Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Committed to the Connection

The following appeared in the mid-June edition of our newsletter

There’s just enough “anti-establishment” in me to be dangerous.

My childhood was one where I saw the teenagers of the late 60’s – early 70’s rebel against a military police action in Southeast Asia. Protest was in the air. The death of Camelot shattered a perceived innocence made incarnate by Ward and June Cleaver – “and the Jerry Mathers as the Beav.”

The music of that era (still among my favorite) dared to protest the world. Amplification and Distortion were the metaphoric instruments of the perception of how things were.

The recent revelations of Mark Felt as “Deep Throat,” and the policy wonks of that time reliving, defending and revising the early 70’s has given me a view of the landscape of the past 30 plus years – and there’s often an a distrust of the base of power, wherever it sits, be it political or religious, because surely the axiom “Absolutely power corrupts absolutely,” is as true as true can be.

So, Wednesday of Annual Conference, as I stood before the body to offer our report for Lakeshore, I prefaced my comments with, “I’m wearing a suit four days running, now – this is either a sign that the end of days is come, or that I’ve sold out to the man.” Those in the house who know me, got it, and appropriately laughed. My dad, seated on the front row of the Conference, would more likely say, “no, he’s just decided to grow up, thank God!”

I share the back-story to say this. Despite the renegade I’d like you to think I am - I’m committed to the connection that is The United Methodist Church. I also believe that the connection is in dire need of reform. To that end, I’m calling St. John’s to become engaged in both commitment to our connection and reform of it in ways we’ve not since generations past.

One of the great issues of the connection at large, and our annual conference in particular is our lack of support for our “connected ministries.” This is among the things we do through our “apportionments.” The “apportionment” is our fair share of what the body had said is our mutual area of focus in ministry, our program, the support of our clergy, and the global reach of ministry to which we are called. The apportionment is that thing we accept not as “church tax” (which is a gross mischaracterization of what this is) but as opportunity to belong to each other under the banner that united we are more able to do great things for the Kingdom of God than we can individually.

It is through our apportionment that “we” have built Africa University. It is through the apportionment that we have continued to support historically black colleges built as institutions to advance the educational opportunities of African-Americans after the Civil War. It is through the apportionments that clergy who have given their lives for the service of God through the church have a pension. It is through the apportionment that we support Reelfoot Rural Ministry, Lakeshore, Lambuth University, United Methodist Neighborhood Centers.

Do these exclude our commitment to what is local? No. Truth is, we need to be doing more for that which is local and global. Our Church budget does not even provide enough for “the gift of a day” at the Church Health Center. Our commitment to MIFA, School of Servant Leadership, Bruce School, Friends for Life and those things yet dreamed demand of us intentionality and resolve.

Love multiplies, it is said, and so, too, should our commitment to those ministries within our reach even as we reach with sister and brother United Methodists the world over making real John Wesley’s statement that “the world is my parish.”

As we participate in the connection, we have a valid stake in its reformation. Standing apart and wishing it were so demands no courage or faith on our part.

There’s another song of 30 plus years ago that comes to my mind when I think of what it right about our connected ministry:

For united we stand
Divided we fall
And if our backs should ever be against the wall
We'll be together, together, you and I.

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