Two witnesses honored
A question is asked on the nomination form for the prestigious Harry Denman Evangelism Award. "What difference has this person made in the lives of people, the Church, and the community?" Nominees should be "persons respected for their outstanding success in helping others experience God’s transforming love through Jesus Christ."
Pastors Stan Warfield and Sharen Hale received Denman Awards at the 2010 Oklahoma Annual Conference.
The witness of these two United Methodist champions for Christ is vividly described in the written words of those who nominated them, quoted in this story.
Their witness should be emulated by all.
They are bringing about holy transformation in widely different settings: Rev. Warfield in Stillwater, population 47,000-plus; Rev. Hale in Gene Autry, population 120.
An American serviceman from Stillwater was killed in Afghanistan. From the local airport, his coffin was escorted into town by military veterans on motorcycles, each flying the American flag. These men in leather jackets and motocycle boots were joined by Stan Warfield, in his helmet, suit jacket, and orange necktie, riding his orange motor scooter. "We’re glad you’re riding with us, Preacher," said one of the men. They knew him and welcomed him.
He is also known as "Pastor Dude." In his years in Stillwater, Warfield has met and shared with people from all parts of the community.
The Oklahoma clergyman began preaching when he was in high school. Ordained in 1976, he was appointed to lead Stillwater-First UMC in 2000.
Fruits of the spirit attributed to Warfield: Personal. Peacemaker. Community-minded. Empowers people to do their own ministries. Encourages diversity. Embraces and embodies the idea that we are a Church Beyond Walls. Intentional about becoming involved with those searching for meaning in their lives.
Another nomination letter eloquently summarized this clergyman’s impact: "Stan does not expect people to seek him out; rather, Stan seeks out the people to whom he can share God’s love and grace. Stan is clear about his commitment to ministry. Stan says we must ‘let them see Jesus.’ Rev. Stanley Warfield Jr. does just that."
In southern Oklahoma, Sharen Hale is appointed quarter-time to minister at Gene Autry UMC. She holds a full-time secular job; more time goes to her college studies.
Her timing is right for God.
The church in southern Oklahoma reported 26 professions of faith in 2009. Worship attendance averaged 20 people in 2007; in 2009, that average was 80.
"Rev. Hale believes and practices that no one should be in the same place now than they were a year ago in their relationship with God," stated Katherine McQuistion.
The Ardmore area has always been home to Hale. In childhood, she attended Ardmore-First UMC. She experienced her call to ministry in 2006, while attending a Walk to Emmaus event. She became a Lay Speaker, filling pulpits for two years in Ardmore District before receiving her license to preach. Gene Autry UMC is the first appointment for this Local Pastor.
Chuck Stewart, an associate lay leader for the Oklahoma Conference, taught a Lay Speaking class in which Hale was enrolled. "I saw in Sharen a passion for people that exceeded her own anxieties," he said. "People can learn relationship-building skills. Sharen is the person who should be teaching the class. She leads with her heart, and I believe she knows no other way."
Attendance at Gene Autry UMC had been steady, about 20 people, for several years prior to her appointment. Few children or youths participated. Building debt totaled about $75,000.
In March, the church celebrated; that debt has been fully repaid. More than 40 children and youths participate in learning and fellowship on Sundays and Wednesdays. A community Vacation Bible School, a joint effort with First Baptist Church, drew more than 100 people. "As you enter each Sunday, you will probably be greeted by a teenage usher," wrote Guy Ames, Ardmore District superintendent.
"In over 30 years of ministry, I have rarely witnessed such a fit between pastor and congregation," said Rev. Ames. Hale "immediately identified with the heart-language of the people of Gene Autry. Her personality and passion for people has created a strong lay-led ministry, into many areas of witness and mission."
With Hale’s leadership, the congregation has organized according to the Book of Discipline, has begun using The United Methodist Hymnal, and is learning about the liturgical seasons, Ames said. And the church is "always looking for more opportunities to be in mission."
Ames provided several powerful examples of that.
"As a result of (Sharen Hale’s) energetic witness and servant model, lives are strengthened, the church is healthier, and people have been invited to join the Kingdom family," Ames said.