Q&A: Get to Know your Delegates as They Prepare for General Conference 2020

Date Posted: 1/23/2020



In the Texas Annual Conference, 18 delegates have been elected to head to the General Conference in 2020, which will be held in Minneapolis in May. Oscar Garza, a member of Cypress Trails UMC, will be among the ranks of lay delegates, who have been meeting regularly to prepare for the event.
 
Right now, Garza believes that the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation is at the top of most delegates’ minds. “The interest is in the future,” he said. “The real question is whether the UMC will have an amicable separation or not.”
 
Garza said his top concern is whether all views will be heard and considered. He hopes that all voices can be part of the conversation – and work together for a brighter future for all. While acknowledging that these differences can be challenging, Garza is also confident that the outcome can be positive.
 
Garza is committed to following the news from all sides – and encourages others to do the same. “Go out and read different perspectives,” he said. “There’s a lot of information out there.”
 
Garza also plans to be a resource for the people he is representing. “I offer myself to anyone who wants to talk,” he said. “I think that’s what good delegates should do.”
 
Let’s meet a couple of the delegates who will join him at the General Conference.
 
Don House, a member of A&M UMC since 1979, is preparing to head to his eighth General Conference as a lay delegate. He served as chair on the General Council on Finance and Administration in 1996 and joined the board in 2000, spending the next eight years in the role. From 2008 to 2016, he was the chair of the Economic Advisory Committee. House also holds a doctorate degree in economics, taught economics at Texas A&M and Auburn University and currently serves as president of the economic research firm RRC. He is also president of the nonprofit Institute for Local Church Growth. In the position, he is able to analyze patterns of attendance, giving and participation in congregations and then develops ways to increase membership. To learn more, visit localchurchgrowth.org.
 
Q. Why did you throw in your hat to be elected as delegate for the 2020 General Conference?
A. In 1996, I was invited by someone to this meeting of people who would be interested in going to General Conference. My dad, who is now deceased, was a pastor, and he talked me into going. I’ve been there ever since. I truly believe that the United Methodist carries with it a really important philosophy from John Wesley. It’s not for everyone, but I think for a certain percent, it could be the only theology that really clicks for them. That’s our call. It’s my passion to see if there are things we can to do to stop declines in our membership. I think the General Conference plays a role; I think agencies play a role. We’re trying to get General Conference to implement structures for sustained growth. What they’re doing now isn’t working. If we can return to persistent growth, then we can continue to get it to spread.
 
Q. How do you describe your job as a delegate preparing for General Conference?
A. We need to review the petitions, and for General Conference there can be 1,200 submitted. We’ve got two weeks to understand and debate them and either approve or toss them away – or to amend them. As a delegate, our responsibility is to be prepared for that. We have a lot of homework to do. We have a meeting scheduled every month. We get our Advance DCA (Daily Christian Advocate) in February. I’m using some of my research findings to help me understand some of the things being proposed.
 
Q. What is your reaction to the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation?
A. There are several petitions coming from different groups, and the Protocol is one of them. The Protocol is kind of late. It came forward after the deadline. There’s a provision at annual conference that a late proposal can only be submitted by an Annual Conference. The Protocol would have to get an Annual Conference to evaluate it and vote on it, to see if they want to move it forward. The Protocol still has some hurdles to pass before it goes to General Conference.
 
Q. What do you think will be the future of the Church?
A. I went to our Sunday school class, who have been going to our church for 20 or 30 years and asked how many could name the four points of Wesleyan Quadrilateral. There were about two people who could. I asked how many knew the three points of common grace. Then I asked, when is the last time you heard the name John Wesley from the pulpit? When was the last time you heard a hymn from Charles Wesley? They didn’t know, so we did a series of lessons on John Wesley. You could see their eyes sparkling. That test tells you we have the potential of substantial growth. I go to other churches to speak, and I ask the same questions and get the same answers. When they learn about John Wesley, they are so proud to be Methodists. We have a lot to offer, we just haven’t gotten our act together. 
 
Q. What gives you hope or makes you feel excited during this time?
A. The theology of John Wesley is almost like a secret. They’ve been given it before, but it never clicked. Once people learn it, they’re just astounded. It’s fun to watch. There’s maybe 20 percent of the population that says this is exactly how I feel. That matters, and it has the potential of changing lives. It truly does.
 
Q. What about the research you are finding about the potential for increased membership in churches? Has that been inspiring to you as well?
A. It ignites churches. It shows them that they can grow, and grow in ways that they like. They can grow young families. They can increase retirees. It creates excitement in the church, and that also gives me hope.
 
Rev. Thomas J. Pace serves as Senior Pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Houston. Previously, he was the Senior Pastor of Christ UMC in Sugar Land, Founding Pastor at Bay Harbour UMC in Clear Lake and Pastor of Faith UMC in South Houston. He also celebrates a long family tradition with the Texas Annual Conference. His grandfather Dr. Lawrence Landrum, Sr., was a well-respected District Superintendent, and his uncle Lawrence Landrum, Jr. was the pastor of Memorial Drive UMC for a number of years. Rev. Pace was raised in Southern Illinois, the son of two professors. He came to Texas  upon finishing seminary, with a Master’s of Divinity degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 1982. He earned his Doctorate of Ministry from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey in 2001.
 
Q. Why did you throw in your hat to be elected as delegate for the 2020 General Conference?
A. This is my first general conference delegation for the church. It’s an important time. The Church has been very good to me. I have been loved and supported and cared for. Like the Bible says, “Who knows perhaps if you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I’m just responding to what God calls me to do. I’m a pastor of a larger church in the conference. People would tell me, “I hope you run.” It’s not something I sought, but I thought, If I’m called, I’ll serve. If they want to elect me, I’ll do my job. And I’m honored to do so. I’m a novice to General Conference, to the committees, the legislation, the politics. In some ways, I think that’s why they wanted to elect me, to get a fresh look.
 
Q. How do you describe your job as a delegate preparing for General Conference?
A. My responsibility is not to advocate so much as to educate. I do my job to make sure my delegation has all the information they need, the answers from all the voices they need to hear from. As a pastor, I have my own ideas, but that’s not my job as the head of the delegation. Rather, it’s to bring us together, to learn together and discuss in ways to open our minds.
 
Q. What is your reaction to the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation?
A. We can read the protocol itself and talk about it, but the legislation isn’t written yet, so it’s a little difficult to reflect on what it really means. The Protocol says it can repeal discipline and adapt, but there’s a great deal of debate about what’s adapatable and what’s not. But nothing is decided until it’s decided. We’ll figure out a way to move forward. At our church, we’ll stay focused on our own mission. Our vision is to be a city transformed by the love of Jesus. We want to keep our eye on the ball. We’re going to keep pressing forward. A bicycle falls over when it stops. We have to keep moving.
 
Q. What do you think will be the future of the Church?
A. Whatever happens, we’re in a place of a restructuring of the church, in terms of the amount of money we want to spend, and the level of bureaucracy we will need to address – together or apart. Everyone realizes we need to get through this to move on to other stuff, to address other significant issues. The Church is the body of Christ. I do believe that the Church has to figure out how it can be a witness. We live in an incredibly polarized world. To be a witness to a world that is struggling and broken, that’s our job. It’s not going to look the same, but the future of the Church is bright.
 
Q. What gives you hope or makes you feel excited during this time?
A. We can’t keep going like this. We can’t keep in the stalemate we’re in. The Protocol is hopeful. There’s a lot of stuff in it that hasn’t been figured out yet. The details are hard to figure out. But there is hope that this is a step forward, that there could be a solution. I do believe that blessing one another rather than attacking each other is a possibility, and that gives me hope.
 
See the list of delegates to General Conference 2020