Over 350 Rio Texas pastors gathered together last week for the annual Clergy Convocation. This year's event was hosted by University United Methodist Church, San Antonio. The time together kicked off with worship led by Abel Stewart of Northern Hills UMC, San Antonio and his band of clergy and friends. Attendees were inspired by a sermon delivered by Rev. Olu Brown, Lead Pastor of Impact Church in Atlanta.
This year's theme was, "Resilience: From Staying Alive to Thriving in Anxious Times." Brown focused on that theme.
"Friends, we are living in the midst of anxious times," said Brown. "But we still believe that there is a God who sits high and looks low."
Reflecting on the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17, Rev. Brown urged the gathered body, "Don't be afraid!" He called the group to risk-taking ministry. “The only reason we are where we are is because every time God says 'Take a risk', we step out in faith.”
Retired Bishop Janice Riggle Huie was the featured presenter for this year's convocation. Huie now works for the Texas Methodist Foundation in the area of leadership formation. She looked at the concept of resilience in three sessions through the lenses of the pastor, the congregation, and the annual conference.
"In this time of uncertainty and change, what is needed to enlarge the capacity of United Methodist pastors, congregations, and annual conferences to become more resilient?" asked Huie
Huie defined resilience as the capacity of a system to maintain its purpose and integrity during dramatically changed circumstances.
Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Conference sat alongside his clergy colleagues during the event. He took time on Friday to address the clergy.
"There is no other position of leadership in the United Methodist Church right now that I would rather hold than to serve alongside you as bishop of the Rio Texas Conference."
He went on to discuss some of the ways the conference is seeking to be more resilient in the face of a changing world. One of the challenges he addressed was the large number of people with no church affiliation and no desire to become part of one.
"How do we develop relationships with folks who have an interest and curiosity in spirituality, but they are never going to see themselves walking through the front doors of a church?" asked Schnase. "If they are going to somehow access the riches of the treasures of Christ; it is going to come in some other setting, approach, or way of doing that."
Bishop Schnase referred to these other approaches as "Fresh Expressions," a term coined by Bishop Ken Carter and Audrey Warren. He pointed to examples within the Rio Texas Annual Conference including the ministry at Los Naranjos Colonia, northwest of Mission, TX; No Walls Worship at Bee Creek UMC; and Church on a Trail at Berkeley UMC, Austin
"These expressions have an experimental quality, and yet it is one of our best and highest hopes for how to reach people who are never going to walk in the doors of a church," said Schnase.
Wimberley UMC Pastor Rev. Wes Cain, enjoyed the time of renewal. “Clergy convocation gave me the rare opportunity to be poured into, rather than being the one always doing the pouring.” he said. “While I always look forward to the chance to engage in worship and fellowship with my sister and brother clergy, this event was especially welcomed for its multifaceted offerings of inspiring preaching, physical/emotional renewal, and challenge to courageously impact the world through our ministry.”
Covenant UMC, Austin Senior Pastor Rev. Stella Burkhalter enjoyed the fellowship aspect of the gathering. “I love to ask people, ‘What are you preaching about these days?’ It’s great to feel like you get the pulse of a huge swath of Texas,” she said. “Talking about our shared struggles and frustrations makes them easier to bear and I always come away more hopeful.”
Check out some more photos of this year's Clergy Convocation: