Hayes to serve 4 more years as Methodist bishop
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, July 28, 2012
7/28/12 at 4:00 AM
Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. will serve the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church for four more years, it was decided last week at the eight-state South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Oklahoma City.
The popular bishop went into the conference, held in Oklahoma for the first time since 1968, with the solid support of state United Methodists.
This four-year term will be his last assignment as bishop. He will turn 68 before the next bishop assignments are made in 2016, which would put him past the mandatory retirement age of 72 before the next four-year term is up.
Hayes said in a phone interview this week that his eight years as Oklahoma bishop have been the most enjoyable and the most challenging of his 43 years of ministry.
"I've had a wonderful time here in Oklahoma," he said.
He said he is happy to be reassigned to the state, and plans to stay here when he retires.
Among his accomplishments has been the creation of a three-year accredited United Methodist seminary in Oklahoma City, affiliated with St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.
He also oversaw the establishment of 10 new churches in the Oklahoma Conference and the separate, smaller, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
Hayes has presided over Methodism in Oklahoma during a period when the national United Methodist church has seen decline in attendance and an aging membership.
By contrast, he said, Oklahoma has seen far less decline than the national church.
"The Methodist Church in Oklahoma is very healthy," he said.
"Morale is good. People are excited about the challenges we face."
The biggest challenge facing the church in Oklahoma, he said, is "How do we become younger, more diverse communities of faith, where none is under-served?"
He said over the next four years he will continue to emphasize reaching young people.
The average United Methodist in the pew is 57, and the average pastor is also 57, he said.
"It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that we're facing a tremendous turnover."
He said he is taking every opportunity to attract young ministers.
"I want to change the way we recruit and the way we train new ministers," he said.
At the annual conference in Tulsa this spring, during the concluding service, he invited young people who felt called to the ministry to come to the altar for prayer.
"That's never been done before," he said.
Hayes said he hopes to plant 10 new churches in the next four years.
"Church starts are what it's all about. Seventy percent of church growth comes from new church starts."
He also will continue to work to make the church more diverse, noting that there are now Korean, Chinese and Hispanic United Methodist churches in the state.
The economic slump has been another big challenge during his tenure, he said.
"It costs more to do ministry, and people have less to give. We've had to make adjustments, tighten our belts."
Hayes, who is Oklahoma's first black United Methodist bishop, said his race has never been a factor in his work in Oklahoma.
"I came in believing and preaching that the Gospel is color blind; that there is no difference between black and white when people are focused on Christ.
"Not once have I had to deal with any type of racial divide in my work. It's a tremendous feeling. People don't see a black bishop - they see a servant of God."
After retirement, he said, he plans to continue in the ministry.
"I may wind up on a seminary campus or in a local church somewhere.
"I'm waiting to see what God has in store for me in the next chapter. It'll be somewhere in the church. It's in my DNA."
Original Print Headline: Bishop to serve 4 more years
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr., shown speaking during an ordination ceremony at Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in 2010, has been reassigned as the leader of the Oklahoma United Methodists. The biggest challenge facing the church in Oklahoma, he said, is: "How do we become younger, more diverse communities of faith, where none is underserved?" Tulsa World file
Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. (center) and his wife, Dee Hayes, smile last week during the eight-state South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Oklahoma City. Hayes will lead Oklahoma's United Methodists for four more years. Courtesy