Dear Members of the West Virginia Conference,
It is my pleasure to introduce you to our new Conference Superintendents, Rev. Joe Hill – who will be assigned to the Little Kanawha District, and Rev. Dr. Okey Harless – who will be assigned to the Western District. Joe and Okey will follow two Superintendents, Rick Dequasie and Greg Hayes, who have served faithfully and with much dedication. My prayers are with Rick and Greg as they enter into a retirement relationship with the West Virginia Conference and begin their new journey of life and faith. I am thankful for their witness, their support, their ministry and mission, and for how they have contributed to the life and growth of the West Virginia Conference. I invite you to also be in prayer for Rick and Greg as they and their families make this transition in their lives.
What do I look for in a Superintendent? First, I look for a Spiritual Leader. I also look for someone with the gifts and skills to be a missional strategist, someone with compassionate strength and skills to handle questions and issues of accountability and personnel, someone who I can trust. I look for persons who have given evidence that they can grow ministry, begin new ministry adventures that reach persons for Christ, and/or have been able to lead healing, redirection, transformation in a congregational setting. I look for a history of 100% of apportionment payment – because apportionment payment is not about money it is about supporting the ministry, mission, and people living within the area of the West Virginia Conference and around the world, and understanding that our responsibility as Christian people is not about taking care of ourselves, but taking care of all God’s people. I look for persons who have been and are willing to be itinerant, people who know what it means to sacrifice and leave things behind in order to fulfill God’s call on their life. I also look for people who are good team players. The cabinet, intentionally, is not a group of likeminded people. The West Virginia cabinet is made up of persons who have different theological perspectives and understandings and people who have had different experiences and length of time in ordained ministry. Some cabinet members are second career people and some have spent their lifetime in ministry. Yes, the cabinet is diverse – but there is a commitment to work as a team.
Joe Hill is one of our second career people on the cabinet, bringing gifts and skills from his earlier work with State Farm Insurance Company. While Joe has spent most of his life in West Virginia, he and his family were living in Maryland and working for State Farm when they came to terms with God’s purpose and calling in their lives. At that point Joe, Christina, Joe’s wife, and daughter, Majesty, left behind State Farm and intenerated back to WV to answer God’s call.
Joe has served as an in-school mentor/tutor for at-risk children at Huntington Middle School, Director of Christian Education and Youth Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Huntington under Rev. Paul Russell. He has also served as a Chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center as a resident in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program. Joe has been under appointment as the Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor at Johnson Memorial UMC, worked closely with homeless and low income families in the Huntington community through a feeding ministry call Common Grounds, and most recently is appointed to serve Cross Roads UMC in Huntington as senior pastor. Joe has a demonstrated gift for removing obstacles that keep people from trying out ministries and trying out their own gifts. Joe has a gift for encouraging laity to do ministry with his help and support. Joe is currently the Youth Coordinator for the Conference and will continue to work with Conference youth as he becomes a Superintendent.
Joe enjoys encouraging and mentoring disciples. He enjoys helping people and churches to discover their worth and their gifts, to discover that unique thing that God has just for them to do. Joe has great gifts for the call and work of a Superintendent.
I have known Okey Harless since we traveled the same halls at Duke University where we were in seminary together. Okey has a passion for the unchurched and bringing people to Christ which largely grows out of his experience of growing up with very little church background. He was honored by the West Virginia Conference in 2010 with the Harry Denmen Evangelism Award. His passion for the unchurched will serve him well as a Conference Superintendent as we continue our focus on reaching 2400+ people in our area for Christ and walking with them into discipleship.
Okey brings to the cabinet his experience of and the skills he learned from serving the United States Marine Corp and returning home as a Vietnam Veteran. It was after serving in the Marine Corp and returning home that he met the love of his life, Jane, and they were married. During this time, Okey began attending Northfork United Methodist Church. It was there that he found Christ and made a profession of faith. I have seen the very spot in the Northfork Church where that took place as Jane’s mom shared the story with me.
Okey brings great passion, energy, and years pastoral experience to the Superintendency. He has served Riverview UMC, Huntington; St. Paul’s UMC, Nitro; and Dunbar UMC. Okey relates to people of all ages from any walk of life. He builds deep relationships and he is the one people call when they truly get themselves in a bind. He believes the continuing education is critical to pastoral leadership. Okey brings numerous learned skills with him to this position including training in conflict management. I look forward to Okey’s service with the Western District and the cabinet as a whole. In addition to his passion for ministry, he will also bring with him his passion for Duke University and Marshall athletics. Additionally, the cabinet, no doubt, will learn a great deal more about Harley Davison motorcycles and enjoy hearing stories of his rides and visits throughout the Western District.
Joe and Okey are already beginning to sit with the cabinet. I hope you will keep both of them and their families in prayer as they make their transitions from being pastors of a local congregation to becoming a Conference Superintendent with the responsibility of being the missional strategist for the Districts to which they are assigned.
Please continue to keep me and the cabinet in prayer as we celebrate and give thanks for the faithful service of Rick and Greg, and as we welcome Joe and Okey to our table. As your cabinet, we pray for the whole of our Conference, the clergy and laity, every time we meet. I continually give thanks for the ministry and mission of the West Virginia Conference. I am proud to be the Bishop of the West Virginia Conference.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball