In her book The Emergent Church Phyllis Tickle writes of how the Church has found it necessary to readjust radically the way it speaks and lives the gospel about every five centuries, and that now it is our turn. A dramatic rise in the past decade of people who claim no religious affiliation and who often actively deny belief in the soul, let alone any supreme being, mirrors the drop in membership and activity in religious groups across the board. Conservative or liberal theology is irrelevant to this trend, and it is seen in Judaism as well as Christianity in North America.
Within the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, many of our congregations are approaching the two-century mark, and some of our buildings with them. Populations have shifted and economics have changed but our leadership patterns and outreach practices have not always kept pace. We spend a lot of time fundraising and don’t always spend the funds raised in ways that bear fruit in changed lives. We know all of that, and we want to do better.
Something has to be done. Something will be done. So we are in the midst of determining, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, what that should be. The ultimate answer will not be organizational, but theological, however the ways that we determine how to go about spreading the good news must be part of the discussion.
One way that is being proposed is called “Mission ConneXion”. The details are contained in a document that is copied below, which will be up for discussion when our District Conference meets on April 14, and which will be put forward as a formal resolution at Annual Conference in May. (If accepted at Annual Conference, the organizational changes it embodies would be put into practice in the coming year.) A quick summary of its provisions is that “Mission ConneXions” of four to fifteen local churches (depending on geography) would be organized “for ministry within the congregations growing disciples and for mission beyond the congregation in the community making new disciples and transforming the community and world beyond.” They would be under the guidance of a Council composed of all clergy (active or retired) within that area and at least two lay persons from each participant church. A Mission ConneXion Leader – possibly clergy, possibly laity - would be chosen by the District Superintendent in consultation with the Council to resource the entire group and help it to perform its work effectively.
There is a lot more to the plan, and it is worth reading closely. No doubt there are flaws and no doubt that changes would have to be made in the course of implementation. No doubt a lot depends on the people involved at the start and the people that God sends as it unrolls. There are provisions for a two-year experimental period and for review at the end of that time.
Right now, what is being sought is the insights of local church members. So please read this proposal and let me know your thoughts. Whatever new growth springs up in the coming years, like any growth, will come from the ground up, not drop from the sky. The wisdom of the whole Body of Christ is needed in this, as in so many ways, and when heard can be trusted.
EASTERN PENNSYLVANIA CONFERENCE
“Creating a Mission ConneXion 2013”
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In order for each congregation and individual United Methodist to more effectively accomplish this mission all congregations in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference will participate in a grouping of 4 to 15 congregations called a “Mission ConneXion”.
The purpose of the Mission ConneXion is to connect congregations, their members and the clergy. The Mission ConneXions will enable congregations, their members and the clergy to resource one another in two ways:
· for ministry within the congregations growing disciples and
· for mission beyond the congregation in the community making new disciples and transforming the community and world beyond.
How will the Mission ConneXions be formed?
The church council or equivalent structure of each congregation will complete a survey. They will indicate the 4-15 other churches in their geographic area with whom they would most like to be connected in order to more effectively be in mission to their area. Those churches who are already connected are welcome to elect to continue those connections. The District Superintendent and the district council on ministries or equivalent will then review the surveys and create the mission areas. Churches may appeal the Mission ConneXion alignments to the DS and the district council. Each Mission ConneXion will be free to choose its own name through its Mission ConneXion Council.
How will the Mission ConneXions be organized?
Each Mission ConneXion will have a Council. The Mission ConneXion Council will be composed of both laity and clergy. Initially, two lay persons from each church will serve on the Council. The Council may choose to increase the number of lay representatives to three or four if the Council feels it will better enable the Council to connect with the local churches and community. All clergy persons within the Mission ConneXion, active and retired, serving churches or in extension ministries, will be part of the Mission ConneXion Council also. If there are United Methodist-related community centers or other outreach ministries in the area served by the Mission ConneXion they will be welcome to also send a representative. The Mission ConneXion Council will meet at least quarterly.
How will Mission ConneXion Leaders be chosen?
A Mission ConneXion Leader will be selected by the district superintendent in consultation with the members of the Mission ConneXion Council. Mission ConneXion Leaders may be laity or clergy, active or retired, appointed to a church or in extension ministry. Training will be provided for all Mission ConneXion Leaders.
What can being organized as Mission ConneXions help us accomplish?
Most of our churches are already working cooperatively with neighboring churches in some way. Through the Mission ConneXion we will explore additional ways to resource one another. The focus of the Mission ConneXion is the mission field around our churches. How can we strengthen one another so we can be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ and bringing Kingdom transformation into our communities?
Here are some examples of things Mission ConneXions might do:
· Young adult group
· After school program
· Senior citizens fellowship
· Training for SS teachers, committee members and chairs, Christ Servant Ministers
· Share a missionary
· Combined choir concert
· Technology training for administration or worship
· Guest speakers, programs or concerts that no one church could afford alone
· Alternate athletic programs for children and youth (non-Sunday morning)
· Homeless shelter
· Food pantry
· Thrift Store
· Address community issues (economic, environmental, cross cultural/racial)
· Group buying
· Spiritual retreat
· Sharing expertise of laity and pastors
· Putting on workshops for other churches in the district
Although all congregations must be a part of a Mission ConneXion they will be free to opt out of any particular program. Individuals from congregations opting out will still be welcome to participate when appropriate.
What is the role of the Mission ConneXion Leader?
The primary role of the Mission ConneXion Leader is to assist the congregations and pastors to become more effective accomplishing our common mission. The Leader will assist the congregations in the Mission ConneXion to develop and implement multi-year strategies in the five areas represented by the Call to Action so each church can become a more “vital congregation”.
· Worship Attendance
· Professions of Faith
· Small Groups for Discipleship
· Persons in Mission
· $ for Missions
The Leader will serve as a liaison between the Mission ConneXion and the DS and annual conference. The Leader will preside at the Mission ConneXion Council meetings. Leaders will be trained to answer questions about annual conference and Disciplinary policies. If an elder, the Mission ConneXion Leader may assist the DS by conducting charge conferences on the district. District-wide meetings of all Mission ConneXion Leaders will occur at least three times a year. Mission ConneXion Leaders will be reimbursed for travel expenses.
How will this plan impact current clergy groups, ecumenical commitments and other associations of churches?
The Mission ConneXion is not intended to replace any existing support groups among clergy. We value local ecumenical efforts and hope that the Mission ConneXion will only strengthen United Methodists as partners in local ecumenical ministries. Likewise, although the Mission ConneXion is a geographical association for mission, congregations and clergy are free to also form groups based on areas of affinity such as church size, racial/cultural/ language, unique ministry/mission.
What will be the role of the District Superintendent?
The District Superintendent will continue with all the duties assigned in the Book of Discipline paragraph 419, the first of which is to be the “chief missional strategist of the district.” Four key roles for the District Superintendent include:
· Deployment of clergy for greatest effectiveness in our mission
· Training and support of Mission ConneXion Leaders
· Fostering collaboration among congregations to serve their mission field
· Developing and maintaining structures of support and accountability for clergy and congregations
The superintendent may be assisted where appropriate by the Mission ConneXion Leaders. The Superintendent will continue to conduct an annual interview with each clergy person. Superintendents will seek to be present with every church on the district at least once a year. That presence may be at a charge conference, worship service, workshop, or other special program as negotiated with the congregation. The appointment function will remain with the Bishop and Cabinet. The Mission ConneXion will become the primary, but not the exclusive, channel through which the Superintendent interacts with the local church.
How will Charge Conferences be conducted?
Over the first two years of the implementation of this strategy a variety of approaches to charge conference will be explored and evaluated by the bishop and superintendents in consultation with the clergy and congregations. Congregations may request a private charge conference with the Superintendent presiding when needed. In other cases churches may be paired for charge conferences. An elder designated by the Superintendent may preside. Patterns for a combined charge conference for all the churches in a Mission ConneXion will be tried. Where Mission ConneXion Leaders are elders they may be utilized to conduct charge conferences.
What role will the Districts have?
The District Council on Ministries or its equivalent is charged with insuring that our common mission is kept in focus across the district. The Council will continue in its role of developing training and inspirational experiences for laity and clergy. It will help to coordinate the efforts of the Mission ConneXions and seek ways to bring a United Methodist witness into the areas of the district not covered by a Mission ConneXion. Districts will continue to have the committees mandated by the Discipline: District Committee on Ordained Ministry, Committee on District Superintendency, the District Board of Church Location and Building and a district organization of United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men.
How will redistricting effect conference nominations?
If the annual conference chooses to change the number of districts, those elected to serve on conference committees, boards and agencies representing a district will continue as representatives of the new district in which they find themselves. Committees, boards and agencies will have until the end of the year to create a new rubric designating the number of district representatives required going forward. The new rubrics will be forwarded to the Conference Committee on Nominations. After the first of the new year the Conference Committee on Nominations will prepare a report to the annual conference based on the recommendations of the committees, boards and agencies.
What is the theological basis for the Mission ConneXion strategy?
The theological basis for the Mission ConneXion is God’s self–giving love for all the world.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 All quotes from the NRSV
God incarnated that love in Jesus Christ and has given us an example. So we follow Christ into the world embodying God’s love.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, …, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
In the Great Commandments Jesus has given us the pattern for our lives individually and together, lives full of love for God and others.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31
Our mission is made clear in the Great Commission.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Now is the time for us to move forward together doing what we know to be good.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
As members of the body of Christ we each bring the unique gifts God has given us through the Spirit to serve one another and our community and world.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” I Corinthians 12:7
No individual is the body of Christ alone. No congregation constitutes the whole body. Only as we come together are we completely equipped to carry on the work of Christ today.
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many…. If all were a single member where would the body be?... Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
I Corinthians 12: 14, 19
We come together to share what God has given to each of us, so we may more effectively carry out the work of Christ in this day by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
And so we join in our “Great Thanksgiving” praying, “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
Why the funny spelling of connection?
The capital X represents for us the Greek letter CHI, the first letter of Christ. Christ is at the center of our ConneXion. We are on mission with Christ.
The X may also remind some of a cross being carried. Jesus took up his cross in sacrificial love for the world and has left us an example that we, too, may take up our cross of service to God and others.
X also “marks the spot” where God has placed us in mission, not always some place on the far side of the world, but right where we live, study, work and play. The Mission ConneXion is all about getting our focus off of ourselves and congregational survival and onto the needs of our communities and the people around us whom Christ loves.
The X is an intersection -- the place where faith and practice meet. The Mission ConneXion is the intersection of the individual and the corporate. The Mission ConneXion is a place where the congregation and the conference connect.
How will this plan be evaluated?
The plans above are intended as a two year experiment. Information will be gathered on how the Mission ConneXions have increased our effectiveness. The input of clergy and laity will be sought and recommendations made by the Mission ConneXion Leaders and Cabinet. A revised plan will be brought to the annual conference in 2015 for approval.