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Houston Lay School of Theology Day-Long Course

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

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

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

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

Communication Contest 2017 Winners Recognized at Conference

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

Congratulations to the Recipients of Ministry Awards

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

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

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

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

Pine Grove UMC in Hemphill – Rev. Sarah Porter 

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

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

CrossRoads UMC – Rev. Arturo Cadar

Average Worship Attendance 301 – 500 

Dr. Paul Clines, Bay Harbour UMC – League City

Average Worship Attendance 501 – 1000 

Rev. John R. Stephenson Faith UMC – Richmond

Average Worship Attendance 1001 – 2000 

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

Average Worship Attendance Over 2000 

Dr. John E. Stephens, Chapelwood UMC – Houston

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


Ordained and Commissioned 2017

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

Michael Ryan Gienger - Elder

Stephen Goldsmith - Elder

Andrew Kelly Hook - Elder

David W. Johnson - Elder

Josef Denson Klam - Elder

Russell Warren LaGrone - Deacon

Daniel Lumpee - Elder

Patricia Marie Lund - Elder

Joel C. McKinnon - Elder

John Wayne McMann - Elder

Michael R. McVey - Elder

Steven C. Newcomb - Elder

Carla Price - Elder

Johnnie Simpson Jr. - Elder

Stacy Lee Auld - Elder

Jacob Paul Breeze - Elder

Daniel E. Childs - Elder

Roger Graham Clayton Jr. - Elder

Thomas Williams Comstock III - Elder

Todd A. Cooper - Elder

Heather Theresa Gates - Deacon

Thomas Irl Harper - Elder

Tammy K. Heinrich - Elder

William Douglas Lucas - Elder

Brent Eric Parker - Elder

Paul Bradley Richards-Kuan - Elder

Cynthia Ann Riddick - Deacon

Raegan Elizabeth Seaton - Elder

Lindsay Jane Smith - Deacon

Stephanie McFall Snyder - Elder

Deborah DeFrank Tipps - Elder

Heather Ann Velez - Deacon

Andrew Travis Wolfe - Elder

Trisha Enke Woodruff - Elder

Daniel Sing-Han Yang - Elder


Episcopal Address 2017

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

Treats and Fellowship at Annual Conference

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
As Annual Conference kicked-off Sunday night, youth from across our conference were treated to a special event with Bishop Scott Jones and his wife Mary Lou. After some recreation time in The Loft, the youth had dinner together from a food truck, then lined up for Mary Lou and Bishop Jones’ favorite dessert -- chocolate malts.
“When I was growing up, we always had malts on Sunday nights. As our children grew up, we made sure to provide all the malt fixings at our house to bribe all their friends to hang out,” Mary Lou says. “When we moved to the Great Plains Conference it’s something we started doing every time there were youth gathered at our home. It became a Jones family tradition,” she says.
Bishop Jones added that he loves opportunities to be part of youth ministry, before turning back to the line to say: “You can have any flavor you want – as long as it’s chocolate!” Mary Lou continued explaining “it’s one way we can provide a little servant leadership for the young people and try to make them feel welcome. Hospitality is one of my spiritual gifts and this is a way for me to help them feel at home. Wherever I am I try to make this happen.”
The youth gathering at Annual Conference had the option to choose between traditional and contemporary worship services for each session. Also present were several youth delegates with voice and vote. Eddie Erwin, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries said he and other leaders were available to answer questions and help the delegates along with the process and procedures so they could be included and experience all the 2017 Conference had to offer. “Tuesday we went to Conroe and helped with relief buckets and introduced them to the mission depot and archive depot to let them know other ministries the conference offers,” Erwin says.
Now youth groups are gearing up for trips over the summer and summer camp. The next opportunity for fellowship is the Texas Youth Academy  July 3-15. And for those wanting to connect with others, you are invited to connect via Facebook and Instagram.

An Evening of Learning with Dean Craig Hill

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
Perkins’ Dean Craig Hill helps believers tap into the power of honoring what God honors and seeking God’s opinion over that of others.
In the comic strip, Peanuts, it was Linus that once said, “I love humanity. It’s the people I can’t stand.” In his keynote address, Dean Craig Hill, Perkins Theological Seminary, acknowledged the relationship challenges humans have had from the days of the New Testament – and prior, due to a natural desire for personal significance.  That sense of personal value “lurks around every corner,” he shared, “urging us to question how we are doing as family members.” That natural tendency to evaluate self-worth,” he explained, “can become the source for us as pastors to crave feedback on our sermons and constantly compare ourselves to others in our same role. We can be so absorbed with self that we are unaware of others,” noted Dean Hill. 
He explained to attendees that when this happens, they should reflect on the following:
  1. If you put your sense of worth in something, what happens when that is lost or taken away?
  2. If you feel your value is in ____, what happens when someone better comes along?
  3. Being self-centered requires constant self-evaluation, which can lead to shaky ground, hurt feelings and even counter attacks.
  4. The need to ‘be somebody’ promotes self-justification.
  5.  What is a legitimate reason to feel significant?
  6. Everything focusing strictly on human significance fails at the grave.
“The disciples also struggled with comparing themselves to one another in Mark 9 when they argued about who was the greatest among them,” noted Dean Hill, “but Jesus redefines the terms of significance in John 13 when he washes their feet. Foot washing was the lowest of jobs, but he was the only one in the room who knew who he truly was, and was thereby free to serve.” Humans on the ‘hamster wheel’ often do not feel free to serve or connect deeply with God. Additionally, he observes, “Most unhappy people are scorekeepers.” Dean Hill believes Philippians 2 was written to address the bickering within the New Testament church by urging them to do nothing from selfish ambition but to regard others as better than themselves.
The crowd paused to discuss these application questions:
How do you distinguish good ambition from bad ambition?
How is ambition manifested in my church?
For what should our church be more ambitious? 

“Vocation is others-centered while career tends to be more self-centered,” he adds. “Paul cold still exercise his vocation as an apostle in the prison, but when we get caught up in career ambition that can be a recipe for frustration. Instead, we should focus on the endless opportunity to be useful regardless of where we are.”
In conclusion, Dean Hill helped the group know where to start.
  1. God is the one that justifies. “It is God’s opinion we should most solicit and believe,” he shares.
  2. Who is invisible that needs to be recognized? “As in the story of the widow’s mite, we should serve and honor what and whom God honors.”
  3. Develop a culture of service by having the depth of faith to nurture a distinctly Christian culture. “Rather than serving as leaders, we also must lead as servants.”
Video: Dean Craig Hill

Choosing Cultural Intelligence

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
Dr. Maria Dixon Hall began her address to Annual Conference with a critique of the current state of race relations and an eye toward unity while condemning traditional diversity and inclusion training which she says has only made things worse. A tenured professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, Dr. Dixon is also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Her keynote at Annual Conference covered not only where gaps exist in inter-cultural communication, but highlighted a new initiative launching at SMU to address inter-cultural misunderstandings in new ways.
“One of the things that is interesting is that every single generation has had to grapple with race,” she noted. “What makes [today] unique is that we have a means by which these protests and outrages [are] able to be communicated virally across campuses so that no longer did an issue stop at your campus… So we were left as many college campuses dealing with the same set of demands that may have been at Missouri, at Brown, may have been even at the University of Houston. What is interesting is this is no longer simply about race. Students were conflating a number of issues, whether it was sexuality, gender, religion, and what we found is that this changed rapidly from the idea of simply black and white. The other thing universities are grappling with is the fact that we are struggling with intellectual - for lack of a better word – frailty, with difference - with different opinions, with different ideologies, different ways of being. So difference on a college campus in the 21st century has taken on a complexity that has not been seen before.”

With an eye toward enhancing cultural intelligence, which she defines as “the ability to function, communicate and manage effectively in complex and changing cultural contexts” faculty approached administration at SMU. They decided to develop a program designed to tackle the issue by changing the way faculty, staff and students approach intercultural communication. To start, Dr. Dixon says they “had to deal with three very difficult facts:”
1. You can’t be a world changer if you can’t effectively engage the people in your own city
“There is an expectation by employers and communities that we at SMU are turning out people who can change the world. But you can’t change the world if you can’t talk to the world. That was the first thing we had to tell ourselves. We weren’t doing our jobs.”
2. Fifty-three years after legal segregation we are still living in a segregated society.
“This may not be popular to say, and I’m ok with that… The reality is this: we are more segregated and separated by color and age than we’ve ever been before. The statistics point it out well… We’re not talking about the people you work with. We’re talking about the people you invite over to dinner. The people you call just because. We’re talking about the people who might even have a key to your house.“
91% of whites only socialize with other whites in their private lives.
83% of blacks only socialize with other whites in their private lives.
64% of latinos only socialize with other whites in their private lives.
“None of us are truly engaged in diversity.”
3. Traditional Diversity and Inclusion Training have only made things much worse.
“We just need to be honest about this Traditional Diversity and Inclusion Training in my opinion has been one of the saddest developments that has emerged in the last 31 years… The truth of the matter is after 31 years diversity training has not given us any substantial change.”
Dr. Dixon said the new initiative they are launching in the fall is called CIQ at SMU as a signature initiative to address issues of diversity and inclusion. “The goal is not to appreciate diversity, but for every mustang to develop the skills and knowledge to effectively learn and work with people and in contexts that are diverse. It is designed that from the first day on campus until their last, faculty, staff, and students can learn and work to effectively create, collaborate and communicate in today’s culturally complex environment.”
Why are they going this route? The faculty, staff, and students “are leading increasingly segregated private lives yet expected to engage in integrated environment,” Dr. Dixon continued, adding that “success in the 21st century demands our ability to collaborate and communicate effectively within a complex cultural context… and for sustainable change to emerge, and entire cultural change is required.” She added.  “One of the things I like most about cultural intelligence is it allows us to walk away from the ineffective dance of intercultural etiquette. It moves us away from this idea that one group is always wrong and one group is always right. It moves us into the understanding that we all have a language to learn.  That we all have skills we need to learn.”
At its core, this is just “the idea that every one of us has a cultural language and that the more languages you learn the more multi-lingual you become and the more effective you become in your life… It doesn’t say anything about appreciation. It says we want you to be functional and effective in complex cultural situations. The bottom line is we want you to be able to do your job. Being able to complete the mission of the church regardless of the complex cultural situations you will see – whether that’s ethnicity or nationality, generational or organizational.”
She illustrated this point by discussing when we travel to new places, how we spend time and money researching other cultures, buying travel books, and learning key phrases so as to not offend or make mistakes that may get us into trouble. We want to know the “rules” of the new context. Or as she puts it: “How to stay off CNN while traveling… How do I make sure I’m not going to go to jail for touching or eating or doing something wrong?” She asks why we can’t use the “same motivation we use to not offend people who live over there… [and] utilize it for the people we live with every single day.”
As part of their CIQ initiative, they are launching an anonymous app called “ask me anything” that will
allow students, faculty, and staff to ask any question they have and it will be answered directly by staff or someone they can identify within the relevant community to answer it and make it available through their website. Dr. Dixon said they “want to make sure they’re leading and become a national voice.” She noted that they’re taking a new way and hope to be successful by moving beyond diversity toward cultural intelligence” so that “CIQ@SMU advances SMU as a national thought leader in higher education.”  Then, they “will be measured by the emergence of a culture where being culturally intelligent is the standard for being a member of the mustang family.
This article merely scratches the surface of the depth and breadth of the topics covered in Dr. Dixon’s presentation. I would urge you to set aside an hour to watch the entire video.

Laity Session: Equipping the Local Church

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
Lay Leader John Esquivel facilitated an interactive panel discussion outlining tools and resources to help local congregations interested in revitalization as well as engaging or re-engaging their diversified communities.
Several realistic challenges for local congregations -- and opportunities -- were addressed in the laity session, with input from Lay Leader John Esquivel and two panelists from the Center of Congregational Excellence (CCE): Center Director Rev. Dr. Jesse Brannen and Rev. Artie Cadar, incoming Coordinator of Mission Field Development.
How do churches access resources and tools from the CCE?
“We have tools and resource people that are specialists in a number of areas to help the local church with just about anything,” explains Jesse, “but it is best to call or email me as a first step. I will then set up a meeting with your church leadership to better understand what you need, and we will make a plan.” Churches seeking to look more like their immediate communities can contact Artie for assistance in outreach to a changing demographic. “It is my dream to be able to help congregations and train leaders to do the job that needs to be done to understand different faith traditions and cultures, meet needs and edify those in your respective mission fields,” adds Artie.
What is the greatest barrier to church revitalization?
“Many congregations do not have a realistic view of who they are in 2017,” shares Jesse. “Some churches may not realize they still live in the 1950s, but when you stop and notice how much people have changed you realize the church has to do less talking and more doing to adapt. My grown children, for example, don’t carry cash, and this major shift in social norms has an impact for churches passing the offering plate. I have visited churches with members more concerned about someone in their seat than saying good morning to a visitor.” According to Artie, “Pastors who are serving in churches that are frozen in the glory days can love their congregations  and pray for the Holy Spirit to warm their hearts.”
Why is the demographic environment important to a church?
“The community tells us if we are relevant or not, and if what we are doing has an audience, or any potential,” shares Jesse. “If parents choose soccer over church, then perhaps the church has not done its job demonstrating the importance of young people learning life lessons at church. And, likewise, if churches are wanting a lot of kids to attend church in a predominantly retired community, they could spend years working for something that isn’t there.”
How does a particular mindset impact the church?
Panelists reminded attendees that churches should not exist to serve members. Adds Jesse, “We need to be in ministry with others, not ministry to others. When you minister with people it is much harder, messier and more time consuming, but these relationships are what we are there for.” According to Artie, “Everyone has a role to play. If we want to save the lost, whatever the cost, we need to know who they are, what cultures they follow, and what they need before we introduce them to the church.” Responding to a comment from the crowd, John noted that some congregations prefer not to be inconvenienced by noisy children or others who do not know the norms of church behavior, but those congregations that are not inclusive will struggle with growth and vibrancy.  Shares Artie, “The church can decide to be ‘we four and no more’ or decide to pursue what God is calling them to be, because it only takes a spark to get something new going.” Jesse explains, “Size does not indicate health in a church. The churches that offer small groups, provide some kind of outreach to youngsters in the community, build on their strengths and look to the future are the ones that will typically be healthy.”

Video: John Esquivel's Lay Leader Address

Three-in-One Session Offers Triple the Insight

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 00:00
The Texas Annual Conference hosted their first ever TAC Talks presentation, in the style of popular TED Talks videos.
“Today, we are turning to people within our own Texas Annual Conference, because part of the learning is sharing of best practices and learning from each other,” announced Bishop Jones at the beginning of the session.
The first to speak was Cassandra Nunez, Galena Park United Methodist Church. Cassandra and her husband Cesar began a new ministry as part of the Hispanic Leadership Apprenticeship Program in the Texas Annual Conference.
When the church resolved to close their doors after 98 years, church planting began under the leadership of District Superintendent Andy Noel and Director of Missional Excellence Diane McGehee. The goal was to begin a new church that was more reflective of the city’s current population, and on Pentecost Sunday, 2016, the original congregation closed their doors, and passed the mantle to Cassandra and Cesar.
The two began learning more about the community, researching the neighborhood online, and more importantly visiting local businesses and making friends with the community. Trust, according to Cassandra, was a huge factor in creating relationships before they even began talking about faith. Their first breakthrough, Cassandra said, is when a friend recommended their church, calling it “the church that likes to help people”.
Casandra and Cesar began going by the church on a regular basis to pray, which is where they met some of the neighborhood children. According to Cassandra, “They were timid at first, but the children began to trust the couple after they played soccer together.” One year later, the church is now hosting bible studies, an after school program, and other community outreach programs.

We don't want to be church in the community, we want to be the community's church,-. Cassie Nunez. #txac17

— christy comma me (@The_Christy) May 30, 2017 On July 1st, Cassandra and Cesar will be appointed as full time local pastors at Galena Park United Methodist Church. They hope to continue their mission to be “not just a church in the community, but the community’s church.” See TAC Talk Video: Casandra Nuñez

The second TAC Talks speaker was Pamela Fulbright-Scheyer, director of Crossroads at Park Place, Inc., a homeless ministry in Houston. Pamela began her career as a lawyer, but found herself being asked to do more.
“A lot of people think that because I am an attorney, that qualifies me to do a lot of things, so when God called me to work outside of my comfort zone, I didn’t immediately say yes,” said Fulbright-Scheyer.
But saying “yes” became an important part of her journey, beginning when her pastor asked her to start a prayer ministry. As someone who was terrified to pray out loud, Fulbright-Scheyer says she learned to trust God like Moses and Gideon. “God has a plan for us, and sometimes that plan may surprise you,” she shared.
Later, when she heard God’s call to go into ministry full time, she thought He would provide her with a position. Instead, she just heard from God that she should quit her current job with no employment opportunities in sight.

'Sometimes we have to say yes and walk in fear with God- his plan will bring out the best in you, always' #tactalks#TXAC17 #txac

— Jordan Monroe (@Monroseph) May 30, 2017  
After some reluctance, she trusted God and did quit her job. Following that path she has become passionate about her work at Crossroads and other organizations. “My motto now is to ‘Turn Your Eyes’ to Jesus, because nothing is impossible when you turn your eyes to him,” ended Fulbright-Scheyer. See TAC Talk Video: Pam Fulbright-Scheyer

Paula Arnold introduced the last speaker, Rev. David Dorn of Marvin UMC, calling him a “social media guru”.
Dorn hooked even social media skeptics from the beginning of his talk by arguing, “The world is our parish, and the world is increasingly spending more and more time on social media, so we should have a presence there as well.”
As an experiment, he asked the crowd to open up the Facebook app on their phones and post a location based “check-in”. This posts a status to your Facebook friends, and lets them know that you are having a good time where you are. The first time they experimented with this technique at Marvin UMC on a Sunday morning, David said they reached over 10,000 people with what he called “free advertising”.
He also stressed the importance of creating content that is brief and easily consumable during the daily lives of social media users, in addition to having a sense of humor. As far as techniques, he also suggests the use of creating Facebook Ads by means of “boosting posts”. This allows churches to reach audiences in their neighborhoods who may be interested in visiting a church.

My two favorite things combined: Wesleyan theology and social marketing #TXAC17

— Shelby Olive (@photoshelby) May 30, 2017  
“There comes a point in everyone’s life when they start looking for more. They start looking for something deeper and more meaningful, and when that time comes, they are going to know where their friends and family are finding it, and it’s in my church. Hopefully it is in your church as well,” said David.
See TAC Talk Video: David Dorn


Planning Underway for 2018 Global Young People’s Convocation

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 00:00
Discipleship Ministries/ – A planning team is being assembled for the 2018 Global Young People’s Convocation (GYPC), which brings together the voices and ideas of United Methodist young people from around the world every four years.

The GYPC is scheduled for July 18-22, 2018, at the Indaba Hotel & Conference Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, said Michael Ratliff, Associate General Secretary at Discipleship Ministries and head of the Young People’s Ministries (YPM) division.

“The Global Young People’s Convocation gathers young people from across to United Methodist connection to worship, learn and provide leadership for the church,” Ratliff said.

Formerly Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly, the event name was changed to the Global Young People’s Convocation after the 2016 General Conference approved a change in the way delegations and individuals can propose legislation related to issues of concern to young people.
“The Legislative Forum, approved at the 2016 General Conference, will provide the basis for new ways to develop legislative proposals for submission to the 2020 General Conference,” Ratliff said.

Mighty Rasing, program development director for the Central Conferences, said YPM is working to ensure that all regions of the church will be represented to the event, where about 400 delegates are expected to participate.

“We are in the process of assembling the Planning Team, which will come from different Jurisdictions and Central Conferences, to help us design an event that reflects the global experiences of young people,” Rasing said.

Applications to become a member of the GYPC Planning Team will be accepted until Nov 30, 2016. More information 

Ratliff said several countries and venues in Africa, including Zimbabwe and Tanzania, were considered as the location for the convocation, which has been held every four years since 2006.

“The event will return to the Indaba Hotel in Johannesburg, where facilities, transportation and local laws, create a setting for young people and their leaders to gather and grow together,” Ratliff said.

The Indaba was the venue for the first Global Convocation in 2006.

See original post.


TAC 2017 Schedule for Wednesday 5-31

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 00:00
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
8:30 am           Business Session VI (Main Sanctuary)
Bracketed numbers indicate minutes allowed for each report. Please note your position on the agenda, and move toward the chancel area before your report is called.
Retiree Video #5 [5]
Resolutions Presentation [15]
Lakeview Conference Center [5]
Matt Idom
Golden Care [12] – Kim Mabry
Retiree Video #6 [5]
9:20 am           Break
9:40 am           Business Session VII
Retirement Video #7 [5]
Clergy Recruitment & Emerging Leader’s
Endowment [5] – Elizabeth Duffin
New Faith Communities [5]
Communications & Social Media [5]
Paula Arnold
Episcopacy Committee “Transition” [5]
Karen Dorris
Unfinished Business [25]
10:40 am         Break
11:00 am         Service of Sending Forth
Preacher: Dr. Roy James
 (Main Sanctuary)
12:00 pm         Adjourn

See Scheduled Meals

See Scheduled Meetings

TAC 2017 Schedule for Tuesday 5-30

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 00:00
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
8:30 am           Business Session III (Main Sanctuary)
Bracketed numbers indicate minutes allowed for each report. Please note your position on the agenda, and move toward the chancel area before your report is called.
Retiree Video #3 [5]
Clergy Excellence Recognition [10]
Gail Ford Smith & Elizabeth Duffin
Youth & Young Adult Ministries [5] – Eddie Erwin
Election of Institutional Trustees [5]
B.T. Williamson
Conference Advance Special [5]
The Way Forward Report [10]
GBGM Report via Video [5]
9:20 am           Morning Devotional
9:40 am           Business Session IV
Retirement Video #4 [5]
C F & A Report [20]
Equitable Comp [5]
10:10 am         Break
10:30 am         TAC Talks
Cassandra Nunez
Laity - Galena Park Lay Pastor
Pamela Fulbright-Scheyer
Laity – Houston-Servants of Christ CrossRoads Program
Rev. David Dorn
Associate Pastor for Tyler-Marvin UMC
11:30 am         Lunch             
2:00 pm           Service of Honoring Retirees  (Main Sanctuary)
2:40 pm           Break
3:00 pm           Business Session V
Nominations Report [10] – B.T. Williamson
Constitutional Amendments [60]
4:30 pm           Dinner Break
7:00 pm           Service of Commissioning & Ordination
Preacher: Bishop Scott J. Jones  
(Main Sanctuary)
(Overflow Seating - Harvest Worship Center)

See Scheduled Meals

See Scheduled Meetings

TAC 2017 Schedule for Monday 5-29

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 00:00
Monday, May 29, 2017
8:00 am-6:00 pm        Registration-Clergy & Laity (Wesley Hall)
8:30 am           Business Session I (Main Sanctuary)
Bracketed numbers indicate minutes allowed for each report. Please note your position on the agenda, and move toward the chancel area before your report is called.
Roll Call – Russell Hall [5]
Memorial Day Recognition
Rev. Kevin Otto [4]
Conference Lay Leader
John Esquivel [8]
Retirement Video #1 [5]
Consent Calendar [4]
UMW – A Celebration of 150 Years in    Ministry
Chancellors’ Report [10]
Retiree Video #2 [5]
9:20 am           Morning Devotional
9:40 am           Break
10:00 am         Laity Session
(Harvest Worship Center)
10:15 am         Clergy Session (Main Sanctuary)
11:30 am         Lunch Break
1:30 pm           Memorial Service
Preacher: Dr. Karen Dorris
(Main Sanctuary)
2:50 pm           Break
3:10 pm           Keynote - “Cultural Intelligence”
Dr. Maria Dixon Hall
4:10 pm           Business Session II
Board of Ordained Ministry
Jeff McDonald [25]
Benefits [25]
Pensions – Jerry Neff
Health – Jerry Massey
5:00 pm           Dinner Break
7:00 pm           Evening of Learning - Dean Craig Hill
                        (Main Sanctuary)

See Scheduled Meals

See Scheduled Meetings

Appointment Announcements

Sun, 05/28/2017 - 00:00

New appointments have been announced. See the full 2017 list of appointments at http://www.txcumc.org/appointmentannouncements

Live Streaming Annual Conference 2017

Sun, 05/28/2017 - 00:00

All sessions of Annual Conference will be live-streamed through both YouTube and Facebook Live.

Videos will also be available on demand following the event on YouTube.

See scheduled events (PDF)

Learn more at  http://www.txcumc.org/taclive 

Extravagant Generosity Committee Provides Stewardship Insight “On Demand”

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 00:00
Rev. Dr. Rodney Graves and committee members are available for pastors and congregations seeking to cultivate a culture of generosity.
True stewardship is not really about the church budget. McCabe Roberts Ave UMC Pastor Dr. Rodney Graves knows faithful stewardship is a vital part of each individual’s journey toward becoming a deeply devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. As the chair of the Extravagant Generosity Committee for the conference, he wants to help churches and congregants to re-engage in the journey toward faithfully following the Lord in every facet of life: from heads to hearts, hands, and homes. “When people truly realize who they are and whose they are, they can’t help but give to the God who has given us everything we have,” he shares.
However, he says the stark reality is that the typical Methodist gives 2-3% of their income to their church. “In addition to teaching about this as a spiritual discipline, I think our churches are also missing the opportunity to demonstrate their vision in action, because if parishioners understood the direct link between faithful giving and changed lives, they would instantly become generous givers,” he shares.
“Facilitating strong and vital churches is the focus of The Center for Congregational Excellence,” notes Center Director Dr. Jesse Brannen, “and one of the ways we do that is to form committees that provide free expertise to clergy and congregations upon request. The Extravagant Generosity Committee is eager to provide stewardship training, encouragement and hands-on support to our districts and churches of all sizes.”
One of the key lessons Rodney has learned and practiced in his own churches is what he calls the 4-Point Approach. “First of all, I LOVE them, then I LISTEN to them, then I am ready to LEARN from them, and finally LEAD them,” he shares. “I think our committee will operate the same way, approaching each situation with a customized response.”
Other committee members include Karen Ross, a member of Friendswood UMC, Rev. Melody Kraus of FUMC, Mt. Belvieu and Rev. Andrew Wolf of FUMC, Athens. Karen believes “generosity flows from love and a desire to help others.” She adds, “Giving is an integral to being a child of God and disciple of Jesus as loving, serving, and praying. It follows that teaching and encouraging fellow Christians to give and give extravagantly is as essential as teaching them to love wholeheartedly, to serve selflessly and pray ceaselessly. In the end, ministry and mission depend upon it. Our team can help. Don’t hesitate to call on the resources we want to provide.”
Rev. Kraus adds, “I think the biggest hurdle in receiving the monetary resources that congregations need to fulfill the mission of the church is simply articulating a clear and compelling reason why a member SHOULD give.” Passing the offering plate in the 21st century, she believes, is not enough. “Worshippers need to know how their monies are making a difference. They need to see faces, vision and lives changed – not spreadsheets, deficits and bills due. It is compelling to catch a glimpse of the kingdom right in our own backyards.”
“Money follows vision, so our first stewardship tip will be to give congregants a scripture-based, compelling vision for the church, noting where lives are being changed and where all funds are funding that vision,” Rodney adds. “Even if money is needed to fix equipment or the building, the ultimate purpose of that equipment or building is to do ministry.”
Another truth related to cultivating generosity is to lead by example. “We cannot expect our people to tithe in any consistent way if their leaders do not practice what they preach,” Rodney shares. “As we invite others into relationships with Jesus, some degree of tithing is important to our witness and our own faithfulness journey. Rather than focus on a certain percentage, each of us should strive to be a generous and what the Bible calls a ‘cheerful’ giver.”
Some of the committee’s favorite resources include Herb Miller’s Consecration Sunday Stewardship Program and the book, Rich Church, Poor Church by. J. Clif Christopher.
For church leaders panicked about giving levels, or aging congregations facing declining membership and reduced incomes, this committee can provide encouragement and ideas. “Sometimes I think it might be as simple as getting excited about what we are doing or can be doing in our community,” Rodney adds. “And sometimes I think we drop the ball in reporting back to our churches how their giving helped send kids to camp, or build wheel chair ramps for the elderly, or start a food ministry.”
One of Rodney’s favorite teaching examples is a parallel between heavenly giving and earthly giving. “If I say I love God but never express that by giving back to him, it is a bit like me saying I love my wife, but I spent all my money at the racetrack,” Rodney explains. “It’s true that you can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving….For God so loved the world that he GAVE.”
Annual Conference Breakfasts
Representatives of the Extravagant Generosity Committee will be speaking at the Local Pastors’ Breakfast and the Small Membership Church breakfast during the 2017 Annual Conference. Adds Melody, “We want to partner with churches of any size to help celebrate and articulate their mission, vision and kingdom opportunities.” (Anyone wanting to talk with committee volunteers or seek training can contact Marylyn Green at The Center for Congregational Excellence at mgreen@txcumc.org or 713-521-9383.)

Watershed UMC: A Case Study in Discerning Long Range Vision

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 00:00
Leaders at The Watershed UMC in League City, Tx have been working for months to have 20/20 vision with regard to what Rev. Lance Richards is calling the “15/1500 Vision.” Knowing that the area is expected to reach 250,000 residents over the next few decades, The Watershed leadership began last year to refine the long range vision of the church to connect more people with the opportunity to grow their faith and impact the community.
“Basically,” explains Rev. Lance Richards, “in 15 years, The Watershed hopes to gather as 1500 worshipers each week who are growing as disciples and Christian leaders working to meet the spiritual and physical needs of their neighbors. And as we approach 1500, we want to plant another campus in a growing area that needs a church.”
Having purchased 11.5 acres in 2009, the church has celebrated a number of milestones in recent years, including completion of a building in 2012. The 15/1500 campaign has followed by laying groundwork for a capital campaign that will provide funds for additional growth in the decades ahead.
Inspiration Meets Perspiration
Several books by “vision clarity evangelist” Will Mancini, a variety of articles and the book, Holy Conversations by Gil Rindle and Alice Mann provided the pastor with the inspiration for this extensive visioning process to provide guidance for 2017-2032. “Initially, we had to clarify that our Vision Focus Team did not plan to change the vision, just look further out in the distance to define a picture or mountain top in our future so we could map out the milestones to get there,” Lance adds. “Vision always remains connected to a church’s core identity or DNA.”
With the approval of the Church Council, The Watershed formed a task force of six volunteers representing the segments of our diverse membership, led by chairman Skip Hatfield and the pastor. The team surveyed the membership and lay leaders at the church by asking the same four questions: 1) How is The Watershed helping you to grow as a disciple? 2) How can the church better help you and your family strengthen your walk with Christ? 3) Where are the broken places in our community that you feel God is calling The Watershed to shed God’s love to? 4) What are your dreams for The Watershed?
The task force subdivided into mini teams to also tackle a community survey and MissionInSite demographic study. “My conversation with the mayor has already led to several positive things,” adds Lance. “I booked a 30 minute appointment to discern his vision and how we could partner with him and he ended up spending several hours with me. He has since created a clergy forum that has already met twice to get acquainted and collaborate on behalf of League City.”
The Vision Focus Task Force also held four “Listening Tours” and the church voted unanimously at a Charge Conference to approve the 15/1500 Vision this spring. In response to a question, Skip noted, “We know, realistically, this won’t be exactly what is in place 15 years from now, but we know if you don’t have a goal you are likely not to do anything differently.”
For leaders wanting more information about this visioning process, the original charter, along with an extensive white paper summarizing the process and key findings and a video of one of the meetings is available. More information is online at http://www.thewatershedchurch.com/vision.
What’s Next?
The detailed data resulting from all of the surveys has presented The Watershed with a number of targeted opportunities ranging from providing ESL classes to possibly adopting a public school. “We are also focusing on developing a discipleship pathway to help people take steps toward our Deeper Groups, we are considering our staff and lay positions that will help us grow the number in worship, and we are hoping to update our facilities plan,” he says. “While we dream of the day we have 1500 in worship,” he adds, “we plan to grow small, by developing community through lots of small groups throughout the area.”
Pastor Lance is currently preaching a sermon series that expounds on each of the adopted values that also serve to align with missional measures. “We will know when we are successful in fulfilling our vision when the children around us have what they need, marriages and parents are stronger, members feel connected and stronger in their faith, and we are able to shed God’s love to the greatest extent possible.”

Costa Rica Here We Come

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 00:00

Over two dozen high-school-age youth will head to serve the people of Los Guido with West University UMC this July, knowing they will be blessed in the process.

For the last 12 summers, enthusiastic and energetic teens from West University UMC have headed to Costa Rica for mission work, and returned with a new sense of camaraderie and gratitude. Shelby Smolen, Director of Student Ministries, has been on 11 out of the last 12 trips and sees the life impact in her students. “Each of us sees poverty that we have never been exposed to,” she shares, “and it opens our eyes in a way that can’t ever be shut again. It is so powerful, our students and chaperones return home feeling called to continue helping others in need here in the Houston area, and return the following summer to do more for the people of San Isidro de Grecia and Los Guido.”

Each summer, the students do a variety of ministry projects in the area around the Strong Mission Center started by UMC missionary Charlie Strong. “The students take turns summarizing the day on our Facebook page blog for parents and friends to follow. Once we return, we compose a highlight video to show in church. We then have reunion gatherings to view the longer video as we enjoy Costa Rican cuisine.”

Recapping the 2016 trip, these students shared their experiences. “Los Guido is home to about 30,000 people and 13,000 kids,” says Emily Hawes, “and it is one of the oldest slums in the area. It is in a larger area known as el desperados, which translates to desperation, forsaken and forgotten – which is how many of the people feel describes their situation.” Emily’s bunkmate, Victoria, says she “made a connection with the family of a little girl named Xlanny. After talking to her and helping her with VBS crafts we ended up sharing many laughs and funny faces.” The students also helped with a feeding program providing the area children with at least one nutritious meal a day. Adds Victoria, “After lunch was devoured it was time to say our goodbyes, which was the hardest part for me. Even though I barely knew Xlanny and her family, I had developed a bond I will never forget.”

Nathan Edmondson, Graham Newick, Grayson McCarley and Andrew Donnell enjoyed the teamwork aspect of their work day to add on to the facility at Strong Mission Center. Some tackled rebar in the kitchen area and others did concrete work while a third group went into the jungle to clear a pathway to the property. “We needed to move several hundred pounds of leaves and branches so the four of us rose to the challenge,” the guys reported on the youth blog. “The Tarp, combined with our unmatched teamwork, brute strength, coordination, companionship, and team chemistry gave us the ability to maneuver the eight foot pile of leaves, making countless trips back and forth. The only thing that kept us going was our dedication to the cause.”

The 2017 trip countdown is underway, and 28 students and adults are ready, willing and able to get back to work – and swim amidst scenic beaches and waterfalls. “A lot of our group felt they sensed God while at the beautiful waterfalls,” shares Sadie Jensen. According to Shelby, this summer is extra special for two reasons. “This summer, a student from a church in Minnesota, will join us, and secondly, we will host our first-ever all-church mission trip to Costa Rica which will follow the student trip, and will be led by our senior pastor, Rev. Carol Bruse.”

Evening VBS: A Convenient Alternative for Volunteers and Families

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 00:00
FUMC Huntsville offers local families the opportunity to drop kids to VBS after work, a strategy that attracts many participants from the community.
After moving to Huntsville about a year ago, Krisha Goodney began looking for a new church to join. “Last summer, we tried the VBS and just fell in love with the people at First United Methodist Church,” she says. “I went to VBS with my children each evening and participated by volunteering with a specific age group. For parents that work during the summer I can see how an evening VBS would be great for them.”
FUMC Huntsville has successfully hosted an evening VBS for a number of years, and will do so again July 31st thru August 3rd 6pm to 8pm. “Since the majority of our church families, our volunteer base, work during the day, the evening VBS works better for them to be able to join us,” shares Briana McCord, children’s ministries director.
Since August can be a tight month for families getting their kids ready for school, FUMC Huntsville has also used the evening slot as a chance to serve dinner for the community during that week. “A free warm meal for the entire family is a wonderful reason to stop by,” she adds. “We have served over 200 meals every night for VBS, and only 65 of them were VBS children. “ She looks forward to the completion of the new Community Life Center to be able to resume the 5:30 pre-VBS meals again.
VBS committee member Sabrina Hendricks says, “We have had a great response to evening VBS, and we’ve started a trend within our community. Originally we were the only church that offered an evening program, however over the past few years many other local churches have begun an evening program as well. I think  they have seen the same benefits that we have. And when we served dinner, many adult volunteers were able to speak with our guest families, pray with and for them. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that we were loving God's people in such a simple way.” 
The church has chosen August for VBS to try to avoid overlap with other churches in the community, which also boosts participation. “This year our VBS theme is Passport to Peru: Discovering God’s Good Gifts. This is our first year to use cross culture VBS and I am so excited to introduce our kids to a new culture. Many of our kids may never travel out of the United States, so I think it is important to show them the world outside of our community. It has been my personal experience that participating in different cultures broadens our worldview and reminds us how great and big our God is and how important it is for us to share his love to others.”
“I think each year our church has done a great job at making the theme's come to life with the decorations, music, and our enthusiastic volunteers,” adds Sabrina. “The children really love it when you go over-the-top with decorations, and when the music is up-beat and fun.” Area churches often share and recycle decorations and materials when possible.
Briana recruits about 50 volunteers for VBS every year, in two rotations, a group for 1st – 3rd and a group for 4-6th  grades. They offer a self-contained Pre-K class and Kindergarten group that goes through the rotation within one classroom instead of traveling. Each age group has shepherds that are responsible for leading their age group through their rotations and getting them signed out by parents. Out of all the various volunteer jobs she’s done, Jackalyn Cauthen enjoys being a shepherd most of all, she says, “because you get to go along with the children to every lesson and watch them learn throughout the week.”
“All of our volunteers are crucial to a great VBS experience because it is their enthusiasm that gets the kids excited to be there and to learn! I find volunteers through personal contact and publicize via an announcement slide in worship saying we need VBS volunteers,” she adds. “I will also take flyers to Sunday School classes, but it is in my experience that volunteers respond best to personal contact.”
On the last evening, the parents/guardians are always invited to attend the closing ceremony where each grade level performs a song and watch a slideshow of pictures that have been taken to showcase the week's events.  Also, adds Sabrina, “each year we send invitations home to the families that list our Sunday Service times inviting each family to join us. The first Sunday after VBS is always a showcase during the worship services where all children at the service that attended VBS perform one of the songs from the week.”  
VBS Plus: Engaging the Older Students
FUMC Huntsville youth always volunteer as classroom helpers and they assist in set-up/take-down. “And, the children love it when our youth get up to dance to the music,” adds Sabrina. Youth director Derek Blackmon strategically plans events after each night of VBS for the youth -- to encourage their participation. “After VBS, the youth that volunteer have special events that last normally until 10pm.  It’s a good incentive to have them sign up and help,” he says. “In past years that has included activities such as a movie night, bowling, blacklight dodgeball, board games, a scavenger hunt in Walmart, Wii tournament, and silly string fights. At the end of the week we wrap it up with a pool party and pizza.”
Word of mouth works well for getting VBS registration underway. Additionally, the event’s publicity plan includes promoting VBS on Facebook, the local radio station, the local newspaper, signs around the community, and email. “I would say between 1/3 and half of our attendees are non-church members,” adds Briana.