It is very “in vogue” to talk about what is wrong with the United Methodist Church. There are many things that are happening right now in our church, forces and factions and many issues to resolve. Some (many) wonder if our church will survive much longer.
To be honest with you, I wonder that as well. But, that is a post for another day.
I want to share with you today, a perspective from here in Mississippi, of what we do right. I have been blessed to serve some fantastic local churches here in our conference, but that is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about what I’ve seen that is only possible because of this connection that we have as United Methodists, and specifically our connection here in Mississippi. I know some pastors beyond my home conference, but not many. So, I will admit I speak from only what I have experienced here. But, from here, let me tell you what I have seen in this last month.
In early June I was pleased to be asked to come and preach Homecoming at Linn UMC, halfway between Cleveland and Indianola, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Boyle, Linn, and Litton were the first churches I served as pastor. I was blessed to be able to pastor these three churches from 1999-2004. Each Sunday I would travel the circuit, preaching at Litton at 8:45, Linn at 10, and Boyle at 11. It was a true joy to be able to serve these holy people.
Now these church are small. But they have always had a preacher. Why? Because they are connected to each other and connected to our conference. It is our connectional structure that keeps our smaller churches alive. Without that structure, it would be very, very difficult, maybe even impossible for so many of our local churches to have a pastor.
I think that’s the thing we forget when we discuss the future of the United Methodist Church, at least here in Mississippi. We forget our small churches. I am a child of a rural congregation. And I have served small congregations, honestly, as long as I have served large congregations.
Our connectional structure makes that possible. My heart breaks for what could happen as we think about the future of our denomination, and I wish that we would pause and remember that.
These small churches nurture our souls. The shape us. They mold us. They teach us. They take care of us. They help us be better Christians. They have helped me be a better pastor. And I am thankful.
I was able to experience that joy this month. We do this right.
Second, I was the director for an Older Elementary Camp at Camp Wesley Pines in Gallman, Mississippi. I know this: camping ministry makes disciples for Jesus Christ here in Mississippi. Now, I’m biased. I’m on the board of directors for Wesley Pines, and will Chair Camping Ministries for the Annual Conference. So, you could say that I am more than biased. Or you could say that this is a ministry that I believe in. That I’m willing to work for, give up my time, give of my efforts, and do all that I can do to help Camping Ministry grow in Mississippi.
At Wesley Pines, Lake Stephens, and Seashore Assembly, children, youth, and families meet Jesus Christ. Woman and men are called into ministry. Lives are changed. I saw the altar full of young people this week, praying, seeking God, learning from the Word. I saw lives changed. We do this right.
This doesn’t happen because of one church alone. But through our Conference. Through the shared efforts of churches. Though our connection.
Yes, I know that there is much stress within our connection now. And I don’t know what we will be, and I don’t know what will come. But I know that together, we empower small churches. Together, we enable Camping Ministry. Together we are better.
Together we are connected and are the Body. I know that we need each other. And I know that our connection fulfills that need. And that is a good thing about our connection we should not forget, and makes me proud to be a United Methodist from Mississippi.