Making a case for the future
"For the vision awaits an appointed time." -Habakkuk 2:3
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
Be honest with me. Answer my question: "What are my duties and responsibilities as the bishop of the Oklahoma Area of The United Methodist Church?"
You have 15 seconds to respond while I cue the theme from TV's "Jeopardy" game show...
Most well-intentioned Oklahomans who consider themselves to be strong United Methodists have a hard time trying to put into words what I do as the bishop.
If you said a bishop presides over the annual conference and sits in "the hot seat" at the end of every May, you'd be right. If you answered that my duties include responsibility for where clergy members serve, again you'd be right. If you said I preach a lot and attend a great number of meetings, I would respond by saying, "Go to the head of the class!"
All those answers are correct-and since I'm this deep into Q&A about the episcopacy, I might as well share with you my "official" responsibilities and duties. They are outlined in our denomination's Book of Discipline-and here is a teaching moment.
Paragraph 404 of the Discipline states that bishops are "set apart for a ministry of general oversight and supervision." It continues: "As followers of Jesus Christ called to servant leadership, bishops are authorized to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church; to seek and be a sign of the unity of the faith; to exercise the discipline of the whole Church." There's more, a lot more, but you can read it in your copy of the Discipline.
Very little is said about vision in every description I've seen or heard about the duties of a bishop.
You would think my job description would contain a lot about being able to project a clear path for the Church. In fact, I consider forming a unified vision of disciple-making for the annual conference as the most important aspect of my episcopal leadership.
I consider it my mandate. I accept it as my reason for being assigned to Oklahoma. I believe I was sent here by God to direct the course of our journey in such a way that lives will be positively changed and people will be brought into deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
One of the ways I hope to do that is through my support of a new theological seminary in Oklahoma City.
A very bright future
For two-and-a-half years, I've pondered and prayed about establishing a United Methodist seminary within the bounds of our annual conference. Other people also share this desire, and we believe the time is right to make this vision a reality.
Housing a United Methodist seminary on the campus of Oklahoma City University will change the landscape of how we do ministry in this annual conference for decades to come.
A UM seminary will produce capable clergy specifically educated in the United Methodist ethos. That will have a dramatic effect on how our churches are led and how people understand living as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I envision a seminary also will profoundly affect those individuals who desire to enter ministry from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC). I seek to increase the number of seminary-trained pastors in OIMC. Part of my vision is to enable more Native Americans who aspire to be UM clergy to attend the seminary. Currently, 15 active pastors are elders in that conference of 89 churches.
Another part of this vision is connecting the seminary course offerings with OCU's world-class business and music schools, to educate people in church administration and sacred music.
I also envision our conference Volunteers In Mission program partnering with the seminary, to produce well-equipped missionaries to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
Even more so, I picture a seminary that offers both Continuing Education and Course of Study classes for both laity and clergy. Special programs developed for laity will empower their leadership in our churches. A seminary can be as valuable to laity as it will be to aspiring clergy.
I also know some members in our conference are concerned about the impact on Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa and Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. Establishing a seminary in Oklahoma City likely will have some effect on enrollment at those two schools, but I believe there is room for us to co-exist in this "theological block of higher learning."
I greatly respect the work of other schools to educate and prepare people for ministry. The new school in Oklahoma City-an extension of Saint Paul School of Theology at Kansas City, Mo.-will not block students who want to attend Phillips, Perkins, Duke, or any other excellent school.
The new institution will be as dedicated as other schools in identifying and enrolling capable students. However, I anticipate that, in the future, it will work cooperatively with any school to produce some of the finest trained pastors in our denomination.
It all comes together
In the tiny Old Testament book of Habakkuk, a verse proclaims, "The vision awaits an appointed time." In my heart I believe this is God's appointed time for us to act in establishing UM seminary training at Oklahoma City University.
For such a time as this, God has opened the hearts and minds of the presidents of OCU and Saint Paul School.
Faculty and trustees have followed by granting their approval to move forward the plan for Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University.
Now it becomes our turn as Oklahoma United Methodists to discuss the plan and take action. We can show our support through our prayers and our gifts.
A United Methodist seminary education will be offered at Oklahoma City University. That we know. What remains to be determined is at what level our annual conference members will support it. The greatest beneficiaries ultimately will be the local churches where disciples called United Methodists will be made.
Come, let us reason together. Let us dream dreams and see visions that will please God, and make this long-awaited vision a reality.
I'll see you at the 2007 Oklahoma Annual Conference.