As announced last week, The Río Texas Conference is moving forward with a creative plan to address the vacancy in its episcopal leadership. According to the Book of Discipline ¶407 (Vacancy in the Office of Bishop), the vacancy is to be filled by the Council of Bishops on the nomination of the College of Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction. The Council of Bishops has approved a plan presented by the Jurisdictional College of Bishops to meet the unique needs of the Río Texas Annual Conference at this time.
The Río Texas Conference is a young conference, having been created just over a year ago. The conference also faces the unique challenge of needing episcopal leadership just eight months before the time a traditional episcopal appointment will be made. Also, this vacancy comes at the end of a quadrennium that brings many challenges of its own.
The South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops has opted to create a unique leadership team that calls on some of our most accomplished leaders to address this unique situation.
Four Bishops, all of whom have previously served in and were elected from the episcopal area, have stepped forward to be a part of this leadership team. This team will serve until the usual appointment time of the South Central Jurisdiction.
“The team approach is unique,” wrote Bishop McKee, President of the South Central Jurisdiction Council of Bishops, in his letter to the Río Texas Conference, “but I am confident that it will serve the Río Texas Conference well until a new bishop is assigned to the Río Texas Conference at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July.” That new bishop begins serving on September 1.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, Bishop of the Texas Annual Conference, will be the official Bishop of Record for the Río Texas Annual Conference. She will be responsible for the appointive process; working with the cabinet to assign pastors to churches for the 2016 conference year. Bishop Huie was born in Beeville, Texas and her husband, Rev. Robert W. Huie, is a retired member of the former Southwest Texas Annual Conference. She has previously served as the District Superintendent of the former San Angelo District of the Southwest Texas Conference and as pastor of Manchaca United Methodist Church in Austin, First UMC Mason, and St. Mark in Austin.
Bishop Huie adds, “Anyone who knows me well, knows my love for my home conference. Those Methodists encouraged me and loved me into ministry at a time when few women were called. I will always be grateful. This is an opportunity to serve there again and to repay some of that great generosity.”
Bishop Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Missouri Annual Conference, will plan and lead the sessions of the 2016 Río Texas Annual Conference meeting in Corpus Christi. Bishop Schnase was ordained Deacon in 1981 and Elder in 1986 in the Southwest Texas Conference. From 1989 to 2004, he served as Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church, McAllen. From 1984 to 1989, Rev. Schnase served as pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Harlingen.
“Río Texas is my home conference. The churches, the pastors, and the laity of the Río Texas Conference stimulated my yearning to follow Christ when I was a child, cultivated my calling when I was a teenager, and encouraged me in my ministry at every stage. I am forever indebted. Like my colleagues, I am eager to help in any way to assure that the Conference remains focused on the mission of Christ and effective in all its ministries. It’s a privilege to be able to help,” offers Bishop Schnase.
Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, will oversee the annual conference nominations process for 2016. He will also lead this year's Clergy Convocation, the annual gathering of clergy at Mt. Wesley on Feb. 22-23. In addition, Bishop Lowry will assist in any transition issues for our new Bishop. He was ordained Elder in the Southwest Texas Conference. He served as Executive Director for New Church Development and Transformation for the Southwest Texas Conference, University United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Bethany in Austin, Asbury in Corpus Christi, Wesley in Harlingen, St. Paul's in Kerrville and as an Associate Pastor at Plymouth Park in Irving.
Bishop Lowry states, “Prior to my election and appointment as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, I spent the majority of my ministry in the old Southwest Texas Conference. As a child of that conference, I bring a great love and respect for the people and ministries of the newly formed Río Texas Conference. I’m humbled by this opportunity shared with Bishops Huie, Martinez and Schnase to help the local churches of Río Texas continue to move forward in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is good to be coming home, my friends.”
Bishop Joel Martinez, Retired Bishop of the San Antonio Episcopal Area, returns to preach special services around the conference; attend to pastoral ministry; and oversee mission, service and justice ministries. He will also represent Río Texas in connectional relationships such as Methodist Healthcare, Huston-Tillotson University, Lydia Patterson Institute and the Texas Methodist Foundation. Martinez was ordained deacon and elder and held membership in the Río Grande Conference until his election to the episcopacy in 1992. Prior to that, he served pastoral appointments in Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso.
“The assignment of the Council of Bishops to work with a team of respected leaders and good friends is a rare privilege,” shares Bishop Martinez. “Working as a team is the model of Christian ministry for both laity and clergy. My prayer is that our small team of Bishops can offer our service to the greater team of faithful laity and clergy in the Río Texas Conference as they continue to strengthen the local congregations for mission with and among the growing and diverse community of God's people in this Episcopal Area.”
Rev. John Wright, Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Austin is excited about the announcement, “Who knows us better than the son-and-daughter-bishops who will serve on this team to provide interim episcopal leadership–an outside-the-box solution from which we may learn something new,” said Wright.
Rev. James Amerson, Pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in San Antonio echoed that excitement. “As we begin this new year and the dawn of the Río Texas Conference, it is a godsend to have former clergy who have served pastoral appointments in this area to give collective episcopal leadership. At such a time as this, their directives will be beneficial to all,” said Amerson.
These four Bishops will serve together with a leadership team comprised of lay and clergy conference leadership. The remainder of the team will be comprised of Rev. Laura Merrill, District Superintendent of El Valle District and leader of the General Conference delegation; Rev. Dr. Ruben Saenz, Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center and Director of Connectional Ministries; Rev. Carl Rohlfs, Superintendent of Las Misiones District; Rev. Eradio Valverde, Superintendent of the Coastal Bend District; Sandra Nieto and Ralph Thompson, Co-Lay Leaders of the annual conference; Teresa Keese, lay member of the General Conference Delegation; and Oscar Garza, Conference Statistician. Support for the team will be provided by Dalia Trevino, Executive Assistant to the Office of the Bishop; Rev. Bill Wyman, Conference Treasurer; and Rev. Will Rice, Conference Director of Communications.
Max Perez, Chair of the Río Texas Order of Elders and Associate Pastor at University United Methodist Church, San Antonio believes this plan, “proves our distinct connectional system and polity work.” He also stated, “I have great faith our bishops will escort us through this delicate transitional period. Already Río Texas is proving we are a conference with a malleable gift, able to pioneer and champion creative ways for making disciples of Jesus Christ.”
This team will meet weekly using video conferencing technology. This meeting will allow them to plan and attend to the work of the annual conference during this important season.
“I am quite confident that Río Texas will move forward under the leadership of these four quality bishops,” said Bishop Dan Solomon, Bishop in Residence at McMurry University. “The collective wisdom, experience and sensitivity to the power of the Gospel and the importance of compassionate discipleship embodied in these leaders will unite the conference in embracing God's healing grace and resurrection mission.”