We are pleased to have a guest writer for this month, Rev. Dr. G. Edwin Zeiders, who is also a capital campaign consultant at The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation. Please read and reflect upon this contribution by our brother in Christ. Blessings, Rev. Phyllis M. Bowers
The United Methodist Church is collegial, collaborative, Episcopal, itinerant, global, and always connectional. While we have a reasonable grasp of what it means to be all of these things, the “connection” seems more elusive now than ever! Well, many factors do mitigate against an effective “Connectionalism” these days, but I remain convinced that the United Methodist Church is not only correct in affirming our connectional life and polity, but we are likely the best at it.
I remember when Billy Graham wrote that the United Methodist Church was most poised to proclaim the Gospel world-wide. That is actually correct. While “independent” congregations and other Christian movements lay claim to mission and outreach here-and-there, we United Methodists lay claim to a global network of missionaries, mission projects, education, health ministries, partnerships, advocacy, community-building, and a global investment in real dollars and people unparalleled by most. I am willing to stand corrected on this, but my experience and years working with church leaders makes the claim believable and not empty rhetoric.
The “face” of the connection consists of everyone who participates in the life of the local congregation. We serve in congregations that are associated with other congregations and agencies by design and for greater impact and effectiveness. We itinerate our clergy from place to place so that laity are empowered to serve in every place. Our clergy serve to tell and re-tell the amazing story of God’s grace and to equip the church for the work of ministry. Our “conferencing” opens the door for thousands upon thousands of our laity and pastors to walk alongside a global constituency that we cannot even measure.
By the power of the Spirit, United Methodists are strategically placed to make a difference in the smallest village or the largest metropolis here and around the world. My own journey and that of countless others serves to validate the connectional nature and impact of the church. The holy influence of our commonly held faith, values, and sacred covenant is real, transformational, and equally exciting. God is in this, and when at our very best, we can see and experience the goodness and the glory of it all.
United Methodists make a difference by giving, too. While I was a superintendent and then conference director I heard any number of critics protest the connection and our Shares of Ministry. That critique is usually unfounded because the “Connection” is, by its very nature, larger than the local church and the emerging parochialism. We invest our resources of all kinds in both anecdotal and systemic ways, and reveal the love of God across the world and for millions of people.
I, too, am the personal benefactor of the Connection. The ministry of the local congregation and the ministries of our care-givers and witnesses in the harsh places of the world are all possible because the “Connection” opens doors, enables us to walk into the human suffering world-wide, stands alongside the broken and wounded, equips leaders for excellence and effectiveness, and proclaims in word and deed the hope for the world only found in Christ our Lord.
Yes, I affirm and believe in the Connection. I do because I am living it, celebrating it, and have been deployed for leadership within it for 48 years. Thanks be to God for the witness of the United Methodist Church.