The Perkins School of Theology Alumni/ae Council has selected Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. (M.Div. ‘97; D. Min. ‘09) as the 2022 recipient of the Perkins Distinguished Alumnus/a Award. He will be honored Nov. 14 at SMU.
Saenz, a native of south Texas and lifelong United Methodist, was elected bishop in 2016 at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference and assigned to the Great Plains Conference, based in Topeka, Kansas. In his role as episcopal leader in Kansas and Nebraska, Saenz has worked to unify three former conferences that came together in 2014. In 2022, he was additionally assigned as the Coverage Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
The 61-year-old bishop said he was surprised, humbled and honored by the selection.
"I got to thinking about how my theological education and training at Perkins has served me in this work, given me the tools for critical reflection and for dealing with the challenges and complexities facing the church," he said.
“Bishop Saenz has led the Great Plains Conference, and more recently, the Central Texas Conference, with grace and courage through some very challenging times,” said Craig Hill, Dean of Perkins School of Theology. “He truly exemplifies the kind of Christian leader we strive to prepare our students at Perkins to become.”
The bishop said he was surprised that one of the accomplishments he was chosen for was how he was leading his conferences during the disaffiliation process.
"If I have led the church well during the season of disaffiliation, it's because I see a bigger future for the life of the church that transcends our debate," he said. "That's what helps me get perspective on what we're facing right now, because I'm looking to the future."
In a letter affirming Saenz’s nomination for the award, the Rev. Adam Hamilton (M.Div., 1988), senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, called Saenz “a Christlike leader who seeks to live the gospel we preach. He genuinely cares about people, has an astute theological mind, and has navigated a challenging time for not only our annual conference but for the ‘people called Methodists.’”
The Rev. Clint Jones, pastor of First United Methodist of Hico, Texas, noted that Saenz not only helped steady the Texas Annual Conference and mitigate its losses through disaffiliation, but “he has even gone as far as to begin to energize our churches and push them beyond what is transpiring... He has come to the conference as the right person at the right moment.”
The Rev. Marilyn Jones, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Stephenville, Texas, echoed that sentiment, adding that Saenz has maintained a hectic travel schedule, alternating each week between Great Plains and Central Texas. “In his short tenue in our conference, he has shown tremendous compassion for all churches and clergy,” she wrote. “Bishop Saenz has uniquely answered the call ‘for such a time as this’ and many in the Central Texas Annual Conference are grateful.”
Saenz is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a former high school teacher, high school football coach, and businessperson. A second career pastor, he served congregations in East Dallas, Oak Cliff Dallas, El Paso, and Edinburg, Texas. El Buen Pastor (The Good Shepherd) in Edinburg, Texas, was the largest Hispanic-American United Methodist Church in the country during his 10-year pastoral tenure. As a pastor, he focused his ministry on intentional spiritual practice and formation, developing a lay apostolate, and equipping people with tools and encouragement to move out of generational poverty. In 2010, he was appointed to serve as the Southwest Texas director of congregational and new church development, and he helped start 11 new churches before being appointed to director of conference connectional ministries and executive director of the Rio Texas Conference’s Mission Vitality Center in January 2015.
Saenz has been married to Mayé for 41 years. They have four adult children, all active in the life of The United Methodist Church. Two of their sons, Aaron and Ruben III, serve as pastors of growing congregations in the Rio Texas Conference. He and Mrs. Saenz have nine grandchildren.
-- Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
Additional reporting by David Burke