Above, during the Act of Repentance, Bishop Hayes reminds delegates that "even the rocks will cry out" for justice. UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey
Judy Benson, left, and Linda Harker discuss pending legislation.
By Joseph Harris, Director of Communications
The Oklahoma Conference is recognized across the United Methodist connection for outstanding, dedicated leaders. Nowhere was that better illustrated than at the 2012 General Conference, meeting in Tampa, Fla., on April 24-May 4.
As it opened, quickly evident was that Oklahomans would be asked to provide leadership vital to the work of the 988 delegates, from five continents and 60 nations, at this quadrennial meeting of the 13-million-member United Methodist Church.
As delegates began to organize into legislative committees to deal with the 1,200 petitions submitted for consideration by the General Conference, Oklahoma Conference representatives were selected for leadership in those groups.
Clergymen Guy Ames (Ardmore District superintendent) and Joseph Harris (assistant to the bishop/director of Communications/Annual Conference secretary) were elected to chair two of the 13 groups: the Conferences Committee and Independent Commissions Committee, respectively.
With their selection, Oklahoma became the only annual conference from which two people were chosen to lead these major committees.
Judy Benson of Frederick (our Oklahoma Conference lay leader) was elected to chair a subcommittee of the General Administration Committee, which dealt with the restructuring petitions.
And all three, along with Linda Harker (senior pastor, McFarlin UMC, Norman) spoke from the main podium April 30, presenting action recommended from their committees to the full assembly.
Oklahomans’ voices were heard throughout the two weeks of service to the wider Church.
John Hiller (lay delegate, high-school senior, Ringling UMC), one of the youngest General Conference delegates, was asked by United Methodist Communications to participate in an ongoing blog.
Others spoke in the plenary sessions on issues such as: the clergy pension plan and positive investment in the Holy Land (Bob Long, senior pastor, OKC-St. Luke’s), free electronic access to the Discipline and Guidelines series (Sam Powers, pastor, Piedmont-First), and rules of order (layman Bill Junk, president, Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation).
Seated at round tables, sharing side-by-side with delegates from central conferences (those outside the U.S.) who spoke languages other than English, the 18 Oklahomans truly were immersed in the Church’s global witness.
Our bishop, Robert Hayes Jr., also filled prominent roles. He presided at an early-evening plenary session April 26, and in the worship leadership April 27 for the "Act of Repentence Toward Healing Relationships With Indigenous Peoples."
During the second week, Oklahomans gathered daily for fellowship luncheons sponsored by the Oklahoma UM Foundation. On May 2, the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Mission Conferences’ delegation members and General Conference volunteers from Oklahoma, including pages and marshals, were welcomed at a fellowship dinner hosted by Don Kim (lay delegate, physician, OKC-First Korean UMC).
The General Conference also elected Oklahomans to general agency boards.
Judge Kurt Glassco, a member of Tulsa-First UMC, was chosen as a lay alternate to the denomination’s Judicial Council; and Rev. Dr. Long will continue serving on the General Board of Pensions. Bishop Hayes is assigned to the General Council on Finance & Administration. Additionally, Dean Elaine Robinson, of Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University, and Dean Mark Davies of the OCU School of Arts & Sciences, both clergy, were nominated for the University Senate.
Results from the 2012 General Conference generated a mixed response among people at all Church levels. As Oklahoma’s delegation leader Benson reflected, she made a list of what she saw as significant actions.
1. Set specific goals for 2013-16 to grow vital congregations.
2. Affirmed congregations that have set goals.
3. Eliminated guaranteed appointments for clergy. (Judicial Council will rule on the constitutionality of this.)
4. Approved general agencies’ plans to downsize.
5. Affirmed support of Palestinian Christians.
6. Did not approve divestment from specific U.S. companies.
7. Awarded $5 million for theological studies in Africa.
8. Awarded $1.5 million to develop young clergy leaders.
9. Set up a new clergy pension plan.
10. Passed a lower overall budget that reflects better utilization of Apportionment dollars globally. (Includes $1.7 million for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference)
11. Did not change statements on human sexuality.
12. Agreed that excess litigation does not reflect UM values.
13. Affirmed health care as a basic human right.
14. Changed "Lay Speaking Ministry" to "Lay Servant Ministries."
15. Rejected proposals for "set-apart bishop" and episcopal term limits. Council of Bishops has acted to limit meetings and input by retired bishops.
16. Approved new language in the candidacy process to measure clergy fruitfulness.
17. Approved naming part-time Local Pastors to district committees on ministry and full-time Local Pastors to annual conference boards of ministry.
18. Eliminated individual petitions to General Conference. Future petitions must be supported and submitted by official committees of a local church and/or annual conference.
With 41 percent of General Conference delegates now elected from other nations, where the faith is growing rapidly, Benson also noted, "It’s a new day. I visited with (a) person from Nigeria. He said the African conferences met in Atlanta before they came and developed common goals on issues, although they did not tell each delegate how to vote."
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