By Lindsay Peyton
Pre-Conference sessions serve as a preview to the upcoming Annual Conference. During the virtual sessions, delegates will have the opportunity to learn about proposed resolutions, action items and business plans. In addition, attendees will learn about the voting process used during AC 2023.
The scheduled times for Pre-Conference 2023 are:
- 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 23 for Central South, East and West Districts.
- 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 24 for Northwest, South and Southwest Districts.
- 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25 for Central North, North and Southeast Districts
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Delegates unable to attend on a certain day or time for their district are encouraged to sign up for a different slot. The meetings moved to Zoom in 2020 to preserve safety during the pandemic and have remained virtual for convenience and accessibility.
“We learned that virtual Pre-Conference meetings help introduce us to the significant issues coming before our Annual Conference work,” Rev. Kip Gilts, Assistant to the Bishop, said.
A unique email and Zoom account are necessary to attend virtual sessions.
The Pre-Conference journal, which will serve as a guide, was released on April 18.
Reimagining Annual Conference
The theme for this year’s Annual Conference is “Revive. Renew. Reinvigorate. Reimagine.”
“Let those words speak to your thirsty souls as we anticipate coming together in the presence of God,” Gilts said. “Something special is about to happen, and you will want to be there.”
Annual Conference 2023 is scheduled for Sunday, May 28 through Wednesday, May 31 at Hilton Americas-Houston, 1600 Lamar Street, 77010.
Gilts explained that the event will feature reinvigorating worship, as well as reimagined ways of gathering. Instead of being in rows facing a stage during the event, delegates will be seated around a table.
“Annual Conference is going to be a little different,” Gilts said. “We’re going to be seated around tables, to broker some healing and holy conversation.”
The goal is to foster dialogue instead of debate. “Everyone has a place at the table – and everyone has a voice that is respected and heard,” Gilts said.
The Conference Leadership Team will guide delegates through a series of thought-provoking questions. “And that will promote a healthy discussion.”
Proposal to Reduce the Number of Districts
One focus of AC 2023 will be to consider a proposal that would reduce the number of districts from nine to five. Gilts explained that if the motion moves forward, the Bishop along with the cabinet will draw new boundaries.
“We have formed and reformed over time as an Annual Conference,” Gilts said.
Only a few years ago the TAC contained 12 districts. “It makes sense that five districts would be the best next step,” Gilts said.
Bishop Cynthia Harvey has already appointed five District Superintendents to lead the existing nine districts.
The areas will be geographically larger, while the number of pastors supervised by each DS will in fact be fewer than in the past.
Gilts, who will serve as DS for the West and Northwest Districts, said his strategy will involve traveling out to hubs set up in the district. “The DS will get more mobile,” he said. “We’ve also learned how to do virtual a lot better. The DS might use Zoom and Facetime to connect with congregations.”
He explained the DS’s role is to be “a strategic deployer of Kingdom resources,” which includes serving pastors, helping church plants and new faith communities and revitalizing existing congregations.
“We have to ask, ‘Where is the potential for a different kind of ministry?’ And we have to equip, recruit and deploy pastoral leaders,” he said.
Gilts explained that initially five resolutions were submitted, but three were withdrawn to allow that time for round-table conversations during the Annual Conference.
The two resolutions that will be up for a vote include:
- Support of Creating a U.S. Regional Conference. This resolution recognizes a need for the UMC to be “re-envisioned to achieve more fair and equitable church governance.” The measure supports the creation of a U.S. Regional Conference, adding that “the Texas Annual Conference aspires to vital, thriving, multicultural and diverse ministries that are open to all people and can be a beacon of hope for the worldwide United Methodist Church.”
Gilts explained that delegates will have the opportunity to delve into the meaning of becoming a Regional Conference. The TAC will not make any changes if the resolution passes, rather the preference would carry to the General Conference, held next year.
- A Resolution for Our New Life Together. The measure acknowledges that the TAC is “recovering from a season of conflict, division, power politics, and competition, Whereas, though this kind of culture might have benefited a few, it has not served us well as a whole, and has left us divided, fractured, and dismayed, rather than united, focused, and hopeful.”
The resolution calls for the remaining churches in the Conference to reaffirm their faith and renew their commitment, adding “It is a new day in the Texas Annual Conference, with the opportunity before us to shed our old ways of being, to repent of our sins, and to embrace the revival that the Spirit is stirring in our midst.”
“The focus is revitalizing our relationships with one another,” Gilts said. “We’ve been in a divisive relationship for a while. We can abandon our old ways. Let’s move into a new direction.”
Conference business and plans
An action item on the agenda during AC 2023 concerns “Equitable Compensation,” which represents a change to the clergy move policy. With a diminished conference budget, the means to reimburse clergy for relocation could be improved for better stewardship of Conference funds, Gilts explained.
He said that in the past, clergy were restricted to using certain moving companies. With the change, they would instead be encouraged to procure competitive bids. The Conference would provide a capped amount of funding of $4,000 for relocations.
Gilts said the worship team is currently at work creating an inspiring experience during the Annual Conference, beginning with Bishop Harvey’s Episcopal Address at Sunday’s Opening Celebration.
“Our prayer is that there will be an experience of revival,” Gilts said. “God is still with us, and we are still God’s people.”
Then, Monday will be dedicated to “Renewal.” There will be time for a memorial service, led by Pastor Rudy Rasmus, who along with wife Pastor Juanita Rasmus are retiring this year.
“We’ll also renew our connection with the broader church,” Gilts said. There will be representatives of the Global Board of Ministry, the seminary at Perkins School of Theology, Texas Methodist Foundation, Lydia Patterson Institute, Houston Methodist Hospital, Lakeview Conference Center and Methodist Retirement Communities.
Licensed, local pastors – Irv White from Ashford UMC and Cindy Doran from Keltys United Methodist Church – will lead devotionals on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
The “Reinvigorate” portion of the AC 2023 will include the ordination service and roundtable discussions. “It’s a good chance to come together,” Gilts said.
The last day of the event is dedicated to the “Reimagine” theme. The focus will be on the new faith communities forming through the Conference.
Rev. Jill Daniel will give an update on the We Love All God’s Children initiative, Rev. Godfrey Hubert will speak about disaster relief, and Shannon Martin share where we are going with Communications.
A focus on mission will be evident during the AC 2023, as a light will shine on the Laos Ministry Initiative. Gilts explained that during past trips the TAC has been active in digging water wells, sponsoring education and leadership development in the country.
Gilts explained that offerings will be collected during the Annual Conference session for three areas of ministry: our new faith communities, Laos WELD, and a trip that Bishop Harvey hope to take with recent ordinands to the Holy Land.
“Our future is bright with all of our new faith communities this year, and our best work as a mission’s team is as a catalyst – to ignite the spark and allow the mission to flourish,” Gilts said.
Gilts shares that the Holy Land opportunity for the ordinands is a powerful experience. “It really opens up the Scripture and allows our pastors to read the Bible in a whole new way.”
How to prepare
The Pre-Conference meetings will include presentations, conversations and deliberation over these and other vital issues.
Videos describing each resolution will be viewed. Gilts will present one on nominations for the third year of the quadrennium.
He said that one lay member needs to be elected by the laity to the General Conference delegation, which will attend GC next April.
In addition, there will be a video from the Center for Connectional Resources and Group Health Benefits committee to tackle rate changes.
Attending the Pre-Conference meeting, reviewing the videos and reading the journal on the Guidebook App are the best ways to prepare for the Annual Conference, Gilts explained.
Here are actions to take now:
- Register for Annual Conference.
- Reserve your room at the Hilton Americas Houston
- Download the Guidebook App and start reading the Pre-Conference Journal.
- Pray for a successful 2023 Session of the Texas Annual Conference.
“Get the guidebook as soon as you can,” Gilts said. “And pray daily for a new spirit and a new way of gathering at the table together.”