A special day
"We should so live and labor in our time that what came to us as seed may go to the next generation as blossom, and what came to us as blossom may go to them as fruit. This is what we mean by progress."
-Henry Ward Beecher, American clergyman, 1813-1887
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
Although Gov. Henry didn't declare a holiday, and there weren't parades in towns across our state, Sept. 1 was a very special day for me.
There was no fanfare. Neither balloons, nor cakes with candles. For some Oklahomans, the focus that first weekend in September was the start of another football season. But for me, the clamor of the holiday, parades, and football all succumbed to a moment I will always savor.
On Friday, Sept. 1, I quietly slipped into my fourth year as bishop of the Oklahoma Area.
I marvel that three years have passed since a hot July night at Corpus Christi, Texas, when my name was read and I was assigned to this annual conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference-beginning Sept. 1, 2004. Of those initial days filled with so many mixed emotions, I am only now able to grasp what Ella Wheeler Wilcox meant when she wrote, "Whatever comes, this, too, shall pass away."
Indeed, the time has passed all too quickly. Neither time nor space allows me to share all my experiences. Perhaps glimpses of where I've been and what I've done-and what I hope to do-will help you sense my excitement from these three years. Thus this three-part series.
My greatest delight
In my role as bishop, my greatest joy comes in visiting the churches and being with the people called United Methodists! You are the most loving, welcoming people I have ever met. I treasure being in the pulpits and in the presence of so many wonderful Christians, born of a pioneer spirit and identified as descendents of a movement whose mission has always been to "offer Christ."
Your genuine affection is contagious; your devotion to your role as servants is encouraging; and your worship is awe-inspiring. From youth camps to megachurches to small towns where everybody knows everyone's name, I have traveled much of the state. Wherever I am, you are the source of my enthusiasm and joy-you, the people!
You are the energy that keeps me moving. You are the spark that lights the fires of my soul, and my goal is to visit every church, preach the Good News, and hear your stories.
Too often when we want to know the status of an organization, we turn to numbers. We ask questions about budgets and statistical data to determine gains or losses. But in my travels as bishop, I have found the heart and soul of our Conference is not found on a spreadsheet or in a computer's memory bank.
Look at the spirit of the people, and that will more accurately reflect where we are and where we are going.
Oklahomans, your spirit tells me God is in our midst and on our journey. I see it in your faces, and I hear it in your voices. Your handshakes and your embraces remind me over and over that you are the church.
You represent the living Christ to all the world. Without you-the people who fill the pews, sing in the choirs, and make the coffee-we would not have a Church.
Yes, I know there are congregations struggling to keep their doors open. I have been with some of them. I want you to know I am deeply involved in that struggle with you. God has called me to this place at this time to share in the difficulties of doing ministry in this day.
Just like you, I am praying God will help us (as God always has) to find solutions that will move us forward-from seed, to blossom, to fruit.
Solutions are not found easily, but God's call is not to ministry of ease. If we remain faithful, God will help us find ways to overcome.
Our greatest hope
I feel our greatest hope is in revitalizing our struggling churches and building new churches where we do not now have a United Methodist presence.
We cannot and will not abandon our small churches! These congregations represent the heart and soul of a faith movement that first took root in small communities throughout Oklahoma. Wherever there is an ember poised to ignite into flame, I want the clergy and lay members of our Conference to know: I will work with you to make that happen.
Ministry is evolving rapidly in today's culture. We must develop and adapt new strategies to offer Jesus Christ. Our witness of faith must be dynamic, relevant, and vital to meet the modern-day demands placed on our churches.
Put simply, in many places where our witness is stumbling, we must find new ways to reach people. The one word that best describes this: change.
I know firsthand that change does not come easy. "Nobody likes change but a wet baby" is an adage I frequently use.
But consider our options.
Do we continue doing what we've always done, likely getting the same results? Or do we take a leap of faith and try something new?
I have a message for every congregation under pressure, to all those besieged by declining memberships and insufficient budgets. You don't have to re-invent the wheel as you seek answers. Our Conference has in place the tools and expertise to work with you and offer solutions.
That's what "connection" means as United Methodists. That's one of the many ways your Apportionment dollars aid you in being faithful to the Church's call to "offer Christ."
If you call us, we will come!