop Jones, “we have a much greater potential to expand and increase our effectiveness. I hope many of our pastors can join one of our upcoming social innovation conversations to collectively leverage our leadership strengths.”
Event 1:
Wednesday, October 25 at Marvin UMC Tyler, from 9:30 to 2:30,
300 W. Erwin Street, Houston
Cost is $10 for lunch, payable at the door.
Register at: http://www.txcumc.org/tylerconversation 
(Choose "Register as Guest" option)
Event 2:
Thursday, October 26 at Westchase Campus of First UMC Houston, from 9:30 to 2:30
10570 Westpark Drive, Houston
 Register at: http://www.txcumc.org/houstonconversation
 (Choose "Register as Guest" option) 

Fun Fall Ministry Ideas

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a season for everything. In United Methodist circles the autumn tends to bring a back-to-school, back-to-church routine rich with opportunities for new ministry ideas that engage new audiences.
Pastors and Pets
Over the past 14 years, the annual Blessing of the Animals has become a beloved tradition at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston. People and their pets gather for the festive outdoor worship service, evoking Psalm 98:4: "Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!” Children’s choirs lead the singing, and every tweet, meow, and bark is added to the joyful chorus.
Anna Teagarden, Director of St. Paul’s Children’s Music, explains how the service is held on the Sunday nearest the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. "It is a true example of St. Francis' call on all of us to be 'instruments of peace,’ as we include and honor all God's creatures in a beautiful and peaceful environment.”
Pastors walk through the hodgepodge crowd to lay hands on and bless each animal—whether lizard or dog, cat or hamster. Some children even bring their cherished stuffed animals along for a blessing. Liturgy remains fairly brief for the service, yet many attendees linger long afterward to interact with one another and enjoy the space. St. Paul’s even encourages participants to make pet food donations to local organizations, such as aniMeals on Wheels or Houston SPCA.
New to the St. Paul’s clergy this year, Associate Pastor of Congregational Care, Rev. Andrew Wolfe, was excited about this unique worship service he had heard so much about. He finds it meaningful in that, “It gives us a chance to bless the bond between pet and their caregiver and celebrate the relationship that all creation shares with its Creator.”
Bridging to the Community
Rev. Wolfe and others from St. Paul's were proactive in inviting the community to the early October event, putting up flyers at nearby libraries, pet stores, and apartments. It was also posted and shared widely as a Facebook Event, boosted by some advertising dollars.
As over 220 humans and critters gathered for Blessing of the Animals, they sang the words of the familiar hymn: "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The LORD God made them all.”
Free Fall Festival Performance
Hurricane Harvey displaced Houston Grand Opera's Opera to Go! They have been holding rehearsals at St. Mark's-Pecore. As a thank you to St. Mark's, the Opera is hosting a free performance of Hansel and Gretel at the church during its Fall Festival on Saturday, October 14. Wes Landry, St. Mark’s Director of Music Ministries at has been instrumental in providing Hurricane Harvey relief efforts with the church and Grand Opera, most recently providing rehearsal space at the church.
 “This is a great opportunity for church members to bring friends to the church campus,” shares member Lisa Martinson. The free performance of this famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, will be held in the church Fellowship Hall at 10:30am, featuring music by Engelbert Humperdinck and Libretto by Kate Pogue, full costumes and sets.
Pumpkins on a Stick
Cheatham Memorial UMC in Edgewood is getting noticed for the right reasons this season. The church is hosting a unique pumpkin-themed fundraiser featuring wooden yard art –- 47 of which are literally stopping traffic and inspiring calls from across the state. The idea was an inspiration of Bobbi Byford, a church member that Rev. Alan Van Hooser describes as “so creative she has glitter in her footsteps.” Selling the wooden pumpkins as a fundraiser for local missions, Cheatham has landed incredible visibility for the church and attention for the annual Fish Fry and Silent Auction event. “My husband and another church member donated the wood and time to cut out 60 pumpkins and sold them to be decorated as a way to give back to the community,” shares Bobbi. “This little ‘prophet patch’ has been tons of fun for a good cause; the top three pumpkin designers will designate their prize money to a nonprofit of their choice.” The winners, selected by judges from outside of the county, will be announced at the fundraiser on October 14.
The annual Fish Fry has raised over $50k over the years for needs within the county via organizations including Child Advocates, Meals on Wheels, the battered women’s center. Some of the proceeds fund the Go Packs distributed to feed school children and the “Community Connection” lunches hosted at Cheatham Memorial each year.
This colorful display has yielded great exposure for the church and local missions via “shares” on Facebook and the local news. “People are constantly parking and touring our little wooden pumpkin patch,” adds Bobbi. “We prayed over these pumpkins and are excited to know that folks are joyful about stepping onto our church campus. You never know where that might lead.”


Reaching Gen Z

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 00:00
Most churches are familiar with the concept of “Millennials,” but the next generation is right on their heels, Generation Z. This demographic of young people, born between the years of 1998-2016, present both unique challenges, as well as opportunities for youth ministry. Russell Martin, Director of Student Ministry at Williams Memorial UMC-Texarkana, believes churches will need to be both intentional and innovative to reach this generation for Christ.

Who is Generation Z?
“(They are) Millennials on steroids,” said Michael Wood, of research firm 747 Insights. Like their millennial predecessors, Generation Z is technologically savvy, and active on social media, but they take it all a step further earning them the moniker “screen teens.” Unlike Millennials, Generation Z can’t remember life without personal computers or cell phones. Our “plugged-in” culture is all they have ever known. As a result, they are accustomed to accessing information digitally, and at the swipe of a finger. This constant barrage of information and stimulus presents unique challenges to ministry because teen’s attention spans are shorter.

But there is a silver lining. The same technology that distracts, can be a powerful tool for teaching God’s word. Leaders can use YouTube lessons and Skype sessions to bring new life to Bible studies. Social media offers youth ministers valuable opportunities to stay connected with the kids they serve.

Another defining characteristic of Generation Z is their “DIY” approach to life. Generation Z is inspired by the idea of individual empowerment, fertile ground for the development of the church leaders of tomorrow.
Russell recently discovered three questions, through the work of Wes Henson, @3QLeadership, that have changed the way he leads the teens of Williams Memorial UMC.
  • “What needs to be done?”
  • “What can I do?”
  • “Who can I get to help me?”
In structuring his teaching around these three questions, and then challenging the teens to come up with practical steps for meeting the needs they see, Russell is tapping into Generation Z’s concept of individual empowerment, and encouraging them to use it in service for the Kingdom of God. The impact of his teaching isn’t lost on the teens he serves.
“We need a way to show our community that our generation is not broken,” said Sophie Lower, high school senior, “We are lights. We just need a way to show it.”

Shining the Light
The youth of Williams Memorial UMC is serious about shining their light for God, and Russel is excited to empower them as leaders in any way possible. Each month, the youth group holds a worship service in the chapel which is almost completely led by students in grades six through twelve. During the Wednesday night service, Williams Memorial UMC teens are busy leading worship, and small groups as well. The students serve in ministries throughout the church each Sunday including the adult service as worship leaders, technical support, and ushers. The teens serve in the children’s ministry as well.
Ministering to Generation Z in the midst of their cultural landscape, and helping them navigate it with the love of Christ, isn’t easy. “Just like with any mission,” Russel said, “you have to be willing to go in and learn their culture and their language. They don’t give you authority just because you have a degree or a position.” But the hard work is worth it. Generation Z is our future. They are the innovative, independent thinkers God is preparing to lead the church of tomorrow.


Open Enrollment: November 1 – 15, 2017

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 00:00
Active Clergy Group Health Benefits 2018 Open Enrollment: November 1 – 15, 2017

During this period, Active GHB participants can enroll in a new plan or change their existing plan to another plan effective Jan. 1, 2018.  Enrollment packets are being mailed to all participants at the end of October. 

In order to be good stewards of conference resources, the Open Enrollment packets will focus on plan changes for 2018. All Open Enrollment documents will be available online by the end of October. 

If you want to make changes, complete and return the enrollment form found online to the TAC Benefits Office by Nov. 15, 2017.  If the Benefits Office does not receive an enrollment form by Nov. 15, your 2017 plan elections will continue in 2018.

Thanksgiving Ingathering Event

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 00:00
The Thanksgiving Ingathering is a multi-missional event of local, national and international projects that address education, poverty, hunger and disaster relief. The event creates a synergy from broad participation and support for missions. It will be held Saturday, November 18, 2017 from  8am – 2pm at Faith UMC in Richmond.
Learn more at www.thanksgivingingathering.org
Faith UMC,  Richmond
4600 FM 359, Richmond, TX 77469
Contact: Dr. Arthur Richardson, Exec. Director
Faith UMC:  (281) 341-8200

Third Sunday Native American Worship October 15:  Pastor Melody Jacobs

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 00:00

On October 15, come listen to Pastor Melody Jacobs (Mescalero Apache).  She and Crystal Batiste Stephenson (Alabama/Coushatta) are women passionate for the Lord and they will truly open your mind to the greatness of God and show you how to use your faith in your life.
DATE:  October 15, 2017
TIME: 4:00pm
 St. Marks United Methodist Church
1615 Patterson St., Houston, Tx.
(One block south of I-10 & west of I-45
Close to I-10 and Shepherd Dr.)
As always, please join us for a potluck meal after the service.

Wiley College Choir to Perform in Houston Oct. 6-8

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 00:00
The world renowned Wiley College acappella choir will be in Houston this weekend. Jaylon Tasby, son of TAC Group Health Benefits Specialist Ayanna Tasby-Bertrand is among those performing. For anyone interested in attending a concert, the information and dates are as follows:
Friday October 6, 2017 at 7pm
Trinity United Methodist Church

2600 Holman Street
Houston, Tx 77004
Saturday October 7, 2017 at 6pm
Windsor Village United Methodist Church

6011 W Orem Dr,
Houston, TX 77085
Sunday October 8, 2017 at 10:30am
Covenant Glen United Methodist Church

501 Murphy Rd.
Stafford, Tx

Rev. Hannah Terry: In It for the Long Haul

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 00:00
The pastor at Westbury United Methodist Church and founder of FAM isn’t letting neighbors fall through the cracks after Harvey. Read story in Houstoniamag

Please Pray for Las Vegas

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 00:00
"I am praying for those who were killed and injured last night in Las Vegas and for their family members. This is a tragic situation and I ask everyone to join me in praying for those involved."
          Scott J. Jones

Beyonce Helps Hometown

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00
This month, Houston native Beyoncé returned home to team up with Pastor Rudy Rasmus at her home church, St. John’s UMC to help victims of Hurricane Harvey start piecing their lives back together. She told families at the church and shelter that St. John’s had profoundly impacted her --- as the site of her first solo --- and that she wanted to demonstrate her hometown pride by providing help and hope.

Joined by her daughter Blue Ivey, mom Tina Knowles Lawson, Blue Ivy and band mate Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé thanked Pastor Rudy for being a lifelong example of life and love.

According to an article by NBC writer Gwendolyn Quinn, Beyoncé has previously partnered with her pastor on global outreach initiatives, including her highly-publicized anti-hunger campaigns and food programs in conjunction with her concert tours, and came to town to do that again in a big way. The Houston native and her foundation, BeyGOOD partnered with Pastor Rudy’s Bread of Life non-profit organization, founded 25 years ago through St. John’s to help with needs like this current flooding crisis.

Speaking to the audience full of survivors, she shared, “Today is a celebration of survival. The thing that really matters is your health, and your children, and your family. And I just want to say I love you. I’m so, so thankful to God that I’ve been blessed, so that I can bless other people, and I ask God to continue to do that for other people.”
Rev. Rasmus has known Beyoncé since she was a young girl and has worked with her to coordinate humanitarian opportunities all over the world in recent years.

Expressing thanks for her sizable September donation, he said, “Beyoncé has been an amazing friend and generous supporter. She has helped us do some significant work in the Houston area and she is totally committed to the recovery efforts on behalf of Hurricane Harvey.” On September 12, Beyoncé linked arms with other celebrities to host a television special to raise additional money for victims of Harvey and the more recent Hurricane Irma in Florida and surrounding states.

He noted that Houston has long benefited from many contributions made by Beyoncé and the extended Knowles family, including the Knowles-Rowland Center for Youth, which started in 2002 through St. John’s Church. “I often say that the Knowles-Rowland Center was built on Destiny’s Child hit single, ‘No, No, No.’ Destiny’s Child came through and help [Bread of Life] to build up a gymnasium as an outreach center for young people in our community,” Rudy adds.

With tens of thousands of people displaced and adversely affected by some three trillion gallons of rainfall, Pastor Rudy and the Bread of Life team have already begun outreach and recovery efforts.

According to Rudy, the Bread of Life has set up a disaster case-management component to walk people through the process of getting back on their feet. The organization is now receiving support from all over the country, including donations of money and non-perishable essentials and supplies, including personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, diapers, wheelchairs, blankets, pillows, and other items people needed for the long haul.

Further, Bread of Life is providing temporary and permanent housing and financial support to many, and has coordinated disaster relief cleanup crews, ground transportation needs for individuals and families; cleanup kits; and household appliances. Displaced families will also have access to a tool bank, where they can borrow a variety of construction tools and do the necessary work on their homes themselves.

Thousands Homeless
“There are a lot of people who never imagined themselves being homeless, who are homeless right now, and our goal is to help soften the blow as much as we can for those men, women, and children,” notes Rudy.

The Bread of Life has prepared a Hurricane Harvey Recovery Guide as a resource for those impacted by the storm. The organization is also building and utilizing relationships in the mental health community for people who will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

 St. John’s United Methodist Church has locations in both the downtown and the Northwest sections of the city. Pastor Rudy co-pastors with his wife of 32 years, Juanita. Culturally and ethnically diverse, St. John’s has more than 9,000 members with 95 percent being people of color across every strata of the social-economics spectrum.

Beyoncé and family have also been instrumental in assisting Bread of Life with apartment buildings specifically constructed for the chronically homeless. The first property built under the corporation is the Knowles Temenos Place Apartment, a 42-unit, single occupancy permanent housing unit financially supported by the Knowles family. The corporation constructed two other buildings with help from other donors.

Pastor Rudy adds, “The big challenge is to find adequate housing for residents with nowhere to go. Beyoncé is aiding us in offering hope and help in the midst of this human tragedy of epic proportions.”

Comforting Those Who Mourn

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00
Each Sunday afternoon, long after the last note of the closing hymn fades away and the members of Harleton United Methodist Church head home to Sunday dinners with their families, a faithful few return to the church to re-open the doors. They are there to provide grieving members of the community a place of comfort, understanding, and healing through GriefShare, an international program designed to help those who have lost a loved one face the challenges of bereavement, and rebuild their lives.
GriefShare- A Path to Healing
Rev. Kate Turner, pastor of Harleton UMC, first began exploring ministry options for grieving families when she recognized the need within her own church. “We have experienced numerous losses within our own congregation,” she said, “but there were no grief support groups available anywhere near our church.”
Rev. Turner turned to District Superintendent Rev. Chuck Huffman for help. He pointed Harleton UMC to GriefShare. The program seemed like the perfect way for the small East Texas church to minister to their grieving neighbors.
The congregation was excited to begin the ministry, but a huge obstacle stood in their way. For a small church like Harleton, GriefShare’s startup cost for leadership training, video seminars, and participant workbooks was overwhelming. Rev. Turner and her congregation simply didn’t have the extra funds for the ministry in their budget, so they took their financial need to God in prayer. And He answered.
God Provides a Way
“God provided an ‘angel’ who covered one hundred percent of the startup costs,” Rev. Turner said, “This person wasn’t even a church member, but she felt the call from God to provide this meaningful and life-changing program to our little community!”
The church also received donations of furniture, artwork, and the essential audiovisual equipment needed to transform one of the rooms in the fellowship hall into a welcoming “parlor” for the GriefShare ministry. Soon, the ministry was on its way.
Each week, trained facilitators guide participants through the GriefShare program which incorporates three distinct elements over the course of 13 weeks- a video seminar, group discussion, and time for personal reflection. Participants also find healing in each other. “It is comforting to be able to express their grief without having to explain it,” Rev. Turner said.
Harleton UMC’s Commitment
Harleton UMC recently completed their first 13-week course cycle of GriefShare, and are preparing to begin again. The community response has made it clear that Harleton is meeting an aching need. Out of the eight participants already committed to the course, only one is a member of Harleton UMC. Additionally, members of the first GriefShare group are considering sitting in on the sessions again.
In Romans 12:15 Paul encourages believers to “mourn with those who mourn.” Harleton UMC is taking Paul’s admonition seriously as they look forward to offering the GriefShare ministry for many years to come.
Are you interested in bringing GriefShare to your community? Rev. Turner suggests researching the program at www.churchinitiative.com. Click the GriefShare logo. 

Help Wanted: Disaster Recovery Positions Available

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00

The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is accepting applications for multiple disaster recovery positions to staff 3 long-term recovery offices (1 in Houston, 1 in Lake Jackson, and 1 in Beaumont).  Positions are contract, grant-funded positions for one-year terms with the possibility of extensions up to three years total. 

The positions include:

Project Coordinator

Case Managers

Construction Coordinator

Construction Supervisor

Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteer Host (part-time)

Bookkeeper / Administrative Assistant

Please submit a resume and cover letter to Rev. Scott Moore at smoore@txcumc.org
Only those selected for interviews will be contacted.

An Investment in Children

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00
Cypress Trails UMC has a vision to serve the community, starting with preschool, after school care and a charter elementary school on its campus.
Each Monday morning, Cypress Trails United Methodist Church in Spring, Texas welcomes dozens of backpack-wearing kindergarten, first, and second graders as they arrive to receive a quality education at Sam Houston University’s newest charter school, but Cypress Trails UMC is far more than a landlord for the school. The church is intentionally invested in the lives of the at-risk students the charter school serves.
When You Pray, Move Your Feet 
When Rev. Luis Ramirez first arrived at Cypress Trails UMC three years ago, both he and the church felt the need take time to hear from God about where He wanted them to serve in ministry. Pastor Ramirez felt there was no better way to begin than by praying for his neighbors, and listening to their struggles. He and his congregation began walking through the working-class neighborhood surrounding Cypress Trails, covering the neighborhood in prayer as they went. They also took time to meet with families in their homes to hear about their needs. Over and over again, the heard the same thing- the schools in the Spring district were in dire shape. Families were desperately worried about their children’s educations.
Listening for God’s Plan 
As Pastor Ramirez prayed about the needs surrounding Cypress Trails, God gave him a vision for the future. He knew the church was meant to bring God’s kingdom to earth, and Cypress Trails UMC was how God planned to bring His good kingdom to the at-risk children of Spring, Texas. “What if,” he wondered, “we could bring a quality education these children who are at risk simply because of their zip code?”
For years, he and his congregation prayed, watched, and waited. Finally, the day came when Cypress Trails heard that Sam Houston University was looking for hosts for four new charter schools. Cypress Trails knew they had found the perfect fit.
The charter school superintendent, Dr. Ronny Knox agrees. “When we were choosing a location for our newest charter school through the university, we looked at 50 credible and highly rated daycares. When Pastor Luis laid out his vision for the church to be an education center, we knew Cypress Trails UMC was going to be an ideal partner for Sam Houston University’s expanding charter school program.”
The Vision Becomes Reality
Cypress Trails UMC rejoices in the opportunity to provide a loving, safe environment for kids to receive a quality education in their own neighborhood, but the church offers far more than a facility to the students. Cypress Trails UMC also offers optional Christ-centered afterschool programs including soccer, scouting, and music programs. Each year, the church hosts a free community festival as well. Pastor Luis wants the neighborhood children to be familiar with the church. He wants the students and their families to feel connected, supported, loved.
“It is intentional,” Pastor Luis said, “We don’t see these as just some children we are serving. We see these as our children.”
Sam Houston University plans to expand their charter schools to four more sites in 2018. Churches interested in hosting a school should contact Dr. Ronny Knox at rdk012@shsu.edu

New Director of Development

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00
On October 1, 2017, Mary Linda Portner will begin her role as the first Director of Development for the Texas Annual Conference. As Director of Development, Mary Linda will take on the critical challenge of ensuring the conference is able to fund programs vital to the future of the United Methodist Church Texas Conference.
Mary Linda spent the past 14 years as Director of Advancement at St. Pius X High School in Houston. She loved her job, and had no interest in leaving it until God began nudging her heart in a different direction during her morning devotions. The theme of the devotion was, “What Does God Want You to Do?” The words struck home with Mary Linda. She knew God was asking her to prayerfully consider whether or not He wanted her to step out of her comfort zone in order to serve Him. As she sought the Lord in prayer during the days that followed, she learned about the Texas Conference’s need for a Director of Development. God’s call was becoming clearer, and Mary Linda was ready to answer.
Strengthening the Conference to Lead Well
The Texas Annual Conference is the first conference to hire a permanent Director of Development. Mary Linda will undertake the tremendous task of raising money to fund literacy programs through We Love All God’s Children, land acquisitions for future church plants, the Emerging Leaders Initiative, and Hurricane Harvey recovery. Bishop Scott Jones believes the position is essential to enable the conference to do the important work that lies ahead. “This is a crucial thing that God is calling us to do to,” Bishop Jones said. “It's important to raise money now because the apportionment dollars will never provide enough support for everything we need. These are all initiatives that will strengthen our capacity to lead well. Mary Linda will connect people to the financial channels that already exist and bless them by empowering them to serve Christ through their generous giving.”
An Invitation to Join God’s Work
Mary Linda is excited about the challenges that await her as she begins her new position. She also looks forward to inviting others to step out of their comfort zones to ask the question, “What does God want me to do?” God is at work. He is building churches, beginning literacy programs, training leaders, and providing hurricane recovery. Don’t you want to be a part of His amazing work? Our new Director of Development is ready to extend the invitation to be involved in what God is doing in the Texas Conference.

Pint-Sized Powerhouse

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00
Rosemary Berry, the organist at Burke UMC for the last 61 years, has a unique perspective of her little rural church. Although the church received a historical marker celebrating its formation in 1889, the town’s population is under 800 and the town is primarily a residential community for people that work in larger towns. Rosemary says, “We are in what’s called a dead zone and it is very hard for our church to grow. In fact, a year ago we were down to eight people, our bank account was low and we could not pay a pastor. We had to chose whether we would close our doors or somehow struggle and make a comeback, and with God’s help that’s what we’ve done.”
What happened next was a step of faith that God has rewarded over the months that followed. Just minutes down the road, Diboll UMC Pastor David Goodwin knew that Diboll member Michael Waters was interested in going into the ministry and suggested he serve as pulpit supply pastor in Burke while he pursued local pastor status. “I started in early January with plans to preach two Sundays a month, but that has evolved to every Sunday now, and David blesses the elements for communion as needed,” shares Michael, who juggles a very busy day job as a teacher, coach and trainer in the Diboll school system. “I felt the nudge to ministry during my Walk to Emmaus,” he says, “and later served as Lay Director and Community Director in East Texas and attended two lay minister classes.”
In the 10 months that have ensued, the average attendance at Burke UMC has jumped into the 20s, with the addition of two families. “When Mike saw our need, he came and preached for six months even though we could not pay him but 50 percent of the salary typically required,” shares Rosemary. “We began to grow enough that we could pay him, which taught our little church to trust God. If we make the first step, God will help us with the second step and now we have more than doubled our attendance.”
Dr. Dick White, superintendent of the East District, felt the energy in the room when he arrived to preach in the sanctuary at Burke UMC last month. “I stepped in for Mike one Sunday in August,” Dick explains, “and was happy to see the congregation welcoming several new families in their midst. You could actually feel the excitement, and Rosemary jazzed up the organ music and made worship really enjoyable,” Dick adds.
Rosemary speaks freely about the contrast from then and now. “We were down and discouraged, but there is a new spirit in the church now. It is a reminder that all we have to do is ask people to join us.” According to Rosemary, Mike saw children playing near the church and asked them to join the VBS activities this summer, and that led to a single mom and children attending on Sunday.  “All of a sudden this whole congregation is laughing again because we learned to trust God.”
Burke UMC is participating in shared ministry with St. Paul, Lufkin and Ryan’s Chapel UMC, which is just four miles away. While children have their activities, adults are enjoying a Bible study on the Wesleyan Way on Wednesdays. The churches also jointly host a fall festival, back to school activities and rotate sharing services for Lent and Advent.
“One church hosts the pancake supper, another has Ash Wednesday service or Maundy Thursday and Good Friday,” notes Rosemary. “It develops friendships and community with our neighbors.”
Although he balances a hectic schedule to serve as a supply pastor in Burke, Mike is feeling the rewards of stretching out in faith. “For quite awhile, I was the youngest one there at first,” he recalls, “but it has been so rewarding for all of us to see kids in the congregation again. There are great people in this little church and I am thoroughly enjoying growing in Christ together with them.”


Vitality Scorecard

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 00:00
With a multi-decade career in engineering and problem solving, retired management consultant Richard Whittier can’t help but think like a consultant. His latest project – helping to develop a church vitality scorecard -- started as an idea from the District Leadership Team. “As we talked about ways to help the local church, we discussed the value of having a dashboard that would track church health in key categories and be viewable at a glance,” shares Richard. The scorecard highlights the church vitality “drivers” and “indicators” discussed in commissioned 2016 research from TowersWatson.
Richard’s role was to help simplify the information gathering process on metrics like the number of small groups, giving history, and attendance. “I knew that if we made it difficult to calculate these key numbers, the tool would be useless.” Instead, the team provided a simple Excel spreadsheet with blanks for key statistics in a form that would do the basic calculations and provide a snapshot of congregational health at a glance. “I am more than glad to be able to help promote congregational vitality,” adds Richard. “Our district leadership team wants to add value and come alongside churches to help them grow and have a broader impact.”
Three churches piloted the congregational scorecard this summer: Kingwood UMC, FUMC Humble and Cypress UMC. Rev. Jim Flagg, pastor of FUMC Humble knows most church leaders get so caught up in the immediate and myopic view that they struggle to see the bigger picture. Explains Jim, “The bigger picture is exactly what the scorecard helps leadership see. It helps leadership see the little ‘blips’ in the church as well as longer trends.” He says it also allows leadership to then ask questions of causality along with plotting solutions. “For First Methodist Humble it is being used as a predictor to see whether our vitality has increased or decreased in our mission field and what can we do to be even more vibrant in service to God’s Kingdom.”
Building on the success of the first three ‘test cases,’ the District Leadership Team will now begin discussing how to roll this congregational vitality tool out to churches throughout the conference.
“The Center for Congregational Excellence is thankful for laity like Richard, who are eager to apply their business acumen for the work of the kingdom,” notes Dr. Jesse Brannen, Center Director. “Not only does Richard live and breathe Excel spreadsheets, he is a 35-year member of Kingwood UMC that has supported the church as an adult Sunday school teacher, a leader in Kairos prison ministry and currently serves as the church Lay Leader.”
For more information on the scorecard, contact Jesse at jbrannen@txcumc.org.