Theresa Booth: Drive Thru Ash Wednesday Reflections

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Ash Wednesday is my favorite Christian day after Easter. I love the act of repentance and centering your whole being for a 40-day journey toward Jerusalem. For my spirit to thrive on this day, I have learned that I must be out in the community offering Ashes to all of God’s creation. This Wednesday was no different. 194 people drove up or walked up to receive ashes. Director of Visual Arts and Social Media Kat Cochrane and Director of Discipleship Karen Andrews both helped me, and I am sure they have reflections of their own they would love to share with you. I could go on and on about the people I met and the stories they shared but that would be a book instead of a page. So here are just of few of the encounters.

During the first hour as the sun was trying to break through the clouds, an Arlens employee came across the street. She wanted to start her day with the cross on her forehead. She then asked if I could come over to the store and give ashes to her coworkers. Later that morning I went and gave five employees their ashes. They were thankful for me coming to them. In the late afternoon a lady drove-up. After Karen gave her the ashes she started to cry. She had just left the doctor’s office and they had scheduled her for gallbladder surgery and a liver biopsy. She was scared. Karen and I both reassured her we would be praying for her.

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A lady drove up alone. After she received her cross she asked how long I would be there. I told her until 7 p.m. and she said she would be back with her son who had stayed home from school due to illness. She came back with him on one trip; then three more times she came back with a car full of people to receive ashes. She said she was an Uber driver for God today. Another woman came back twice with her elderly tias who couldn’t walk without assistance. They have not received ashes in several years due to an inability to walk up the stairs of the church.

My adopted “mom” who lives in San Antonio saw my post on Facebook and drove up to receive ashes from me on her way to Austin for a meeting. It was a beautiful surprise.

Social media played a role in other encounters. A couple was on their way from Boerne to Austin for a meeting and she realized they wouldn’t be back in time to receive Ashes at their church. She Googled “day ashes nearby” and found us on the first hit on Google. They were grateful for the opportunity to wear their cross at their business meeting.

Our day school moms came to pick up kids and asked for ashes. Little brothers or sisters saw their siblings had a cross on their head or hand and wanted one. I had so many moments of talking to children about how much Jesus loves and will always love them no matter what. Later in the day I had a grandmother come to pick up her grandchild. I asked if she wanted ashes. She did not know what Lent was about, so I explained Lent and ashes to her and told her what I told her granddaughter earlier in the day when all day school kids received ashes. I told the grandmother how much Jesus loved her. She had tears in her eyes and hugged me. I do not know if she had ever been told about Jesus before. We hugged a little while longer and I prayed for her.

I had several nurses come by. One nurse parked and got out of her car; she waited for us to finish giving ashes to a van load of kids. She looked beat. As I gave her the ashes I wondered what she had seen and who she cared for this day. After the ashes were given, she said it was a hard shift. She then asked if I would pray for her. I said yes, “let’s do it now.” She said there were people in line. I told her it would be okay. They will wait. We prayed and hugged. She went on her way and I turned around and the other cars had waited, and more were in line. The world slowed down for us all for a moment.

A young couple came with a baby and grandmother. The mother did not know what the ashes were for, so I explained. After she received them she asked me to place ashes on her new baby.  The whole family received ashes and then asked me to take a picture of them in front of the church. I found out they just moved to New Braunfels and were out seeing what churches were around. They did not come for ashes; they came for a church home. I gave them information and invited them back.

My last car was a visitor to our church. He has been coming for a while. He sings with our band. He brought his wife and son. He said he had been driving up and down San Antonio Street all day and kept seeing me. After I gave him and his family Ashes, he kept hugging and thanking me. As I reflect on the day now, his hugs and thankfulness summed up a beautiful day filled with the Holy Spirit. Church happened outside of the walls.

Written by Rev. Theresa Booth, Associate Pastor, FUMC, New Braunfels

Spring Creek UMC Takes Christmas Beyond the Walls

Spring Creek UMC Takes Christmas Beyond the Walls

Spring Creek United Methodist Church spent Advent reaching outside the walls, designating an offering to build homes, and taking Christmas Eve worship to Haven for Hope.

Each year, Spring Creek collects a Christ Child offering. This year, the goal of the offering was to raise $57,000 to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. The idea to construct a home was related to work at their own facility.

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Austin Churches Open their Doors to Provide Shelter from the Cold

Austin Churches Open their Doors to Provide Shelter from the Cold

St Mark UMC; Servant UMC; and FUMC, Austin recently participated in the Cold Shelter Program in Austin. Front Steps and Austin Area Interreligious Ministries (AAIM) developed the Cold Weather Shelter Program several years ago. They coordinate local churches and community volunteers to provide shelter in church facilities on nights when the temperature drops to freezing.

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Chapel To Open for Torres Prison Unit in Hondo

After nearly 20 years, Chapel for God’s Country Ministries finally raised $1.8 million in private and corporate donations to build a chapel at the Torres Prison Unit in Hondo.

However, Tom Patterson, who serves on the prison ministry’s board, said $200,000 is still needed for stained glass windows and to furnish and equip the sanctuary that will hold 300 inmates of all faiths.

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Sierra Vista UMC Celebrates "Spirit Life" with Children's Camp

Sierra Vista United Methodist Church’s Children’s Ministries hosted its annual children’s camp at Butman Camp and Retreat Center in Merkel, TX on Aug. 6-10. Sixty-four children, six youth, and 15 adults enjoyed five days of fun, fellowship, and faith formation in the Big Country. 

As a result of the generosity of campers’ families, Sierra Vista’s Finance Committee and congregation, and the West District; 43 from Sierra Vista; nine from Saint Luke UMC, San Angelo; seven from First UMC, San Angelo; one Miles UMC child; and five children from Saint Paul UMC, Kerrville were able to study and learn about the “spirit life.” 

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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

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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.”

SUPPORT CECILIA'S MISSIONARY WORK HERE

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