2014 Oklahoma Annual Conference
May 26-29, 2014 in Oklahoma City
The Oklahoma Annual Conference met May 26-29, hosted by United Methodist-related Oklahoma City University and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. spoke his welcome in English, Spanish and Choctaw to open the Oklahoma Annual Conference business session May 27.
Two hours that morning were dedicated to an "Act of Repentance and Reconciliation With Native Americans." Delegates engaged in a prayerful, powerful time of reflecting and asking forgiveness.
Leadership for the Act of Repentance was by Bishop Hayes; the Rev. Dr. David Wilson, who is conference superintendent for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference; six people who completed a Native American immersion experience through Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University; and the choir of D.D. Etchieson United Methodist Church, which is an Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference congregation.
The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and Oklahoma annual conferences comprise the Oklahoma Area, whose episcopal leader is Hayes. He has led the area for 10 years.
Members of Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference churches attended the Act of Repentance as official observers. They were invited “to be witnesses to our first step in the Oklahoma Conference’s Act of Repentance and Reconciliation,” said Hayes.
The Saint Paul seminarians read from the written work of historian Tash Smith of Shawnee, Oklahoma. The choir presented a song composed on the Trail of Tears in the early 1800s, during the federal government’s removal of Native Americans to Oklahoma. All sang “Amazing Grace” in several Native languages.
A 2012 General Conference resolution calls annual conferences to intentionally connect with Native Americans in relationships and ministries. Responsibility was assigned to the Council of Bishops. In Oklahoma City in November, the Council will continue its personal engagement in repentance and reconciliation when they meet.
Bishop Hayes will direct further distinct steps for the Oklahoma Conference in coming years. In 2015, the Oklahoma Conference will engage with Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference in hands-on missions, and in 2016 the people of the annual conferences will worship together.
Throughout, Hayes wants understanding to grow about the Native experience in the U.S.A.
“We have a significant Native population in our state,” he said in an interview, "but little knowledge of Native history. Some things never made the history books."
He continued, "We want to share the history of Native Americans and identify their struggles. We want to be more aware how Native people within the Church can maintain their spiritual identity. Then we will ask: Where do we go from here? We are journeying together. We want to determine how to live into the future together, with hope and vision."
Also during the Oklahoma Annual Conference, in his annual Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference greeting to voting members, Wilson described collaboration that’s happening now between these annual conferences. Two closed churches of the Oklahoma Conference, Commerce and Weleetka, are being resurrected as Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference congregations.
In other Oklahoma Annual Conference news, conference members took home an incentive to design innovative ways to connect new people to Christ, through “New People, New Places.”
To dedicate funds to the “New People, New Places” initiative, delegates voted to realign existing apportionment funds. The overarching goal is to better fulfill the church’s mission of making disciples. In 2015, a total of $700,000 will be redirected to grant awards through "New People, New Places" for creative ministries. Any church or Conference ministry of any size may apply for a grant. Also, the Department of Congregational Development will receive $700,000, a major increase, for its work.
Conference members also approved two other major proposals:
• the number of districts will drop from 12 to eight, effective June 1, 2015; and
• the conference will partner with One Exchange for the retired clergy Medicare supplement plan.
Theme of the Oklahoma Annual Conference was “All Things New,” based on Revelation 21:5.
“Hungry, hurting people need to see by our witness that God is making all things new,” Hayes declared in his Episcopal Address. Holding out a Bible during his ordination sermon, he said, “What most of us think of as greatness is radically different than what is in this book.”
“God said, ‘I need somebody.’ What will you do? I can only imagine,” declared the guest preacher, the Rev. Jasmine Rose Smothers of the North Georgia Annual Conference, in the opening worship May 26.
God’s priorities were pursued in creative ways over the following days. Three phrases resounded: “Making all things new,” “I can only imagine,” and “We make disciples!”
Here are some ways those statements were confirmed during the meeting.
• The Rev. Phil Hodson was appointed as a new church planter for the Lawton area. Chartering ceremonies were announced for two new churches: CrossTimbers United Methodist Church, Moore, Oklahoma; and Connect United Methodist Church, Edmond, Oklahoma.
• A total of 26 people have completed the Conference’s Academy for Part-Time Local Pastors, which trains people for bivocational ministry. The academy’s first year was 2012-13.
• Thirteen people completed the first year of the Hispanic Latino Lay Academy, which grew out of Spanish-language Lay Missionary Planting Network training, taught in 2012-13.
• Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University has received full accreditation and will offer all coursework on the Oklahoma City campus. Seminary students now also can pursue a doctoral degree, in addition to three master’s offerings.
• Two Oklahoma families pledged major matching gifts that will triple every donation to the Pastor Education Fund, managed by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation. If fully matched, the fund’s goal of $1 million will reach $3 million!
• Total assets managed by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation reached an all-time high of $262.1 million.
• The annual conference offering totaled $45,609 for typhoon relief and United Methodist-related Asbury College in the Philippines. Emergency supply kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief also were collected.
• “The Amazing Pace,” a walking program/wellness incentive, was launched for clergy.
• Prevent/Recover, a new partnership with Oklahoma City University, will help local churches engage in addiction ministries.
• A breakfast seminar, “Tools for Increasing Your Church’s Vitality,” drew about 80 delegates at 6:15 a.m. on the final day of the conference. Presenter was Caitlin Congdon of United Methodist Communications. Host was the Oklahoma Conference Department of Communications.
Voters approved a 2015 Conference budget of $15,374,71, lowering the overall conference apportionment by almost 8 percent, compared to 2014.
Four churches were officially closed. “I can only imagine the millions of prayers, thousands of cookies baked for VBS, and untold numbers of people who sought help in these churches,” said Conference Lay Leader Chuck Stewart of Stilwell. “Through the years, lives were made better because of the people there.”
Layman Tom Junk of Tulsa described the Oklahoma Conference as a great tree and Conference agencies and ministries as its strong branches. "But the roots are diminishing," he said. Junk chairs the Conference’s Council on Finance and Administration.
The three major actions by the annual conference will deploy resources in strategic ways to defy downward trends. More than 200 leaders were engaged for many months in developing the plans.
“We give ourselves over to God’s work in making all things new,” said the bishop. “It’s not about saving the institution of the Church. It’s about bringing all into the redemptive work of the Church.”
The Rev. Sam Powers, who co-chairs the Annual Conference Council, concluded, “Jesus did a new thing quite often in his ministry, and it would leave people astounded. Let us continue to strive to be Christ-like in a world that senses God but may not know him yet.”
The Advance of The United Methodist Church recognized the Oklahoma Conference for two achievements: the highest level of church participation in designated giving across the denomination, and the highest total amount of missionary support in the South Central Jurisdiction.
Recipients of the Denman Award for evangelism were the Rev. David Daniel and layman Marty Anderson.
President Socorro de Anda, Lydia Patterson Institute, El Paso, Texas; the Rev. Modesto Mamani of The Methodist Church of Bolivia; the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, Washington; and Caitlin Congdon and Kay Panovec of United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee; in addition to guest preacher Smothers and others.
Ten elders and two deacons were ordained by Bishop Hayes on May 28 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. The previous evening, nine provisional elders were commissioned.
A total of 17 clergy officially retired at annual conference. The lives of 10 clergy and 19 spouses were celebrated during the Memorial Service.
The Rev. Larry Bauman was appointed as a new district superintendent.
Membership stands at 233,350, down 1,664 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 52,180, down 2,161.
The total number of small groups stands at 6,327, up 145.
Professions of faith stand at 2,064, down 111.
— Holly McCray, editor of the Oklahoma United Methodist Contact, produced by the Oklahoma Conference department of communications