An official with the Rio Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church has been named as the new bishop of the Great Plains Conference.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. was announced late Friday night, at the closing of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Wichita as the bishop to succeed Scott J. Jones, who served in Kansas since 2004 and in Nebraska since 2012. Bishops have a traditional term limit of 12 years. Jones was named as the new bishop of the Texas Conference, based in Houston.
A Texas native, Saenz will be consecrated in services Saturday – his 55th birthday.
Saenz was elected on the third ballot on Thursday during the jurisdictional conference. He was the first of three new bishops to be elected. He eventually was joined by James "Jimmy" Nunn and Robert "Bob" Farr. A roar of cheers filled the banquet hall when Saenz's name was read as the new bishop of the Great Plains. Besides the voting delegation, dozens of United Methodists attended the conference and were present when assignments were announced.
Saenz and his wife, Maye, took time to greet the Great Plains contingent that gathered at the back of the hall.
Speaking at a news conference after his election Thursday, Saenz said he didn’t set out to be an episcopal leader, but over the years, people have talked to him about the possibility of putting his gifts to use as a bishop.
“I think of it as drops in a sponge,” he said. “The first 100 drops are insignificant but after a while, it gets heavy and saturated. It was the affirmation of many people I’ve been associated with over the years.
“It has been a long season of discernment.”
Saenz said he didn’t want to be elected just because he is Hispanic but because delegates discerned that he would serve effectively as an episcopal leader.
“We are leaders for all peoples,” he said.
Saenz is considered the key point person to the bishop and the cabinet of the Rio Texas Conference, based in San Antonio, in designing and implementing ministries to fulfill the conference’s mission. He serves in the role of director of connectional ministries and executive director of the Mission Vitality Center in Rio Texas.
A native of Rio Grande City, Texas, Saenz earned a bachelor's of science degree in secondary education from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and was a high school teacher and coach in Rio Grande City for six years until he began working full time at a small business that he and his wife started in 1984.
In 1993, they sold their business and moved to Dallas, where he began studies at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. When he earned his master of theology degree at Perkins, he was presented with the Perkins Faculty Award for the student who best exemplified the goals and mission of the school. In 2009, he received his doctor of ministry degree from Perkins.
During his pastoral career, Saenz served churches in Dallas, El Paso and Edinburg, Texas.
In those congregations, he addressed the issues of generational, social and systemic poverty that plague the region. In El Paso, Saenz led the congregation to create and implement the Levantate – Get Up computer literacy program, targeting single mothers who were unemployed because of factory shutdowns so they could enter the job market at a sustainable wage level.
Saenz and his wife, Maye, have four children, Aaron (Iris), Christina (Matthew), Ruben III, and Isaac, and are expecting their first grandchild later this year.
A consecration service for the new bishops will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. CT Saturday, July 16, at First United Methodist Church in Wichita. The ceremony can be watched live on the Great Plains Conference’s website.
Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at email@example.com.