"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
(1 Corinthians 3:5-7, NIV)
BY BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
When Methodism was in its infancy, in the late 1780s in America, distinctive beliefs set the faith apart from most Christian organizations.
For instance, our founder John Wesley parted ways with Calvinism and his own Anglican church by introducing transformational ideas that had to do with perfection, sanctification, justification, and regeneration.
I invite you to explore Wesley’s teachings, but for this column I want you to know his creed created an emerging holiness movement that saw Methodism grow faster than any other U.S. denomination for decades.
Among his ideas that distinguish our doctrine is the concept of itineracy, "the act of traveling from one place to another." Some dictionaries further state that this belief is "the system of rotation governing the ministry of the Methodist Church."
Methodists did not invent the word, but you can say we perfected it.
The circuit riders who shaped our denomination were the epitome of clergy-on-the-go. Some traveled great distances by foot and horseback, forming religious communities all along the East Coast and later into the heart of the United States.
One story recounts the experience of a settler who left Virginia and ended up in Georgia. Just as he was unpacking his bags, he was visited by a circuit rider representing the Methodist movement. In a fit of rage he exclaimed, "I left Virginia trying to get away from the Methodists and, by God, you’ve found us already!"
We still believe in itineracy. The movement of clergy from place to place to fulfill the duties of leadership, proclaim the Gospel, and be connected and involved with different communities is exactly what those circuit riders accomplished. They sowed the seed that grew into our international denomination.
A bishop many years ago wrote: "There are only two kinds of preachers in the Methodist Church — those that are moving, and those that haven’t moved yet!"
Indeed, the same can be said of bishops.
After 12 wonderful years of being your bishop, the time has come for me to itinerate to retirement. Alongside you, I have been preparing the soil for the next bishop.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he explained the special connection of the people to himself and Apollos, the leader who followed him there. He borrowed an image from the world of agriculture (to which we certainly can relate here in Oklahoma) to remind the Corinthian believers that both he and Apollos were assigned differing tasks to build the church.
As the very first preacher in Corinth, Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but it was God who gave the increase."
In other words, both of them were instruments of God, sent to carry out God’s will and purpose.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary states it this way: "He that plants and he that waters are one, employed by one Master, trusted with the same revelation, busied in one work, and engaged in one design. They have their different gifts from one and the same Spirit, for the very same purposes; and should carry on the same design heartily."
The bishop who follows me will have gifts and graces unique to that person. That leader will arrive here in Oklahoma to continue work that began in the early 1800s, with the arrival of Methodism among Native Americans and early circuit riders. That person will walk in the footsteps of the first bishops assigned to Indian Territory and the new state of Oklahoma in 1907.
That bishop will water the seeds that I and others planted.
Whatever success those who came before me had and whatever I have achieved for Christ during my time here, it is God who has sustained us, pulled us, pushed us, carried us, and united us in one common ministry: To make disciples, transform the world, and build God’s Kingdom in every corner of Oklahoma.
Embrace your new bishop as you have loved and affirmed Dee and me.
Extend the hand of fellowship.
Let the love of Christ be transparent and evident in everything you do.
And always remember that you are the instruments God has so honored to do this great work! I love you all.
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