Do you hear what I hear?
Strength for the Journey - A collection of ideas and thoughts from our Bishop
"And are we yet alive, and see each other's face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fighting without and fears within since we assembled last! Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above."
And Are We Yet Alive, Charles Wesley, 1749, The United Methodist Hymnal
Listen. Do you hear that sound? Wait a moment. Now listen real hard. It's the sound of excitement coming from the pulpits and pews throughout Oklahoma! People are anxiously awaiting the start of our Annual Conference, and as I go from church to church, this building crescendo has engulfed everyone I've met. If the exhilaration has not caught you yet, then hold on, it will.
As your bishop, I can sense an air of anticipation from the clergy; I can almost feel the pulse of the laity pounding with curiosity; I can even hear the winds of expectancy swirling around me. This upcoming Annual Conference promises to be a celebration of "who we are and whose we are" as United Methodists in Oklahoma, and I can't wait for it to begin.
A Special Time and Place
What many United Methodists may not know is before our country had a Declaration of Independence the first conference of Methodist preachers was held in Philadelphia in 1773. At that conference, ten ministers pledged allegiance to John Wesley's leadership and inaugurated a system of regular conferences of the preachers, which was similar to those Wesley had instituted in England.
This led to the famous Christmas Conference of 1784, held at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Md. The following year, "the church published its first Discipline (1785), adopted a quadrennial General Conference, the first of which was held in 1792, drafted a Constitution in 1808, refined its structure, established a publishing house, and became an ardent proponent of revivalism and camp meeting." (The Book of Discipline, 2004, page 11)
Each time a conference was held, the song, "And Are We Yet Alive," was sung by all in attendance. And now, 221 years after that Christmas Conference, we will follow in the tradition of those who have gone before us by singing the same great hymn when we gavel our conference to order.
I don't know about you, but chill bumps cover my arms when I think about the long line of tradition that is ours.
If you look closely at the words of that hymn, you'll discover that it is written for people on a journey. It chronicles where we've been, where we are, and where we hope to be when our journey is ended. It reminds us that we are God's people, assembled at a special time and in a special place to glorify God and pledge our allegiance to our denomination, just as those ten ministers did in 1773.
Worship is at the Heart of Our Gathering
The emphasis this year will be on our worship. We will begin in jubilant praise and worship on Sunday night, May 29, and we will end in worship on Thursday noon with our Sending Forth Service and the reading of appointments, just as it has been done for over 200 years.
Our speakers this year-Dr. Zan Holmes, Jr., Bishop Dan Solomon and Bishop Ray Owen-are some of the best preachers our denomination has to offer. Our conference will remember those who have gone on before us in a moving Communion Service of Remembrance on Monday afternoon. We will honor our retirees and allow them to pass on the mantle of leadership to those who will be ordained and commissioned. We'll share reports of where our journey has taken us, and we will dream dreams and see visions of where we feel God is leading us. The music and fellowship will be outstanding, but the worship will be spectacular.
If you can't be in attendance, you need to know that we are planning on putting the highlights of our worship services on a CD/Video that will be available to every local church in our conference, including a brief vision statement which I will provide.
An Annual Conference planning team has been working on the details of this Conference since last fall, and we hope that it will showcase Oklahoma United Methodism in a way that will long be remembered. I would be remiss if I didn't express my sincere appreciation to all the people who have worked so hard to make this a great conference. The details that accompany the planning for such an event are unimaginable, but somehow, the team we assembled has put everything in place, and now it's up to God and the people who read this column to make it happen.
What You Can Do
Please read carefully that last line in the paragraph above. I have no doubt that God will be present to grant us a blessing on this Conference, but I need you to do your part.
I want to urge each and every United Methodist to pray for the success of our upcoming Annual Conference. Your prayers will go a long way towards insuring a spirit-filled and spirit-led gathering.
Before this Conference is over, the most important thing that can happen is to let God know that even though we've come through "many dangers, toils and snares," we are still the people of God, willing, ready and able to trust our lives and our future to Him.
I hope to see you at Annual Conference.
Your servant in Christ,
Bishop Robert E. Hayes, Jr.