You just never know
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
Just over a year ago, I joined other bishops and annual conferences’ leaders from across our jurisdiction at a meeting in Austin, Texas. We gathered to learn more about developing strategies and implementing goals to help The United Methodist Church reach a younger and more diverse population.
Groups we label as Generation X (1965-1979), Millennials or Generation Y (1980-2000), and the New Silent Generation (2001-Present) have a view of religion totally different than older Americans’.
Like 150 other people at the meeting, I wanted to learn as much as I could about how to make disciples for Christ in this ever-changing landscape of age, culture, and our need to maintain the holy among generations that will follow.
Two graduate students from Harvard were invited as presenters for the two-day session. They challenged us. They took away our comfort zones, telling us that the ever-growing-younger U.S. population is looking for and finding spirituality in places outside of churches yet in places that resemble church life in so many ways.
It was truly a fascinating conference.
On the first evening, people from our eight-state region were brought together for a get-acquainted dinner. I so clearly remember walking into the banquet hall and finding the seats already filled around the tables near the front of the room, so I made my way to the back of the hall and found a table where only one person was sitting.
As soon as I sat down, I realized that I previously had met the man, and he recalled me as well. It didn’t take us long to retrace our history and renew a friendship.
Conversation naturally turned to the meeting itself. He clearly was as interested in the presentations as I was. Even before others joined us as the table, I observed he was passionate about winning disciples and his love for the church was unquestionable.
We exchanged ideas about the challenges we faced in our particular areas of work, and we shared our optimism about the future. I was extremely impressed as he spoke of his desire to develop new plans and his willingness to try new things.
That brief encounter left me with the impression that "the stranger but a friend from the past" was well-suited for his ministry, and I was inspired by the passion he showed for God’s calling.
I recently encountered him again.
However, this time our friendship took on an entirely different meaning. The person who had sat at the table next to me in Austin had just been elected as a United Methodist bishop and was assigned to Oklahoma.
His name is Jimmy Nunn!
Bishop Nunn brings to Oklahoma unique gifts that will enhance our ministries and take our Conference to the next level. Based in Lubbock, Texas, he had been the director of mission and administration for the Northwest Texas Conference since 2011. He also has been a pastor, a district superintendent, and leader in connectional ministry who oversaw development of new churches. He is exceptionally qualified and prepared to lead our Conference forward, and I am extremely delighted he was assigned to the Oklahoma Area.
I want to express my appreciation to our Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee members for their role in helping to get Bishop Nunn here to Oklahoma.
He and I have shared yet another remarkable moment; it occurred during that jurisdictional conference in July. I was called on to lead prayer on stage for him right after his election as bishop — before any of us knew where he would be assigned.
In the years to come, I believe all Oklahomans will come to appreciate and enjoy serving with him for Christ.
Who could have known — other than God — that a simple encounter at a dinner would lead to a unique bond that he and I will share for the rest of our lives?
Who could have known the chance encounter would be renewed in friendship such as this?
The writer of Hebrews urges us to "keep on loving one another as sisters and brothers, never forgetting to show hospitality to strangers."
There will be two strangers among you in the days ahead. Their names are Jimmy and Mary Nunn. I pray that you will show them the love you have shown Dee and me these past 12 years and extend to them the hospitality with which you received us.
May God bless both Bishop Nunn and Mary as they step into what I feel is the most loving, hospitable place on earth!
This is my final Contact column during my ministry here. I bid you farewell knowing God has blessed me beyond measure by allowing me to serve you as your bishop. I love you, Oklahoma, and there’s nothing you can do about it!