Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Annual Conference news - Bishop presses to erase educational debt


Strategic Plan goal: spiritual leadership

In his episcopal address May 31 to the Annual Conference, Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. vowed to help eliminate clergy debt due to educational expenses.

He appealed for gifts to the newly created LIFE Scholarship Fund, established with the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation, to help eliminate such debt.

Bishop Hayes spoke of his burden for clergy ministering at entry-level salaries, yet owing $40,000 or more in student loans after seminary study, according to national surveys. A seminary degree is required for elder ordination in the Church.

"Gifted and desiring young men and women who want to go into ordained ministry cannot afford it," the bishop said. "This issue consumes me. It goes to the heart of who we are."

He pointed out the roots of Methodism began growing with John and Charles Wesley when they were college students at Oxford, England, in the 1730s. By the mid-1800s, churches were establishing secondary schools and colleges. Predecessor denominations "instituted courses of study for their preachers to ensure that they had a basic knowledge of the Bible, theology, and pastoral ministry" (page 13, United Methodist Book of Discipline).

LIFE stands for Leadership Investment Fund through Education. Hayes said the fund will become a model for the denomination.

At the fall Bishop’s Retreats, clergy will be able to apply for assistance.

The goal is to begin awarding aid after one year. For more information, contact the Foundation, 800-259-6863.

"Assist us with this vision to eliminate the educational indebtedness of our clergy," Hayes urged. "It is a financial crisis."

Education about finances surfaced in other reports during the conference.

New ministerial formation master grants went to Claremore-First, Owasso, Muskogee-St. Paul, McAlester-First, and Tulsa-Wesley, announced by clergy recruiter Jack Terrell-Wilkes.

In October, a seminar series called LEAD! begins for clergy. The first class, designed as a sort of Local Church Finance 101, seeks to teach "What I Wish I’d Learned in Seminary." The series is a partnership by Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University, the Oklahoma Conference Treasurer’s Office, and OCU.

Saint Paul School at OCU will celebrate its first graduating class next May, announced Elaine Robinson, dean of the school.

In recognition of the support the university receives, OCU is renaming Centennial Hall, its new dormitory, to be Oklahoma United Methodist Hall.

Various awards saluted individuals and groups for leadership in Scouting ministries and more. The next issue of Contact will feature some of those.

A leadership shortage spurred an urgent call by Camps Director Randy McGuire for help at youth camps this summer. Bishop Hayes repeated the appeal.

"District and Conference camps are in desperate need" of adult volunteers this summer, said Rev. McGuire.


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