Reflection - October 4, 2016

By Darren McClellan

published 10/4/2016
Dear Friends,

One of the pleasant surprises for me during my first month in the Baypines District is how much I have enjoyed traveling to each of our charge conferences.  It is all the more wonderful  when the paperwork is submitted at a reasonable time (ahem!), but in every setting I have celebrated the ways in which each community is striving to fulfill the church’s mission within its particular context.  There are some innovative ideas being implemented in our churches! 

One of my favorites was reported by May Creek UMC.  Not long ago, they sent a letter to everyone within reach and declared an upcoming date as “No Excuse Sunday.”  In the letter they included a list of accessories that would be available on the altar for ease of use.  If you were cold, you grabbed a quilt.  If you were hot, you grabbed a fan.  There were big print Bibles and Hymnals on display for those who could see them.  There were watches for those who seemingly could not tell time.  There may have been footballs and fishing lures and deer jerky available as well—I can’t remember.  The point is, they had fun with it, and decided it was worth a try.  In this case, the worship attendance more than tripled that Sunday.  Who knew that people would respond so positively to the prospect of accountability?  Perhaps we are United Methodists after all!

As we seek collectively to answer the question of “who is my neighbor?” for the sake of the gospel, we know that each congregation will have to do its own work in prayerfully discovering the needs and strategies of outreach for their specific mission field.  Subsequently, if you are waiting for the single fool-proof plan from the district or conference office, wait no more, because it is not coming.   As Jesus said to the disciples at the feeding of the five thousand, you give them something to eat.  I do, however, look forward to partnering with you as we seek to discern the movement of God’s Spirit in our midst.   

Yesterday I was able to gather with many across our annual conference for the Fresh Expressions Vision Day.  Derived over the last decade from the Anglican and Methodist churches in England, a “Fresh Expression” is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.  Beyond this definition, the movement identifies two important qualifiers.  First, it will come into being through the principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.  Second, it will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.

I respect the missional impetus of this movement as it has proven to stretch our typical conversations about what it means to be the church.  I also appreciate that it does not sacrifice the historic marks of the church (one, holy, apostolic, and catholic/universal) in the interest of relevancy and innovation.  In my own ministry, I have known the disappointment and pain that comes from a new sprout that is somehow severed from its historical root.  That said, I believe that ‘fresh expressions’ can be a beautiful and fruitful sign of the glory of God, but like all produce, will need to be ‘refrigerated’ in order to be of lasting health and pure effect.  As Charles Wesley prayed, unite the pair so long disjoined, Knowledge and vital piety…

Surrounded by the good company of our connection, yesterday’s presentation served to reaffirm my commitment to existing AND new forms of church; not one over the other.  As a treasured element of our doctrinal heritage, it is my prayer that we will press on, while staying plugged in, and remembering that
“We share with many Christian communions a recognition of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith, the confession that our justification as sinners is by grace through faith, and the sober realization that the church is in need of continual reformation and renewal”  (¶ 101, emphasis mine).

This is our theological task.

Grace to you,