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Connecting in East Lansing

On Wednesday clergy and lay leaders from across Michigan will come together on the campus of Michigan State University for six days of engagement with Christ and each other.

Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area

United Methodists call themselves a “Connectional Church”. In many ways the premier event of “The Connection” is General Conference, that ten-day global assembly that recently adjourned in Portland on May 20.

However, in the day-to-day journey with Jesus Christ, the Connection knows no hierarchy of value, from one individual believer up to through the entire denomination 13 million strong.

Next Wednesday, June 8, clergy and lay leaders from across Michigan will come together on the campus of Michigan State University for six days of engagement with Christ and each other. Some may be tempted to say, “A come down after General Conference. All the important stuff happened (or didn’t happen) in Portland.”

It is good to be reminded, in the overall scheme of holy things, that the gathering in East Lansing is as important, if not more important, as the General Conference just ended.

Connection is alive

Disciples are not made and the world is not transformed in a Convention Center once every four years. Nor will the discipling and transforming occur in the Breslin Center in East Lansing for that matter.

But gathering people together for new information, inspiration and relationship on the home turf of The Michigan Area brings The Connection to life and takes it one step closer to those in this state who are hungry for the gospel.

In a Pastoral Letter to The United Methodist Church delivered on May 23, Bishop Bruce Ough said on behalf of the Council of Bishops:Our differences do not keep us from being the body of Christ. They do not keep us from doing good in the world. They do not keep us from making a difference – and so we set forth bold new goals: to make a million new disciples of Jesus Christ; to engage three million new people to make a difference in the world; to transform 400 communities for vital abundant living; to reach a million children with life-saving health interventions; and to double the number of vital congregations.”

Michigan United Methodists will come to East Lansing next week for an historic first-time together. There, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, they will grow and then go home to make the kind of difference Bruce Ough talks about. Goals may be set in places like Portland. But goals are realized in places like Benton Harbor, Marquette, Charlotte and Dexter. Some of those 3 million new disciples the General Conference hopes for will be living in Michigan; some of those 400 transformed communities and newly revitalized congregations will be within these borders; and congregations of the Detroit and West Michigan conferences are always ready to save a child.

Connectional directors reflect

Two persons in The Michigan Area carry “connection” in their job descriptions. The Directors of Connectional Ministries offer theses reflections as their constituents make their way to East Lansing.

“Why does it matter that we gather as United Methodists here in Michigan?” asks the Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine, DCM for The Detroit Conference. In response, he offers three biblical views.

“We can reference the encouragement of Jesus that as two or more of us gather in his name he is there. Yet, we could say that this is best seen when we gather as local faith communities;

“We can recall the early writings of the Apostle Paul as he envisioned the spiritual and relational nature of the Body of Christ where we are so vitally connected to one another that to be apart or be intentionally separating ourselves would cause of harm and pain. But, again, we could ask why a larger image of that body than our own local environment matters;

“Jesus Christ commanded us not only to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’ but went on to command that we ‘go therefore into all the world’ to help connect people into relationship with him and his ongoing work through and in us in the world.”

DeVine concludes, “Bishop Joseph Yeakel once said this about The United Methodist Church: ‘We are episcopal, itinerant, connectional and conciliar.’  It is our ‘conciliar’ nature that calls us together in Lansing next week. We will take the time to council together, which brings wisdom and perspectives from lay and clergy disciples to our shaping of our shared life together.”

“I can feel the anticipation building as various groups make their last minute preparations and attendees begin to pay even closer attention to all the details of a venue for Annual Conference that is new for everyone,” says the Rev. Benton Heisler, West Michigan’s DCM.

Benton explains that the 2016 Annual Conference is the capstone of a four year quadrennial theme based on The United Methodist Church’s Four Areas of Focus:

  1. The 2013 key word was Inspire, the topic Leadership
  2. The 2014 key word was Gather, the topic Worship
  3. The 2015 key word was Grow, the topic Discipleship
  4. The 2016 key word is Send, the topic Missions

This is our first experience as the ‘new Michigan Conference,’” Heisler notes. “For once it is absolutely true ‘that we have never done it that way before.’” He encourages conference goers to “Enjoy the freedom and creativity, meet and make new friends. Share your excitement about what you most hope will be the best outcome of our new venture.”

Heisler also cites scripture as he underscores the importance of hospitality. “A wonderful guiding verse for our experience is Ephesians 4:32. Let’s watch over and out for one another and ‘be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ also forgave you.’”

Finally, the West Michigan Director of Connectional Ministries looks ahead to next year. “If you see a need while in East Lansing, lend a hand. And if you have insight into what to do better when we meet next year at the Grand Traverse Resort, share it with the Annual Conference Program Committee.”

The Michigan Conference