Our United Methodist Church is a connectional church. Every United Methodist congregation is interconnected to other churches throughout the denomination via a chain of area conferences. This is the opposite of the non-denominational or independent churches we see popping up out of the blue all around us. At the Mill Creek Fair there was a booth for the Redemption Church – I had to look it up. Canyon Creek Church recently purchased the only American Baptist Church on 35th. Like many of these churches Canyon Creek was started by a single person. On the Church website it says: “Canyon Creek Church started as a final graduate school project for Brandon.” Connections are not mentioned. In these church websites there is often a tab called Our Story – but as a historian I find the story short and lacking. It is simply about a person or small group of people on their own starting a church. Pretty consistently these churches are fundamentalist. They believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder if the people who flock to these churches ever read the stated beliefs on the church websites? A teller at our bank, noting my check was from a church asked about our church and when I asked her where she went to church she said, “Blue Sky Church in Bellevue.” One day the lead pastor saw the blue sky come out of the clouds; an unusual and attractive name for essentially a Calvinist Church. They purport to believe in election: “We believe that God acted before creation in choosing some people to be saved.” Of course, this implies that most people are not saved. I wonder if the teller knows this. When these churches do have a deeper story they do not claim it; they don’t disclose their roots in the Reformation and John Calvin. This is reflective of our culture. Historical connections are often seen as a liability.
As a connectional church we may be counter-cultural but we are not counter-kingdom. (That is, Kingdom of God, Kin-dom of God, Economy of God, Rule of God, etc.) I’m quite sure that heaven is connectional. One of the problems in our society is an emphasis on the individual, independence and freedom at the expense of relationships and communities. In a sense, the election of Donald Trump is a product of these values. We have elected a person who is a narcissist! President Trump is critically concerned about himself more than anything else, especially the things that connect us. Naomi Klein has written a new book: No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World we Need. She says that we respond to a Trump presidency as a united front; we must become more connected. People who are concerned about the environment, Black Lives Matter, abused women, people who are outraged by healthcare in America all need to recognize the ways we are hurting and fearful, and work together. I am encouraged by a resurgence of passion for better values like compassion, equality and justice. I want to believe that this energy can be used to bring another “Great Awakening” in America. And we have an important role in this as a connectional church.
In this context our connectional character is not merely how we are organized, it is a part of our message. To be connected is the way to create peace and justice; the way to mirror the Kingdom of God in our world. We want people to come to our Church because we are oriented toward that Kingdom in a way that more independent and non-denominational churches are not. We have an important mission in the world, especially now. We cannot be complacent or mum about it. How can we get our message out there? I think our booth at the Mill Creek Fair was a good thing to be doing. What else can we do to share with the world our vision of a connectional heaven? P.Jim