South Central elects Saenz as new bishop

Newly elected Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. embraces a delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference after winning election during the conference July 14, 2016, in Wichita. Photo by Todd Seifert, Great Plains Conference.
Newly elected Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. embraces a delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference after winning election during the conference July 14, 2016, in Wichita. Photo by Todd Seifert, Great Plains Conference.

The connectional ministries and missions vitality center leader for the Rio Texas Conference has been elected as a new bishop by delegates at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Wichita, Kansas.

The Rev. Ruben Saenz Jr., who turns 55 on July 16, was elected on the third ballot July 14 with 133 votes. There are 216 delegates.  He is the first of three new bishops to be elected for The United Methodist Church in the jurisdiction.

His episcopal area assignment will be announced following the election of two other clergy to fill the open bishop positions in the jurisdiction, which includes the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

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 looks forward to serving wherever he is sent. He 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.

Key leader

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’s 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.

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.

Burke is communications coordinator of the Great Plains Conference. News media contact: Linda Bloom at (615)742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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