2017 Oklahoma Annual Conference
United Methodists made a virtual journey with Bishop Jimmy Nunn — from where his pioneer ancestors settled on the Texas Panhandle’s caprock; to a church and a university each more than a century old in Oklahoma City; and on to places as far away as Malaysia and Palestine, through Internet live streaming.
The stories told during the May 29-June 1 Oklahoma Annual Conference not only traced historic church pathways but also mapped new ones.
United Methodists must tell their spiritual stories, Nunn insisted as he preached and presided for the first time as an episcopal leader.
Storytelling helps answer the question "Why" (the conference theme), he said. The United Methodist Church has been too focused on what to do rather than why to do it.
"Lead with a question — not a pontification — and tell your story," he again advised in the Service of Sending Forth.
Conference leaders answered why in person and on video to about 1,150 delegates and guests at historic Oklahoma City University and St. Luke’s in Oklahoma City as well as 960 people watching the livestream.
Pages from life
Among the stories told was one about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, when his heart was "strangely warmed" at a church meeting.
Charlie Ludden, with Project Transformation-Oklahoma/Young Adult Mission & Service, said, "Anyone can serve, can reach out, can change a life. That’s what disciples are for."
Helping people in need "go from despair to hope is to see the grace of God at work," said Deborah Ingraham, director of United Methodist-related Skyline Urban Ministry in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Conference Office of Mission Director Jeremy Basset said that Volunteers in Mission "are not vacationers impersonating missionaries." The Oklahoma VIM representatives urged: pack a bag; go somewhere; help someone. You not only will help others but also build relationships that grow your faith.
"Why do we do what we do?" asked Pastor Marsha Purtell of Mangum, Oklahoma. "Because that’s what we’re told in scripture to do."
At least a dozen people responded to the bishop’s altar call at the close of the Service of Ordination and Commissioning on May 31. During that service, 14 provisional elders were commissioned, and five elders were ordained. The ministry of 24 retiring clergy was celebrated, and 32 deceased clergy and spouses were remembered. Cindy Havlik of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was welcomed as a new district superintendent.
Count on growth
- Since January, in eight new congregations, about 1,200 people are worshipping regularly and 60 people have made professions of faith, reported Chris Tiger, Oklahoma Conference director of New Faith Communities. In Ardmore, Oklahoma, six groups of Home Church are meeting.
- New People New Places leaders reported 108 professions of faith as a result of Oklahoma Conference grants statewide supporting innovative ministries. The initiative "has been a courageous move on the part of the annual conference," said Randy Shrauner, who co-chairs the conference council.
- As of Dec. 31, 2016, the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation’s total assets under management reached an all-time high of $274.1 million. It is the third-largest Methodist investment foundation in the United States.
- Oklahoma Conference Camps in 2016 hosted more than 17,300 guests and netted almost $200,000. New mobile day camps will reach out in eight cities this summer. "Why?" posed Executive Director Ed Parker. "Because we are compelled by an unwavering commitment to the spiritual transformation of young people."
- Eight churches received the new One Matters award, from Oklahoma Conference’s Discipleship Ministries, for moving from zero professions of faith to multiple ones. #SeeAllThePeople
- Cookson Hills Center near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, helped its neighbors plant 250 gardens this spring. Cookson Hills is a national church mission and receives support through The UMC Advance giving.
- Oklahoma Methodist Manor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, serves over 400 people in that United Methodist-related retirement center.
- George Howard, with the denomination’s Global Ministries, told delegates that Oklahomans gave $106,000 to disaster response, $96,000 to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, and $65,000 to support missionaries through the Advance.
- The Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care is raising $5 million to build five foster homes in the state. The conference offering for the agency that assists children and youths totaled $26,190 as of June 8.
- Four Oklahomans received the prestigious Harry Denman Award for Evangelism: youth member Kailee McCrary, lay members Don and Nancy Whittaker, and clergy member Tiffany Nagel-Monroe. Pastor Linda Lusnia was presented the Frances Willard Award by the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
- Seven churches were closed officially: Catoosa-Disciple United Methodist Church, OKC-Douglas Boulevard United Methodist Church, Franklin United Methodist Church, Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, Tulsa-Rose Hill United Methodist Church, Stuart United Methodist Church, and Tulsa-Epworth United Methodist Church. "God, we recognize in every case there is a life cycle," the bishop prayed. "We give you thanks that the heritage does not die with a single congregation. Raise up new life wherever you would plant it."
- Oklahoma Conference Treasurer Norma Quinn reported the 2016 Vital Congregation Statistics: 1,715 professions of faith, down by only 105 from the previous year; 6,069 people in small groups such as Sunday school classes and Bible studies, 217 fewer people than the previous year; 48,493 average worship attendance, down 520 people from the previous year; and 35,533 people serving in hands-on missions, an increase of 5,740 from the previous year.
- Delegates cast votes on five proposed amendments to the denomination’s Constitution, which is published in the Book of Discipline. After all annual conferences vote, the results will be announced by the Council of Bishops.
Ministries of memory
- Oklahoma’s Commission on Archives & History helped the audience look back and celebrate.
- Resolutions were approved to designate Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa and First United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City as United Methodist Historic Sites.
- Jerry Gill, a member of Stillwater-First United Methodist Church, received the 2017 Distinguished Service Award from the denomination’s Archives & History commission. Among his outstanding contributions in the field of history, Gill was instrumental in helping Stillwater-First become a United Methodist Historic Site and has led Oklahoma’s commission. The presentation was made by Brian Bakeman, current chairperson.
- A new video was introduced that helps tell the story of Methodism in the 1900s. "Gone with the Oklahoma Wind: Reuniting the Methodist Church North and South, 1844-1939" is directed by Elizabeth Anthony, a commission member from OKC-Crown Heights United Methodist Church.
Looking ahead, Oklahoma conference delegates set the 2018 apportionment total at $14,303,755. That amount is 1.37 percent lower than the current year’s budget.
Also approved was a resolution from the conference’s Board of Church & Society. "Addressing Environmental Challenges, Global Warming, and Climate Change" reminds United Methodists about the biblical call to care for God’s creation and highlights the correlated Social Principles.
From the resolution: "All people have the moral responsibility to (take) personal actions to reduce the environmental impact of our lifestyles and collective actions to reduce emissions of ‘greenhouse gases.’"
A delegate from Norman, Oklahoma, voiced his support, noting that he taught chemistry for 40 years at the University of Oklahoma.
The Church & Society board also distributed a statement paper, "Welcoming the Migrant — Immigration as a Moral Issue." The handout urged churches to educate members through study and events; provide hospitality to migrants and refugees; and invite as a speaker Carlos Ramirez, the Conference’s associate director of Leadership and Innovation.
The bishop’s vision
The bishop’s vision for Oklahoma adds the “why” question to advance the conference strategic plan that launched in 2008. He spoke about reviewing that plan and about challenges/opportunities for all churches.
"A clear sense of ‘why’ challenges assumptions, sets expectations, and fuels action," Nunn said. "Some assumptions, policies, and structures may no longer serve us well. How are we going to navigate the journey? That is the reason for a conference strategic plan."
"I see progress on the journey."
He referred to a broad study that helped define the denomination’s Four Areas of Focus in 2008:
- New places for new people
- Developing leaders
- Engaging in ministry with the poor
- Improving health globally
The Oklahoma Conference then developed its strategy for 1) growing fruitful congregations, 2) recruiting and sending spiritual leaders, and 3) promoting ministry partnerships.
Nunn said dynamic, spiritual, lay and clergy leadership is vital to transform the mission field. And United Methodists must share their stories.
"We cannot buy land, appoint a pastor, put up a sign, and expect a church to spring up."
He prayed in the Service of Sending Forth: "God, grab Oklahoma by the Panhandle and shake Oklahoma up by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Tough questions face delegates
The buzz of many small groups engaged in concurrent conversations on May 30.
After seeing a video about the denomination’s Commission on a Way Forward, delegates conferred over weighty questions posed by Bishop Nunn.
- In our diverse and global existence, what is the shared mission/purpose of the church?
- Is there a proactive way for us to live together in our differences that doesn’t presume we will resolve our differences? What would it be?
- What might be a form of unity that would empower us living together?
- What is our witness, and what can be our witness to the world in relation to our differences?
The commission’s global membership is studying the Book of Discipline paragraphs about human sexuality and options to maintain the church’s unity.
As the bishop had requested, some delegates submitted written responses for their groups.
"Bishop, you didn’t want to make our first holy conferencing easy for us, did you?" wrote one delegate.
Among other notes:
The church’s mission "hasn’t really changed since Jesus gave the disciples the great commission."
"Methodists need to get the message of love out there to counter the vision of judgment that so many have of Christians."
"We bring our history and context to all relationships and must be careful not to paint someone as an enemy."
"Worship styles show that we are a diverse people."
"Possible to have multiple Books of Discipline?"
"Create a confederated affiliation."
"Our group is not as hopeful as the folks in the video were … It could be like a loveless marriage where the couple stays together for the kids."
"We are grateful we are not serving on the Way Forward committee."
— Holly McCray, Oklahoma Conference Communications Ministry