Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Conference smaller, more nimble with 365 churches


Rev. Dr. Joe Harris stands at the lectern to respond as Rev. Jonathan Clinesmith, pastor at OKC St. Matthew UMC, makes a motion on the floor on April 22, at the Special Called Conference at Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City.

On a sunny, cool morning in April, the spring-laden wind carried anticipation as over 600 clergy and lay delegates gathered at Church of The Servant in Oklahoma City to decide on the disposition of 55 churches across the state. The bustling crowd inside the stately structure was abuzz with the greetings of old friends and new acquaintances.

As registrants picked up name badges and voting IDs, the church’s coffee shop dispensed snacks and drinks and shoppers found delightful items in the host church’s gift shop, Earthglow. The shop was opened for the occasion to allow shoppers to help Church of the Servant reach its goal of giving a million dollars in mission funds through their gift shop. Earthglow is ever closer to its goal, thanks to conference attendees.

As the clocked ticked toward 10 a.m., clergy, laity, and registered guests made their way into the sanctuary, which boasts a stone waterfall, a carved wood altar, and numerous living plants. The space is set up in-the-round, with courtyards and abundant natural light. Judy Horne played worship music on the piano and the crowd murmured softly until Bishop Jimmy Nunn called the meeting to order and silence blanketed the dusty-pink pews.

After voting instructions and enabling motions were concluded, Allan Jolly, chair of the conference Board of Trustees, explained the rigorous process the trustees used to ensure all churches seeking disaffiliation had met the requirements in order to complete the disaffiliation process.

Of the work, Jolly stated, “It’s an understatement to say that this has been an extremely challenging, painful, and perplexing time for our board, and we understand that you as members of our conference share in our grief and distress that some who have been part of our connection wish to sever our relationship and, in doing so, receive property and assets that have [been] held in trust for the United Methodist Church in Oklahoma for many years.”

Jolly further told the delegates that, after many discussions, the trustees “determined that it is the role of the conference trustees to report on the fulfillment of the requirements of our disaffiliation agreement, and your role…to determine whether you believe it’s in the best interest of this conference. And even more importantly, if it’s God’s will that you ratify or not ratify the requests of any or all of these 55 churches before you today.”

Almost immediately, individuals began moving to speed up the process. Rev. Wade Paschal, retired elder, moved that all 55 churches seeking disaffiliation be considered as one. Debate ensued, but the motion carried with a 59 percent majority.

Rev. Dr. Greg Tener, senior pastor at Bartlesville First Church, moved that St. Luke’s be considered separately; Rev. Dylan Ward of El Reno Wesley moved to do the same with Claremore First. Both motions failed.

Nathan Mattox, pastor of Collinsville Meadowcreek, asked for clarification on voting numbers provided moments before the meeting began, citing confusion around comparatively small number of votes versus disaffiliating churches’ total membership or worship attendance.

Mel Ramsey hands out registration information at the Special Called Conference.

Amid groans of protest from delegates who were ready to finish, Bishop Nunn responded, “Let me test the body. If you would like to hear statistics of the number of people that voted from each local church, I’m going to ask you to lift a hand. This is just a test of the body – this not a parliamentary action – raise your hand.” After the voting, the Bishop concluded, “That is the will of the body,” when reporting that the majority of those present did not wish to hear further information.

Not long after 1 p.m., the delegation voted with a 73 percent majority to ratify the disaffiliation of 55 churches from the Oklahoma conference of the United Methodist Church.

Bishop Nunn concluded, praying, “We recognize that all of us, every person, every church, are connected to one another through you, and we give thanks, oh God, for Jesus Christ, whom you sent into the world to redeem us, to sanctify us, and teach us anew, that our calling, our identity, and our purpose resides first and foremost in you. Oh God, we do ask your blessing upon those who will be exiting the United Methodist Church. We ask that even as times may be difficult, feelings may be raw, tension may be high, we pray for the balm of your holy spirit to come and sooth that. And we pray blessings upon those who continue their ministries, though by a different name.

The prayer continued, “Likewise, we pray for the churches of the Oklahoma United Methodist Church, those who will remain United Methodists. Teach us anew that you have called us, just as you’ve called others, to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ. And may we be ambassadors who exhibit grace. May we have courage. May we offer forgiveness. May we commit anew to walk in your way. And in these moments now, oh God, when, if we were of the world, it would be so easy to turn on one another, may we not turn on one another; rather, may we love one another, because you have first loved us.”

The Bishop concluded the meeting by thanking all involved in the process, and acknowledged that the appointment process was coming later than normal, as the cabinet carefully considered the needs of churches and clergy. He urged participants to contribute to disaster response ministry, especially in light of the tornado three days prior to the meeting.


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