Boards seek changes in three areas
By Holly McCray
Bubbling in various Oklahoma Conference committees for almost a year, dreams and dialogue have solidified into three key issues for the 2014 Annual Conference.
With this story, Contact begins a series of reports on the proposed changes. As this issue goes to press, the boards are completing their documents. The overarching purpose giving urgency to their work is the subject of this story.
The three proposals:
A new initiative, New People New Places, from the Conference corporate board (Oklahoma Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church Inc.);
Changes in health benefits for retired clergy, from the Conference Board of Pension & Health Benefits; and
Realignment of districts, from the Conference Board of Laity.
The proposed changes are related. Leaders believe the impact will enable the Church to engage more intentionally in its No. 1 mission: to make disciples for Christ. Financial savings are also anticipated.
In his 2013 Episcopal Address, Oklahoma’s bishop spoke of the mission mandate. "If we exhaust ourselves in fulfilling that charge, then our Church will be renewed," said Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
In a recent interview, he applauded the strategic decision-making by the Conference boards.
A framework for all ministry, titled Strategic Plan, was approved by Annual Conference delegates about five years ago.
"We’ve been implementing that in local churches," Bishop Hayes said. "Now we’re getting ready to align the programs of the Conference in terms of the Plan. Just like we’ve asked every church to examine its priorities, the Conference has to do the same."
He continued, "Every entity that makes up the Conference is undergoing re-examination of how we produce disciples. Are we fulfilling the mission?"
He applies that question to his role, too. In last year’s Episcopal Address, Hayes promised to expand his involvement in the life of Oklahoma’s congregations. He said he would reduce outside commitments.
He is keeping his vow. He stepped down from the Executive Committee of the denomination’s Council of Bishops and, later this year, will conclude his assignment to the General Council on Finance & Administration. He rejected any idea of a slowdown in this, his final episcopal term.
During a recent week, his Oklahoma visits included Sayre, Alfalfa, Ringling, Bridgeview in Norman, and Boston Avenue in Tulsa.
"My role is to come alongside and be an encourager," Hayes said. "I can be a visible reminder that this is all about the local church being empowered."
He emphasized, "The Conference exists to support and keep the local church vibrant." He pointed to the UM Book of Discipline statement: "Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs."
Hayes said "crucial" votes will take place at the 2014 Annual Conference. "It’s not just about saving money, not just about realignment. We’ve got to be nimble."
He continued, "It’s all part of an effort to look at how we can put more backing into new faith communities — not so much bricks-and-mortar, but building spiritual houses within folks’ lives. The things we are doing carve out that place where we can have people of all ages be exposed to the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Jeremiah 29 says, I’m going to give you a future with hope. This is about the future that has hope in it for Oklahoma."
The bishop encourages you to become informed about the proposals. They deserve your attention before the annual meeting in late May. He invites you to read and discuss them, and to provide any feedback through your district superintendent.
Hayes also shared his enthusiasm at a November meeting of the Conference corporate board.
"At several levels, there are conversations about the nature and future of the Church that have not taken place in a long while. Where are we going? What is it going to look like when we get there? How do we get there?"
"It’s exciting to me," said Hayes. "These are helpful conversations."
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