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Craving connections in The UMC

Serving Communion

In this month’s blog,  Drinking the Cup, the Rev. John Boley speaks about a series of personal encounters made possible by decades-long connections in The United Methodist Church.


Clergy Assistant, Michigan Conference

Rev. John BoleyOne of the consequences for me of our recent General Conference in St. Louis is that I suddenly have a greater craving than usual for our connectionalism, and I am very fearful that whatever happens in terms of our beloved denomination, schism or otherwise, our history and understanding of connectionalism will be diminished, probably drastically so.

Almost two months ago, I participated in the funeral service for Mark Spaw. It was an honor to do so, but the enhanced re-connections I made with my Detroit Conference roots and upbringing and colleagues were ever so welcome. Only in a connectional church could all of that happen.

This past week Diane and I have been genuinely people with connections. We started the week with old friends and colleagues, Reese and Sue Sharai, and attended Court Street United Methodist Church in Flint on Sunday morning. Valued long term UMC friends and colleagues are treasures.

We spent this past Friday evening with a group of former parishioners of the Mt. Pleasant First UMC, along with current pastor and spouse, Julie Greyerbiehl and Bill Chu. We discussed the actions of General Conference 2019, our upcoming Annual Conference, and all of our speculation about the future. It was great to spend time with congregants from a former congregation, and their current pastors who are valued colleagues, about the trials, hopes, and dreams of The United Methodist Church and its ministry.

On Saturday, we attended Anita Hahn’s going away party at Lake Ann UMC on the Northern Waters District. There we saw long-time clergy colleagues, long-ago parishioners from our first appointment on the Grand Traverse District, and many other people we have met along the way from a variety of congregations. What fun! We finished the weekend with another United Methodist colleague and friend in Bellaire, Michigan.

I am not just being nostalgic, or just connecting with long-term friends – I am recognizing with renewed intensity what our connection means, to me, to Diane, and to all of us. It is precious.

With all of the uncertainty in the future about our beloved United Methodist Church, one thing I am absolutely sure about is that if the end result is a diminished or unappreciated connectionalism, we will have lost beauty, function, and humanity. It is understood that the majority of people sitting in the pews on any given Sunday morning aren’t really worried about the larger connectional United Methodist Church, and it is true that appreciation for denominationalism is on the decrease in new generations. But even given those realities, the connection of the UMC is amazing, ministry enhancing, and life-giving. It is one of our Wesleyan blessings and is unknown to non-connectional church types.

I have no interest in pursuing the cause of congregationalism. I have no interest in being a part of an independent church, either a small church or megachurch. I have no interest in being part of a denomination where the congregations are not firmly held together by a shared mission, ministry, and polity. I still believe that itineracy is a good thing. I still believe that the checks and balances brought by connectionalism are a healthy thing. It may be time for me to head out to the pasture, but I still believe that John Wesley had it right all along.

Please, Gracious God, if the United Methodist Church is to split up, or be transformed into something else, make it a church where connectionalism thrives.