|MATTERS OF HEALTH—Far left: Jack Turner speaks about Addiction Ministries as Annette Harper displays one of the posters used during that group's report. Left: Donating to the blood drive are Leon Wilson, left, and Bill Turner, inside the bloodmobile parked at Boston Avenue UMC. Photos by Holly McCray
'I was accepted despite all the trouble'
New high school graduates Michael and Jared toss T-shirts during the Circle of Care report.
Austin was born to a drug-dependent teen mother who abused him mentally and physically until, at age 3, he was placed with an uncle. Continual anger issues worsened for him about age 12 or 13. He started fighting with others and abusing drugs, ultimately being arrested at school. While on probation, he again was arrested for drug possession at school.
Austin had lived with his uncle 13 years, but a probation officer ordered change. Their choices: find a place to get help or go to juvenile detention center.
Austin’s uncle is a lifelong United Methodist. They sought help through the church, which pointed them to the Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care and Boys Ranch.
"I was so surprised by how much like a home it was, and how I was accepted despite all the trouble I’ve caused in people’s lives. I have been sober for a year and a half now. I found God again."
Austin, 17, told his story at the 2012 Annual Conference. "Staff helped me figure out no matter what, God is always there, holding your hand. Next year will be my senior year." He hopes to attend the University of Oklahoma.
Mark Howard is Circle of Care (COC) residential services director. "Each year, we hold a legacy banquet to celebrate the lives of those who have beat the odds" with COC’s help, he said. Eight high school graduates and two college graduates were honored from the 2011-12 school year.
"Be assured your support is taking care of these children, and thank you," COC President Don Batson told the clergy and lay delegates. He traced a child-care legacy timeline.
In 1731, a Methodist evangelist in Georgia established the nation’s first home for children in need. Long ago, a Methodist clergywoman sought legal recourse through the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on behalf of a neighborhood girl. "Because of her, we had the first child protective services laws passed in the nation," Batson said. And 95 years ago, the UM Children’s Home in Oklahoma City, the precursor to COC, was founded.
Howard noted the child-care climate in Oklahoma is changing rapidly, and COC is adapting. The agency’s Independent Living Program sets the standard for serving older youths. COC now provides intervention services in communities across the state, not only on its campuses. And while increasing the number of children served on those campuses, COC has decreased its costs, Howard said.
Of special concern right now in Oklahoma is emergency foster care for the youngest children, said Communications Coordinator Tod Bryant. "We get a list every day of children in shelters under the age of 5," he said. "It’s a difficult situation, needs to be addressed, someone needs to help, but what can we do?
"At Circle of Care we established an emergency foster care program last year in Oklahoma City, designed to care for these youngest children. We are expanding that into Tulsa, and we need your help."
On one recent day in Tulsa, he said, 26 children younger than 5 were warehoused in the county youth shelter.
"Come see us at Circle of Care. We can together provide a solid foundation for them to build their lives," Bryant said.
(This article continues Contact's news coverage of the 2012 meeting in late May at Tulsa. On this page is a summary of some groups' reports.)
Board of Church & Society
Kirt Moelling referred to the last letter John Wesley wrote, urging a member of Parliament to keep battling against slavery in Britain.
"Social justice is in our DNA," said Rev. Moelling.
The board educated people about the UM Social Principles, presenting at the Re-Ignite Workshops and at a luncheon with state legislators. "Oklahoma Action Alerts" are emailed to those who register online for UM-CAN (United Methodist Constituent-Advocacy Network).
On April 19-20, 2013, the board will sponsor a Social Justice Retreat at Canyon Camp. Leader will be Brian McLaren, who is known nationally as an innovative pastor and activist in the emerging church.
Dept. of Congregational Development
"On the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth, we celebrated the rebirth of Christ Church in Oklahoma City," reported Chris Tiger for the Department of Congregational Development.
He introduced that church’s pastor, Semaj Vanzant, who received loud applause when he said, "We’ve changed from the seven deadly words, ‘We’ve always done it this way,’ to doing it God’s way. We have contemporized the worship experience and almost tripled the offering."
Discipleship Ministry Team
Greg Tener introduced "Credo," a new Confirmation-class curriculum recommended for groups of five or fewer participants. The free materials will be available in September from the Youth Ministries office.
Discipleship Director Diana Northcutt said churches and their youth workers are asked to join in covenant. Youth workers promise to: pray for the church, its leaders, and community; make personal spiritual growth a priority; commit to continued learning; take one day off weekly and vacation; ask for help and share youth ministry work; strive for excellence as employees; and celebrate the church’s investment in youth ministry.
Saint Paul School of Theology
President Myron McCoy referred to "this remarkable partnership we have" as he opened the Saint Paul seminary report. Four years ago, Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University was launched. On Aug. 24 at OKC-Church of the Servant, commencement is set for the six members of its second graduating class.
Dean Elaine Robinson said 119 people from 57 cities enrolled in Seminary Lite, offered by Saint Paul at OCU especially for laity. Six Saturday courses were held during the 2011-12 school year, and 12 people completed all six. They will receive special certification at the August commencement.
She also announced that Course of Study for full-time Local Pastors has been approved for the Oklahoma City site by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and begins this year.
Pension & Health Benefits
Mouzon Biggs Jr. announced the Conference has saved $1.25 million by moving to Blue Cross Blue Shield for health insurance.
These changes were voted in the health benefits plan for 2013:
Premiums will increase 2 percent for active and retired participants.
The health benefits Apportionment will rise 2 percent for churches.
The out-of-pocket maximum cost (in-network) for an individual will increase from $2,400 to $2,750, not including the deductible.
Delegates voted to donate $50,000 from Pension Fund Crusade monies to the Central Conferences Pension Initiative.
Board of Ordained Ministry
Michael Burkett announced 54 clergy have been commissioned, 62 ordained, and 120 attended Local Pastors Licensing School during this quadrennium. Brittany Stanley received a Professional Certification in Christian Education.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation again has challenged Restore Hope supporters with a matching grant offer, reported Director Jeff Jaynes of the Tulsa ministry. Restore Hope and Skyline, in Oklahoma City, are the Conference’s urban ministries assisting the poor.
Rev. Jaynes told of his emotional response when the agency helped a construction worker, a man in his 60s, out of work. "Jesus was a carpenter," Jaynes contemplated.
—Compiled by Holly McCray