At OKC-St. Luke’s, Judy Benson and Bob Long greet Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson, center, of Nebraska. She was the first woman elected to the episcopacy in the South Central Jurisdiction. She will retire next year.
By Holly McCray
Two Oklahoma church leaders issued invitations to an exceptional meeting Oct. 21-22. The guests paid their own way; they traveled to Oklahoma City from eight states, and they stayed overnight. Speakers filled a dense agenda. Small groups met during dinner. This event was no picnic.
And the response was outstanding.
This highly unusual meeting—some would say unprecedented—drew about 60 percent of the South Central Jurisdiction’s delegates for the 2012 General/Jurisdictional Conferences of The United Methodist Church. The Oklahoma Conference delegation has 44 members.
A total of 207 laity and clergy met at OKC-St. Luke’s. Also attending were 21 spouses, seven general-board presenters, and two bishops.
Bob Long, St. Luke’s senior pastor, and Judy Benson of Frederick, the Oklahoma Conference lay leader, called the meeting, which was underwritten by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation.
Rev. Dr. Long and Benson represent the Oklahoma Conference on the Episcopacy Committee of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ).
Perhaps Oklahoma provided a good central point for the delegates converging from as far away as Nebraska, New Mexico, and Louisiana. The audience will return in mid-July. The SCJ Conference will be held at the Cox convention center, with worship services at St. Luke’s.
"We are not here for debate," Long told the audience. "We wanted to create a safe environment where people can come and learn. We wanted to gather in the spirit of understanding, for learning and for networking."
The event truly was atypical. Benson and Long were inspired by a story of 20 delegates who met in Austin, Texas, prior to the 2008 SCJ Conference.
But no evidence has surfaced of such a large-scale advance meeting during the history of the jurisdiction. And Benson said her lay-leader counterparts in other jurisdictions recalled nothing comparable in their regions.
The springtime General Conference often is called a marathon. Across 10 days, delegates from around the globe debate thousands of petitions and set the denomination’s course and budget for the next four years. Election of bishops is a major responsibility at summer’s Jurisdictional Conferences.
"Your presence here says so much about you. You are committed," Long complimented the audience. "There is no way you can make a good decision if you are not prepared. You have six months; the learning curve is steep."
Topics ranged from finance to clergy pensions; from the episcopacy to wide-ranging legislative proposals in the Call to Action report, the Ministry Study, and the Worldwide Nature of the Church report.
Among presenters were top officials from the General Council on Finance & Administration, The Connectional Table, and the General Boards of Pension & Health Benefits and Higher Education & Ministry. Also: Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection, and Bishop Scott Jones of Kansas.
Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson of Nebraska led Communion. "What a joy to see South Central Jurisdiction in holy conferencing," she said.