We Need Connection
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is — when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
“But remember the root command: Love one another.”
When Jesus was trying to prepare his new disciples for the times ahead, he reminded them about a first century farmer and how this farmer worked his vineyard to produce grapes and wine. We get one of Jesus’ greatest “I am” sayings from this telling; saying, “I am the vine, you are the branches. When you are joined to me and I with you, the relationship is sure and strong and together we will produce an abundance of life-giving harvest.” This statement is often referred to as the metaphor for the church or the meaning of the body of Christ.
John Wesley emphasized the connection between the individual and the group. He did not believe in isolated Christians. He believed that the practice of Christian discipleship was to be worked together. Wesley started bands (small groups) and societies (middle-sized groups) which led to worship in the large group. All were designed to help people exercise their discipleship practices. Along the same line, there was no such thing as an isolated church. Churches were connected on a circuit, the circuit to a conference and the conference to the general conference.
One of our unique qualities as United Methodists is our connection. This connection with each other remains to help us as individuals to exercise our discipleship practices. The purpose of connection between churches remains to help hold churches accountable to practicing discipleship. The purpose of our connection is to help us be Christ-like.
We are in a time of disaffiliation in our church. We may think this disaffiliation from the connection is new, but it is not. Non-denominational churches started emerging in the late 70s and have been running strong ever since. The non-denominational church has its roots in Calvinistic theology and practice of church. This disaffiliation movement, coupled with the strong American cultural pull toward individualism, tends to dominate the religious landscape of our time and leads us to the ideas of individual churches with individual power, individual directions and individual governance.
It has led to many divisions in all kinds of American denominations and churches. This desire for individuality within churches has always pulled people toward doing their own thing. However, this individuality/separation is counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus encouraged unity, not division. “I am the vine. You are the branches. Separated you can’t produce a thing.”
During this year’s Annual Conference Session, we will be disaffiliating over 70 individual churches. However over 550 of our churches are choosing to remain connected. To those who feel the need to leave, I wish you well. I commend those who are staying. I know it is countercultural to stay connected. To remain in a relationship with a variety of people and opinions is harder than going your own way. But I believe the call of the gospel is to stay connected, to stay engaged, to stay at the table.
I value our connection with Christ and each other, even with our differences. I deeply believe we achieve more together than apart, and I look forward to what we will be in the future. Perhaps like the grapevine, we are experiencing a pruning so that something new can happen.
Let me remind us that we are not changing our doctrine and theology. We may be changing some of our practices of ministry, but as United Methodists these value will remain:
- Deeply rooted in scripture
- More diverse
- Committed to changing the world
- Foster belonging and inclusiveness
- Redeemed at The Cross
- Loving God and our neighbors
I can’t wait to see all of you at Annual Conference and renew our connection with each other and Christ.