For people who gather
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
Look closely at the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn "And Are We Yet Alive." You will discover that it is a song written for people who gather. It speaks to the joy of being united in fellowship with one another, of difficulties and obstacles that have been overcome, and of the ever-present love that will continue until we join our Lord in the heavens above.
I’m sure that when this song was written in 1749 Wesley did not realize it would become an anthem of sorts for people called Methodists. All around the world, this great hymn is sung at annual conferences in praise and tribute to God who has been faithful all along our journey.
This will be the song we will sing, following that tradition, in just a few days at the historic Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, as the gavel strikes and we call into session the 167th session of the Oklahoma Annual Conference, May 30-June 2.
That thought produces goose bumps as I think about the heritage that is ours as United Methodists.
Even before our country had a Declaration of Independence, the first conference of Methodist preachers was held—in Philadelphia, in 1773. At that conference, 10 ministers pledged allegiance to John Wesley’s leadership. They inaugurated a system of regular conferences for preachers, a system similar to what Wesley had instituted in England.
This led to the notable Christmas Conference of 1784, held at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Md. The next year, the Church published its first Book of Discipline and adopted a quadrennial General Conference, "the first of which was held in 1792; drafted a Constitution in 1808; refined its structure, established a publishing house, and became an ardent proponent of revivalism and camp meeting." (United Methodist Book of Discipline, 2008, page 11)
Every year as the date nears for our Annual Conference, my excitement builds as I look forward to this very special gathering.
A reason for being
The theme for our meeting this year is: "Following the Plan—Faithful Witness, Transforming Presence." It is an obvious reference to our Strategic Plan, which was adopted two years ago. The Plan is the tool we use to hold ourselves accountable as we in Oklahoma seek to fulfill the mission of our denomination: "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
The reports shared at the Annual Conference will examine the ways we have carried out ministry throughout the past year, as well as set priorities and goals for the coming year. In essence, our Strategic Plan is a constant reminder of who we are and why God has placed us here for such a time as this.
Our keynote preacher for this year is Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who is episcopal leader of the Pittsburgh Area (Western Pennsylvania).
For our denomination, Bishop Bickerton has been spearheading "Nothing But Nets," a major effort to provide bedding nets in Africa to help prevent the spread of malaria.
The program has been so successful that The United Methodist Church is implementing an even more expansive program: "Imagine No Malaria." He continues to carry a key role.
Bickerton is a dynamic leader and preacher to welcome into our special time of fellowship at Tulsa. His outstanding preaching and genuine Christian spirit will inspire and challenge us.
He will speak at the opening Memorial/Communion Service on Sunday evening (May 30), and at the Service of Commissioning on Monday evening (May 31). On Tuesday evening, it will be my joy to deliver the sermon during the Service of Ordination sermon.
Internet tools open doors
Everyone is invited to these worship services. And this year, if you cannot personally attend our gathering at Boston Avenue Church, you can be a part of the activities by using the Internet.
This year our Communications Department is making it possible for anyone with access to the Internet to view the activities of our conference as they take place. You can watch live as the worship services and business sessions are conducted. The process is called live streaming.
Previously, only 1 percent of the total membership of the Oklahoma Conference has been able to experience firsthand this annual faith gathering—the joyful worship, supportive fellowship, the growth in knowledge and insight about our ministries. This year at Boston Avenue, this technology creates an opportunity to reach thousands of United Methodists across Oklahoma and beyond. You will find instructions online at www.okumc.org.
What you can do
Perhaps you are not a delegate to the annual conference. Perhaps you cannot attend in person or watch online.
Whatever your location, I ask you to do something for me. I am urging each and every United Methodist to pray for the success of our annual meeting. Your prayers will go a long way toward ensuring a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led gathering.
In just a few months I will complete my sixth year as your bishop!
I’m excited about what has taken place in Oklahoma. I’m even more excited about what will take place in the days and months to come. In whatever way you can, I invite you to share my excitement as we celebrate an ending and a new beginning as the people called United Methodists who gather to thank God for the journey!