By Holly McCray
In downtown Oklahoma City in mid-July, while candidates vie in one building for election as United Methodist bishops, contenders for TV’s "American Idol" will audition next door.
On July 18-21, the South Central Jurisdictional (SCJ) Conference meets in the Cox Convention Center. More than 600 United Methodists already are registered to attend.
Dates are July 18-20 for the music tryouts at Chesapeake Energy Arena. "Idol" auditions regularly draw contestants numbering more than 10,000, plus celebrity judges and onlookers.
The juxtaposition of these two events surely means high-voltage excitement for all involved.
Among the UM crowd will be the 44-member Oklahoma Conference voting delegation. An equal number of laity and clergy, this group has been together since last summer, discussing General Conference proposals and interviewing nominees for the episcopacy.
Two dynamic duos within that delegation are a father-daughter pair, Wade and Nikola Paschal of Tulsa, and a mother and son, Sharri and John Hiller of Ringling. Rev. Wade Paschal is senior pastor at Tulsa-First UMC, and the other three are laity.
They responded to emailed questions about their shared experience thus far.
Q: What have you learned by being a member of this delegation? How will this affect you going forward?
JOHN: There are a variety of opinions, even in our own annual conference. I have learned and will continue to be more open-minded.
WADE: Being at General Conference a number of times has given me an appreciation of the wonderful way God’s Spirit is working in our Church worldwide. I have gotten to know other churches in other places and to appreciate what God is doing in many places.
SHARRI: That electing bishops is probably the most important work the delegation does. I will pay more attention to the work of clergy in other annual conferences.
Q: What do you expect will most challenge you at the jurisdictional conference? What do you especially look forward to happening?
SHARRI: The recent turmoil in the North Texas Conference will be the most challenging aspect. I am looking forward to seeing people I know and meeting new people.
WADE: We have a tough choice among the various candidates. I believe we need superb leadership more than ever, and discerning who will best serve as bishop is a demanding proposition. I appreciate the willingness of these men and women to put themselves forward to be considered.
Q: What have you contributed by your involvement?
JOHN: I contributed a young perspective to the process and, by being prepared, I hope I showed that youth and young people can be a well-informed part of the process.
Q: Other than the delegation, how do you currently participate in the life of the Church?
WADE: Well, I’m a pastor, so that’s pretty much all the time.
Q: What are two highlights of your life as a Christian?
WADE: It’s hard to focus on two. Certainly, going with a group of students to the Urbana Missions Conference in 1970. I would also list my Emmaus Walk in the early ’80s.
SHARRI: A mission trip to South Africa in 2011, with my then-15-year-old daughter Monica. The 2009 Annual Conference Ordination Service at which John received his call to ministry.
JOHN: My call to ministry. Preaching at the Ardmore District Junior High Camp in 2012.
Q: Tell a favorite delegation memory that involves both of you.
SHARRI: Watching the rest of the delegation and others from across the world be supportive of John, making sure he met people and was included in all aspects of General Conference.
WADE: Every time we meet and Nikola is there has been special. The chance to talk over issues with her and hear how she looks at the questions facing our Church has been a great gift.
Brothers Bill Junk of Oklahoma City and Tom Junk of Tulsa form a third family duo within Oklahoma’s delegation. They also served together during the 2008 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.