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Rio Grande Annual Conference

 


Rio Grande Annual Conference
June 3-5, 2005, Corpus Christi, Texas

The Rio Grande and Southwest Texas conferences shared in joint events this year, making the annual conference an historical one.

This was the first time the two annual conferences formally and intentionally gathered in nearly 150 years. Now 152 years old, the Rio Grande Conference shared in a joint laity banquet where pastors and laity of both conferences mingled and fellowshipped over dinner. Rio Grande and Southwest Texas Conference laity stood together in line as they waited to be recognized for their 2004 ministry contributions to their respective conferences.

At the end of the evening, Bishop Joel N. Martinez, episcopal head of both conferences, lifted a commemorative coin symbolizing the two conferences’ unity in ministry and mission. The Rio Grande Conference geographically overlaps the five annual conferences of Texas and New Mexico.

Rio Grande members met under the theme, “Transforming Our World.”

At the bilingual, joint ordination service, seven Rio Grande Conference candidates were ordained by the bishop. Ordinands were Thelma Flores, deacon; Nehomi Ramirez, associate member; Isidro Pina, elder’s track; and Dan Flores, Sam Blanco, David Blanco and Alicia Tovar, elders in full connection. Well-known theologian, author and retired Rio Grande Conference elder Justo Gonzales preached at the historic event. Two pastors, the Rev. Josue Mora-Pena and the Rev. Absalom Gamez, were recognized and retired this year during the “Servicio de Jubileo.”

A plaque was given on behalf of the Rio Grande Conference’s Commission on History and Archives to First United Methodist Church, Corpus Christi, to provide a memorial to recognize the first ordination of a Hispanic in the United Methodist Church. Alejo Hernández arrived from Mexico to Corpus Christi in 1870 and soon joined First Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Corpus Christi. Hernández taught Sunday school there and so impressed members that they recommended him for ordination. He attended the annual gathering of the West Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, at Leesburg, Dec. 20-25, 1871, and requested ordination. He was admitted on trial one day, ordained the next day and commissioned a missionary for Mexican work the following day. He was elected to deacon’s orders at that conference in 1871.  

In legislative session, the bishop’s Mission and Structure Task Force presented a resolution calling for the refocusing of the conference’s mission and structure. Through the Mission and Structure Task Force’s guidance, more than 70 percent of the conference’s churches and leadership met last spring in clusters to hear the proposed plan and offer comment, questions and concerns about the proposal. The proposal was further discussed in the district pre-conferences.

The legislative body affirmed and amended the 10-point resolution as follows:

  1. The conference will be reduced from four districts to three, with each district to have a program coordinator to assist the district superintendents in carrying out the programmatic work within the newly defined districts to be set by the cabinet. 
  2. The conference will create a Common Table, which will succeed the current Council on Ministries.
  3. The conference will create a Financial Resource Table to succeed the current Council on Finance and Administration. This table will also bring together the work of pensions, trustees and equitable compensation.
  4. The proposal to create a director of financial services / treasurer was struck down, leaving the current director of connectional ministries and conference treasurer positions intact.
  5. Bishop Martinez, in consultation with the chair people of the Council on Ministries and the Council on Finance and Administration, will appoint a 12-member transition team to lay the groundwork for full implementation of this new structure.
  6. The conference will create a district council in each of the three districts that will meet the basic organizational requirements stated in the 2004 Book of Discipline.
  7. The conference approved the creation of cooperative ministry teams or clusters as the place for local churches to collaborate on ideas, training and new places of ministry development.
  8. The conference will implement a “self-assessment” tool as a norm so that each local church can gauge its health and vitality and plan for future mission and ministry.
  9. The conference affirmed the spirit and intent of the Mission and Structure Task Force’s report and referred it to the transition team, the Common Table and the Financial Resource Table for implementation.
  10. The conference directed the Common Table and Financial Resource Table, once established, to prepare and present transition status reports to the 2006 annual conference.

In other business, conference delegates:

  • Ratified the eight constitutional amendments of the United Methodist Church.
  • Approved the implementation of a Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy authored and proposed by the Board of Ordained Ministry.
  • Affirmed the importance and policy development of Safe Sanctuaries, a child abuse prevention program for the conference.
  • Affirmed a resolution to actively support implementing an amnesty program for undocumented people. The conference will advocate for this to Rio Grande congregations and the United Methodist Church.

Membership stands at 14, 848, down 79 from the previous year, and primary worship service attendance stands at 5,175, down 163 from 2003. Next year’s Rio Grande Annual Conference will be June 1-4 at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.

--Abel Vega Jr.

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