United Methodists often joke about the many organizational layers of church life, but, as members of other denominations have been heard to say: “If you want something done, get the Methodists to do it.” Followers of the Wesleys are indeed “methodical” about the ways they approach mission and ministry.
One reason United Methodists are able to accomplish great things is the church’s emphasis on “connectionalism.” It is common to hear United Methodist leaders speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.
The United Methodist Church, which began as a movement and a loose network of local societies with a mission, has grown into one of the most carefully organized and largest denominations in the world. The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading Scriptural Holiness over the land. John Wesley recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” which was an interlocking system of classes, societies, and annual conferences.
Sadly, its not too big of a leap to be cynical about the connection. Do we really interact with other churches in the above idealized way? Is all of this talk about connection just a way of supporting a top heavy structure? Some would say so...on the other hand, I know that the connection has blessed me in ways great and small.
It is because of the connection that I am a 2nd career pastor, it is thanks to the connection that I had scholarship money to attend seminary and an appointment to serve a church as a student pastor in the neighboring Northern Illinois Conference. When our mission team traveled to Mexico in 2008, with a bus that kept breaking down, it was the connection that provided places to stay and information about repair shops in local communities.
But, as a clergy person, I fear it is often all too easy to focus on my local parish and local needs, and give just occasional interest to what is going on in the connection. That is until Jenny (name changed) walked into our lives this morning.
Jenny is a young woman who wandered in to the church this morning - she had just been let out of the Bremer County Jail and was literally dumped out onto the streets. She had no way to get home to Cedar Rapids. She was improperly dressed, wearing shorts and a sweat shirt, she was cold and very scared. She wanted to get home - but she lives over an hour away and there was no one to come and get her.
We talked for a few minutes, Jenny warmed up a bit, and we came up with a plan...our janitor and his wife volunteered to give Jenny a ride home in an hour or so - and in the meanwhile, we were going to do something about finding some long pants for her.
Never one to miss an opportunity to browse our local thrift store, Trinkets and Togs, Jenny and I set out on a shopping adventure. She found jeans, I found a book and we had some time to talk about her life and what was next for her.
|Mission of Hope|
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
As our time together was drawing to a close, I asked if she had ever heard of Mission of Hope - a homeless shelter in her home town of Cedar Rapids. Jenny instantly brightened up - "I go there almost every day for lunch and to hang out," she said with a smile. "They really have helped me out. I love it there." "Oh good," I replied, knowing that if she is connected with Mission of Hope she will be surrounded by loving folks who will walk alongside her as she figures things out.
Mission of Hope is not a money maker, it doesn't bring 'the right kind' of people into the church. But it is an amazing place of acceptance, peace and hope. It is also an outreach of the United Methodist church - it is part of the connection! I am especially challenged by their mission statement: "To meet basic needs, change hearts, disciple people and teach the church."
Today, I am grateful for the work that is being done on my behalf at Mission of Hope. I pray that they will continue to be agents of hope for the people in Eastern Iowa. I am also so very proud Barb Furman, their founder and her vision to go beyond the normal and to challenge the connection to reach out to the least and the lost. This really is what we should be all about, as the umc.org website reminds us:
No local church is the total body of Christ. Therefore, local United Methodist churches are bound together by a common mission and common governance that accomplish reaching out into the world. United Methodist churches and organizations join in mission with each other and with other denominations.
I am grateful for the connection - and I am reminded how important it is to be aware of the needs around me and to be well informed of the many and varied ministries not only in my hometown of Waverly, but across the region. You never know when you will have an opportunity to be blessed by a surprise visit from Jenny and a reminder by the Holy Spirit of how closely tied we really are to one another.
Peace, love, hope and joy,