Have you ever asked yourself why you are United Methodist? I grew up Methodist, but I never considered why I stayed Methodist until I went to seminary. Studying the history of Methodism and our doctrinal beliefs made it clear I belonged in the UMC. The Wesleyan doctrines of grace captured my heart. To realize God’s grace is active before we even know to seek God (prevenient grace), inviting us towards repentance and justification, drew me in. Learning sanctifying grace would continue to nurture the growth that began in my life by justifying grace captivated me. I had not heard these ideas fully explained. Connectionalism was another aspect of my Methodist identity that affirmed my decision to be a United Methodist. I guess you could say I was starting to understand the Methodist DNA.
The Book of Discipline calls connectionalism “a vital web of interactive relationships.” We are connected through a common tradition of faith, shared doctrinal standards, a constitutional polity and the leadership of the general superintendency. We also share a common mission that we carry out by working together and a common spirit “that characterizes our distinctive way of doing things.” (Par. 132, 98)
As a child, connectionalism existed all around me. United Methodists missionaries spoke at our church. Our pastor exchanged pulpits with other United Methodist churches. The United Methodist Women worked together across the area on projects. I was immersed in our connectional DNA but lacked the language to name it.
This connectional DNA predates our founder, John Wesley. A recent resource from United Methodist Communications called #BeUMC reminds us of the deep biblical roots of being connected. In Romans 12:5 CEB, the apostle Paul used the image of the body to teach Jewish and Gentile Christians about their connection to each other, saying, “In the same way though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.”
As the Wesleyan revival developed, John Wesley quickly grasped the necessity of connection. He knew preaching alone would not maintain new converts’ faith and criticized that lack of support, describing it as a “mere rope of sand.” Wesley believed that the Methodists needed to nurture each other through “mutual encouragement, examination, and service within the context of the means of grace.” (Weems, 47). Growing out of his experience with the Holy Club’s original meetings and mission work, Wesley developed a system of bands and classes who met together to create a spiritual connection among Methodists.
Today, beyond the spiritual connections created in churches, connectionalism looks like activities you read about in this magazine. It includes United Methodists who gather for worship in a coffee shop in Harrisonville. It drew together college students at Central Methodist University to create cleaning kits for disaster response that are stored at hub locations.
Connectionalism brings hundreds of volunteers together for the Festival of Sharing gatherings. Their work supported 84 agencies in Missouri last year.
Connectionalism also motivated United Methodists in Missouri to develop relationships with pastors and churches in Mozambique and to create outreach ministries like Rainbow Network in Nicaragua and Mobility Worldwide. If you go to the Columbia workshop on Mobility Worldwide, you can see connectionalism at work. The connection began when a missionary named Larry Hills told Rev. Mel West that people in Africa needed a sturdy three-wheeled, hand-cranked wheelchair. Rev. West contacted his friend Earl Miner who developed a prototype. Then Mel set out to build them. Soon United Methodists began working together to build parts, assemble carts and deliver them overseas.
Today if you visit Mobility Worldwide, you might find a dozen or more people from United Methodist congregations and other denominations working together to cut wood pieces, weld parts, assemble the carts or prepare them for shipping. The organization has placed almost 100,00 carts in 106 countries. Each cart improves the lives of its recipients. For example, Suen, a Nigerian woman, used her cart to attend school and find a job in computer technology. Johnson, a Kenyan boy whose leg was amputated, attends church and Sunday school using his cart. These are just a few examples of our connectional DNA working together as the body of Christ.
When we worship together, participate in a small group, create Festival of Sharing kits or volunteer after a natural disaster, we experience our connectional DNA. This DNA is one of the reasons I chose to be a United Methodist. Have you considered connectionalism as one reason to #BeUMC?
From The Book of Discipline Of The United Methodist Church — 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission. Weems, Lovett H. Jr., Pocket Guide, John Wesley’s Message Today, (Discipleship Resources Abingdon Press edition 1991).