2013 Episcopal Address
On May 28, Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. gave this Episcopal Address during the 2013 Oklahoma Annual Conference.
To all my sisters and brothers in Christ who have been born out of the Wesleyan tradition and who are distinctly called United Methodists: I bid you greetings, grace, and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! This week marks the 170th gathering of Methodists in Oklahoma. We gratefully acknowledge our roles as living witnesses of a spiritual movement that has endured and will endure as long as God gives us life and breath -- lifting high the cross of Jesus Christ!
What an awesome privilege it is for me to stand before you today in this first Annual Conference session since my reassignment as bishop of the Oklahoma Area. To have the opportunity to begin and end my episcopal ministry here in Oklahoma is an answered prayer that exceeded all my expectations.
With one more quadrennium as your bishop, I want you to know what my priorities are and what I seek to accomplish before Sept. 1, 2016.
My top priority is to advance the Oklahoma Conference to its strongest-ever witness for Christ. To accomplish that goal, I begin with an even greater emphasis on the local church, calling both clergy and laity to the daunting task of starting new faith communities and revitalizing our existing congregations.
Thus I am appointing Rev. Chuck Nordean to serve as director of Congregational Development and Clergy Excellence, a much-needed assignment starting June 1 that will assist this priority in many ways.
Rev. Nordean’s duties will include developing new congregations and strategies to assist existing congregations. He will work closely with Rev. Craig Stinson, our Connectional Ministries director, to enhance the work of every congregation, and with the Board of Ordained Ministry to better prepare capable leaders and pastors to do the work of ministry.
Oklahoma has always been acclaimed as a GOOD conference; we rank in the top 10 of all 57 United Methodist conferences in the United States. Although we are blessed with a robust heritage, it will not be an easy task to move our conference from GOOD to GREAT. This will require willingness on my part and yours to go the extra miles that truly will strengthen our local churches.
The Book of Discipline of our denomination states, "The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs." I believe that. To be a stronger, greater conference, our focus must be on the local church.
General Conference action will not rescue our denomination. No general board or agency can provide a blueprint for what is ahead.
Our future as Christ’s United Methodist ambassadors depends upon our willingness to preach Christ from each pulpit, to leave the comfort and safety of our sanctuaries and carry the life-saving Gospel message out to people in our communities and in mission fields throughout the world.
John Wesley showed us how! I’ve said before that we once were known as "shouting Methodists." We must rally today for God with that same fervor, enthusiasm, and excitement!
From Guymon and Elk City, to McAlester, to Tulsa and beyond, innovative ideas are erupting in our local churches. I predict these new models will shape ministry that looks quite different in 10 years. Will we be prepared for it?
To accomplish this No. 1 priority, I feel I need to dedicate more of my time and energy to Oklahoma. I am removing myself from general boards and agencies of the denomination, beginning next year. I do this to devote myself more fully to the main task right here. My only general-church assignments will be my duties within the Council and the College of Bishops, and with the United Methodist institutions and agencies that operate within the bounds of this annual conference.
I have prayed about this decision for many weeks. I will work closely with Rev. Nordean and with our laity, clergy, and elected officials to achieve what I believe will be THE watershed moment for Oklahoma since half a century ago.
I do not intend to spend the next four years coasting toward an imaginary finish line, nor will I say, "Let the bishop who follows me" take responsibility for what I should be doing now as your episcopal leader. I intend to continue my practice of visiting as many churches as I can; exercising the ministry of presence wherever I’m needed; and running the race God has set before me with energy, eagerness, and enthusiasm!
Now hear me clearly: I cannot succeed on my own to move this conference from GOOD to GREAT. There is one more crucial component needed to achieve this goal.
That vital factor is YOU! If you and I work together-side by side-I believe this conference will become a GREAT one. And generations to come will be benefactors of our labors today for Christ.
My second priority for this quadrennium is to stay the course with our Strategic Plan. Since its adoption in May 2008, we have made tremendous progress. At this time we can confirm that a majority of local churches have in place programs and ministries designed to enhance growth and stimulate disciple-making, or they are creating such plans.
The Strategic Plan provides a framework for us to intentionally explore the ways we do ministry. Our Plan asks the hard questions, such as:
How do we do reach the growing population of young adults who are unchurched and absent from our places of worship?
How do we address the concerns of aging congregations and population shifts in our cities and, especially, our rural areas?
How do we extend quality ministry in our current economic climate?
There are no easy answers. But if we do not plan, if there is no vision, we surely will find ourselves in chaos.
Here is one measurement of reality in the Oklahoma Conference: Among 523 worshipping communities, we have approximately 250 with attendance of 50 people or fewer. That’s a sobering statistic.
Our Strategic Plan is our way forward. Each day I am encouraged by the growing number of churches that offer Confirmation classes; by updated statistics that show more people engaged in short-term and long-term mission projects; and by the reports of more churches reaching outside their walls and into the communities where they are located, providing unique ministries.
Let us stay the course with our Strategic Plan, and we will accomplish everything we hoped for five years ago.
My third and final priority is to keep our missions program ranked No. 1 in our denomination. There is no other conference in the United States that can claim to be in more places, reaching more people.
It is crucial that we continue this work, especially in impoverished areas where there is so much need.
One of the four Focus Areas of our denomination is defined as "ministry with the poor." Seen at surface level, you may think that title means we United Methodists are to go help others who are disadvantaged and deprived.
But I see a deeper meaning.
WE are the ones at a disadvantage and in need -- I am not discounting the very real needs of the poor! -- WE are blessed by our experiences WITH the poor.
Everyone who has participated in a United Methodist mission encounter can affirm what I am saying. So much can be learned from those who have little or nothing in the way of material things, but who are rich in matters of the Spirit. Thus WE actually become the benefactors of THEIR ministry TO US!
You will hear of a new United Methodist-related initiative, launching in Oklahoma, called the Kingswood Institute for the Study and Practice of Christian Mission. Its focus will be to equip each local church to more effectively serve its community and beyond.
The Kingswood Institute has the capacity to change the shape of each church’s life in mission and ultimately to transform the width and breadth of mission living throughout the denomination. I am so excited for the Oklahoma Conference to be moving in this direction!
Dear sisters and brothers, the time allotted to me for this Episcopal Address is over, but time resets now, more time for me to roll up my sleeves and, ALONGSIDE YOU, dig new and deeper fertile fields in Kingdom work. The delight of being with the people called Oklahoma United Methodists is as fresh for me in this moment as it was in July 2004 when my name was called to serve alongside you. The joy that I declared when I first arrived is still present, and my willingness to give you all of me is what keeps me in love with what I do and in love with each and every one of you. May God bless you all.
(edited for length)