Q&A Get to Know Your Delegates

Date Posted: 2/27/2020


The 2020 General Conference will be held in early May, with 862 delegates from around the world – and thousands of visitors – in attendance. The 18 delegates elected for the Texas Annual Conference met last week in Oklahoma City. Let’s meet a couple of our delegates – Dr. Vincent Harris, Melba Wilson and Rev. Tommy Williams.
 
Dr. Vincent Harris is an elder in the Texas Annual Conference and District Superintendent of the South District. A lifelong, fourth-generation United Methodist, born in Lebanon, Tennessee, he claims Pickett Chapel/Pickett-Rucker UMC as his home church. He entered ministry at age 26, earning his bachelor’s from Tennessee State University, master’s in divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and a Doctor of Ministry at Houston Graduate School of Theology. Harris, a certified Christian educator in the UMC, has served in various roles of ministry, including 13 years under appointment at Journey of Faith UMC and four years at Riverside UMC. He led JOFUMC through two mergers, four relocations and a building project of the St. Andrews Ministry Center in Humble. He spent 12 years collectively on the Little Rock Conference and Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. He also served for four years as a candidacy mentor and Dean of the Texas Annual Conference local pastor’s school and eight years on the Texas Annual Conference Core Leadership Team. Harris was an alternate to the 2019 and 2016 General Conferences. In addition, he served as chaplain, associate dean of students and assistant professor of religion at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He served as national vice-chair and national chair of Black Methodists for Church Renewal from 2003 to 2006. He also participated in the General Board of Discipleship High Potential Metro Church Project, spent three years with the NAACP National Religious Leadership Summit and is a trustee of the Gulfside Association, Gulfside Assembly. 
 
 
Q. Why did you want to throw your hat in to be elected as delegate for General Conference?
A. The church has a long history of discrimination and avoiding, even ignoring, the issues of race and culture. I feel called, as part of my discipleship, to speak to and engage in advocacy that addresses issues others do not want to speak to. 
 
Q. How do you describe your job preparing for General Conference?
A. The reading demands, the conversations, the meetings with delegates across the world prior to the General Conference are the ways I am preparing.
 
Q. What is your reaction to the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation?
A. I don't have a reaction to the protocol. It is another part of the puzzle of this General Conference.
 
Q. What do you think will be the future of the Church?
A. I think that is God's business. I envision following God's direction.
 
Q. What gives you hope or makes you feel excited during this time?
A. Nothing different than any other time. The people I have grown up with, lived with and pastored have always had to deal with difficulty, suffering, despair and oppression. This is no different. I sing, because I'm happy. I sing, because I'm free. God's eye is on the sparrow, and I know God is watching me --and all of us. 
 
Lay delegate Melba Wilson now calls Trinity UMC in Beaumont her home church. Before that she was a lifelong member at Barnes Memorial UMC. She has served as a lay delegate to the General Conference since 2004. She became a certified lay servant in 2010. In the Southeast District, Wilson was a member of the Executive Committee on Nominations UMW in 2006, on the District Leadership Team from 2013 to 2014 and on the Southeast District Board of Missions from 2007 to 2009. In the Texas Annual Conference, she has served the Center of Clergy Excellence, Group Health Benefits Committee, Center of Clergy Excellence Class of 2016, Board of Pensions Committee, Conference Leadership Team and Lay Delegate Jurisdictional Conference in 2012. In the General Church, Wilson was on the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, Caring for Those Who Serve and the Bellwether and Board Life and Governance Committees.
 
Q. Why did you want to throw your hat in to be elected as delegate for General Conference?
A. Honestly, after St. Louis called General Conference, I had no intentions to continue serving as a delegate. I was embarrassed at the world-watched humiliation. My Sister in Christ and Co-Servant Donna West, who is now with the Lord, encouraged me to submit my name again, with the advice that I could always withdraw prior to TAC. Although I am a bit anxious about my calling, especially at a time such as this, I am so grateful to have obeyed Holy Spirit, and continue serving, since she's now resting from her labor.
 
Q. How do you describe your job preparing for General Conference?
A. I am a devout believer in the POWER of prayer. I heard a sermon recently that said, "If you have a hard time praying, just experience answered prayer.” Previous experience warns me this task demands much prayer and focus on God's word for wisdom, patience and love for EVERYONE. No, I'm not getting the calls, mail, and emails I received in 2012, and 2016. However, I am networking and praying with other delegates for the future of our church.  
 
Q. What is your reaction to the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation?
A. It’s unfortunate!
 
Q. What do you think will be the future of the Church?
A. I pray that our beloved UMC will not only survive but will flourish in making disciples for the transformation of the world.  I pray that our focus will be in obedience to Matt 28:19-20, disregarding irrelevance, and that we focus on what we agree on "Jesus Is Lord,” to the glory of God.
 
Q. What gives you hope or makes you feel excited during this time?
A. My hope? Romans 5:5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  
 
 
Rev. Tommy Williams serves as senior pastor at Trinity UMC Beaumont. He is a child of this annual conference, born and raised in a UMC congregation in Tyler and then Houston. He became a student local pastor at age 20 and began his first appointment. Since then, he served about half of his ministry in Houston and half in East Texas, both large urban, multi-cultural and county seat communities, and he loved each appointment. This is his third time on the delegation, first serving as a Jurisdictional alternate in 2008, then a General Conference delegate in 2012 and now again in 2020.
                
Q. Why did you want to throw your hat in to be elected as delegate for General Conference?
A. The UMC is the church that introduced me to Jesus Christ and nurtured my faith. It is my family. Therefore, I want to do all I can to discern the best future for the Methodist movement. I understand that this could very well take different forms, but I am convinced that the Methodist expression of the Christian faith is vitally needed in our world today. Serving as a delegate allows me the chance to discern with others the way we can organize for God’s mission in the world through us.
 
Q. How would you describe your job preparing for General Conference? what are you preparing?
A. I am reading all of the official materials that have been sent. I am also trying to read across the spectrum of theology that is present in our church today in order to know what is being said; reading various articles, blogs, and perspectives. Conversations are picking up among colleagues and friends, and everyone I talk with and listen to is concerned with discerning the most faithful way forward.
 
Q. What is your reaction to the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation?
A. It is one among many proposals for the future. It is significant given the leaders who were at the table and the groups they represent. However, I am reticent to assign too much weight to it given both the nature of our process and my experience with past large-scale proposals. The nature of our process is a laborious one that overlaps in many legislative committees, can be amended or voted down in committee, and then has to reach the plenary session at General Conference, and, there also survive the amendment and voting process. In recent years, large scale proposals have been challenging to pass. That said, this protocol represents a profound effort, and I take it seriously.
 
Q. What do you think will be the future of the Church?
A. Jesus Christ will have a church. There is too much evidence of that in the world around us. Think of persecuted Christians and churches in corners of the world that are repressed and how the church is thriving. I think of small communities in the U.S. whose communities are stagnant but whose churches have new ministries springing up. There are pockets of growth in United Methodism, and the Methodist movement at large that are continual signs of hope for me. As for the future of our current form of doing church – I honestly do not know. I do not fear there will be a future for the church. I do think we are going through a season of wrestling with our identity and need to find a path organizationally that maximizes our witness around the globe.
 
Q. What gives you hope or makes you feel excited during this time?
A. Despite our human frailties, people still experience the love of Christ in our communities of faith. I am serving with faithful delegates who love Jesus, are working hard, and as a team and trying to be faithful. That gives me hope. I also see many stories of growth around our connection that make me hopeful.
 
“Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

  • Galatians 6: 9-10