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Fasteners hold us together

Fasteners keep people together

Fasteners of many kinds are essential to hold important things together. Glenn Wagner shares his experience with “faith fasteners” that can prove helpful in turbulent times.

Michigan Conference Communications

My late father, David Prugh Wagner, was an inventive mechanical engineer. Employed by Shakeproof, a division of Illinois Tool Works, he specialized in designing fasteners that were used primarily by the automotive industry to hold our cars together: nuts, bolts, lock washers, self-tapping drill screws, and adhesives. His work was of life-saving and industry-enhancing significance. 

Dad has inspired in me a similar interest in fasteners that are essential for holding together important groups of people such as families, congregations, businesses, social groups, and corporations.

Patent for fasteners
Official U.S. Patent Office Drawings for one of 14 fasteners patented by David P. Wagner, the author’s father, while employed as a mechanical engineer for Illinois Tool Works. ~ photo courtesy of Glenn Wagner

Here are brief reflections on 20 of the many different kinds of relational fasteners I have encountered during my ministry, offered in alphabetical order to assist your efforts to fasten together groups in witness to the love of Christ. 

Bible:  This sacred book of books is central to our faith, learning, discipleship, worship, and witness. John notes that “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God and believing have eternal life in his name.” Four decades of studying and teaching the Bible has proven to me that this book is an essential fastener for the faith community.

Commandments: Scripture preserves the foundational commands of God that proved essential for the survival of liberated Hebrew slaves fleeing Egypt to begin a new life together by first enduring 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 20:2-17). Jesus places love as the top priority for God and community in his sharing the two great commandments in Matthew 22:35-40.

Conviction: A practical fastener to hold groups together is a shared conviction that the group is important and its work is worth the effort. These convictions are often rooted in experiences such as those found in a support group for a community’s emergency responders, especially from those who have experienced life-saving rescue themselves.

Covenant Promise: Before my wedding, a mentor shared that marriage is not ultimately based on emotions or intense feelings of love and physical attraction. “Feelings,” he said, “will burn hot and cold over a lifetime.” But, he continued, “Marriage is a legally binding contract. Today, you are making a public and personal decision of legal, social, and spiritual consequence. Your promise at the altar is an act of your will. You agree to a lifetime together, and as long as you both continue to decide to honor vows, your I do’s will endure and help your marriage to thrive.” Congregations I have served have been blessed by important covenant promises made at baptism, confirmation, profession of faith, and reception into congregational membership.

Creed: This word from the Latin, credo, means I believe. Creeds are statements of basic beliefs agreed to by adherents and often publicly recited as a way to reinforce unifying convictions.

Faith: There is a binding quality to identifying with and believing in something larger than self. Major religions bring people together with shared history, stories, rituals, music, and personal investments inspired by acts and decisions of faith.

Family: Kinship ties are important fasteners. An irony is that families can also be the source of some of life’s most acrimonious divisions. I am grateful for the role my maternal grandmother played in her family. Even though her offspring scattered across North America to follow education, marriage, and careers, she continued to fasten her family together by snail-mailing regular family news updates hand-typed and copied using onion skin and carbon paper to make multiple copies to all her children. She regularly made the rounds across the country for extensive visits with her children and grandchildren. Grandmother was also the primary organizer of cherished week-long family reunions where all were invited to attend. My experience has been that family can be a vital bond to bring and hold people together for the common good.

Fear: Fear is one of the most widely used and abused forms of social adhesive. Politicians who exercise cheap leadership have learned that it is far easier to achieve and maintain power by demonizing a minority and whipping up fear in the electorate. They refuse to tackle substantive but often complex social issues with effective programs and do not engage in the much harder work of consensus building in a diverse constituency. I am not fond of pastors who seek to build the kingdom by using their pulpits to scare the hell out of sinners, nor of news networks that use fear to headline the nightly news to boost ratings and capture markets for their advertisers. In politics, fear motivates voters and increases contributions. Fear of hell does motivate some to turn their hearts toward Jesus. I do not favor using fear as a fastener like dictators and selfish bullies do to hold a community together. In rare instances of dire emergency, fear and decisive action may spur persons to team up for life-saving action. I agree with 1 John 4:18, that “perfect love casts out fear,” and Proverbs 9:10, which observes that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Giftedness: There is often a solid cohesiveness to groups where gifted persons freely share their talents and work together for the benefit of the entire group. Championship teams, church choirs, and vibrant missionary service organizations often share the synergy from this alignment of talents. The strongest ministries I have observed have all had this shared giftedness and visionary champions for that ministry whose passion and talents attract others to join the ministry and share their gifts freely.

Gratitude:  Musical artist Andrae Crouch recorded a popular song, My Tribute, in 1982. The lyrics express the power of gratitude by the recipient of Christ’s gift of sacrificial salvation to motivate faithful discipleship. “The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude. All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.” The power of gratitude was displayed in the life of a church member who received a kidney transplant from a healthy donor who was also a friend. The giving and receiving of that life-altering gift created a visible bond of gratitude that never waned. I believe that gratitude for God’s saving love for us in Jesus is a primary fastener that unites many in the Christian family.

Holy Spirit: The Bible remembers the day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts 2 when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit helped the followers of Jesus to transcend differences of language and culture to bring persons together to glorify God. Seeking God’s Holy Spirit continues to help believers give witness to the unifying power of God’s love.

Jesus: The Apostle Paul notes in Galatians 3:28 that the differences that can easily divide us are rendered insignificant by Jesus, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In his letter to the Philippians, Paul contended that modeling our lives after the example of Christ is key to our unity. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Prayer: A venerated Irish Catholic Priest, Patrick Peyton, popularized the phrases, “The family that prays together stays together,” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace.” My experience also confirms the power of prayer to strengthen unity in groups of people devoted to this important spiritual discipline.

Proximity: Sometimes, a strong commitment to unity of purpose happens because groups of people live in proximity to each other as neighbors and thus wind up sharing interests. I have seen neighborhoods of persons who are otherwise strangers rally in passionate and unified opposition to proposed changes in zoning and similarly come together with surprising compassion and unity of purpose in times of shared loss, distress, and joy.

Purpose: Churches I have served have been blessed by the unifying properties of a shared purpose. I have seen mothers who would otherwise remain total strangers maintain remarkable unity and focus of purpose in forming and functioning a baby-sitting cooperative for their own children. Neighbors concerned about the safety of local drinking water forged strong bonds and amazing commitment to improving the water quality in their own environment. Athletic teams experience bonding with their teammates in a shared desire to win games. Veterans share moving testimony of the lifelong bonds formed while enduring life in the trenches of war. The widely embraced mission statement of the United Methodist Church, which is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” helps to bring congregations of Christians together for a shared purpose.

Sacrifice: A college course on religious art and architecture taught me that the designs of sacred places of worship almost always consider theology and contain a focal point in the building’s design to remind worshippers of what is most important to remember. Jewish synagogues frequently focus primary attention on a central Ark that contains the sacred Torah scrolls to remind worshippers of the importance of these ancient texts of God’s law. Islamic mosques focus the attention of believers on the mihrab, the niche in the wall facing Mecca that is the constant focal point for prayer. Congregations of United Methodist churches have consistently featured the empty cross of Christ as a focal point of worship to remind all of the price that Christ paid for the new life and eternal hope that is ours. Being part of a group that is freely giving of self for the greater good in gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ can be energizing.

Shared Investment: An early mentor in ministry impressed upon me the importance of my pastoral role as our church nominating committee leader. He counseled, “In selecting, recruiting, and equipping leaders for key committees and boards in the church, make sure to select persons who have already demonstrated faithfulness in their financial investment in the ministry. It is not good for the church to have persons making decisions about budgets, salaries, and mission priorities who have no monetary stake in the decisions.” Similarly, a wise District Superintendent explained to me the historical importance of the fastener for the “United” in our denomination that has been provided by “the Trust Clause.” This clause which dates back to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, declares that property and assets which are the responsibility of local congregations are held in trust so that if locals decide they no longer want to be United Methodist, they are free to leave, but their church property and assets remain with the denomination, and the bishop retains the right to appoint the church pastor. Many church disputes in the past have been endured because the parties involved in the arguments have chosen to hold onto their building and assets even in disagreement. 

Team: I have been privileged to be a part of many teams throughout my lifetime. I believe many of us have a perceived need to belong and to be part of a purpose greater than ourselves. Teams develop discipline and promote unity by asking for a shared commitment. Teams often cultivate their shared sense of identity and purpose by adopting a uniform, team colors, a logo, traditions, team songs, and opportunities for others to participate. I have often been amazed at how fans of teams will drive miles in inclement weather at their own expense to spend time cheering for their last-place team because their loyalty is an important part of their identity.

Tradition: While it is true many traditions have been supplanted or abandoned by revolutionary new circumstances, respecting and honoring traditions from our past can provide a powerful relational fastener to bring and hold communities together. Merchants and residents of Michigan’s Mackinac Island attracted over 1 million visitors during 2021, even during a pandemic, and set new records for tourist revenue in large part because this beautiful Island maintains its tradition of no motor vehicles on the Island. While there is evidence of growth in many congregations that adopt new patterns for worship and music, I confess I find comfort in maintaining the religious traditions inherited from my elders. I know vulnerable and persecuted Christian minorities around the world have found unity to face great obstacles by observing their traditional liturgies of faith in worship.

Vision: Proverbs, attributed to King Solomon who was remembered for his great wisdom, declares in 29:18, “where there is no vision the people perish . . .” Effective ministries all over the world are blessed by visionary leaders whose commitment and leadership investments in the ministry are contagious and attract others to involvement.

In bidding a fond farewell to his beloved congregation in Yorkshire before accepting a new call to serve a more prosperous and more prominent London parish offering a higher wage, Rev. Dr. John Fawcett wrote a hymn in 1772 that recognizes and values the fasteners of Christian faith. In writing the hymn, Fawcett realized the value of his profound Yorkshire relationships and decided against moving to continue to serve the people he loved. He served his Yorkshire parish for 54 years!

“Blest be the tie that binds 

Our hearts in Christian love; 

The fellowship of kindred minds 

Is like to that above.” 

Prayer: God, help us with your grace and wisdom to learn how to better hold onto the things that really matter in life, like faith, mission, family, friends, relationships, community, service, and your eternal love. In these often turbulent times, thank you for all the fasteners you provide to help us hold together people and communities that matter for you. Amen