Bishop Janice Huie to Serve in a Unique Interim Role in the Rio Texas Conference

1/28/2016

For the next eight months, Bishop Janice Huie will serve as the interim Bishop of Record for the Rio Texas Conference, alongside three other bishops filling the vacancy that followed the resignation of James Dorff.

In early January, when Mr. Dorff submitted his resignation as bishop of the Rio Texas Conference and surrendered his credentials, the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops (according to the Book of Discipline p. 407) were responsible for providing leadership. They launched a creative team approach until a new bishop is named this July. 
 
Four bishops, who began their ministry in the Episcopal area, along with lay and clergy leaders of Rio Texas and the Southwest Conference will manage the day-to-day ministries of the conference. Texas Conference Bishop Janice Riggle Huie will work alongside Bishops J. Michael Lowry, Robert Schnase and retired Bishop Joel Martinez who have all volunteered to take a specific part of the Episcopal duties.

Bishop Huie will be responsible for leadership of the Cabinet and appointment making.  Bishop Mike McKee, will continue his involvement as President, of the South Central Jurisdiction. Notes Assistant to the Bishop Rev. B.T. Williamson, “Bishop Huie has assured the Cabinet of the Texas Annual Conference that she will be available and continue all of her responsibilities while adding the Rio Texas position as the Bishop of Record.” Bishop Huie adds, “Anyone who knows me well, knows my love for my home conference.  Those Methodists encouraged me and loved me into ministry at a time when few women were called. I will always be grateful.  This is an opportunity to serve there again and to repay some of that great generosity.”

The Rio Texas Conference is a young conference, having been created just over a year ago. The conference has now addressed the unique challenge of needing episcopal leadership just eight months before the time a traditional episcopal appointment will be made. Since this vacancy comes at the end of a quadrennium, the leadership gap brings challenges of its own.

“The team approach is unique,” Bishop McKee, President of the South Central Jurisdiction Council of Bishops, writes in a letter to the Rio Texas Conference, “but I am confident that it will serve the Rio Texas Conference well until a new bishop is assigned at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July.” That new bishop begins serving on September 1.

Bishop Huie will be responsible for the appointive process, working with the Cabinet to assign pastors to churches for the 2016 conference year. She has previously served as the District Superintendent of the former San Angelo District of the Southwest Texas Conference and as pastor of Manchaca United Methodist Church in Austin, First UMC Mason, and St. Mark in Austin.

Bishop Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Missouri Annual Conference, will plan and lead the sessions of the 2016 Rio Texas Annual Conference meeting.  Bishop Schnase was ordained Deacon in 1981 and Elder in 1986 in the Southwest Texas Conference. From 1989 to 2004, he served as Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of McAllen, Texas. From 1984 to 1989, Rev. Schnase served as pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Harlingen.

“Rio Texas is my home conference,” offers Bishop Schnase. The churches, the pastors, and the laity of the Rio Texas Conference stimulated my yearning to follow Christ when I was a child, cultivated my calling when I was a teenager, and encouraged me in my ministry at every stage. I am forever indebted. Like my colleagues, I am eager to help in any way to assure that the Conference remains focused on the mission of Christ and effective in all its ministries. It’s a privilege to be able to help.”

Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, will oversee the annual conference nominations process for 2016. He will also lead this year's Clergy Convocation, the annual gathering of clergy at Mt. Wesley on Feb. 22-23. In addition, Bishop Lowry will assist in any transition issues for the new bishop.  Bishop Lowry was ordained Elder in the Southwest Texas Conference. He served as Executive Director for New Church Development and Transformation for the Southwest Texas Conference, University United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Bethany in Austin, Asbury in Corpus Christi, Wesley in Harlingen, St. Paul's in Kerrville and as an Associate Pastor at Plymouth Park in Irving.

Bishop Lowry states, “Prior to my election and appointment as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, I spent the majority of my ministry in the old Southwest Texas Conference. As a child of that conference, I bring a great love and respect for the people and ministries of the newly formed Rio Texas Conference. I’m humbled by this opportunity shared with Bishops Huie, Martinez and Schnase to help the local churches of Rio Texas continue to move forward in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  It is good to be coming home.”

Bishop Joel Martinez, Retired Bishop of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, returns to preach special services around the conference, attend to pastoral ministry, and oversee mission, service and justice ministries. He will also represent Rio Texas in connectional relationships such as Methodist Healthcare, Huston-Tillotson University, Lydia Patterson Institute and the Texas Methodist Foundation.  Martinez was ordained deacon and elder and held membership in the Rio Grande Conference until his election to the episcopacy in 1992. Prior to that, he served pastoral appointments in Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso.

Rev. John Wright, Senior Pastor of First Church Austin in excited about this creative leadership approach, saying, “Who knows us better than the son- and daughter-bishops who will serve on this team to provide interim episcopal leadership. This is an outside-the-box solution from which we may learn something new.” Rev. James Amerson, Pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in San Antonio echoed that excitement. “As we begin this new year and the dawn of the Río Texas Conference, it is a godsend to have former clergy who have served pastoral appointments in this area to give collective episcopal leadership. At such a time as this, their directives will be beneficial to all.”  

These four Bishops will serve together with a leadership team comprised of lay and clergy conference leadership. The remainder of the team will be comprised of Rev. Laura Merrill, District Superintendent of El Valle District and leader of the General Conference delegation; Rev. Dr. Ruben Saenz, Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center and Director of Connectional Ministries; Rev. Carl Rohlfs, Superintendent of Las Misiones District; Eradio Valverde, Superintendent of the Coastal Bend District; Sandra Nieto and Ralph Thompson, Co-Lay Leaders of the annual conference; and Teresa Keese, lay member of the General Conference Delegation. Support for the team will be provided by Dalia Trevino, Executive Assistant to the Office of the Bishop, Rev. Bill Wyman, Conference Treasurer, and Rev. Will Rice, Conference Director of Communications. This team will meet weekly using video conferencing technology. This meeting will allow them to plan and attend to the work of the annual conference during this important season.

“I am quite confident that Rio Texas will move forward under the leadership of these four quality bishops,” said Bishop Dan Solomon, Bishop in Residence at McMurry University. “The collective wisdom, experience, and sensitivity to the power of the Gospel and the importance of compassionate discipleship embodied in these leaders will unite the conference in embracing God's healing grace and resurrection mission.”
Bishop Huie reminds us that, “This is the fruit of the connectional church. The four bishops including myself are determined to serve Rio Texas well while continuing our duties at home. I am grateful for the leadership of the TAC cabinet and center leaders who are supporting me in this effort.  I am also eager to share with Rio Texas the things we have learned together in the Texas Annual Conference. I am taking our  experiences with “mission field” appointments to our brothers and sisters in Rio Texas to help assure that we are matching talents of clergy with the needs of congregations and their mission fields.  It is my honor to serve.”