Top 10 stories of 2021

Date Posted: 1/13/2022

Dear Friends,
As we move into 2022, taking a look in the rearview is beneficial – it’s been a year full of trials, tribulations, as well as hope and faith. We celebrated miraculous vaccines and grieved when COVID variants arose and we lost loved ones. We weathered a devastating winter storm, while still struggling with the pandemic. Many times, I saw a spirit of resilience rising up in our clergy and church members like never before.
At Annual Conference, we focused on “Faith, Hope, Love,” reminding us that in the midst of difficulty, trusting God is essential. I even  pointed out how you have adapted to online worship and new technology. Members have continued giving – and even increased outreach projects. New preschools are still forming throughout the state; churches are still being planted. Congregations hosted vaccine clinics, handed out water during Uri and brought supplies to Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.
Because we trust in God, and we know that God is at work for his purposes in the world, we are hopeful. In the darkness, we look for the sunrise. Facing dead ends, we know there is a way out.
As 2022 opens, my prayer for you is that you will look back. Remember God’s promises and what he has taught us, then look forward with hope.
Grace and Peace,

 Bishop Scott J. Jones

That sentiment is evident in our top Cross Connection articles, selected by analytics of page views and summarized below. We see congregations banding together, growing stronger, becoming more diverse and loving their neighbors.
Top 2021 Stories:
1. Friendswood, Texas pastor says the sanctuary is the only room that is dry after pipes burst during winter freeze

When Winter Storm Uri hit in February, millions in Texas were left without water and electricity. Pipes burst in a number of homes – and at churches like Friendswood UMC. The congregation faced extensive water damage, but members immediately stepped up to save their house of worship. “It was incredible everyone just came out and got to work,” Rev. Jim Bass said. “Groups organized themselves and tackled different areas.” The pastor was reminded of the children’s hymn, “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a meeting place, the church is a people.”

2. Black Pastor Appointed to Mostly White Church Creating a Multi-Cultural Church for Everyone

Leading a predominantly white church as a Black pastor comes with challenges and opportunities, explains Klein UMC’s Rev. Lawrence Young. When it comes to building a more diverse church, the pastor summons the Parable of the Sower, saying that the soil must be ready to allow for growth. That’s just what he found at Klein UMC, a congregation willing to put in the work to make lasting change. In this season of dismantling racism, the forward-thinking congregation hopes to pave the way for a more inclusive future. Laying the groundwork and identifying priorities is essential. “ We must invest resources and spend time wisely, if we expect to get the best results,” Young said. “It would be an investment well spent.”

3. Texas Annual Conference votes on Bering UMC’s departure

A motion passed to allow the separation of Bering Church, a congregation with a long history in Houston, from the Texas Annual Conference. Bishop Scott Jones explained that, while saddened by the departure, he recognized that Bering felt called to a new purpose.“I regret that we have arrived at a place where Bering feels that they need to leave, but I understand it,” he said. “I can understand the pressures they feel, and I wish them the best.”

4. Annual Conference 2021 wrap up

“Faith, Hope, Love” were essential to navigating the challenges of the past year. Those three powerful words became the theme of the 52nd Texas Annual Conference, held May 30 through June 1. Those words, referencing Corinthians, also inspired Bishop Scott J. Jones’ Episcopal Address, which kicked off the event. He explained that despite facing difficulty and uncertainty, the Conference discovered new ways to move forward and has strengthened its mission.

5. Should we close the church or revive it?

Revive! is the new name selected for the transformation of the church formerly known as First UMC Pasadena. “It’s a verb,” Pastor Arturo “Artie” Cadar explained. Revive! is all about bringing new life to the congregation and the community that surrounds it. The church’s new name also speaks to the restorative power of Christ. The congregation formed after Bishop Scott J. Jones discerned another way forward for First UMC Pasadena, which had considered closing. He brainstormed other possibilities with the Texas Annual Conference Cabinet. That’s when Cadar, who was then the TAC’s Coordinator of Mission Field Development, felt called to be part of the solution. “I raised my hand and expressed my interest in being part of something new at First Pasadena.”

6. A doctor’s perspective on Delta

Dr. Nicki Zeisig, a physician at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital, has worked around the clock since the pandemic began. She answers the same questions over and over: When will my breathing get better? When will I get to go home? Am I getting better at all? Am I going to be okay? Her team is exhausted, and with virus variants and vaccine hesitancy, it can feel like there is no end in sight. Zeisig implores patients to get vaccinated. The shots are safe, not experimental and result from two decades of research. The doctor added that, while people may still become infected after vaccination, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are more than 90 percent effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization or death from the Delta variant. “Please. Go. Get. Vaccinated,” she wrote on Facebook. “Stay safe. And wear a mask. (I promise it’s much more comfortable than the ventilator.)”

7. Galveston Church loses power but still offers shelter, food to vulnerable unhoused population

Galveston Central Church serves the island’s unhoused population year-round. The congregation transforms into a kitchen, bicycle repair shop, laundromat and shower facility every week. During the prolonged freezing weather in February, the church decided to do even more to serve, even though the congregation was without power itself. Neither ice, snow, rain or lack of electricity and water could deter the church from helping neighbors in need. Galveston Central opened as a shelter, provided meals and offered showers. Pastor Michael Gienger said that for many, the winter storm was a discomfort. For the unhoused population, however, this is typical. “For many folks, this is their common experience every day,” Gienger said. “How do we care for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us? This is an ongoing crisis with no end in sight. And hopefully, this will be eye opening.”

8. Perseverance through rocky start pays off in church planting

When Rev. Alex Zeisig learned he would be appointed to the already established church plant, the west campus at St. Peter’s UMC Katy, the congregation was struggling. The pastor, however, was undeterred. In fact, his commitment to the members who remained only grew stronger. “Every week, my heart just grew with love for these people who I knew were hurting and were willing to persevere,” he said. The congregation has since weathered Hurricane Harvey and is now navigating COVID-19. “When everything was shut down, the Kingdom of Heaven was still being constructed,” Zeisig said. The pastor, during the Texas Annual Conference, was honored with the Eric Anderson Award, which is granted to young ministers who do outstanding work with evangelism. 

9. Community prayer nets catch on in Kilgore

At St. Luke’s UMC in Kilgore, what looks like a soccer goal installed on campus, is tied with colorful ribbons. Each symbolizes a prayer request. A sign reads “Community Prayer Net” and invites visitors to fill out a request card located in the box below. Church members pray for each  card received. In fact, in the past month, two prayer groups have formed, dedicated specifically to this cause. Senior Pastor Ben Bagley said that prayer has been a focus at St. Luke’s during COVID-19. “There’s been so much we couldn’t do in the pandemic,” he said. “Prayer was one of those things we could still do. You can pray at home or anywhere. It was the one thing that could continue unhindered.”

10. Sharing your faith can happen anywhere, says Texas roller derby pastor

After strapping on her skates and heading into the rink for a roller derby match, Rev. Sadie Brink, the Senior Pastor at Silsbee FUMC, becomes Slaydie Hawkins. She is number 23 on the Spindletop Rollergirls team. The pastor explained that roller derby provides an outlet for camaraderie, for promoting health and for evangelism, far outside her church walls. “Whatever you do, the best way to evangelize is just by being yourself, just being a Christian and loving God,” she said. “Who we are and how we act conveys how God works more than words can ever say.”