Unifying Conference

September 28, 2024 | 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Abilene Convention Center (1100 N. 6th Street, Abilene, TX 79601)

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Conference Unification

A key initiative set forth by Bishop Saenz shortly following his assignment to the North and Central Texas Conferences was to consider how to unify and harness the collective resources of the Central, North and Northwest Texas Conferences to best serve the region. By working together as one body with a unified vision, we will be well-positioned to multiply Jesus followers as a unified conference following the widely anticipated adoption of new conference boundaries by the 2024 South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

The process for exploring unification began in earnest in February 2023. Throughout the spring and summer of 2023, Bishop Saenz and clergy and lay leaders from all three conferences worked together on unification planning, and on May 9, the Unification Implementation Team released the Unification Plan for the Central, North and Northwest Texas Conferences

Nearly 150 clergy and laypeople, representing the Central, North and Northwest Texas conferences, worked diligently to develop, refine and vet this plan, laying a path forward for our unification work. Countless more contributed in the forms of surveys and feedback groups. At our Annual Conference gatherings in May and June, all three conferences will vote on the Unification Plan. An overwhelming affirmative response from each annual conference will ensure we are able to enter the Jurisdictional Conference in July equipped and ready to embrace unification!

Read the Plan     Submit a Question


As we've identified leadership for the Horizon Texas Conference, we've been intentional in pursuing diversity, starting with who's at the table as part of the selection process and where our job postings have been made available. All appointments to conference positions have been made by the joint NTC/CTC Cabinet, which is 66.7% white, 26.7% Black and 6.7% Hispanic. And non-appointed hires have been made by our Joint Personnel Committee, which is made up of three white women, three white men, a Black woman, a Black man, a Hispanic woman and a Hispanic man. As we've worked with GCFA on promoting our open positions, we've been purposeful in looking beyond Indeed or generic job sites to connect with specific guilds and associations to engage a more diverse applicant pool.

Of the new conference leaders currently in place, 38.5% are white men, 42.4% are white women, 11.5% are Black men and 3.8% are Hispanic men and 3.8% are Hispanic women. Staff named to-date range in ages from their 30s to their 60s. Of these, 24% are new to conference positions. On the new extended cabinet, demographics are 46.7% white men, 33.3% white women, 6.7% Black women, 6.7% Black men and 6.7% Hispanic men. This includes the North Texas and Northwest Texas conference lay leaders. There are still two extended Cabinet positions to be filled, as well as a Central Texas lay leader position and six additional conference staff positions. Together, those vacancies make up nearly one-third of the total new conference leadership still to be named.

The North Texas Conference is comprised of 210 churches, with 354 active clergy. Central Texas has 138 churches and 227 active clergy. Northwest Texas has 36 churches and 40 active clergy.

In the new conference structure, the director of multiplication sits on the appointive cabinet as the director with specific responsibility for clergy development, congregational health and new church starts. The director of diversity and cultural engagement will primarily be developing, implementing and promoting initiatives that celebrate diversity, improve cultural competency of conference and local church leadership and address issues related to equity and inclusion within the conference. While not responsible for making appointments, this individual will be a valuable resource to and work in close collaboration with the Bishop, Cabinet, and conference directors.

Under the unification plan, there will be one Board of Ordained Ministry, made up of 51 individuals. More about the makeup of the BOM is available on page 19. Specific questions of geographic access for meetings with and of the Board of Ordained Ministry, including encouragement of creative solutions to accommodate the distance and allocation of funding for candidate meetings, are included in the Board of Ordained Ministry section, beginning on page 32.

DSes will continue to oversee and support between 55 to 70 churches each, and in the North Texas Conference, district lines will be unchanged. As three conferences unify into one, relationship-building is going to be a top priority for all clergy and laypeople, as well as our District Superintendents. Visits to local churches will remain a priority for DSes, and they've already begun the work of relationship-building as they've been connecting with clergy and laity at each of the annual conference meetings, clergy sessions and other gatherings and events. In the new conference structure, there is significant support and resources for the DSes, so they can focus on missional strategy and work with local churches.

As we approach Annual Conference, we know that this is the final time we will gather as the North Texas Annual Conference, and we look forward to recognizing and honoring all that the conference has been and has meant during this year's meeting. As with any period of transition, we know that feelings of grief and loss are as valid as feelings of excitement and anticipation. We encourage clergy and laity to lean into their various orders and covenant communities for support and for safe spaces in which to process the understandable grief.

Anyone interested in serving an a conference team, board or committee in the Horizon Texas Conference should complete an interest form by June 16. In North Texas, that form is available at ntcumc.org/leadership-interest. The interest forms are not required, but the Transitional Nominating Committee will begin with the names received through these forms.

For 2024, the NTC staffing cost is $3.3M, CTC is $2.6M and NWTC is $1.6M, for a combined total of $7.6M. This includes all salary and benefits for all ministry center staff, as well as District Superintendents and district staff. In the unification plan, the recommendation is to reduce from 66 current staff for all three conferences to 40, at a total cost of $4.8M.

In 2023, NTC churches paid out $9.8M in apportionments/connectional giving, CTC paid $3.3M and NWTC paid $580K, for a total of $12.6M across all three conferences. However, in all three conferences, this giving represented a shortfall against budgets and actual expenses. Central, North and Northwest Texas have all used reserves in the past years and are tapping reserves again this year to meet missional needs, a practice which is not sustainable year-over-year for the long term.

This will be a challenge, though not insurmountable. We know that unifying our three conferences would bring us into alignment with the size of most other annual conferences in the South Central Jurisdiction, and we can learn from what’s been working for them for years! A mix of regular in-person gatherings and virtual interactions will be critical to strengthening the connection and creating a new, shared conference culture. Covenant Day, Annual Conference and Clergy Retreat will include a focus on strengthening the connection in the years to come, and engagement with conferencewide communications will be essential as well, to help us stay on the same page.

Yes, it has been a priority to seek the input and perspectives of the full range of diversity in the annual conferences in this process. This has included consulting with all conference staff and the NTC Core Leadership Team, which both include people under 35. There are multiple people under the age of 35 who are serving on the unification sub-groups and on the equitable compensation committee.

Appointments and hires are always made based on who among the applicants best fits the job requirements, and who has the gifts and a track record for meeting the objectives of the position. There are conference positions that remain unfilled and could be filled by a deacon, should they apply and be the candidate best suited for the role.

Since this work began, we have been clear that the decision ultimately lies at the Jurisdictional level. That is why, throughout the process of exploring unification, our conferences have been in dialogue with our South Central Jurisdiction delegates, as well as with the Jurisdictional Boundaries Committee and Episcopacy Committee, to ensure that any unification work aligns with their discernment and goals. In their February 2024 letter the delegates, the SCJ Episcopacy Committee shared their plan to recommend “one bishop assigned to the Dallas-Fort Worth Episcopal Area (Central Texas, North Texas, and Northwest Texas annual conferences or their successor). Given the updates from General Conference 2024 we know that their plans for episcopal recommendations will require adjustment, but we do not anticipate that that recommendation for region of Texas will change.

No, there are no proposed changes to NTC or CTC district boundaries in the Unification Plan.

The bishop will bring a slate of people to serve on the Horizon Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to the Unifying Conference in September.

The Transitional Nominating Committee will be comprised of the Nominations Task Force Team that has been doing this work for the conference plus 3 additional people. These individuals come from the legacy conferences' Nominating Committees and include:

  • Rev. Don Boren, NWTC
  • Kim Brannon, NTC
  • Rev. Edlen Cowley, NTC
  • Rev. Stephania Gilkey, NWTC
  • Karen Goodwin, CTC
  • Janie Gulley, NTC
  • Rev. Felicia Hopkins, NWTC
  • Rev. Dr. Clifton Howard, CTC
  • Rev. Andy Lewis, NTC
  • Christine Peirce, CTC
  • Rev. Ramon Smith, CTC
  • Rev. Josh Stueve, NWTC

Since 2016, most annual conferences have suffered from divided attention as we have navigated called general conferences, the COVID-19 pandemic and disaffiliations. We know that we are not the same annual conference we were in 2016, and moving assertively toward unification is a way to get our focus squarely on-mission more quickly. Additionally, we know that seeing our three conferences spend into reserves each year is not sustainable or good stewardship of our resources. Every year we delay this decision is another year we’re not maximizing our resources for this work.

Plans for the new conference are being built with today’s actual giving, attendance and needs in mind. While the new conference may be larger than one of the legacy conferences on its own, across the board, it represents a budget decrease and a better use of our shared gifts and resources.

Throughout the exploration process, including in the independent consultation, it was clear that all three conferences have unique strengths and strong affinities for their unique cultures. Together, we discerned that the best way forward would be to co-create a new culture for the Horizon Texas Conference that builds on these strengths and allows us each to share our gifts, as well as to learn from our siblings where they can fill in our gaps.

The bulk of “conference configuration” discussions happen at the SCJ Boundaries Committee level. Over the last two years, conversations included combinations like Gulf Coast conferences or unifying Northwest Texas with the Oklahoma or New Mexico Annual Conference. In our dialogue with the Boundaries Committee, the unification of Central, North and Northwest Texas became the best configuration to support the United Methodist mission in this area of Texas.

Disability ministry concerns will be included in the work of the Maximize Care and Healing Team in the HTC structure. That team will also have the authority to create additional teams as needed to fulfill the ministry God calls us to do.

Leaders representing these ministries will begin developing a plan this summer.

As the directors of the various departments of the HTC begin their appointments, they will assess the programs and ministries that already exist in the three legacy conferences. Many will continue, some will be expanded, some new programs and ministries will be added and some will sunset. Those programs and ministries that are fruitful and providing value to our local churches will continue.

The bishop and cabinet will continue to be sensitive to the needs and realities of clergy and clergy families, and will balance them with the needs of the mission field and local churches when making appointments.

The Unification Plan calls for a single chair of LLPs, Elders and Deacons. Nominations work for the HTC will take place this summer, and cabinet leadership will be happy to connect with current LLP leaders to ensure they feel well-represented and connected.

Any member of the three legacy conferences is invited and encouraged to attend the Unifying Conference! Members with voice and/or vote at the Unifying Conference will be those members from the 2024 Annual Conferences in May/June.

The name for the new, unified conference is the Horizon Texas Conference. The name, along with the rationale behind it, is included in the unification plan. The name is being affirmed as part of the unification plan by all three conferences so that work can move forward on new web domains and emails, branding, governing documents and additional items where the new conference name is required. We are excited to begin living into this new day - and this new name - together.

The Horizon Texas Conference will have churches worshiping in languages including English, Spanish, Korean and Tongan.

The conferences appointed Unification Project Managers Lisa Gafford (Central Texas Conference), Tim Griffy (North Texas Conference) and Randy Stutes (Northwest Texas Conference) and contracted independent consultant John Wimberly and a team from GCFA led by Caitlin Congdon. The consultants were charged with researching the conferences’ current organizational structure and culture, conducting interviews with conference staff, clergy and lay leadership and providing recommendations as how the conferences can organize moving forward.

Dr. Wimberly and the GCFA team delivered their reports in October 2023. Common themes revealed in both reports include prioritization of:

  • Focusing on ministry with younger generations
  • Actively engaging in community mission work
  • Building connections within the larger geographic Annual Conference
  • Prioritizing campus ministry, including commensurate funding
  • Enhancing clergy and laity leadership development and programs that focus on growth strategies
  • Supporting ministry in rural areas
  • Investing in clergy wellbeing

After receiving these reports and summaries from the Unification Project Managers, the Cabinets began developing an organizational structure that supports the conferences’ strategic priorities and focuses on collaboration, communication and the flexibility needed to adapt to our rapidly changing world.

Unification Implementation Team Leaders:

  • Rev. Richard Edwards, Northwest Texas Conference
  • Kim Simpson, Central Texas Conference
  • Kenneth Wolverton, North Texas Conference

Boards/Committees Structure Sub-Team:

  • Mary Brooke Casad, NTC
  • Abby Johnson, CTC
  • Gary Pitner, NWTC
  • Rev. Andy Roberts, NTC
  • Rev. Dr. Jeff Smith, CTC
  • Rev. Josh Stueve, NWTC

Board of Pensions & Health Benefits Sub-Team (made of Conference Boards of Pensions and Health Benefits):

  • Allison Alvarado, CTC
  • Rev. Dave Andersen, NWTC
  • Rev. Dr. Tim Bruster, CTC
  • Phil Bush, NTC
  • Greg Carey, CTC
  • Janie Davis-Fly, NWTC
  • Necia Dexter, NTC
  • Christy Drenner, NTC
  • Julie Gould, NTC
  • Peter Hang, NTC/Wespath
  • Sheila Hayes, NTC
  • Natalie Hermes, NWTC
  • Shirley Miller, NTC
  • Charlie Powell, CTC
  • Shawn-Marie Riley, CTC
  • Katerina Scott, NWTC
  • Andy Skroka, NWTC/Wespath
  • Marcy Stueve, NWTC

Communications and Writing Sub-Team:

  • William Gilkey, NWTC
  • Pamela Hughes, NTC
  • Jaime Montgomery, NWTC
  • Vance Morton, CTC
  • Rev. Kristen Von Gonten, CTC
  • Rev. Silvia Wang, NTC

Conference Staff/Personnel Sub-Team:

  • Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.
  • Darlene Alfred, CTC
  • Rev. Don Boren, NWTC
  • Kim Brannon, NTC
  • Caitlin Congdon, GCFA
  • Greg Feris, CTC
  • Ted Haynes, NTC
  • Rev. Dr. Clifton Howard, CTC
  • Rev. Marilyn Jones, CTC
  • Rev. Andy Lewis, NTC
  • Deborah Vela, NTC
  • Sheila Warrern, NWTX

Finance Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Dave Andersen, NWTC
  • Rev. Dr. Tim Bruster, CTC
  • Christy Drenner, NTC
  • Rev. Sela Finau, CTC
  • Natalie Hermes, NWTC
  • Matt Jones, NTC
  • Alan Martin, CTC
  • Rev. Dr. Joe Pool, NTC
  • Rev. Todd Salzwedel, NWTC
  • Gary Sult, CTC

International Covenant Partner Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Jeff Fisher, NWTC
  • Rev. Dr. Jeff Hall, NTC
  • Rev. Molly Hayes, CTC

IT Systems Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Kay Eck, NTC
  • Rev. Daniel Hawkins, CTC
  • Steven James, NWTC
  • David Kim, NTC
  • Lisa Putnam, NTC
  • Calvin Scott, CTC
  • Dr. Kevin Walters, CTC

Legal Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Jeff Fisher, NWTC
  • Rev. Jeff Miller, CTC
  • Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Moore, NTC
  • Lisa Peterson, NWTC
  • Richard Stewart, NTC
  • Nancy Vidad, CTC

Mission Vision Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan, NTC
  • Rev. Don Boren, NWTC
  • Chris Buse, CTC
  • Marie Cox, NWTC
  • Rev. Dr. Clifton Howard, CTC
  • Rev. Matt Ibanez, CTC
  • Rev. Andy Lewis, NTC
  • Ray Morgan, NTC
  • Rev. Benji Van Fleet, NWTC

Name Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Leslie Byrd, CTC
  • Ann-Claire Gustin, NWTC
  • Pamela Hughes, NTC
  • Laureen Kuizon, CTC
  • Jaime Montgomery, NWTC
  • Vance Morton, CTC
  • Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson, NTC
  • Rev. Jonathan Perry, NTC
  • Perry Tipton, NWTC

Nominations Sub-Team:

  • Rev. Don Boren, NWTC
  • Kim Brannon, NTC
  • Rev. Edlen Cowley, NTC
  • rev. Stephania Gilkey, NWTC
  • Karen Goodwin, CTC
  • Janie Gulley, NTC
  • Rev. Felicia Hopkins, NWTC
  • Rev. Dr. Clifton Howard, CTC
  • Rev. Andy Lewis, NTC
  • Christine Peirce, CTC
  • Rev. Ramon Smith, CTC
  • Rev. Josh Stueve, NWTC

Dec. 2023

Unification Implementation Team formed, comprising representatives from the Central, North and Northwest Texas conferences. This team will develop an Organizational Plan that includes rationale, structure compliance with The Book of Discipline, staffing and implementation details, such as recommending a name for the new conference. That team is expected to begin its work in January 2024.

April 2024

Finalize recommended staffing and structure, with executive director positions identified and filled in early 2024. The conferences have contracted with GCFA to provide Human Resource counsel to assist in this process.

June 2024

Organizational Plan submitted for approval at the Central and North Texas Annual Conferences. The Northwest Texas Conference will also vote on unification at their Annual Conference meeting.

July 2024

Conference staffing changes affecting clergy team members will occur alongside local church appointments on July 1.

South Central Jurisdictional Conference will consider and vote on the unification proposal. If approved, a bishop will be assigned to the new conference effective Sept. 1.

Sept.-Dec. 2024

Organizational Plan moves into implementation.

Staffing transitions begin and run throughout the remainder of 2024.

Special Called Unifying Session of the new Conference to ratify consolidation and approve a budget and conference leadership.

Jan. 1, 2025

New unified Conference will be fully operational and engaged in our mission of Multiplying Jesus Followers according to our vision and strategic priorities.

Hiring News

Enhancing and Expanding the Gospel of Jesus in the United Methodist Tradition

In February of 2023, shortly after being assigned as the episcopal leader of the North and Central Texas Conferences by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. began to work with clergy and lay leaders of both conferences to determine how to best move our disciple-making mission forward in the short- and long-term.

With an eye on what the world of 2050 will be like and need, the conference leadership set out to cast a vision that would energize and guide the people and local churches in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In August of 2023, the Central and North Texas Cabinets were joined by members of the Northwest Texas Cabinet for a vision retreat. After hearing from visioning experts, reviewing current and forecasted demographic data for each conference and much prayer, the set a vision and supporting strategic priorities for the conferences.

Our Vision

We are followers of Jesus, seeking the loving, just and free world God imagines for all people.

Our Strategic Priorities

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