Episcopal priorities for 2018-19
The following remarks are taken from Bishop Nunn’s Episcopal Address given on May 29, 2018.
By Bishop James Nunn
At the root of every quest is a question or series of questions. I broadly frame our Oklahoma Conference quest this way: “How do we reclaim our purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changing circumstance?” With this question in mind, we will examine our key priorities for the work of our ministry together.
The first priority of the conference is the need to develop effective leaders who are passionate to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We need leaders, both clergy and lay, who possess the spirituality, vision, and skills to help a local church effectively reach its community and demonstrate the fruit of that ministry, part of which is to experience growth.
Equipping people to lead our existing churches into greater strength and effectiveness is critical to the conference. Different church sizes call for different leadership strengths, and each church size requires unique skill sets. We must develop leaders capable of serving with excellence in all the contexts that we currently have. An equally important strategy is to develop leaders to reach people in ways we have not yet discovered we need.
New Faith Communities
The second critical initiative of the conference is to start new churches and faith communities. Our new projects are having a positive impact on our annual attendance statistics. We currently have 10 projects that are meeting for worship on a regular basis with a total average attendance of 1,525 people.
With only two or three additional church plants, we will stop the chronic decline in worship attendance inside our buildings. Lord, send us more laborers for the harvest.
We recognize that church plants of any kind are expensive. New church starts are costly, disruptive to the status quo, and have an unknown outcome. Even while these costs are shared with the Conference through our apportionment, the parent congregation makes a huge investment of money and personnel and faces new challenges.
We acknowledge that cost and say to all involved in starting new church plants and new faith communities: thank you.
Invigorate local churches
The third priority is to invigorate our local churches with the goal of helping them thrive and flourish.
When there are gaps in our ability to fulfill the mission as a local church, the New People New Places initiative may provide difference-making funds to help churches reach their mission fields or communities in new ways.
All the programs in the world will not restore the vision of a church that has lost its missional sight. Local church ministry begins when we see all the people.
I strongly encourage every church to engage your local community in at least one of these ways this year:
(1) Partner with a nearby school;
(2) Honor your local first responders and provide them a Strength for Service book; (3) Get ready to serve in response to disaster or crisis.
Stewardship and financial alignment
The fourth priority is strengthening stewardship and financial alignment. When I came to Oklahoma, I listened to many conversations, and a major theme emerged: beneath the surface of the reports, the conference is experiencing financial distress.
The Oklahoma Conference Council on Finance and Administration embarked on a long-term study. The study noted that while conference attendance has declined at a steady rate of 1.5% each year, both financial obligations and the average age of attendees continue to rise.
The conclusion: without significant intervention, the financial assumptions of the conference are unsustainable.
At Annual Conference, several recommendations were adopted: the 2019 budget is 6.36 percent lower than the 2018 budget; the decimal formula for 2019 apportionment calculations is frozen at the 2018 computation; each local church will experience a 6.36 percent decrease in 2019 apportionments; and several apportionment items have been recategorized as connectional opportunities, which each church may approach with a joyful spirit of giving.
2019 General Conference
In conclusion, I’d like to provide a brief update on the pending 2019 called General Conference. The called General Conference set for February 2019 will address the Council’s recommendation for the denomination regarding the current stance on human sexuality, especially as it relates to LGBTQ+ people.
The Council of Bishops recommends the One Church Plan, which will provide for differing practices and approaches to human sexuality. The plan removes prohibitions against same-gender marriage and ordination. It does not compel pastors or churches to conduct or host same gender weddings. It does not compel Boards of Ministry or bishops to approve or ordain candidates. It allows for central conferences to retain traditional language and values.
It is a privilege to serve you. I pray that God will bless our conference, guide our Church, and make us fruitful. Thank you, Oklahoma Conference.