UMC Featured News & Stories

Oklahoma Annual Conference

May 24-28, 2009, Oklahoma City

Young people streamed to center stage during the May 26 business session of the 2009 Oklahoma Annual Conference. Their T-shirts declared “Loved radically.” They faced an audience of United Methodists from across the state.

One teen raised high a poster stating, “Drug and drinking addiction.” She flipped the poster, and the audience saw, “For 3 months I’ve been sober. Thanks to God.”Another teen held up a sign: “Had no faith in God.” The reverse side announced, “Baptized May 17.”

Inside Oklahoma City University’s Freede Center, delegates and guests rose, affirming the children and youth with booming applause. That United Methodist Circle of Care agency presentation was a testimony of God’s power to transform lives—and of the faith witness that permeated the reports and rituals of the annual meeting.

The 166th business session of the Oklahoma Annual Conference was hosted by Oklahoma City University and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. The theme “Living the Plan: loving radically, serving compassionately, making disciples intentionally,” was based on 1Corinthians 11:1.The guest preacher was Wisconsin Bishop Linda Lee.

Oklahoma Area Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. said, “It is impossible to speak about the state of our Oklahoma Conference without including an honest assessment of how continuing economic turmoil is affecting our ministry. The church, too, is caught in the middle of this great calamity.”

The conference’s strategic plan, approved in May 2008, “has proved timely and prophetic because its design prepared us to conduct business in innovative ways as the recession has deepened,” the bishop said. “This crisis is a wake-up call for the church,” Hayes said. “We need to be honest and name the fact that The United Methodist Church ranks near the bottom of all mainline denominations when it comes to giving. United Methodists give less than 2 percent of their incomes to charity. The message has to go out that giving is a sign of spiritual maturity.”

He said the conference treasurer’s office and the council on finance and administration have devised a more flexible budget, and some programs and ministries have been consolidated. Salaries have been frozen for district superintendents and other key conference officers.

Delegates approved a slightly smaller budget for 2010. Total apportionments will be $15,984,163, compared to a budget of $16,012,248 for the current year.  The Annual Conference offering totaled about $39,000, for two projects: the LIFE fund, to help reduce educational debt for Oklahoma’s clergy, and the Liberian Methodist churches.

In other actions, the Rev. Chris Dodson described a new church startup in southeast Moore. CrossTimbers United Methodist Church meets in an elementary school. Each new worshipper receives a T-shirt imprinted with “These are my church clothes.”

A new Asian Initiative seeks to bridge cultures within Oklahoma’s United Methodist congregations. The Department of Congregational Development also is designing an outreach to Vietnamese populations in the state.

Five-Star Church awards went to 57 congregations for supporting a wide range of mission work, ranging from Cookson Hills Center in eastern Oklahoma to missionaries in India. Rachel Harvey, representing The Advance for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, announced that of all United Methodist annual conferences, Oklahoma had the most churches that contributed to Advance projects in 2008.

Five hundred of 529 Oklahoma churches responded to the Strategic Plan, reported the Rev. Craig Stinson, director of Connectional Ministries and Congregational Development. Research showed one-third of churches grew in average worship attendance the past five years, despite any demographic differences.

In separate clergy and laity meetings later this year, pastors and lay leaders of those churches will sit down with Bishop Hayes to identify common factors for that growth. “We will see what we can learn from their responses,” Stinson said.

Annual conference worship rituals formally certified 23 ordained clergy, 14 commissioned clergy, and an associate clergy member. Fourteen clergy officially retired. For the memorial roll call, white roses represented 25 clergy, diaconal ministers, and spouses who had died.

Volunteers In Mission leaders issued an urgent call for teams to serve at Rio Bravo, Mexico. Officials said the VIM Manos Juntas project there, normally operating at peak during summer, has been severely impacted by economic news and fears of disease and crime.  VIM also collected 1,884 emergency supply kits, valued at almost $34,000, for UMCOR: 751 health kits, 491 sewing kits, 371 school kits, 151 layettes, and more.

Delegates and guests crowded St. Luke’s United Methodist Church for a roundtable business session on the evening of May 26. They voted on 32 proposed amendments to the denomination’s Constitution. The Oklahoma Conference Department of Communications will report the results in July.

In other actions:

  • The Denman Award for Evangelism was presented to layman Mike Sparks of Mangum First United Methodist Church and clergyman Tom McElroy of Tulsa-First United Methodist Church.
  • The Lamplighter Award for support of campus ministries was presented to 148 churches.
  • The Commission on the Status and Role of Women unveiled a new logo and presented stoles bearing the symbol to newly ordained clergywomen.
  • Responding to a formal request by the young adults, the bishop announced he is naming a task force to study all aspects of the annual meeting. Hayes asked, “How do we best maximize our time together?”
  • Delegates voted to close seven churches. Yet the closings open at least one facility to new possibilities. Bryan Chapel United Methodist Church will be deeded to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. A Cherokee laywoman will be appointed to lead an OIMC congregation at that site, reported the Rev. David Wilson, OIMC superintendent.

The conference statistician reported total church membership of 241,333 people in 2008. The worship attendance average, including all churches, was 58,374.

-Holly McCray

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