Applauding the news of Bishop Hayes' return to Oklahoma are from right: Aly Shahan, Trey Witzel, Tom Harrison, Guy Ames, and John Hiller. Back row, from right: Debra Davis, D.A. Bennett, and Cara Nicklas. Photo by Holly McCray
SCJ Executive Director David Severe wears the gift of a Native American blanket from OIMC. At right is Josephine Deere. Photo by Holly McCray
Judy Benson dances with a young band member from Lydia Patterson Institute. Benson is outgoing SCJ lay leader. Photo by Kristin Van Nort
Bishop Hayes rejoices late July 20. Photo by Shari Goodwin
By Holly McCray
A tradition was upended at the South Central Jurisdictional (SCJ) Conference, meeting in Oklahoma City on July 18-21. Since 1980, every bishop assigned to the Oklahoma Area served here a total of eight years (two terms).
Late on July 20, the jurisdiction extended for a third term the assignment of Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. Thus his leadership will span 12 years in the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conferences (OIMC). The term begins Sept. 1.
Oklahomans rose, cheering and clapping, when the announcement was made about 11:30 p.m. Beaming, the bishop and Dee Hayes, his wife, flashed thumbs-up from the plenary stage in Cox Convention Center. A short time later, the flock gathered around their shepherd family, laying hands on them and praying.
Frankye Johnson, dean of the Cabinet, spoke at the Area Breakfast. "Bob and Dee, you are indeed family. We are so glad we are able to move on with you by our side."
The bishop said, "I believe we can keep on working and make Oklahoma the model of ministry in the whole denomination. We have the right people, the resources, the opportunity, and the audacity. "
Other milestones marked the convention, attended by about 650 people from eight states and 15 UM annual conferences.
For the first time in the denomination’s history, a Native American was an endorsed episcopal nominee.
David Wilson, Choctaw, who is the OIMC superintendent, earned third place in the opening round of voting. He later withdrew his candidacy as the election process continued and his numbers slipped. In a gracious, brief statement, he included a prayer sent to him by young people of the OIMC.
Balloting required 23 rounds for delegates to fill three episcopal openings. Elected as bishops were Cynthia Harvey, Gary Mueller, and Mike McKee, all from annual conferences in Texas.
Action affecting another episcopal leader, Bishop Earl Bledsoe, appears unprecedented in the Church’s history. The jurisdictional conference assigned him to involuntary retirement. Intense discussions preceded the vote, and some delegates cried openly. The bishop has appealed to the denomination’s Judicial Council. Follow news updates at www.umc.org or www.UnitedMethodistReporter.com.
Delegates’ somber attention to that matter harshly differed from the jubilation of Oklahomans over the return of their bishop. This jurisdictional conference seemed to roil with extremes. Both business and worship were streamed live online; viewers Friday night saw the audience literally dancing to party music during one break.
About 200 people signed up for a hands-on mission. In one afternoon at OKC-Church of the Servant, they assembled and packed 50,000 meals for the poor.
Also, several Oklahoma Conference delegates were elected to service on General Church boards: Briana Tobey, General Board of Church & Society; Sam Aguirre, General Board of Global Ministries; Bill Junk, General Board of Pension & Health Benefits; and Joe Harris, General Commission on Religion & Race.
Oklahoma City had not hosted the quadrennial SCJ conference for 44 years—since 1968. Theme was "Woven Together for Transformation."
Led by Revs. Harris and Wilson, a "home team" of volunteers from both annual conferences worked on local arrangements across more than three years. A combined choir performed in opening worship at OKC-St. Luke’s. The history of Methodism in Oklahoma was lifted in video and a magazine. And Area Night served up Oklahoma flavors in both food and entertainment.