A question is asked on the nomination form for the prestigious Harry Denman Evangelism Award. "What difference has this person made in the lives of people, the Church, and the community?" Nominees should be "persons respected for their outstanding success in helping others experience God’s transforming love through Jesus Christ."
Pastors Stan Warfield and Sharen Hale received Denman Awards at the 2010 Oklahoma Annual Conference.
The witness of these two United Methodist champions for Christ is vividly described in the written words of those who nominated them, quoted in this story.
Their witness should be emulated by all.
They are bringing about holy transformation in widely different settings: Rev. Warfield in Stillwater, population 47,000-plus; Rev. Hale in Gene Autry, population 120.
Stan Warfield: ‘We’re glad you’re riding with us, Preacher’
An American serviceman from Stillwater was killed in Afghanistan. From the local airport, his coffin was escorted into town by military veterans on motorcycles, each flying the American flag. These men in leather jackets and motocycle boots were joined by Stan Warfield, in his helmet, suit jacket, and orange necktie, riding his orange motor scooter. "We’re glad you’re riding with us, Preacher," said one of the men. They knew him and welcomed him.
He is also known as "Pastor Dude." In his years in Stillwater, Warfield has met and shared with people from all parts of the community.
The Oklahoma clergyman began preaching when he was in high school. Ordained in 1976, he was appointed to lead Stillwater-First UMC in 2000.
Fruits of the spirit attributed to Warfield: Personal. Peacemaker. Community-minded. Empowers people to do their own ministries. Encourages diversity. Embraces and embodies the idea that we are a Church Beyond Walls. Intentional about becoming involved with those searching for meaning in their lives.
- Warfield met with a class of college students. "Are you going to stay for the church service?" he asked. They declined; they had to hurry to lunch. He learned the dormitories and fraternity houses served no noon meal on Sundays. "Come to church next Sunday, and I’ll see that there will be lunch for you after church." Since then, when Oklahoma State University is in session, the Sunday School classes take turns providing lunch for students.—Will Paine
- We had been attending church sporadically for about a year when Stan was appointed. We listened carefully to see what the new preacher would bring to the church we considered joining. Week after week, I would watch Stan work his way through the people in the sanctuary with a welcoming greeting, a kind word, and a hand of friendship outstretched. Stan was the officiating pastor when my daughters, then ages 4 and 2, were baptized. My children have benefitted by knowing that a pastor enjoys laughing and knows it is OK to cry, that a pastor honors his faith through word and deed. My youngest daughter referred to Stan as "the talking God" because of the weekly conversations with the children about God’s love for them.—Brenda Rolls
- He interacts comfortably with executives and hourly workers, men and women, young and more mature people. When I have faced business challenges, Stan has proven to be a good listener, helps me work through issues, and supports my desire to create a business that honors Christ and my faith. He has helped me understand that my position as CEO allows me to minister to people I encounter in the business setting.—Brenda Rolls
- Warfield has served as a chaplain and mentor for fire departments and law enforcement agencies. "I have witnessed him going to an apartment for a death notification. Many times he is invited in, and offers God’s grace and hope to those who have never experienced the grace of Christ. You can imagine the impact this has on the family in such situations."—Andrew Ranson
- I walked with Stan through helping move a grand, historical, and wonderful church into becoming one transformational in nature, ready to meet challenges of this new century. As a Don Nation’s Association pilot church, Stan and other Stillwater-First leaders worked with the district on issues of transformation. The association’s transformation score for that church was 41, the highest level awarded.—Bert Potts
Another nomination letter eloquently summarized this clergyman’s impact: "Stan does not expect people to seek him out; rather, Stan seeks out the people to whom he can share God’s love and grace. Stan is clear about his commitment to ministry. Stan says we must ‘let them see Jesus.’ Rev. Stanley Warfield Jr. does just that."
Sharen Hale: She ‘identified with the heart-language of the people’
In southern Oklahoma, Sharen Hale is appointed quarter-time to minister at Gene Autry UMC. She holds a full-time secular job; more time goes to her college studies.
Her timing is right for God.
The church in southern Oklahoma reported 26 professions of faith in 2009. Worship attendance averaged 20 people in 2007; in 2009, that average was 80.
"Rev. Hale believes and practices that no one should be in the same place now than they were a year ago in their relationship with God," stated Katherine McQuistion.
The Ardmore area has always been home to Hale. In childhood, she attended Ardmore-First UMC. She experienced her call to ministry in 2006, while attending a Walk to Emmaus event. She became a Lay Speaker, filling pulpits for two years in Ardmore District before receiving her license to preach. Gene Autry UMC is the first appointment for this Local Pastor.
Chuck Stewart, an associate lay leader for the Oklahoma Conference, taught a Lay Speaking class in which Hale was enrolled. "I saw in Sharen a passion for people that exceeded her own anxieties," he said. "People can learn relationship-building skills. Sharen is the person who should be teaching the class. She leads with her heart, and I believe she knows no other way."
Attendance at Gene Autry UMC had been steady, about 20 people, for several years prior to her appointment. Few children or youths participated. Building debt totaled about $75,000.
In March, the church celebrated; that debt has been fully repaid. More than 40 children and youths participate in learning and fellowship on Sundays and Wednesdays. A community Vacation Bible School, a joint effort with First Baptist Church, drew more than 100 people. "As you enter each Sunday, you will probably be greeted by a teenage usher," wrote Guy Ames, Ardmore District superintendent.
"In over 30 years of ministry, I have rarely witnessed such a fit between pastor and congregation," said Rev. Ames. Hale "immediately identified with the heart-language of the people of Gene Autry. Her personality and passion for people has created a strong lay-led ministry, into many areas of witness and mission."
With Hale’s leadership, the congregation has organized according to the Book of Discipline, has begun using The United Methodist Hymnal, and is learning about the liturgical seasons, Ames said. And the church is "always looking for more opportunities to be in mission."
Ames provided several powerful examples of that.
- A tornado roared through nearby Lone Grove. The Gene Autry Fire Department was called out that night. Almost before the sirens had subsided, Hale was teaming up with her firefighting church members, going through debris, bringing aid and prayer to people in desperate need. More than 300 households were impacted. Within days she had organized the congregation to team with an Ardmore District response.
- Wildfires struck an area that included Ratliff City, where Hale works, and other rural communities in Carter and Stephens Counties. More than 250 homes were badly damaged or burned to the ground.
Hale initiated a daily volunteer support operations service out of her office and later worked as a volunteer in the case management response led by UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).
- On a Palm Sunday, as an act of faith and statement of the servant nature of this church, the people carried a large cross during a 2-mile walk through the countryside and to the church, calling their neighbors to walk with them and join them for worship.
"As a result of (Sharen Hale’s) energetic witness and servant model, lives are strengthened, the church is healthier, and people have been invited to join the Kingdom family," Ames said.