Last Thursday, the clergy of the Clinch Mountain District gathered to have a learning and planning session around a new model of doing ministry together: Missional Hubs. The idea of Missional Hubs has roots in the Cooperative Parish model, in which multiple churches come together to do ministry that they lack the numbers or means to accomplish individually. While multi-church charges simply share the burden of a pastor’s salary, a Cooperative Parish shares ministry that they envision together. A Missional Hub brings potentially more churches together, focusing on the missional work we can accomplish when we connect our resources and people.
I’ve lost your attention, haven’t I?
The differences can be subtle.
The Missional Hubs of the Clinch Mountain District all made their way to different tables and began the process of introducing themselves and their churches. The clergy of the Bristol, Tennessee, Missional Hub sat together and bypassed the formalities to get right down to business, sparing a few longing glances at the Bristol, Virginia Missional Hub table.
We’re ahead of the game.
We learned a few years ago that there are things we can do together that we can’t do separately. It seemed silly to have this many United Methodist congregations in such a tight little twin city and not to be doing ministry together.
We know how important our connection is. We value it far above our differences of theology or ideology. We know that we serve a God who brings people together from backgrounds far more diverse than we could ever imagine. Connectionalism is vital to the life of the Church.
We need each other.
We are one Body.
That concept is probably more formative to my theology and my homiletical work than much of anything else. Fundamental to all my work as a pastor is the understanding that God has called us to be one in community, just as our Triune God is One in Three.
Sometimes, though, we churchy people do things that tear at the bonds that ought to keep us together. We beat each other up and we use language that excludes people and we arrogantly assume that our understanding of God is more clear, more focused, more informed than someone else’s. That language gets met by similar vitriol from people who disagree with us, which makes us respond with strength, and the responses become cyclical until all we can do is scream at each other.
A few weeks ago, I signed a petition to tell our Tennessee legislators that their vitriol had gotten out of control, and that the legislation they were considering was nothing but harmful. The Bristol Herald-Courier heard about it and decided they needed to talk to me. I was as honest as I could be.
There is a place for protest and for standing your ground. There is a place for prophetic speech. There is a place for promoting unity among the Body of Christ, too. It is my job constantly to find the place either where those meet, or where we are called to lean toward unity or toward prophetic action.
I hope I occasionally make the right choice.
I stand by my work in the pulpit. I stand by my words in the Herald-Courier article. I stand by people living on the margins. I stand by you.
I hope you’ll stand with me.