Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Call to serve echoes through conference


Bishop Hayes encourages Jacki Banks in the foot washing ritual May 29, during the Service of Ordination at Annual Conference, held at Boston Avenue UMC in Tulsa. Photo by Holly McCray
Ramirez, coordinator of new Hispanic/ Latino Plan Basset, director of the new Office of Mission Scherer, new church planter in Tulsa

By Holly McCray

Jesus set the example for servanthood. Under the theme "Celebrate the Plan," laity and clergy rejoiced in living for Christ by serving in several ways during the 2012 Oklahoma Annual Conference, May 27-30 at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, Tulsa.

  • In the Service of Ordination, Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. mirrored Jesus’ example by kneeling and washing the feet of three deacons and nine elders, and he preached on "The Knotted Towel." Marveling at God’s ways, Hayes noted the total of 12 ordinands, recalling Jesus’ 12 disciples. The May 29 service culminated in an Altar Call of Discernment about career ministry, and district superintendents prayed with those who responded.
  • A total of 356 delegates and guests registered for hands-on mission work at nine Tulsa locations at midday May 29 and 30.
  • The crowd rose, cheering, when Bishop Hayes hoisted high an Advance award, honoring the Oklahoma Conference for the highest church participation in designated mission giving, among all annual conferences, in 2011. Presenter Rachel Barnett of the General Board of Global Ministries reported 84 percent of Oklahoma’s churches donated to Advance special projects and missionaries, compared to an average of 54 percent in other annual conferences.
  • A new, comprehensive Office of Mission was announced and will be directed by Jeremy Basset. And Carlos Ramirez will coordinate the Conference’s new Hispanic/Latino Plan as an associate director in that office. Volunteers In Mission (VIM) also will operate within that umbrella office.

This action "significantly expands our idea of what the Conference can do in equipping and deploying a new generation of people into mission of all kinds, both near and far," said Craig Stinson, director of Connectional Ministries/Congregational Development.

Presenting the report of the Mission & Service Ministry Team (MSMT), Chairman Tom Hoffmann described the new emphasis on mission this way: "What if the MSMT was understood to be the fifth quadrant in our Strategic Plan, to serve as a kind of creative catalyst, synthesizing the four quadrants into something symbiotic and strategic in response to God’s kingdom?

"I have discovered it is very hard to outdream God," Rev. Hoffmann said, and he sketched new mission partnerships already unfolding.

Rev. Stinson updated delegates on the newest churches fulfilling the UM mission to make disciples for Christ and transform the world. Professions of faith reported by those churches heartened all. And rejuvenation of Christ UMC, a historically African-American congregation in Oklahoma City, pastored by Semaj Vanzant, was applauded.

Stinson also announced launch of a brand-new congregation in Tulsa, with Heather Nygard-Scherer appointed as church planter. She was one of eight provisional elders commissioned on May 28.

Other actions that affirmed servanthood during the Annual Conference:

  • The offering totaled $33,514 for three projects: Restore Hope Ministries and Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, both based in Tulsa, and Lydia Patterson Institute of El Paso, Texas.
  • The VIM kit campaign collected more than 1,000 kits, valued at about $15,000, for UMCOR.
  • Conference participants even donated 79 units of blood and signed up for the National Bone Marrow Registry. A total of 498 people completed the health screening.

The service of Boston Avenue UMC was celebrated by the Annual Conference. For decades, the iconic downtown church in Tulsa has hosted this meeting biennially. The church’s exceptional hospitality and its prominence in United Methodism were saluted. Mouzon Biggs Jr., its senior pastor since 1980, was the guest preacher May 27 and 28, and he also narrated a heritage video.

More history unfolded during the Teaching Time, presented by Dr. Bob L. Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Oklahoma UMs also celebrated Bishop Hayes for his eight years of episcopal leadership, and delegates voted resounding approval of an official motion to request his return for another quadrennium of service. Rev. Dr. Biggs made the motion on behalf of the Conference’s Episcopal Committee, and the action will be reported to the South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee prior to the quadrennial jurisdictional conference in July.

The Annual Conference memorialized 27 clergy and clergy spouses and honored 23 retiring clergy members. Five churches officially were closed, and their witness was celebrated in circle-of-life video stories: Roff, Rocky, Savanna, Muskogee-Honor Heights, and Tulsa-Harvard Avenue. The latter has returned to service as Nueva Esperanza UMC, a primarily Spanish-language congregation.

The statistical report for 2011 was presented by the Conference Treasurer’s Office in a series of graphs, modeled on the Vital Congregations measuring system. Among the numbers reported:

  • Spiritual formation: 6,311 groups, up 54 from the previous year. (Measuring the number of small groups, Sunday school classes, and Bible study groups)
  • Worship attendance: 55,653 people, down 561 from the previous year.
  • Missions: 14,976, compared to 12,732 in 2010. (Measuring the number of people from congregations engaged in local, national, and international mission/outreach ministries)

Annual Conference participants watched a video summary from the 2012 General Conference, featuring interviews with members of the Oklahoma delegation. In his Episcopal Address, Bishop Hayes voiced disappointment because key issues for the denomination were not resolved in that global meeting, and said he plans to pursue crucial topics within Oklahoma.

Persons honored with special awards included: laywoman Pat Chambers of Claremore First UMC and Mark Foster, pastor of Edmond-Acts 2 UMC, the Harry Denman Evangelism Award; clergy retiree Bill Mason of Tulsa, the John Wesley Fellow Award (presented by Carl Young of Edmond, who is president of the denomination’s United Methodist Men Foundation); Paul and Ann Milburn of Shawnee, the Jim Egan Legacy Award given by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation; and Judy Benson of Frederick, outgoing Conference Lay Leader, for whom the Board of Laity established The Judy Benson Scholarship for Leadership and Spiritual Formation.


More coverage, July 13 newspaper


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