Hope reSTOREd Celebrates New Location

The grand re-opening of Hope reSTOREd took place on July 11. The store is an outreach ministry of Manor UMC. The Manor Chamber of Commerce and Rev. Jason Surdy participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony. The Store began in three classrooms of the church’s Education Building in July 2016 and quickly outgrew its first location.

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I’m Not So Bad Off. Go Help Them First.

I’m Not So Bad Off. Go Help Them First.

By Laura Bray

Mangled sheet metal all over lawns. Enormous piles of cut tree trunks and limbs lined up along the roads. The growl of chainsaws and the high-pitched whine of Bobcat front-end loaders echoing through town. The two-stroke “chucka-chucka” and gas fumes from nearby generators. Mobile homes broken and laying on their sides or in ditches. Buildings missing walls or roofs—or both. My heart broke as my Early Response Team (ERT) drove into Fulton—two weeks after Hurricane Harvey.

As a child of the Gulf Coast, I understand the havoc a hurricane wreaks. As a first-time ERT responder, the sights and sounds just took my breath away.

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Capital District Serves Community First! Village

The youth and families of the Capital District of the Rio Texas Annual Conference United Methodist Church served at Community First! Village; an incredible community made of tiny homes to end homelessness in the City of Austin.

Participants engaged in various activities including gardening, working in the chicken coop etc.

The most important part of this service project was the fact that participants worked alongside residents of Community First who used to be homeless. The relationships built last weekend inspired us to continue engaging in mission work at home and far beyond our walls. It is a privilege to see over 50 people from the Capital District from various churches come together for a common mission of being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in our Community.

Written by Solange Woodson, Capital District UMC Youth Coordinator

Letter from Conference Lay Leader: Purposeful Living

Ralph Thompson.jpg

Let me start by saying, “Wait for it….” Now, here is what happened that I am compelled to share:

While traveling my usual haunts in search of “affordable technologies, I encountered a man who was busily doing the same thing. We introduced ourselves and quickly moved into a discussion about our mutual “geek” interests. He was looking for, among other things, a MIDI-capable, programmable rhythm generator for his band. I just happened to have one that I wasn’t using and, sight-unseen, he offered to buy it!

We talked about things like amplifier and mixer interfacing, Bluetooth vs 2.4Ghz, live performance anomalies, preferred brands and models of various computer, live audio, and composition equipment. I thought to myself, “This guy is really on top of it!” 

The next morning, I met with him at 9 a.m. to sell my Roland BOSS JamStation JS-5 Rhythm Machine in time for him to get packed up for the gig that he is doing that same day at 11 a.m! Because I didn’t have a hard copy of the JS-5 manual, I sent it to his cellphone so that he can get it plugged in and possibly use (for the first time) that same morning! Yep, THAT’S a fast learner!

“So,” you say, “what’s the big deal? Two geeks met!” The big deal is that he is 91 years old, has “died three times” and has every good reason to be sitting at home in his recliner! When I posed that to him as a question, he said that it is never too late to learn new things. Learning keeps us young and alive!

In the context of our churches, many of which are far beyond 90 years old and are “reclining.” This man is a living, breathing example of the potential that God has instilled in all who truly believe that HE has purpose in US! 

We are living in a place and time in God’s world and kingdom that presents us with challenges that are actually opportunities, situations that are actually catalysts, and innovations that are actually untapped resources…if we were only to sit up straight and see with New Vision, that all things work for the good for those who truly love God!

The many and varied resources of the United Methodist Church and the Rio Texas Annual Conference offer New Vision for those churches that choose to “sit up,” so that they may one day Stand Up! Personally, I participate in the ministries of the Church with the hope that congregations across our country and around the world will run toward (not from) the challenges, situations, and innovations that are flooding our ministry fields. No church is too small, too remote, or too “poor” to reach out with love to the hurting world around it. “[We] can do all things through Jesus Christ, Who strengthens [us]!” (Philippians 4:13)

As people of the Rio Texas Annual Conference, whether serving as individuals, congregations, clusters or districts respond the ongoing devastation resulting from Hurricane Harvey, our presence and response to Micah 6:8, “…but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God,” has had real-world impact in a time of crisis. And, as we continue to offer compassionate care in the months and years to come, we do it in and for the Glory of God!

May God continue to bless all of us, as we seek to do His Holy Will with excellence!

Written by Ralph Thompson, Conference Lay Leader


Rio Texas Church Includes Children in Harvey Relief Efforts

Rio Texas Church Includes Children in Harvey Relief Efforts

While churches and communities begin cleaning up in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, some Rio Texas Annual Conference churches have responded in creative ways. One church has been intentional in involving children in the response.

Cimarron Praise United Methodist Church, Converse wanted to involve children in the hurricane response. Rev. Dawn Baird invited the children to participate through art. During the children's portion of worship, Baird talked about Jesus calling the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. She then asked the children how they could provide relief to those affected by the storms.

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A Weekend of Harmony: Gospel Trinity

For months I looked forward to the weekend of May 19-21 at my church. Bethany United Methodist Church, Austin’s Chancel Choir and Orchestra – I sing baritone – would be joined by the choir from Wesley United Methodist Church, Austin to perform Rosephanye Powell’s Gospel Trinity. The performance is a four-movement choral work in the Black gospel style which infuses the imagination of singer and listener alike to the great mystery and great joy that is the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our choir and orchestra had been preparing Gospel Trinity since January.  From our rehearsals and from a YouTube video of a Gospel Trinity performance, all of our singers and instrumentalists knew what an exciting and special worship experience to expect. Dr. Rosephanye Powell, would be with us that weekend as vocal soloist and narrator for three worship services. A dynamic and engaging vocalist, Rosephanye Powell has been hailed as one of America’s premier women composers of choral music.  A voice professor at Auburn University, Dr. Powell’s research focuses on the art of the African-American spiritual.

During our five months of preparation, our choir worked on the movements of Gospel Trinity during weekly Wednesday-night choir practice.  We memorized much of the music under the direction of Bethany UMC Director of Music Ministry Curt Olson.  The Bethany Orchestra was learning the orchestration for Gospel Trinity on Thursday nights. LaMonica Lewis of Wesley UMC was leading her choir through the same challenging harmonies and rhythms that would all come together during one momentous weekend of worship.  The musicians’ anticipation grew each week during our winter and spring rehearsals as we gradually mastered Gospel Trinity.

Finally the long-awaited weekend arrived. The Bethany and Wesley UMC choirs rehearsed together for the first time. Rosephanye Powell was there too.  In addition to working on notes and rhythms, Dr. Powell taught us the proper pronunciation, phrasing, and expression for her composition. The two choirs were joined by the Bethany Orchestra for the dress rehearsal on Saturday morning.  It was the first time the three musical groups and Dr. Powell had rehearsed Gospel Trinity together. With pointers from Dr. Powell, the collection of 90 vocalists and 30 instrumentalists fine-tuned the music in preparation for the worship service later that afternoon.

Later that day, our combined voices and instruments performed Gospel Trinity with Rosephanye Powell as vocal soloist and narrator.  We also performed Dr. Powell’s arrangement of the spiritual I Wanna Be Ready, with Dr. Powell as vocal soloist, piano accompaniment, and combined choirs.  The performance was repeated at two Sunday morning worship services.  Worship attendance swelled that weekend, as Bethany UMC members and visitors were joined by members of Wesley UMC. Worship attendance for the three Gospel Trinity services topped 1400.

The Sunday morning 11:00 am worship service was the most memorable for me.  During Gospel Trinity’s fourth and final movement “Gloria Patri,” the congregation in Bethany UMC’s packed Worship Center was standing, clapping, and swaying to the inspiring music, along with the choirs.  I had never felt such a feeling of oneness with the musicians, the congregation, and the Holy Spirit.  Dr. Powell’s powerful message was, “Some of you need to hear that God knows you are hurting, but God is faithful, God loves you, and God is always with you.”

At the conclusion of the last worship service, the choir members filed down from the choir loft.  Rosephanye Powell stood at the bottom of the stairs, sharing handshakes and hugs with each of us.  Reflecting on the wonderful music and the total experience of the weekend, I whispered to her, “You don’t know how much good you did here this weekend.  Thank you.”

The following article was written by James Rank of Bethany UMC, Austin

Hayes Commissioned as Global Mission Fellow

Frances Cecilia Hayes was commissioned for a two year appointment as a Global Mission Fellow with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries in August 2017. She will start her missionary work at as a chaplain Restore Hope Ministries in Tulsa.  She is the 23-year-old daughter of Rev. Terrence Hayes, Senior Pastor at Windcrest UMC, San Antonio. 

Hayes was drawn to missionary work because of her background in the medical field as a nursing student.  She desires to use the skills she has required to reach more people and could not pass up the opportunity to do some traveling as well.

“Since I was little, I’ve always felt God working through my life and God working through me, either through song or praise and dance,” said Hayes. “Listening to someone, giving them a hug, and encouraging others;" being empathetic is how she exhibits her fruits of the spirit.

Hayes looks forward to sharing wisdom she learned from her 101-year old grandmother.

“She helped me understand that life will knock you down, but it’s the way you get up from those life lessons that counts.”

As a chaplain at Restore Hope Ministries, Hayes hopes to use the trials she has been through as the key to her ministry in helping people with rental or food assistance. “I want to pray with you and for you, and be a vessel that God shines through, to be your light to help you through anything." Her attitude is, "We can get through it together with God.”


From Conference Lay Leader: SBC21 helps Black Congregations Become More Effective

Ralph Thompson, Conference Lay Leader

Ralph Thompson, Conference Lay Leader

As is often the nature of the Church, things happen seemingly “behind the scenes” that become evident only by the results they achieve. So it is with the Rio Texas United Methodist congregations that are involved with “Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century” (SBC21), a program designed to assist predominantly and historic Black United Methodist congregations become more effective in mission and ministry. This program links successful congregational resource centers (CRC) and coaches with congregations that are in search of new ideas and revitalization.

The SBC21 program for the Rio Texas Annual Conference kicked off in 2015 under the guidance of the Mission Vitality Center’s then Director for Leadership Vitality, Reverend Dr. Marcus Freeman. The fledgling “Rio Texas Black Church Development Design Team” (RTBCDDT) selected Reverend Dr. Jack Gause and Dr. Beverly Woodson Day as co-leaders and immediately set about the mission of welcoming congregations into the SBC21 program.

While the Rio Texas Annual Conference has yet to designate its own CRC, team members have traveled to visit a CRC elsewhere in the South Central Jurisdiction and have experienced coaches who bring CRC experience from across the country. Pastors and Laity from participating congregations attest to the value and blessings that have come from the SBC21 experience. During a recent team visit to St. James UMC (Kansas City MO/Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, III), the Rio Texas delegation of RTBCDDT members and partnering church representatives were amazed at how much information and how many resources and new ideas could come from one visit to a CRC! More CRC visits will be scheduled in the year to come.

Positive results in our partnering congregations were evident from the onset, as evidenced in renewed enthusiasm and missional focus, increased worship attendance, enhanced lay leadership development, more effective worship and local church administration, and the welcoming of new members. Partnering congregations are reporting fruitful results from adopting relatively simple changes to worship times and formats, starting new ministries, increasing community involvement, and more. Of the original eight partnering congregations in the 2016-2017 program, five have opted to continue for the 2017-2018 program. Additionally, one first-time partnering congregation has shown an interest in joining SBC21 in the coming year!

Through training and consultation with SBC21 coaches and other congregations, partner congregations receive hope, inspiration, encouragement, resources, equipping skills, and the determination to go forward with their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Churches qualify to be partner congregations if they demonstrate a willingness to change. This willingness requires that they are open-minded and are eager to devote time and resources to making the training process a success.

The SBC21 program is NOT designed to help congregations become better Black churches; it’s purpose is to help congregations become more effective churches…period! Regarding SBC21, one participating pastor recently commented, “This is a no-brainer!”

For more information about SBC21 and to see if your congregation is ready to make a change for the better, visit sbc21.org or contact Reverend Dr. Gause (pastorgause@att.net) or Dr. Woodson Day (beverlywday@gmail.com).  

The following was written by Ralph Thompson, Rio Texas Conference Lay Leader


Son Days Camp Teaches Children, Youth about Making Peace

Capital District’s 2nd annual Son Days Camp for children entering 3-6th grade brought children and volunteers from eight Austin-area churches and still has room for more next year!

Son Days Camp meets the last full week of June at Crossroads Retreat Center in Caldwell, Texas. Crossroads is set apart in the serene (sandy!) woods of east Texas and has a great outdoor chapel, indoor chapel, several bunk filled cabins, dining hall and activity center.

The amenities also include a ropes course, sport field and volleyball court. Children spend their days in rotations learning and participating in global and local ministries, arts and crafts, making delicious desserts and bible study.

Our theme this year was, “Kids Can Make Peace”. Children heard from many voices about alternate ways of communication in difficult situations, as well as how to make inner peace with Jesus so we can change the world!

Rio Texas Churches Reach Out at Easter

God was powerfully at work during Holy Week and Easter throughout the Rio Texas Annual Conference. Churches continued to seek innovative approaches to reach the mission field in new ways with the powerful message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. New people found their way to new places to hear the Gospel message proclaimed.

Mary McKay, Director Traditional Worship & Music, leads the choir and orchestra during the Good Friday service.

Mary McKay, Director Traditional Worship & Music, leads the choir and orchestra during the Good Friday service.

University United Methodist Church, San Antonio has a tradition of reaching out to the community through music. It was through expressing the message in music and the enthusiasm of the musicians that the church saw a record attendance on Good Friday.

University saw 1364 packed into its standing-room-only sanctuary as the choir and orchestra led worship through Dan Forrest's Requiem for the Living. When asked about the increase in attendance, Rev. Ben Trammell, Lead Pastor of University credited the excitement of those involved with the production.

"The participants were so excited and moved by what they were a part of that they invited their friends, neighbors, and family," said Trammell.  "It is pretty contagious when people are excited about what they are doing."

Overflow crowds flow in and out of Tarrytown UMC on Easter Sunday.

Overflow crowds flow in and out of Tarrytown UMC on Easter Sunday.

Tarrytown United Methodist Church, Austin was blessed this year to have some more space for their crowds through a partnership with a neighborhood church. Every year, Tarrytown struggles to have enough space for people and cars on Easter Sunday. This year, The Sanctuary Baptist church across the street was able to help and fill a need of their own.

The Sanctuary Baptist Church and Tarrytown began a relationship a couple of years ago when Tarrytown's Senior Pastor Rev. Bobbi Kaye Jones and a few TUMC leaders met "as neighbors" with members of the small congregation after their pastor had left. 

"I was able to simply listen to them with my experience as a former District Superintendent and my knowledge of the struggles small congregations face," said Jones.


The Sanctuary recently said goodbye to another pastor and had no one to preach on Easter Sunday. What began as a casual conversation ended as a wonderful opportunity for both churches. Tarrytown added a seventh Easter service with a third 11:00 am service at The Sanctuary and members of that church were able to hear the Gospel preached on Easter. Tarrytown Associate Rev. Missy Jenson volunteered to preach and TUMC provided music and plenty of lilies.


Tarrtown UMC Associate Pastor, Missy Jenson greets a worshiper at the conclusion of Easter Sunday service.

Tarrtown UMC Associate Pastor, Missy Jenson greets a worshiper at the conclusion of Easter Sunday service.

"Worship was wonderful," said Jenson. "And we had beautiful lilies for The Sanctuary members to take home, which they were delighted by." David Chambers, Tarrytown's Director of Youth Ministries, helped carry a lily to a couple’s car and the man told him, “That was the message I needed to hear.”

First United Methodist Church, Gonzales reached new people during Holy Week through a movie screening and an Easter Egg hunt. "We wanted to have many different ways people could hear the Gospel and respond to God’s love and Grace in their lives," said Rev. Matt Pennington, Pastor of First UMC, Gonzales.  "Our increase was simply from offering more options and more variety for people to meet with Christ."

Those options included a free showing of The Passion of the Christ at the local movie theater, which had 180 present between the movie showing and the team that ministered to children during the film.  The church, with an average attendance of approximately 250 people, also hosted an Easter Egg hunt with an estimated 300 in attendance.

"We tried to do everything we could to help people in Gonzales have the chance to encounter Christ during Holy Week through different approaches," said Pennington.


UFW Activist Receives New Home

Daria Vera was an important activist during the 1966 United Farm Workers’ Strike. During the planning of commemoration services, Bishop Joel Martinez found out Vera’s home in Rio Grande City was dilapidated and needed much repair.

He reached out to Rev. Mark Porterfield. His ministry “Home in a Week” planned the reconstruction of Vera’s home. Starting in September 2016, the group of volunteers prebuilt the wall and trusses in Canyon Lake. Later in January, they transported the materials to Rio Grande City to start building after the Easter holiday. The 576 square-foot home was built from April 18 – April 26.

“This was particularly important to honor someone who was so influential in helping thousands of others through her advocacy,” said Rev. Porterfield.

“It would be hard to count how many persons received a fair or better wage in their work because of her efforts. Those better wages helped countless families live in homes that were adequate and safe. Through the blessings of the Bishop, Daria now has the same; an adequate and safe home for this stage of her life.”

“Daria Vera, as a young farm worker helped her fellow farm workers in 1966 that resulted in a March for Justice from her hometown of Rio Grande City to our state capitol in Austin,” said Bishop Martinez.

“She has been blessed with a new home built by volunteers under the leadership of Rev. Mark Porterfield. I salute Daria and her struggle for justice for all and all. Thank God for United Methodist volunteers and donors who made this new home for Mrs. Vera possible! She is an inspiration to all of us!”

Valley Praise UMC Celebrates Easter with New Campus

On Easter Morning, April 16th, we celebrated the first Resurrection Celebration at Valley Praise UMC, Santa Rosa. This was the culmination of several decades of God's mysterious work in the City of Santa Rosa and the delicate calling of Valley Praise UMC, Harlingen to unite with their struggling sister church over the past two years. All put their talents, gifts, and resources at God's disposal and when God's people humbled themselves to His plan a miracle began to form. Faced with a declining and aging congregation, in a town marked by intricate cultural changes and demographic shifts, the Lord saw fit to create an atmosphere ripe for Resurrection.  He, who has adopted us as His Children, paved the way for two initially dissimilar congregations to form a cohesive family for His Kingdom.

We have discovered that our church experiences often mirror the road that Christ traveled for us during his fateful Passion week. Sometimes there are seasons of pain, pulling in and trying to find the strength to continue, trusting that there is more, letting the last leaf fall on what was once a mighty tree. We commend the saints in Santa Rosa who diligently strived, sought new vitality, persevered and opened their minds and hearts to unfamiliar ideas and outlandish dreams. Thus, over the holiday weekend, we have celebrated the Resurrection of a unified, vibrant Church in the city of Santa Rosa. It has been a time of healing, reconciliation, and incredible growth. One man plants, another nurtures, and another harvests but all do the work of God that He has given to them for His glory. Valley Praise is humbled to be part of the Santa Rosa story and to move forward aware of all that has come before us.  Valley Praise UMC - Harlingen & Santa Rosa..... One Church, Two Campuses.

The following article was written by Joy Bennett of Valley Praise UMC.

Actively Engaging with Adults and Children During Lent

Engaging children and families in Advent preparation and the excitement leading up to the birth of Jesus requires little effort on the part of the church. The bigger challenge arrives during Lent, when we no longer wait for the birth of a baby, but instead, we prepare ourselves for the death of a Savior. How do we ask parents to have their children join us in what can seem like a grief vigil? How do we engage children on their level during the season of Lent?

Westlake UMC intentionally set out to do just this. We began with Ash Wednesday when we set up a worship service of stations. The goal of the stations was to enable adults to participate with children of all ages, and to engage them in different activities. At the same time, we wanted adults to walk these same stations and leave with the feeling that Lent had begun. At one station, we asked adults to consider their own mortality by lighting a candle and watching it burn, thinking about the remainder of their life and what God might be calling them to do. At this same station, children were invited to name the youngest person they know and the oldest person they know. They were asked to think about all the things the oldest had done, and what they think the youngest might do.

On Palm Sunday, the Sunday School hour was set aside for a stations of the cross where families and interested adults heard the Passion story from beginning to end. Families received talking points to continue engaging their children in the experience throughout the week.

On Maundy Thursday, we sat at tables and shared a light meal and once again used stations to engage everyone. I witnessed children try foods like hummus, dates, and figs for the first time. (Dates taste like candy according to one child at my table!) One station contained an unglazed communion ware set that everyone could paint with Christian words or symbols. When this set gets used in worship for communion, we hope the children will see a link between the meal Jesus shared with the disciples that we recognize on Maundy Thursday and the meal we share together in worship on a regular basis.

On Good Friday, our chancel choir led us in a Tenebrae Service while the youth performed a shadow play depicting the events of Holy Week. Everyone in attendance felt the black and white scenes of the shadow play gave new depth to the meaning of Good Friday.

Watching people’s reactions to all of these events was beyond words! Families gathered together and talked their way through each event. Older children watched adults to figure out what to do next. Adults were moved to tears as they engaged Lent in a way they had never done before. We are so pleased that we were able to create opportunities for people of all ages to engage in Lent and we look forward to more intergenerational opportunities in the future.

The following article was written by Rev. Lisa M. Straus, Associate Pastor of Westlake UMC

From UMM Program Director: The Living Last Supper

It’s Thursday night and the room is filling fast. The gig kicks off at 7 and by 6:30 there are no seats left in the room. My son and I are in the back row, far right, and we were here early. A lady with 3 little girls has just walked in and is standing against the rear wall. The toddler in her arms is probably 18 months or so and the other two look to be under the age of 5. She’s frazzled and the girls are restless, she has no husband with her. I look at her and marvel that she is here at all. Getting the girls ready, dressed in their frilly little dresses and coming to this must have been very important to her. I am suddenly moved by her commitment to her girls and her Savior.

My son and I get up and over her protests we see her and her girls safely seated in our place. We are now standing in the back of the room and it’s getting really close in here. We are at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas and something special is happening here. I’ve come because I was asked. The local UMM are putting on a drama of “The Last Supper” and I have been personally asked by two of the men to come tonight. They are both friends of mine and I wouldn’t want to disappoint either of them; so Clint, my son, and I drove the 30 miles in to watch the show.

The drama was great, every man was a member of the UMM and it was well done. You could tell the men had taken a lot of pride in the production. The room looked like it would easily have held 250 people and there had to be 300 or more squeezed in by the time the curtain rose. The great thing was that most of the people in the room weren’t members of St. John’s. Standing in the back as I was I could hear the ushers talking to each other and they were almost giddy over the number of people in attendance.  So was I.

At a time, when attendance and membership is falling all across the denomination, the men of St John’s United Methodist Church had just scored and scored big. With a simple story of “The Last Supper”, staying true to the Scriptures, the Men had brought 300 plus people to Church on Holy Week. God bless these men and God bless these people who came to hear the story of our Savior’s last night. Elvis may not have been in the building last Thursday but Christ sure was. I could feel him and so could everybody else. Jim Callaway Program director Rio Texas Conference UMM

The following post was written by Jim Callaway, Program Director, United Methodist Men, Rio Texas Conference