Special words for an ending and a beginning
"The end of a thing is better than its beginning..." (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
The famous Yogi Berra, renowned for his great quotes on and off the baseball diamond, once said this: "It ain't over until it's over!" Dick Motta, a longtime coach in the National Basketball Association, once remarked: "It ain't over until the fat lady sings," which was an obvious reference to the "plump" lady who usually gives her aria signaling the conclusion of an opera.
Well, Mr. Berra, and yes, Mr. Motta, the calendar on the wall in my office tells me that my first year as bishop of the Oklahoma Area is just about over.
You can instruct the stagehands to begin lowering the curtain, because whether you believe it or not, it's time for me to roll the credits and share with you a few of the memories taken from my first year as your episcopal leader.
For nearly 52 weeks, I have been a visitor in your homes and churches by way of this column. From that very first "Open Letter" in September of last year, right on up to this present moment, I've tried to give you a piece of myself, filling every line with the most inspiring words I had in me for that particular day.
Given the fact that on any given day I'm probably pushed and pulled in a hundred different directions, I've somehow learned to "step away" and give as much thought as possible in preparation for each article. And in the 11-plus months I've been sharing with you my ideas and thoughts, it has become one of the great loves of my ministry.
Each time I sit down to write these words, I think of the many people that I have never met who will read this column. I think of the ministers, officers, church leaders and members of the congregations in our Conference who need strength for the journey and who should read an encouraging word in their everyday lives. I think of all those people who have met me and who have told me how much they enjoy reading my articles. These are the people who inspire me to want to give my best each time I write.
Some days, the words flow like water and just leap onto the page. Other days, I have to squeeze the words out like one of the old washing machines with the wringers on top. Regardless of what the day brings, when I finish the feature and turn it over to the people who do such a skillful job of putting the paper together, my prayer is that I have helped you sense God's presence in your journey.
So, having said all that, let me quickly turn the page on this chapter by sharing with you the highlights (and lowlights) of this first year.
It all began with a prayer
I will never forget that first day on the job when my administrative assistant ushered me and my son into the office, where mounds of letters and telephone messages awaited me. When she said, "I don't know where to start," I immediately said, "Why don't we begin with a word of prayer!" Now that I think about all the things that have happened since that day, I am sure beyond any doubt that we started in the best possible place.
In fact, each and every morning since then, I have started each new day with prayer. Following the prayer, my morning usually consists of a devotion, a scripture reading or two, and time to ponder what is ahead of me that day. I pray for our Conference and for the people of our churches (among other things), and I ask God to put me in the places where I'm needed the most, and to allow the Christ in me to be revealed throughout the day. And, believe it or not, God has never failed to provide both challenges and opportunities to do just that.
My journey has taken me to churches of all sizes. I know the highway well from Shattuck to Miami and from Ponca City to Waurika. In small towns and in big cities, I have had the privilege of meeting the people called United Methodists, and each time I come away from being in fellowship with such faithful souls, I thank God for blessing me to be His servant in ministry in this place.
I have preached in tents, and I have stood in the burned-out sanctuary of one of our churches, offering a prayer for restoration. I have been down winding dirt roads that lead to churches in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, and I have celebrated life and ministry in our retirement homes, on college and university campuses, and in the summer camps with our young people. During a particularly busy period, I showed up at the wrong church on the wrong Sunday to preach. You should have seen the look on that minister's face. And if that doesn't take the prize for the most unusual thing that has happened to me, I'll share this: I've even been trapped in the elevator of one church, after I had just finished dedicating it! In between services, fully dressed in my robe!
I've shaken the hands of inmates and former inmates who owe their lives to the programs of our justice and mercy ministries, and I've driven on the ice and snow of Oklahoma to get to a district gathering. I've been in workshops and seminars with the United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men, and I've eaten so many covered dish dinners that I lost count in February.
I've prayed with and visited missionary teams who work hard in the trenches of our society, helping people all over the world. And lastly, I've even had the difficult task of saying goodbye to some of our dearest friends, who have gone home to be with the Lord.
I share all of this with you simply because I want you to know that each day God has blessed me to be a part of one of the most exciting adventures anyone could ask for... and it has only begun.
But as I prepare to close the chapter on these first 12 months, there is one thing I need to pass on to you that has remained constant throughout this year.
A pledge given, a promise kept
I end this final column of my first year by going back to July 17, 2004. It was on that day at my consecration service I pledged that, as the United Methodist bishop of the Oklahoma Area, I would "guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the church, and seek and be a sign of the unity of the faith." I pledged that I would be the bishop of all United Methodists-not just one group within our diverse denomination, but everyone. And on Oct. 17, at my investiture service, I promised I would "carry a little honey," so I could foster love and goodwill, and build bridges of understanding.
Oklahoma, in a year where so much has happened, the pledge and the promise will never change! I love you all!
NOTE: In addition to the remaining churches the bishop is scheduled to visit in 2005, he announced he will respond soon to the many gracious invitations for 2006-07. Hayes also thanked all for their patience.
On the road
Bishop Hayes extended a special word of appreciation to the following churches and special places of ministry for their hospitality during his visits in his first year:
Cookson Hills Center
Oklahoma City University
Methodist Manor, Tulsa
OKC-St. Luke's UMC
El Reno-Wesley UMC
Atoka-New Zion UMC
Tulsa-Will Rogers UMC
Tulsa-Boston Avenue UMC
Edmond-Acts II UMC
McAlester-Grand Avenue UMC
South OKC Cooperative Urban Parish
Ponca City-Albright UMC
Ponca City-Asbury UMC
Ponca City-First UMC
Ponca City-St. Paul's UMC
Edmond-New Covenant UMC
OKC-Chapel Hill UMC
Yukon-Church of the Good Shepherd
He also visited these congregations in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference: Goodland/Tohwahli, Broken Arrow, Choctaw Academy/Bethel Hill, Kullituklo, Kulli Chito/Yasho, Mt. Scott-Comanche/Kiowa, Norman-First American, Springtown, Talihina-St. Paul, and Wewoka.