Churches Recognized for Remarkable Leadership at Annual Conference
By Lindsay Peyton
During Annual Conference, a number of churches and their pastors were recognized for excellence and outstanding leadership. Rev. Robert Besser, Director, Congregational Excellence, explained these congregations are testaments to the distinct quality of ministry throughout the TAC.
“There are many effective and wonderful congregations and pastors in the conference,” he said. “This year, we are recognizing these selected pastors and churches, but there are so many dedicated and creative congregations and leaders in the TAC.”
While the awards are based on 2019 statistics and reports, Besser especially commended pastors and churches for navigating the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic with grace.
Small Church Membership Award
The Small Church Membership Award is granted to congregations with 100 or fewer members, that have recently paid their apportionments. While small in size, these churches are mighty when it comes to professions of faith, worship attendance and mission activity.
Each district in the Texas Annual Conference selected one small church and its pastor to honor:
The nine churches were then reviewed by a committee to determine the most exceptional small church and ministry in the Texas Annual Conference. Rev. Robert Ortigo, FUMC Joaquin, received this year’s honor.
One Matters Discipleship Award
The General Board of Discipleship selects the recipient of this award, which recognizes pastors and churches for their approach to discipleship and their inspiring methods of encouraging transformation. District Superintendents nominate candidates each year for the honor.
This year’s award goes to Rev. Trey Comstock, Lead Pastor at Grace UMC in Palestine in the Northwest District.
Comstock has served the congregation for the past two years. When he arrived, the congregation was struggling. The pastor searched for a way to bring the church back to where it was meant to be.
“Let’s rebuild the whole church based on discipleship,” Comstock decided.
He spent the following year creating small groups, including Theology on Tap at the local pub, a women’s group that met at a coffeeshop and Sunday school classes for all ages. The congregation even started faith-based martial arts and yoga. The mission was to attract people – and get them plugged into church life as soon as possible.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Grace UMC pivoted its programs to online, offering two digital discipleship opportunities almost daily. There were online prayer streams, weekly scripture discussions and Zoom Bible studies. For younger members, Comstock used video games to discuss faith.
The pastor also reached out to help other churches use technology. His background is as a classroom teacher. “Sermon is like the lecture part of a class,” he said. “Discipleship allows the congregation to actively engage in the material.”
Discipleship is essential for growth as a Christian, building community and connecting to others, Comstock explained. To receive the award based on his focus for the past two years was heartwarming. “I was deeply touched,” he said.
Rev. Eric Anderson Award
This award is presented annually to a young member of the clergy in memory of Rev. Eric Anderson, who was tragically killed while in ministry at FUMC Houston in 1986. Anderson had a magnanimous spirit and a selfless approach towards his work. He had the heart of an evangelist, a concern for all, especially the disenfranchised, and was a beloved team player at his congregation.
Recipients of the Rev. Eric Anderson Award must demonstrate a similar devotion and spirit — the highest moral character, integrity and commitment to the Christian faith and evangelism. Candidates also demonstrate leadership, strength in working with others and commitment to serving the people of God without regard to socio-economic status, religion, race or creed.
This year’s award went to the Rev. David Briggs, 34, from Lufkin’s Abundant Life UMC in the East District.
In addition to being a dynamic preacher, Briggs has guided Abundant Life in its outreach to the community and in growing disciples within church.
“God has called us to be something – the children of God – but He has also called us to do something, to build the kingdom,” Briggs explained. “We’re called to continue the work of Christ.”
The process starts by truly listening to the needs of the community, the local nonprofits, school teachers and civic organizers, the pastor explained. Then, a path for action will emerge.
Abundant Life has leased church property to a health clinic, East Texas Community Health Services, and is partnering to provide more preventative care to the community. In addition, the church started the HYPE program (Helping Young People Excel), an afterschool mentorship program. Briggs secured nonprofit status to make the program eligible for essential funding.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Briggs also opened his church and use of its streaming capabilities to two separate pastors to preach to their congregations online.
In June, Rev. Briggs participated in a community event, Conversations That Heal, with a panel of community leaders to give perspective on today’s current events.
“I feel like the church shouldn’t be in isolation, an island in the community,” Briggs said. “Instead, church should be the epicenter.”
Briggs was surprised and humbled to receive the award in honor of Eric Anderson. “I’m very proud to be part of the Texas Annual Conference,” he said.
The Copeland Award is given in memory of Bishop Kenneth Copeland, who died at the age of 61 in 1973 while serving this conference. The honor recognizes churches for professions of faith, depending on their size.
This year, seven churches were recognized, based on worship attendance: