‘We want to reach more people, more diverse people, and more younger people’—The Strategic Plan for the Oklahoma Conference
|Part of the story of the Church’s birth is defined by the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of people from diverse backgrounds to hear the same message about God’s mighty works. Read the Pentecost story, Acts 2:1-14.
By Holly McCray
General church leaders have vowed their support to develop two new Hispanic communities and to resource the Oklahoma Conference in additional ways that benefit Hispanic ministry in all contexts.
That emphasis on partnership emerged during three days of workshops and brainstorming in December at Oklahoma City.
"We’ve been involved in a strategic planning process to develop a comprehensive plan for our Hispanic ministries," said Craig Stinson, director of Connectional Ministries for Oklahoma.
Three representatives of the denomination’s National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry met with Hispanic pastors in Oklahoma; Cabinet members and Bishop Hayes; Jeremy Basset, Volunteers In Mission director; and Rev. Stinson;
"We are ready to go a new round in this work," said Francisco Cañas, National Plan specialist.
A shift in target audience is necessary, he declared. For 30 to 40 years, the Church has sought to be in ministry with first-generation Hispanics in the United States.
The new focus must be on second- and third-generation populations, who are bilingual, comfortable in American culture, and know U.S. processes. Crucial to the work is bilingual pastors.
As the Southwest Texas and Rio Grande Conferences move toward a merger, their new clergy members are required to speak both English and Spanish, according to news reports.
The Oklahoma Conference’s Hispanic Ministries Committee currently advises four active congregations that receive Apportionment support: Vida en Abundancia, in Laverne; Nueva Esperanza, Tulsa; Heavener Hispanic Fellowship; and Hillcrest-Fuente de Vida, Oklahoma City.
The December sessions explored key subjects:
Clergy and lay leadership development; and
Implementation at the annual conference and local levels.
Participants discussed challenges to growing the Hispanic witness for Christ in Oklahoma. One of those: methods of church-planting.
"The key is not to just open another church" and expect it to sustain itself, said Carlos Ramirez, associate pastor at Elk City UMC and chairman of the Hispanic Ministries Committee. He urged new Hispanic groups be partnered with non-Hispanic churches in shared ministry.
Pastor Tino Espinoza of Fuente de Vida suggested "house churches" could be effective in rural areas. These smaller groups could meet together monthly for worship.
The National Plan speakers said Oklahoma must be intentional in selecting the areas for new communities and be confident that partners at all levels are committed to the effort.
"I’m very anxious for us to begin a process that will make a difference," said Bishop Hayes. "We have significant leadership in our Hispanic pastors. This is extremely important for us to develop realistic plans and, in this place and time, to stand up and be the Church. I think for too long we have set goals that have made us feel we failed when we had setbacks.
"There’s room at the table for all of us. We have the capacity and the means to make this happen."
He prayed, "Give us the wisdom to take what has been put on paper and write it in our hearts."