2022 Top Religion Stories

By LORETTA FULTON

Each December, members of Religion News Association, including Spirit of Abilene creator and editor Loretta Fulton, choose the top religion stories of the year. 

Those include the top national stories, international stories, and newsmaker of the year.
Many of the Top 10 stories, as voted on by members, had local implications, including the No. 1 story, the Supreme Court’s overturn of the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent. The majority wrote that there is no constitutional right to abortion, sparking battles in courts and state legislatures and driving voters to the November polls in high numbers. (Click here to read about the national, international and newsmaker of the year selections.)

Catholics and other Christians were quick to praise the Supreme Court decision, while members of some denominations lamented the overthrow of Roe v Wade. Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo, issued a statement saying his prayers had been answered.

“From the moment of conception, a human being has the right to life,” the bishop said in his statement. “Therefore, I give thanks to God for the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe V. Wade. This is an answer to many prayers.”

The leaders of some other denominations, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, cautioned that the consequences of the decision could be dire.

“Today (June 24, 2022) the Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” Curry said in a news release. “The court has overturned the constitutional right to abortion that was recognized in the seminal 1973 case Roe v. Wade. While I, like many, anticipated this decision, I am deeply grieved by it. I have been ordained more than 40 years, and I have served as a pastor in poor communities; I have witnessed firsthand the negative impact this decision will have.”

Other top stories with direct local ties were Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the break up of the United Methodist Church. During the past year, there also were some noted pastoral changes in Abilene, the return of Summit to the ACU campus, the kickoff of McMurry University’s centennial year celebration, retirements, and honors. 

Following are some of the highlights from 2022:

UKRAINE

Following the Feb. 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, members of First Central Presbyterian Church immediately began thinking about their ministry in Tulcea, Romania, where many Ukrainian refugees fled. Tulcea is home to New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children or NOROC, which was founded in 1997 by Fred and Carolyn White, longtime members of First Central Presbyterian. (http://www.noroc.org/) Following the invasion, NOROC began assisting refugees in addition to serving it primary mission. In September, Kristen Harris, director of Christian education at First Central Presbyterian Church, was named as co-worker for NOROC. She will split her time between Romania and the Abilene. 

Assisting refugees in Ukraine

In March, Global Samaritan Resources in Abilene announced plans to pack colorful buckets with household goods for the Ukrainian refugees. Global Samaritan is working with its longtime partner in Ukraine, Jeremiah’s Hope, to respond to the refugee crisis. Andrew Kelly, co-founder of Jeremiah’s Hope, lives in Abilene.

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

On Saturday, Dec. 3, a special called meeting of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference was held in Lubbock to grant approval to the 145 congregations that had voted to disaffiliate from the historic United Methodist Church. The official approval mimicked similar movements across the country as United Methodist congregations voted to leave their mother church to either join the new conservation Global Methodist Church or become independent. More disaffiliations in the Northwest Texas conference and nationwide are expected until voting ends on July 1, 2023.The split in the denomination is over same-sex marriage, ordination of LGBTQ+ individuals, and theological differences. In Abilene, so far only St. Paul and St. James churches have voted to remain tied to the United Methodist church. Click here to read a Dec. 5 article in Spirit of Abilene that includes links to previous articles. 

NEW PASTORS

Holy Family Catholic Church and St. Paul United Methodist Church got new pastors in July and First Baptist Church will get one in February. Adam Droll, who previously served the Holy Family parish as parochial vicar, was named priest at the church effective July 1. On the same day, Benji Van Vleet became the new pastor at St. Paul. He grew up in Lubbock and earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University in 2009. He earned a master of divinity, with an emphasis on spiritual formation, from Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University in 2015. 

In December, members of First Baptist Church voted to accept the recommendation of the pastor search committee in naming Brandon Hudson as the new pastor. He and his family will move to Abilene in early February from Pelham, Alabama, where Hudson serves as senior pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church. Hudson replaces Phil Christopher, who retired in September 2021 after serving as senior pastor since 1996. 

NOTABLE RETIREMENT AND A SIGNIFICANT HONOR 

In June, Janice Six, the first female associate pastor at First Central Presbyterian Church, retired after serving 25 years on the staff in various capacities. Exactly 25 years to the day after joining the staff of her lifetime church, she retired as associate pastor. Her retirement from First Central Presbyterian Church was effective June 1, 2022. A native of Abilene, Six grew up in First Central Presbyterian and many notable events in her life took place there. She and her husband, Gene Six, were married in the church in June 1983.

Janice Six

In October, Monsignor Fred Nawarskas, former longtime priest at Holy Family Catholic Church, received the Fishers of Men Award, given by the Guadalupe Radio Network, which started in 2000 with a station in the Midland/Odessa area. Today, the network consists of 39 stations with the potential to reach 24 million listeners. 
Nawarskas, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, was ordained to the priesthood on May 2, 1967, at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He reported to the Diocese of San Angelo three weeks later, where he has served since. His longest stint was as pastor of Holy Family, from 1996 until July 1, 2021.

Msgr. Fred Nawarskas

McMURRY STARTS CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION EARLY

McMurry University, which opened in 1923, kicked off its centennial year on Sept. 17, 2022, with the planting of the Centennial Iris Garden on the southwest corner of Wah Wahtaysee Park. That event was followed by the Centennial Kickoff Rally on Thursday, Sept. 22. McMurry, with ties to the United Methodist Church, launched the centennial year with something major to brag about. The university announced that it had received the greatest amount of financial commitments in school history. More than $15.4 million was committed in fiscal 2022, breaking the 2007 record by more than $200,000. McMurry also announced a large incoming class and the largest single school project in school history (student center renovation.)

ACU HOSTS SUMMIT AND TEXAS BAPTIST WOMEN CONFERENCE

After a COVID delay, a postponement, change in leadership, and a reshuffling of the format, Summit returned to the ACU campus Thursday-Friday, Oct. 13-14, 2022.The historic gathering rolled out its new format in October.  Instead of a four-day meeting held annually, Summit now will be held twice a year over two days each. The spring gathering is scheduled for March 30-31, 2023. In September, ACU made history when it hosted the Texas Baptist Women in Ministry for a one-day conference. The previous conference, held in 2020, took place at George W. Truett Theological Seminary on the campus of Baylor University. This time, the organization met on the campus of a university affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist-affiliated university, had hosted the conference in the past but the university discontinued its Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary. In the aftermath, ACU opened a Baptist Studies Center, led by former Logsdon professor Myles Werntz. The center, now in its third year, offers courses in Baptist polity and history, provides congregational support, and hosts webinars and live programs. 

Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene

One comment

  • I really enjoy reading the articles on religion and issues that are on the forefront today .
    I appreciate Loretta’s passion for keeping these – sometimes very controversial issues – on our minds.
    Thank you
    Pearl

    Like

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