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 or contact Reverend Dr. Gause ( or Dr. Woodson Day (  

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

Schertz UMC Helps Veterans with PTSD Adopt Dogs

Schertz UMC hosted a dog adoption event in junction with Operation Battle Buddies on March 26. Operation Battle Buddies is a ministry that provides service dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Mrs. Kathy Golliher, who raises Black Labrador retriever dogs, presented 4 puppies that were donated to veterans who have completed an OBB application and are in treatment for their PTSD.

Kathy, in keeping with tradition, named the first litter of puppies in honor of a fallen hero, Cody Board, Private 1st Class, assigned to the Apache Unit 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.  Cody, a friend of Mrs. Golliher's son, was 19 years old when he was killed during deployment to Afghanistan in June 2010.

Cody’s father, Chris, gave a short narrative about his son, sharing that Cody always wanted to join the military to serve his country. As a ministry under Schertz United Methodist Church, Cody’s litter and future litters will be offered to veterans for the treatment of PTSD.

Donations to support this ministry can be sent to Schertz United Methodist Church 3460 Roy Richard Dr., Schertz, Tx. 78154 or  

Hill Country District Churches Pack Trailer with Clothes

The semi wasn’t quite as full this year as it was last year, but the Seventh-day Adventists did have two trucks making the pickups, so the total collection was a bit larger than the last one.

The idea is to collect used clothing for disaster survivors before a disaster occurs, so the Seventh-day Adventists have time to sort, sanitize, package and store each item of clothing in their warehouse in Alvarado, TX. Then, when disaster strikes in or near Texas, they can deliver needed clothing to shelters the next morning.

The idea to do the collection in advance of need started here in Johnson City five years ago, when the First United Methodist Church did a three-day campaign. That has grown since then to include more than 20 Hill Country churches, especially in Johnson City, where participants included First Baptist, First Christian, First UMC, Good Shepherd Catholic, and Trinity Lutheran churches — plus the Red Door resale shop.

“This has grown way beyond just one church or even one denomination,” said Pastor Lee Romero at First United Methodist Church, Johnson City. “And that’s as it should be. The need is too great for one to do alone, and no storm victim has ever asked which church gave them the clean shirt they’re putting on.”

The beneficiaries of people’s generosity include survivors of fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, and not just in Texas. The Adventists’ trucks have carried donations as far as New York following 2012 Hurricane Sandy. 

“This past year, most of your clothes went to Louisiana,” recalled driver Dale Janes. “We made many trips over there for the terrible flooding they had across south Louisiana, and then again when the tornado went through New Orleans.”

The Adventists remarked that of all their collections, this is the one that consistently produces the most clothing, as well as the highest quality. 

The trailer also made stops at Rio Texas Churches Center Point UMC and Boerne UMC (pictured above). 

Other Rio Texas churches participating in this year's drive: 

  • Bertram UMC
  • Boerne FUMC
  • Medina Valley UMC, Castroville
  • Center Point UMC
  • Gaddis Memorial UMC, Comfort
  • Fredericksburg UMC
  • Highland Lakes UMC
  • Hondo UMC
  • Johnson City FUMC
  • St. Paul UMC, Kerrville
  • Lakehills UMC
  • Northshore UMC
  • San Marcos FUMC
  • Wimberley UMC
  • Yancey UMC
  • St Luke UMC, Austin
  • Burnet FUMC
  • Cross Tracks UMC, Liberty Hill

It is, appropriately for a church-based campaign, a marriage made in heaven.

The following article was written by Mr. George Barnette

UMNS: Churches, ministries see fear over immigration policy

Photo courtesy of umns

Photo courtesy of umns

Abel Vega, Director of Outreach Vitality at the Rio Texas Mission Vitality Center, Rev. John Feagins, Pastor of La Trinidad United Methodist Church in San Antonio, and other members of the Rio Texas Annual Conference were recently featured in a piece from United Methodist News Service.

The piece from Sam Hodges of the United Methodist News Service highlights the complexities of how the immigration overhaul affects the San Antonio-region that is 63 percent Hispanic with a number of undocumented immigrants. 



A Methodist Border Ministry: Cubanos en la Frontera

Read more from United Methodist News Service: Offering solidarity to Cubans stuck at border.

Through Holding Institute Community Center in Laredo and in collaboration with the Rio Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, our local partners in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, we are supporting the preparation and serving of hot meals to desperate people on a daily basis. This ministry began in late January and continues now.

Your donations are making a difference in the capacity to purchase grocery items in Mexico such as meat and dairy products, along with hygiene items and supplies for partner kitchens. Rice and beans are being donated by compassionate persons in Mexico.

Rev. Jaser Davila posted these pictures along with his comments on March 3, 2017 from Nuevo Laredo, Texas. The people you see standing in line to receive a hot meal are primarily Cuban refugees who were stranded in Mexico when the USA entry policies for Cubans changed in January.

The current estimate of Cubans in Nuevo Laredo is approaching 1300. Most are sheltered. Churches and other immigrant centers are beyond capacity.

As the Cubans now realize that a crossing into the USA is very unlikely, many are investigating avenues to stay in Mexico and obtain temporary work while pursuing their immigration options in Mexico.

In Nuevo Laredo, our pastor and church partners are continuing to feed the hungry. Several new elements of this ministry are now being revealed that we want to share with you.

First, some of the people in line for food are Mexican. Some are local and some are recently repatriated into Mexico from the USA. As the number of persons being deported from the USA is on the rise, several Mexican cities are the outlets for this repatriation. Nuevo Laredo is one of these cities.

Second, compassion is transforming all of us. Cubans are cooking and sharing in daily tasks in this ministry. A small group of Cubans staying with one pastor partner are now forming a worship team. Another group is accompanying their supporting pastor to feed hungry persons in other parts of Nuevo Laredo.

Third, Christ is being offered in daily living. One of our partner pastors recently shared, “These Cubans were angry when their access to the USA was stopped. Now they are beginning to return to happiness. They are now asking about God and faith.”

Fourth, there is a need for BUNK BEDS in several of our partner locations in Nuevo Laredo. We seek the assembly plans of bunk beds that other border ministries have used in the past. If this caught your attention, pray about this and call me.

This is a very brief update on a very complex situation. Your partnership in ministry is very important to us and we appreciate your donations and your prayers. May God Bless You!

This article was written by Rev. Paul Harris, Pastor at First United Methodist Church, Laredo
If you or someone you know would like to donate Bunk Beds, please contact Rev. Harris at

WANTED: Vehicle for Life in the City Children Ministry

Life in the City UMC, a new Church start in Austin, is looking for a van or bus to help transport children to the church for worship, Sunday School and a creative arts class.

Once a month, Life in the City goes to the Meadowbrook Apartments down the street from the campus to host a creative arts class. Approximately 30 children from this low-income community participate once a month. Children as young as four and as old as eleven started to ask volunteers for rides to the church because they wanted to participate in worship services.

“We do music on Sunday morning for them. Then pull-out chapel time during the sermon,” said Rev. Val Sansing. “We feed them too. There’s a lot of food issues with kids in these situations. We’re very conscious to give them good nutrition. We send them home with a sack-lunch as well.”

Life in the City hopes to expand this outreach mission with a donated bus or van, or one at the lowest price possible. The church realizes that the larger financial burden will be paying for the insurance.

Diverse Hispanic, White, African American and Muslim children are expected to receive blessings from this ministry as the program grows. Currently, 3-5 volunteers drive their own vehicles to Meadowbrooks to pick up the children. Life in the City realizes that the only way this ministry will continue expand is with a donated vehicle.  

If you would like to donate your church’s unused vehicle, please contact Rev. Val Sansing at 512-963-1631.




Disaster Response Teams Respond to Tornado Damage in San Antonio

Antonio Garcia was picking up the remains of his backyard north of San Antonio, full of broken fences and collapsed trees, when someone from the Rio Texas Disaster Response team came and offered to put tarps on the roof of his home in the anticipation of future rainfall. Mr. Garcia told the team he could not afford to install the tarp. He was delighted when the team told Mr. Garcia there would be no charge.

We always need Early Response teams! Get your training at this link. 

Are you and your team ready to be deployed? Contact Eugene Hileman at

Youth Set Free by Christ at Midwinter

214 youth representing 18 congregations attended the Coastal Bend and El Valle District Midwinter at Camp Zephyr on Feb. 10-12. The youth participated in a variety of activities, including a ropes course, yaga balls, archery tag as well as a gymnasium to play various sports.

The retreat’s theme was “SET FREE” from John 8:26. Worship and praise was supplied by Rev. Paul Allan and the youth band All4Him. Rev. Bill Duke also spoke to the youth and stressed how Christ sets us free from sin. Richie Reitmann and Veronica Dillon spoke to the young Christians.

“The retreat was important because it helps youth understand that they are not alone,” said Rev. Linda Marrow. “They are able to make new Christian friends both youth and adults to walk with and talk with allowing them to live daily FREE to be those who love themselves, love others and love God.”

Lake Travis UMC Hosts Forum After Mosque Fire

Lake Travis United Methodist Church hosted an interfaith forum on January 15 after the nearby construction of the Lake Travis Islamic Center burned to the ground on the morning of January 7. 250-300 people attended the forum for a time of prayer and community building. Jewish, Islamic, Christian and secular groups were present.

Rev. Laura Walters of the Presbyterian Church of Lake Travis and Dr. Rehman Siddiqi of the Islamic Center reached out to Rev. Ray Kiser of LTUMC because of the size of their facilities, and asked if a forum could take place. Since then, the Lake Travis communities have been offering their support for the Lake Travis Islamic Center.

“The purpose of the forum was to share concerns for the Islamic Center and the Islamic Center to let the community know more about who they are,” said Rev. Kiser. “It was an opportunity for us to reach out to the larger community to share in fellowship and prayer, as well as make new acquaintances.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives have not reached any conclusion about the cause of the fire. Congregants from LTUMC have already started to contribute to the rebuilding of the Islamic Center.

“We continue to pray for peace and stand with each other in solidarity against acts of violence and evil and terror. We continue to offer our hospitality if they so choose to accept that hospitality.”

Click Here to read an article about the interfaith forum from the Austin American Statesman
Click here to watch a video from KXAN