"The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives." (1 Corinthians 1:6, The Message)
by bishop robert hayes jr.
As I think about the 10,000 experiences of our time together, memories surface that will last always for me. This 12-year journey is filled to the brim with treasured moments that will require my careful sorting and sifting, appreciating each one by one. So at the top of my must-do list in retirement is to set aside days when I find quiet places — to reflect, laugh out loud, shed a tear or two, and thank God for allowing me to be a part of your lives.
In my previous message to you, I especially celebrated the presence of the children and youths who have made such a profound difference in my life here. This time, I feel compelled to share a couple of particular recollections, quietly appreciated by me; few people know about them. But they cause me joy, and I am thankful.
First is the indelible imprint made on me by my visitation to each church.
Each church building I have visited has become a memory that stayed with me. It’s true! In Cabinet meetings, conversations, and prayers for our churches, I vividly recall certain aspects of each church — its physical appearance on the outside, how it felt to be inside, a design feature or accessory that stood out, something that produced a special feeling, perhaps the sensation I felt when worship or another program began.
In the course of my time and travels, I have come across features about our churches that most people probably miss. I remember those. It’s hard to explain, but I do.
For instance, the stained-glass windows at Alva, Mangum-First, Guthrie-First, Ada-First, Wesley, Hollis, and a hundred more churches simply take my breath away each time I think about them. Also, the crosses on the wall at Leonard, the beautiful wood in the sanctuary at Turley, the red roof and bell at Oktaha, the magnificent architecture of Boston Avenue and Tulsa-First, the towering steeple of Tulsa-Asbury, the simple yet elegant beauty of faraway Kenton, and the tranquility of Cheyenne Valley.
I remember them all! And in remembering, I realize that it was in these holy places that I experienced the presence of God!
The second recollection I share today has to do with the people in our churches who have expressed to me their appreciation for the Contact articles I’ve written over the years. Invariably I meet people in every district and corner of Oklahoma who tell me how much they enjoy my columns.
What you don’t know is how much I’ve enjoyed writing them for you.
Some people have told me that they cut out each one and save it. Some have said they send my articles to a loved one or friend, and others have said they use what I write in Sunday School or some other setting.
I truly am honored that you appreciate the thoughts I’ve heaped upon you — but there is another aspect I’ve never shared until now.
Let me explain.
All of us are on a journey. We are not where we once were in life, nor have we arrived at where God wants us to be. On each person’s journey, unexpected things will happen. Some experiences will be joyful; others will test you and your faith. But there is a common thread woven through all our journeys: we need strength.
Those many years ago when I sat down to pen my first Contact article, I prayed about what I should call it. After praying, I knew: Strength is what we need! All of us! "Strength for the Journey"!
You might think that was the genesis for these messages from me to you.
But you would be wrong.
Looking back, I realize God was preparing me for this long before I knew it. In my last local-church appointment, at Riverside United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas, I wanted to find a way to speak to the sick and homebound of that congregation. This was in the time before the internet; TV broadcasting wasn’t affordable for us. The church had an aging membership.
I chose to put to use whatever writing skills I had to produce mini-sermons, under the column title "As I See It." The articles I crafted were biblically based and sought to inspire members who could not attend services in person.
Each Monday I produced a column before 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and someone with the United Methodist Reporter/News Service picked up my printed pages at a designated place. My mother Dorothy was my editor and proofreader. I was late many times getting my article to the pick-up location.
But during those years I began to fall in love with the act of writing about the Word. When I arrived in Oklahoma 10 years later, my love for reaching out that way remained intact.
What you have done for me, Oklahoma, is given me strength for my journey! I pray that in some small way something I’ve said in these articles has lifted you, inspired you, and given you strength for whatever life has in store for you.
These two examples are among all the recollections that I take with me into retirement. But the thanksgiving in my heart for you and for what you’ve done for me and Dee really cannot be put into words. I love each and every one of you!
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