Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr. was consecrated and presented with the Bishop’s stole on Sunday, July 16 at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference Service of Consecration in Wichita, Kansas. The previous evening, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference approved the assignment of Bishop Saenz to the Great Plains UMC, serving in the states of Nebraska and Kansas. Bishop Saenz was the first to be elected to the Episcopacy on the third ballot of elections on July 14.
Saenz was endorsed by the Rio Texas Conference back in September 2015.
Saenz is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas and received his Master of Divinity and his Doctor of Ministry degrees from SMU Perkins School of Theology. He has been married to Maye for 34 years; they have four children, all of which are active in the life of the church with his two sons Aaron and Ruben III serving in the Rio Texas Conference.
Saenz began his call to ministry in 1993 after successful tenures in the education and small-business sectors in Rio Grande City, Texas. He graduated in 1997 with a Master of Divinity degree from SMU Perkins School of Theology and was awarded the Perkins Faculty Award for the student who best exemplified the goals and mission of Perkins. He would later receive his Doctor of Ministry Degree from Perkins in 2009.
Saenz served as Student-Intern Pastor at Oak Cliff UMC in Dallas from 1995-97. He served his first appointments within the Rio Grande Conference at La Trinidad UMC and El Divino Redentor UMC in El Paso from 1997-2000, where he increased worship attendance by 200 percent over four years. He served as Senior Pastor for El Buen Pastor UMC in Edinburg from 2001-2011. When Saenz left in 2011, the church became known as the largest Hispanic-American United Methodist Church in the country with over 900 members. Worship attendance grew by 150 percent over ten years. Giving increased over 300 percent during both of those appointments. Saenz focused his ministry toward facing the issues of generational, social and systemic poverty in those regions.
One of Saenz’s most gratifying accomplishments was the initiative called the “Levantate – Get Up” computer literacy program. The program offered technology courses and resources to single mothers in El Paso who lost their jobs due to factory shutdowns in the United States and relocation to Juarez, Mexico. He helped launch a faith community through trained lay leadership in impoverished colonias. The colonia ministry provided pastoral oversight, worship, faith formation and discipleship, musical instruments and instructions to underprivileged children; as well as free courses on budgeting and family life.
Saenz lent leadership to the six-year Rio Texas Conference unification process from beginning to end. As Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center, he oversaw the strategic direction and outcome delivery of the conference’s missional objectives for congregational vitality, starting of new faith communities, clergy and lay leadership vitality, uniting peoples, and transforming communities.
In 2010, Saenz was appointed to serve as the Southwest Texas Director of Congregational and New Church Development. He helped start 11 new faith communities for the Conference. He held that appointment until 2014. He was named Director of Conference Connectional Ministries and Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center in January 2015. As Mission Vitality Center’s Executive Director, he established an extensive Collaboration and Cultural System Management to better assist local churches with the resources they need to reach the mission field.
Rev. Laura Merrill, Superintendent of the El Valle District of the Rio Texas Conference, will succeed Saenz as Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center on September 1, 2016.
“There are several critical opportunities facing the United Methodist Church,” said Saenz in a 2015 interview. “The first opportunity I consider to be critical is the UMC’s ability to reach and disciple new people, younger people, and more diverse people. Related to this opportunity is how the UMC will engage and embrace the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural reality. A necessary component of the church’s future vitality depends on the resolution of this pressing reality and opportunity.”