I have been convinced for a long time that our United Methodist “connection” has little to do with conference structures, committee meetings, apportionments, pension programs, medical insurance, itinerancy, and even our appointment system. All of those are manifestations of our connectional church, but there are not the heart of what it means to be connected.
At its heart, being a “connectional church” means that our thousands of local congregations are not alone. It means that our clergy are not individual operators. Being connected means that we are a part of the Body of Christ, and that we United Methodists live that theological reality by keeping covenant with one another. Our connectionalism is best demonstrated when local churches and clergy pray for one another, celebrate each other’s successes, and support each other through tough times.
I recently heard a new and creative example of our being a connectional church. David Neckers, who is one of the pastors at Union Chapel UMC in Muncie, told me about a unique way that their church is helping his home church – a small congregation in rural, western New York state. David learned from his parents that his home church was going through a tough time, their pastor was battling cancer and could not always be present on Sundays, and that small United Methodist congregation was struggling without the presence of regular sermons. David remembered hearing from his senior pastor, Gregg Paris, an idea that Lyle Schaller shared at a gathering last year of the senior pastors of our largest churches here in Indiana – an idea about using DVD’s of sermons from larger churches to provide sermons for smaller churches. David suggested shared that idea with his home church and with his colleagues at Union Chapel, and now for about six months that model has been used successfully. The pastor of the church in New York gave his blessing, and a whole new service was developed, led by the laity of the church, but using DVD’s from Union Chapel here in Indiana. The result? Attendance has grown, lay leadership has grown, and that small church in New York has been blessed by being a part of our United Methodist connection.
I shared this story last week with our two Cabinets as a possible model to help our many small churches here in Indiana who might be strengthened by having a capable lay pastor but also blessed by having sermons from another church from time to time. Who knows? Perhaps there are other creative ways that our churches can help each other.
It all comes from knowing that our connection is not institutional, it is theological and relational. We are indeed connected in Christ and by our caring for one another as United Methodists.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner