Oklahoma Methodist leader helped guide historic gathering
An Oklahoma minister helped guide the legislative portion of the recent historic gathering of United Methodists in St. Louis.
At the Methodists' General Conference, which began Feb. 23 and ended Tuesday, the Rev. Joe Harris was elected to serve as chairman of the conference's legislative committee. Harris, one of the voting delegates, was elected to the post by 51 percent of his fellow delegates.
The gathering was a special session to bring the global Methodist Church together to discuss and vote on the denomination's prohibition against same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers. According to the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference's official newspaper Contact, Harris is a seven-time delegate to regularly scheduled Methodist General Conference meetings, and he was elected to serve on five legislative committees at previous gatherings.
Harris currently serves as communications director for the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference. Previously, he served as an associate pastor of Asbury United Methodist in Tulsa and as senior pastor of Quayle United Methodist in Oklahoma City. He was appointed Oklahoma Methodists’ first black district superintendent in 1989.
The recent Methodist gathering in St. Louis, culminated with a majority of delegates voting in favor of keeping the Methodist ban on same-gender marriage and ordination of gay clergy.
Harris recently shared comments about his experience at the gathering and his thoughts about the future of United Methodists, in particular those in Oklahoma.
Q: How did you feel to be elected to this post?
A: I was honored and humbled that so many felt I have the gifts and grace to provide leadership to this important conference in the lives of United Methodist across the globe.
Q: In this role, what were your duties?
A: I was chair of the legislative committee, a committee of the whole, which deals with all the legislation that went to the plenary on Tuesday for final action. This committee perfected the various legislation and reported the action taken to the full plenary on Tuesday. I was the first one to ever be elected chair of a legislative committee of the whole conference in the United Methodist Church.
Q: How would you describe the recent General Conference gathering?
A: It was at times a difficult experience for some delegates. We dealt with some difficult issues concerning homosexuality, which the church had struggled with for many years. What we came out with was a plan that will please some and be difficult for others. However, this is not the end of our conversations on these issues. It is another step in trying to discover God's will concerning these matters. We will continue to have General Conferences that move us further in determining how United Methodists will deal with the many aspects of this issue. My prayer is that we do it with grace, humility, sensitivity and with respect for all persons.Q: Any idea how this result will impact the United Methodist Church?
A: I believe the United Methodist Church will continue to try and reach the world with our best efforts. No one issue defines any church or denomination. We will continue to grow our church throughout the world to reach the least, the lost and the lonely. Some will be tempted to look elsewhere, but I believe most are in this for the long haul and are not fearful of the struggles we have with this and other concerns. Q: What was it like to help guide the proceedings?
A: I feel like helping to guide this process was one of the highest honors of my life. Because of the historic nature of the conference, I feel God was really our guide and helped to lead us through some difficult and challenging conversations. If we let Him, He will see us through all of this. As a result, we will come out stronger then ever.