By Lindsay Peyton
“Praise the Lord My Soul” was the theme of the 53rd Texas Annual Conference, held May 29 through June 1 at Hilton Americas-Houston. The event returned to gathering in-person, after two years of virtual meetings.
Delegates experienced a variety of outstanding worship music that ranged from classical choir to instrumental to praise and worship. Bishop Scott J. Jones gave his Episcopal Address on Sunday, Rev. Wanda Bess of the West District preached on Monday and special guest Bishop James Swanson of the Mississippi Conference preached at ordination on Tuesday.
Conference members celebrated retiring clergy, the ordination of new leaders, and listened to the lay leader’s address. Together, delegates bowed their heads in prayer, worshiped, memorialized friends and conducted conference business.
Partners in ministry also addressed the conference, including Houston Methodist Hospital, Lakeview Conference Center and Methodist Retirement Communities. Business presentations were made for the Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A), Future Discernment Task Force, the Conference Leadership Team and more.
The consent calendar was approved, as was the 2023 annual budget of $9.286 million, which represents a 5.1 percent reduction, or $500,000, from the 2022 budget. 

The following resolutions were either considered for a vote or withdrawn during the Annual Conference session:

  • A Policy to Prevent Hate Speech in the TAC. Gwendolyn Mason, member of Westbury UMC in Houston, presented the resolution. “As a child of God, I believe the practice of common courtesy is one of the ways we show God’s love to each other,” she said.

Mason explained that inflammatory speech was present in past Conferences. “When disparaging language is used on the conference floor, we are not speaking in love,” she said. “Some may not even realize the depth of harm caused to others when hurtful language is used.”

The resolution required the use of a statement both spoken in meetings and printed in the Pre-Conference Journal: “We take seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and we covenant to engage in respectful, holy conferencing throughout our time together. Though we may not always agree, and while we welcome passionate advocacy, we reject any form of hate speech, inflammatory language, or false statements as part of our discussion. Such speeches will be immediately interrupted and redirected.”

The motion failed, with 642 voting against and 568 voting in favor.

  • Forward in Love. This resolution, presented by Dr. Chappell Temple, Lead Pastor Christ Church Sugar Land, responded to the postponement of the General Conference. Temple explained that the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation would have been up for a vote at that time had the pandemic not delayed the event. 

The resolution he outlined asked to adopt the spirit of Peace. “It calls for us to treat each other with respect, charity and graciousness,” Temple said. “It calls us to do no harm, to be at peace with each other.”

A hand vote was counted, and the motion failed.

  • A Resolution for a Two-Thirds Majority to Remove the TAC from the UMC. Authors of the resolution Rev. Elizabeth Duffin, Senior Pastor at FUMC Missouri City, and DeAndre Johnson, Associate Pastor Christ Church Sugar Land, pulled it from consideration before a vote was taken. The resolution asked for a two-thirds majority to allow disaffiliation as a Conference from the UMC to join the Global Methodist Church (GMC).
  • Reasoning with Grace. The authors of the resolution also pulled it from the agenda. The measure called for a special session for the purpose of receiving resolutions related to disaffiliation.
  • Commissioning with Fairness. The resolution, which sought to clarify unfunded pension liability, was added to the docket May 30 during the Annual Conference through a suspension of the rules. The motion passed with a hand vote.

In the Principles Regarding Local Church Requests for Disaffiliation, adopted by the TAC in 2020, local churches are directed to pay unfunded pension liability. This motion changes the formula, offsetting costs by accounting for pension reserves.

Rev. David Horton, Lead Pastor at St. Luke’s UMC Gethsemane campus in Houston, introduced the resolution, saying, “It’s meant to be helpful – helpful to any church of any theological leaning that wishes to disaffiliate according to the principles of the TAC.”

Horton explained that the change would remedy the gap between unfunded pension – and pension reserves – both a shared responsibility of members of the TAC. “We can all agree that we need to protect our retirees and fulfill our pension obligations to our clergy,” he said.

Bishop Jones explained that, before being presented for a vote, the resolution was unanimously approved by the Council of Finance and Administration, the Board of Trustees and the Board of Pensions.

  • A Motion to Adapt Our Work in Light of Current Discernments. Assistant to the Bishop Kip Gilts, who serves as chair of the Future Discernment Task Force, presented this item, which was approved by a hand vote.
  • The Task Force was formed in 2021 to develop reliable resources for clergy and lay delegates of the TAC. The six sub-teams of the group were charged with developing a presentation for each district that would be educational, fair, accurate and balanced.

With the postponement of the General Conference – and the ruling that an Annual Conference could not disaffiliate as one body –  the motion for the Task Force is no longer relevant, Gilts said. At the same time, he explained, districts meetings are still provided to offer tools for discernment regarding the complexities and implications of local church disaffiliation from the UMC.

“The Future Discernment Task Force believes that we were formed to address similar issues,” Gilts said. “There’s a need for consistent information, a broad resource for people for the conversations and questions that emerge.”

The amendment allows the Task Force to move forward in the same spirit with which it was created.