Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference, announced the appointment of Rev. Dr. Robert Lopez as the new District Superintendent of the Coastal Bend District. Lopez will replace retiring District Superintendent Eradio Valverde. Lopez is currently the superintendent of El Valle and Crossroads districts and will continue to serve El Valle in addition to Coastal Bend. Rev. Dr. Marcus Freeman III was earlier announced as the incoming superintendent for Crossroads.
"Robert is an excellent leader, encourager, and supervisor, and he has earned the respect of pastors, laypersons, and his colleagues on the cabinet as he’s served both the Crossroads and El Valle Districts this past year," said Schnase. “His vision, humility, and strategic planning will deeply bless our work in both districts. He has expressed his interest, willingness, and eagerness to help us try a new approach toward superintendent ministry by serving two districts.”
Lopez is no stranger to the Coastal Bend area. "One of my earliest memories as a young believer was at a weekend retreat at El Buen Pastor UMC in Corpus Christi," he said. "I remember singing, praying and being showered with God's love. It is my deepest prayer that God will use us, our churches, our youth, and our songs to share Christ's love with people like me who didn't grow up in the United Methodist Church."
Lopez said, "For the last three years I have served the Crossroads, and now recently, El Valle district, I have learned and been inspired by the leadership, commitment and support of key leaders and staff."
Before his appointment to the cabinet, Lopez served as Senior Pastor of El Mesias UMC in Mission. He has also served at El Buen Pastor, Brownsville; and El Calvario in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
To support Robert in fulfilling his expanded responsibilities, Bishop Schnase also announced the appointment of Rev. Dr. Karen Boehk as the new Assistant to the District Superintendent for the Coastal Bend and El Valle Districts, serving part-time and working in the Corpus Christi area.
Schnase is excited about Boehk's appointment. "Karen understands the mission of the church, has a history of fruitful and outward focused ministry, knows how churches work, and has deep connections to the Coastal Bend Area," he said. "With her formal retirement in June, Karen has joyfully made herself available in support of Rev. Lopez’s work to help us succeed with this new model of supervision."
Boehk is ready for this new opportunity. "I look forward to working with Dr. Lopez as he has been my District Superintendent since First UMC, Smithville became part of the Crossroads District. I look forward to all that God has in store for us as this new and challenging opportunity unfolds."
Rev. Boehk has served since 2003 as Senior Pastor of First UMC, Smithville. Her previous appointments include First UMC, San Benito and Asbury UMC, Corpus Christi.
This type of multi-district appointment is not new to Bishop Schnase. "This marks the fifth time during my 13 years as a bishop that I’ve appointed a single superintendent to serve two districts while providing additional staff support in an assistant position,” he said. "In each case, the congregations, pastors, and laity have felt well-served and have appreciated more strategic focus of the Superintendent’s work while reducing overall costs and redirecting resources to more effectively increase the number of fruitful congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
According to Schnase, the appointment also corresponds to a shift in how Conference Executive Directors will work in the future. Rev. Karen Horan, newly announced Director of the Mission Vitality Center with responsibilities for new church starts and congregational development; Rev. Laura Merrill, newly announced Assistant to the Bishop with a special focus on clergy leadership development; and Rev. Kendall Waller, newly announced Director of Finance and Administrative Ministries, will all play a more active role with Superintendents and will work more directly with local churches than has been the practice in the past.
"This provides additional expertise and focused practical engagement with pastors and congregations in support of the work of superintendents," said Schnase. "This shift makes innovative appointments, such as these with Rev. Lopez and Rev. Boehk, possible and effective."
Some of the most innovative and effective conferences in the US have moved to larger districts in recent years, with District Superintendents often serving from 80 to 120 churches. In contrast, the Districts of the Rio Texas Conference tend to have 40-50 congregations with two-thirds of the churches served by part-time pastors.
"In the case of the Coastal Bend and El Valle Districts the combined responsibilities will mean that Rev. Lopez and Rev. Boehk will provide oversight for a total number of congregations and pastors far closer to the denominational average for Superintendent supervision." said Bishop Schnase.
The two districts are not merging or uniting; each will keep its own strategic planning teams, district committees, offices, support staff, and missional programs. However, Schnase anticipates the two districts working more closely together on common ministry projects because of the new model of supervision.