2008 Oklahoma Annual Conference
May 25-29, 2008, Tulsa, Okla.
Oklahoma United Methodist leaders had planned seating for 720 people, but the crowd swelled beyond that May 27 at an unusual evening business session during the 2008 annual conference.
The delegates gathered to examine a strategic plan for Oklahoma United Methodist ministry at all levels.
Based on the Gospel story of the mustard seed, the overarching plan was the key focus for clergy and laity meeting May 25-29 in Tulsa. Most of the conference was held at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.
With a standing ovation, the strategic plan was approved at a session in the crowded gym at Tulsa-First United Methodist Church. Now each church and conference entity will customize the strategy for growing God's kingdom. Resources include printed and online materials, and a local-church timeline was provided. A presentation on DVD, produced by the Department of Communications, will be distributed to each church this summer.
Two years in development, the strategy was rolled out for delegates by Craig Stinson, conference director of Connectional Ministries and Congregational Development. It focuses on three areas for increasing vital congregations across the state. He described the strategic plan as a movement, not a program-as a healthy lifestyle instead of a crash diet. A crash diet may work for a time, he said, but a healthy lifestyle provides greater benefits.
Prior to annual conference, a 40-day period of prayer and study promoted awareness of the plan. Scriptural resources were developed by David Burris and offered on the Internet. Pastor Chuck Dollarhide said that spiritual introduction helped him value the plan beyond "another program." Retired pastor Gary Moody said he was heartened by the roundtable discussion before delegates voted on the plan.
"This plan provides a framework to move us forward into a future with hope," said Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. in his Episcopal Address. "We have only two choices before us. We can continue to do things the way we've always done them, or we can seek better ways to address the complicated mission of making disciples in our changing world. We must choose the latter.
"The process that has brought us to this place has been systematic and well thought out, scripturally based, and centered on the belief that all United Methodist congregations in Oklahoma have the potential to grow and multiply," Hayes said.
The annual conference theme was "Sowing seeds of promise, reaching disciples of Christ."
Partnerships and programs
On behalf of Oklahoma United Methodists, Bishop Hayes signed a partnership agreement with Upper Room Ministries, represented by Stephen Bryant, for the work in South Africa. Each delegate received a copy of Prayers for Encouragement-Hope for Persons Living with HIV and AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and Other Serious Diseases, a new pocket prayer book produced by The Upper Room.
The annual conference kit drive tallied $31,649 worth of emergency aid kits, primarily baby layettes and sewing supplies. Volunteers In Mission coordinated the project, which supported the humanitarian aid efforts of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. About 105 churches contributed to the drive, reported Richard Norman, VIM coordinator of Disaster Response and Domestic Mission.
The gifts included 112 hand-knitted baby sweaters. "Priceless," Norman said of the sweaters. He also reported receiving 912 sewing kits, 348 layettes, 66 school kits, 59 health kits and 13 flood buckets, plus cash donations.
A new initiative, the Wellness Rewards program, was introduced at the meeting. About 300 people received gift cards, each worth $50, for completing specific healthy activities during the week.
Bishop Hayes led about 300 participants in a Walk for Wellness one afternoon. Health screening tests were performed on about 520 people, mainly those enrolled in the Conference Healthcare Benefits Plan.
Environmental awareness and good money stewardship were promoted in several ways during the Oklahoma Annual Conference.
A recycling project also boosted youth ministry. Free compact fluorescent light bulbs were distributed. Fliers and coupons for individual ministries were bound into one booklet for the delegate packets, an initiative to reduce the use of paper.
Free bare-root trees-red oak, bald cypress, and golden rain varieties-were distributed as delegates departed for home. Storms damaged or destroyed many trees in the state last year. The conference environmental committee, a section of the conference board of church and society, coordinated most of these efforts.
Other conference highlights:
- Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation assets totaled almost $177 million at the end of 2007, according to its annual report. "Stewardship is something learned and better perfected as we grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ," stated President Bill Junk. "Endowments, grant-making funds, and scholarships are just a few of the ways the foundation's work is made evident in ministry and countless lives."
- Ordination and commissioning rituals confirmed new clergy status for 33 men and women. Four clergy were commissioned as deacons and 10 as probationary elders. Two deacons and 15 elders were ordained. Two clergy were accepted as ordained elders by Recognition of Orders.
- The 2009 conference budget of $16.03 million was approved. Of that, $2.65 million was allocated for World Service and general church ministries.
- Churches enrolled in the conference property insurance program should expect rates to increase 5 to 10 percent, reported Kurt Glassco, chairman of the board of trustees.
- The annual conference offering totaled $80,240.57, as reported June 4 by the treasurer's office. The money will benefit Methodist ministries in Bolivia and South Africa.
- Parsonage guidelines were updated. A motion was passed that prohibits any use of tobacco inside those homes.
- Delegates approved a "Celebration of Ministry Sunday," beginning in 2009.
- In other legislative action, delegates approved rule changes to help clarify the nominations process for General and Jurisdictional Conference lay delegates. The category of young adult member was added to several conference committees.
- The prestigious Denman Evangelism Award went to Buddy Moore, a member of Lost Creek United Methodist Church, and to the Rev. Jose Estrada, representing Vida en Abundancia/New Horizon churches.
- The VIM Warm Hart Award was given to Bob and Aimee Montgomery from Muskogee-St. Paul United Methodist Church.
- A total of 124 churches received the Lamplighter Award for support of campus ministries.
Elections and statistics
New leaders were elected for a number of official groups during meetings May 29 in Tulsa, after adjournment of the 2008 annual conference. The officers serve four-year terms, with elections occurring in years when the denomination's General Conference is held. Three people will share leadership of the Annual Conference Council: Sam Powers, Donna Heldermon and Myrtle Clingenpeel. Herschel Beard will chair a new corporate entity, Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church Inc.
Delegate Mike McCarthy responded to a medical crisis during the Laity Session on May 26. He aided a woman in the sanctuary audience who became ill and monitored her status until an ambulance crew arrived.
"Mike's sensitivity and quick reaction to a dire situation was a gift. God takes care of those he loves through special heroes who are willing servants," said Conference Lay Leader Judy Benson. She reported the woman's successful recovery. McCarthy is a member of Broken Arrow-First United Methodist Church.
Membership stands at 244,170, a decrease of 816 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 59,051, down by 2,030.
Church school enrollment is 61,330, down 2,194; church school attendance is 32,150, a decrease of 885 people. A total of 2,727 new members were received by Profession of Faith or Restored status. Due to deaths, 2,447 people were removed from church rolls.
Among the 12 districts of Oklahoma Conference, four showed gains in membership, three gained in church school enrollment, one in morning worship and one in church school attendance.