Conference Enhances Staff to Better Align with Key Priorities
“As leadership collectively discusses how to best align the resources of this Annual Conference, we have complete consensus that we are here to 1) support vital congregations across Texas, 2) encourage effective two-way communication within the conference and 3) tell our conference story to the general public,” notes Bishop Janice Huie. “To that end, we are excited to announce several personnel enhancements that will better align our staff with those important goals.” Jerry Pennington, previously serving as the District Superintendent of the East District, will now be serving as the Transformation Director under Dr. Donald Waddleton, Center Director, Congregational Excellence. He will be overseeing transformational ministry responsibilities that were formerly handled by an outside consultant.
“Having a seasoned leader focused on Transformational Ministry will allow me to devote more attention to the lifeblood of our denomination – new church starts,” Waddleton explains. The position vacated by Pennington will be filled by Rev. Chuck Huffman, former pastor of Tennison Memorial UMC. Additionally, communication specialists Paula Arnold and April Canik have recently been contracted to handle Conference Communications in a partnership role that was previously held by a fulltime employee.
Meet the Congregational Excellence team
TAC’s Center for Congregational Excellence has two key areas of responsibility: New Church Starts and Transformation.
New Church Starts
Dr. Donald Waddleton has been part of the transformation of the Texas Annual Conference from its beginnings and will retain overall supervision of the Center for Congregational Excellence. With the restructuring to include a Transformation Director, he will now focus his time on:
1) looking for locations and leaders to meet the needs of our ever-expanding conference population,
2) soliciting congregations called to serve as mother churches for new ministry,
3) and planning training and support systems for new pastors. Waddleton has served the conference as Director since 2009 and served the previous six years as a District Superintendent.
In his new role, Jerry Pennington will guide the conference Transformation efforts in providing coaching designed to facilitate growth, greater fruitfulness, clearer identity and in generally equipping congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
“This new role provides an opportunity for me to do what I have most enjoyed doing as a district superintendent: facilitating transformation for congregations and mission fields,” says Pennington.
A graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University with a doctorate from Drew University, Pennington served as pastor of Pearland UMC for 11 years prior to being named a superintendent. “Jerry and I have shared in the development of new and productive ideas and projects for many years,” notes Waddleton, who served
as Jerry’s DS when he was the pastor in Pearland. “When Jerry steps in as a pastor, congregations tend to double in size, which demonstrates he knows firsthand about vital congregations,” he adds. Pennington is a veteran of rural ministry, with experience leading congregations in Nacogdoches, Glenbrook, Centerville and Carthridge. Ministry related creativity led him to initiate a popular type of service he called “cowboy church” with guitar-picking old time country hymns and the addition of community touch points ranging from adult exercise class to a service targeted to women.
Although, at one point, he was named Rural Pastor of the Year, he is quick to admit thatdeep change and struggle. Adds Pennington, “I have more stories about what ideas did not work than the ones that did, but that is a key to any discussion about transformation. I have discovered there is no one model that fits every church. You just keep trying and eventually you will achieve a winning idea.” Pennington’s influence in the East District is marked with significant and ongoing transformation.
“The conference empowered me to begin the Good Soil project and cooperative parish ministry in our rural area, along with plans that have transformed the entire district. “Jerry has been instrumental in splitting this geographically expansive district into sub-districts supervised by Facilitating Elders,” notes B.T. Williamson, Assistant to the Bishop, “and this has proven to be a model that has greatly enhanced connection and communication among small congregations.
He also facilitated the launch of the Gospel Outpost Network initiative led by Dr. Keith Tilley, who is developing home based congregations in East Texas. “Don and I have been partners in transformational ministry for years,” says Jerry. “I am thrilled to continue that passion in this new role. In fact, we just finished planning a new opportunity for youth and young adults that will launch this summer.”
According to Pennington, “The Texas Conference has always been on the cutting edge of creative and fruitful opportunities that assist our own congregations as well as other conferences. It is my prayer that God will continue to bless my efforts as I move into the position of Director of Transformation.”
Meet the East District Superintendent
Chuck Huffman steps into the District Superintendent role having a degree from East Texas State University and a Master of Divinity from SMU. A native of Texas and rural ministry settings since childhood, he has pastored churches in Mt. Pleasant, Port Arthur, and Queen City, to name a few. He is a lifelong learner “blessed with a variety of experiences in continuing education.” Additionally, he’s lead multiple mission teams to domestic and international destinations and served on the Board of Missions for three years. Notes Huffman, “I am proud of my family’s heritage in the UMC. I am honored, humbled and thrilled about the opportunity before me, and view this as a mission field appointment to be part of a
global force for changing the world with the love of Christ.”
Meet the Communication Team
As the new Director of Communications, Paula Arnold brings to the Conference broad-based expertise and a wide network of contacts acquired throughout her diverse career. She has worked as a real estate developer, political strategist, lobbyist and managed a successful public relations firm. Deeply committed to helping people, Arnold has served as an elected official and has advocated tirelessly for issues that impact Houston’s diverse communities. She is a lifelong Methodist and current member at West University UMC serving on Staff Parish Relations Committee. On behalf of the denomination, she has served in multiple lay leadership roles locally in addition to global work via mission trips to Belize, Bolivia and El Salvador, including an instrumental role in helping establish the Corozal Belize Eye Clinic.
Arnold serves on numerous boards that deal with issues impacting the Houston community, including the Center for the Reform of School Systems, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, ProVision, Leadership Houston and the American Leadership Forum. Arnold holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Houston and a Masters of Public Health from the University of Texas at Houston.
“I look forward to helping clarify our message to better define the Methodist Church both to our own congregations and to the public at large,” says Arnold. As Director, Arnold will assess the effectiveness of current communication strategies, coordinate the visual presentation of the conference, leverage secular media opportunities, serve as a crisis communication consultant as needed, and provide visionary leadership to the team of communicators that convey the TAC faith story across all media.
April Canik will now be serving the Conference as Associate Director of Communications, with primary responsibility for providing editorial support for the Cross Connection and writing related projects as needed. An Accredited Business Communicator, Canik has a degree in Business-Journalism from Baylor University and over 30 years of marketing communication expertise as the principal of Canik Communications. She is the former Director of Communication for St. Luke’s UMC in Houston, and has consulted with many faith-based organizations to help further their mission. While on staff at St. Luke’s UMC, she served as the Lay Chairman of the TAC Communications Committee for four years. Canik served six years on the board of Cypress Christian School and is a founding member of the Board of the Houston Coalition of Church Communicators.