Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Second cohort completes the Academy for Innovative Ministry


Participants in the second Academy for Innovative Ministry pose for a picture together on May 10 at OKC- Southern Hills. The academy was led by Rev. Derrek Belase (far left) and Rev. Chris Tiger (far right). Photo by Meagan Ewton.

Four ministry leaders in the Oklahoma Conference presented their visions of ministry during the final session of the second Academy for Innovative Ministry. 

The academy once again invited select participants to imagine innovative ways of engaging in ministry in their local contexts. The year-long program was led by Derrek Belase, director of Connectional Ministry, and Chris Tiger, director of Congregational Development and Conference Resources.

Academy participants were nominated by their district superintendents to attend a series of learning sessions aimed at learning how to create a ministry action plan. All academy participants received a $5,000 grant toward their project. Participants formed triads, or groups of three, to develop their plans and nominate one person from their group to present their vision to the whole academy. The nominated participants presented their vision to the academy as a whole. A Spark Tank of judges – ministry leaders with various specialties in the conference – served as a grant panel. At the end of the day each presenter was awarded a grant to help fund their ministry goals.

The Lazarus Community

Rev. Bo Ireland gave the first presentation of the day. Ireland, who serves as an associate pastor at OKC-Southern Hills, shared his vision for The Lazarus Community.

“What if we had a community that surrounded a church building, and what if we had little huts or houses?” Ireland asked. “Is it a risk? Yes. Is it a worthwhile risk? Yes.”

Ireland’s proposal involved building small sustainable housing units around a church building. The housing units would serve as transitional housing for homeless persons. There would also be a handful of individuals living on site who would serve as community leaders and caretakers. 

There were questions from the audience and panelists about the option of transforming a church building into a dorm-style housing location instead, as well as costs of building and maintaining each unit. One audience member saw a definite benefit to any prospective tenants who the ministry might serve.

“That level of independence is huge for someone coming off the streets, it’s a dream, and that dream can grow quickly with the support of the whole innovation,” the audience member said. “I see the benefit of the huts having been homeless myself.”

OU Wesley International Ministry

The second presentation was offered by Rev. Fuxia Wang, director of international ministries for the University of Oklahoma’s Wesley Foundation in Norman. She shared how the OU Wesley’s International Ministry is making a difference in the lives of students as well as how it’s poised for greater growth in the next few years. 

“I cannot imagine the great things the Lord will do in our lives, because God is great, and the best is yet to come,” Wang said. “When we trust God and we dream in God together, God will take you beyond what you dreamed, because God is beyond imagination, and God is an awesome God, and is doing great things.”

Dinner Church

After a shared lunch, Rev. Sandy Shepherd presented her vision for starting a Dinner Church ministry at the United Methodist church in Prague. She said that while developing her vision, she kept coming back to the fact that Jesus tells his disciples to feed people. 

“Pastors tend to focus on how to feed people spiritually, but over the past year, God has reminded me that people need food,” Shepherd said. “You can always find more forks. You can always find a place at the table for somebody. My passion as a mister is how can I form a place for people where people find out that the world might’ve pushed them away, but Jesus cares.”

Community Church

Stephanie Stephens shared the final presentation of the day. She shared her vision for Community Church, a church that also provided resources and support for people struggling with their mental health. The ministry’s vision would be “to create a community of hope, reconciliation and empowerment for individuals and families, (and) to offer holistic healing to individuals in need…to be the church for and in the community.”

“When I say this is a life and death matter, it truly is a life and death situation for some,” Stephens said. “We as the church have the ability to destigmatize mental health issues…What greater place to offer hope than the church?”

After the presentations were over, members of the Spark Tank met privately to determine grant awards. The Spark Tank included Dr. Roberts Spinks, former chief executive officer for United Way of Central Oklahoma and professor of sociology and justice studies at Oklahoma City University; Rev. Ray Crawford, pastor of Claremore-First; Darrell Cates, director of conference and church relations for the Oklahoma Methodist Foundation; Rev. Susan Whitley, pastor of Purcell Trinity; and Meagan Ewton, editor of publications for the Oklahoma Conference. Both Whitley and Ewton served as grant panelists during the first academy.

In addition to awarding $50,000 total to the presenters, the panelists volunteered to speak with each presenter after the academy’s final worship service ended so that each ministry leader would have an opportunity for direct feedback from a Spark Tank member. 

Belase and Tiger are working on refining the curriculum for the third cohort of academy participants. For more information, contact Belase at dbelase@okumc.org or Tiger at ctiger@okumc.org


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