It’s often said that the strength of the United Methodist denomination is its connectionalism. This is present in the way clergy are appointed, Methodist initiatives are developed and supported, and the professional side of clergy are administrated.
But connectionalism can also boost ministry when it is simply a connection directly between local United Methodist neighboring churches. Rev. Dr. Mi Hyeon Lee started encouraging hubs when she became a district superintendent in 2018 and believes they are even more important now that districts are larger.
“Through the Hub Network, we look to develop a culture that focuses upon strengthening existing partnerships and encouraging new ways of fruitful and creative ministry through relationships, communication, accountability, and shared ministry,” Lee wrote in a communication about hubs that she shared with her district churches. “Hub Networks foster collaboration, innovation, and resilience using resources and a shared vision for ministry in similar contexts as a community. In addition, an effective Hub Network supports spiritual growth, raising new leaders, and vitalizing churches to make new disciples in the connections of UMC following the Great Commission.”
The hub at the 87 Diner in Boonville meets weekly. This started when they initially tried to meet monthly but couldn’t find a date on which everyone could attend. People aren’t expected to attend every weekly meeting, but they are expected to attend at least one of the meetings per month.
Rev. Chris Snyder of Nelson Memorial UMC in Boonville is the organizer. At a recent meeting in late October, the group discussed the fire that had swept through the village of Woolridge. They had already been in contact with the pastor from the Baptist church there to see if they could be of assistance.
Snyder gave an update on the recovery from the flooding in his church, flooding that was not an act of God but came from within – a burst pipe. It occurred during the week and went undetected long enough to do extensive damage to the church.
Rev. Karen Alden gave an update on her crisis, a battle with cancer. She’s on the other side and has been deemed cancer free. Rev. Scotty Wall from Central Methodist University shared a video he had seen discussing generational differences. Snyder reminded the group of the upcoming Christmas party. In the North-Central District, designated hub leaders met with the District Superintendent monthly. They are given one thing to highlight at their forthcoming meetings.
It’s different than meeting with a local ministerial alliance, in which connectional United Methodist information is lifted.
“Everyone here understands things like apportionments and year-end reports,” Snyder said. “During the pandemic, we could discuss the guidance we were receiving from our Bishop, which may have been different from what other churches in our community were doing.”
Southwest District Superintendent Alice Fowler is also implementing a hub model in her district.
“I was concerned about the discouragement and burnout I was seeing and wanted to build a structure that would enable pastors to share their lives in meaningful and helpful ways,” she said.
The primary aim of the hubs is for local churches to support each other, but Fowler said it also gives her another promising avenue for her district office to help local churches.
“I am more quickly getting to know the pastors in my district, talking to them about their concerns, their joys, and their dreams by meeting with a hub,” she said.
In a Hub meeting on October 24 at Black Sheep Burgers and Shakes in Springfield, Fowler kicked things off by asking the pastors to share their dreams for their church. They shared things like having their church be a welcoming place for the spiritually curious, being more engaged in their community and being active in mission to those in need.
Next, they shared concerns. One pastor said that although positive things are happening in his church, if he looks at the standard metrics of measuring how things are going (attendance and giving) compared to three years ago, things are awful. Another pastor shared that his church may be close to losing hope. Several nodded in agreement. It was lifted up that nearly all churches are in that same position, and there may not be much value in comparing how things are presently to how they were before the pandemic.
Fowler mentioned how the new Southwest District is primarily a combination of the Ozarks District and the former Southwest District. There are also five churches that came in from the former Heartland District and seven from the former Mid-State District. Thus, a lot of getting acquainted needs to happen. She asked the group what their concerns were about the district.
“I want the hubs to keep meeting,” Fowler said. “I know it is hard to put one more thing on your calendar, but I believe it is worth the effort.”
In her initial communication about Hubs to her pastors, Folwer recognized that some might resist being in this group with those who differ theologically. However, she explained that she has found in her work on the Cabinet that one can have meaningful relationships in a group that is not theologically monolithic. Instead, it comes down to listening and sharing about faith and ministry life, bearing one another’s burdens, understanding and appreciating each other more, and stretching the reach of our grace.
“I know it may feel like you don’t need one more thing to do, but maybe this is one of the things you do need,” Fowler stated in her hub invitation letter. “I’m praying that you’ll join in the effort to help your colleagues and help yourself at the same time. I’m praying you’ll push back against the isolation and the polarization that is so prevalent right now.”