OKUMC restructures annual meeting, will close main offices
Due to growing concerns regarding COVID-19, or coronavirus, the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church is changing how it will hold Annual Conference.
Instead of a three-day gathering held May 25-27, Annual Conference will be shortened to a one-day gathering on May 27 and a two-day gathering held Nov. 20-21.
Memorial, retirement and commissioning services will take place in May at OKC-St. Luke’s, and an ordination service will take place in November at OKC-Church of the Servant. If health concerns prevent a meeting on May 27, the one-day gathering will be rescheduled for June 20 at OKC-Church of the Servant. Business sessions for clergy and laity will be scheduled during both events.
“Our conference leadership met every day for four days to determine how we could move forward in practical but responsible ways,” said Rev. Derrek Belase, the conference director of connectional ministry. “Every decision we made was bathed in prayer and made in the best interests of our participants.”
The tiered schedule includes a two-week final notification regarding whether an annual conference date will be rescheduled. The two-part meeting is intended to give conference leadership flexibility so they can respond to public health concerns in a timely manner.
“Decisions made during Annual Conference impact every church and ministry in the state, as well as the health and welfare of our clergy,” Belase said. “We ask for all our ministry leaders to offer one another grace as we work to move forward together during this difficult time.”
The conference will also close its main office in Oklahoma City through April 1. The Oklahoma Methodist Ministry Center, located at 1501 N.W. 24th St., will be closed for in-person operations starting Thursday, March 19. The conference is using March 16-18 to prepare and equip staff to work from home during that time. A small designation of staff who perform vital functions that require a physical presence will continue to work in the ministry center according to specific schedules.
“We have an obligation to support our clergy and laity as churches throughout Oklahoma face this health crisis together, but we also have an obligation to consider the safety and well-being of our staff,” said Rev. Derrek Belase, the conference director of connectional ministry. “We believe readying our staff to work from home is the best way to balance the needs of our ministry leaders and our staff as this situation continues to develop.”
The conference recommends that churches follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and use their best judgement regarding if or how to hold worship services.
“This is a challenging time for all of us,” said Bishop James Nunn in an email statement. “We feel confident that each church will make an informed and prayerful decision in how it will proceed in the days ahead that we are dealing with this pandemic.”
Some conference churches have moved to a live-streamed service. At Tulsa-First, that move may have saved lives.
On March 15, Rev. Jessica Moffatt announced via Facebook that Tulsa-First learned one of its staff members tested positive for coronavirus. The church had canceled its in-person services just the day before. Moffatt said the church has asked staff to self-quarantine, and the church will be closed for at least a week. She said the church “will continue in a protection mode” until they are sure no additional staff were affected.
“We are postponing most of our upcoming events and gatherings and are disappointed about that. However, we have a deep commitment to being a part of the solution to this difficult situation,” Moffatt said in a statement.
In the meantime, Moffatt said the church will continue examining ways to help members stay connected with each other and continue serving their community.
“We are also hoping to be able to serve the most vulnerable in our community in specific ways,” Moffatt said in a statement. “We are putting together a plan to provide groceries, prescription delivery and phone check-ins with older persons in Tulsa.”
Tulsa-First is not the first ministry to face difficult decisions in light of the coronavirus. In January, both Charis Alive and the University of Oklahoma Wesley Foundation had to address concerns related to events celebrating the Lunar New Year. The Office of Mission also released a statement on March 5 encouraging conference members to make informed decisions regarding traveling for mission trips.
“While taking the best possible precautions in the face of this virus, it is also important that we continue to be about God’s mission in the world,” said Office of Mission Director Jeremy Basset in the statement. “Our presence and commitment to each other is a witness to our hope and confidence in our shared journey of faith in Christ.”