Connected and Combined in Mission
By: Susan Naslund
Perhaps you have heard the organizational architecture of the United Methodist Church referred to as being "connectional." "Every local church is linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church or person could alone," is how the United Methodist Church website describes the church's structure. This framework differs from the way many other denominations are organized where polity is decided by each congregation or presbytery. The "connectional" system in the United Methodist Church, among other things, "enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength" as Paragraph 701 of the Book of Discipline puts it.
One way Foothillians remain connected to the larger denomination is through the payment of "apportionments." Through a formulaic system, a portion of our congregation's pledged giving is distributed to the larger church to do work in the world via the World Service Fund, Africa University Fund, Ministerial Education Fund, Black College Fund, Episcopal Fund, Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, and General Administration Fund. Paying apportionments is an important way to express our commitment to be in mission to others -- to love others as God has loved us. It is good to be part of the mutual sharing of resources so that we can honor our commitment to be one body in Christ.
But, how can we be connectional, and at the same time missional, in ways other than through our monetary gifts?
One small group at Foothills recently created a connectional relationship with Imperial Beach United Methodist Church. In the City of Imperial Beach, one fourth of the households earn less than $2,000 per month. In response to the impoverishment of its neighbors, the small United Methodist congregation there offers the following: a food pantry, homeless ministry, free market, community garden, free professional counseling, nutrition classes, cooking classes, Spanish language classes, tenant rights seminars, and free tax preparation, in addition to centering prayer groups and a vibrant worship experience on Sunday mornings. And, Imperial Beach United Methodist Church offers all of these services from a modest facility in great need of rehabilitation itself.
When we heard of the church's lack of a clean and inviting nursery for its growing population of toddlers, we stepped in to help. Over the course of several Saturdays, we painted the walls, made colorful window coverings, and decorated the space with art and furniture. We collected and donated lots of gently used toys and books. The adjacent bathroom was cleaned of mold, the walls were clad with wainscoting, and the floor was retiled.
Even though the demographics of Imperial Beach are much different than those in La Mesa, our congregations have a combined interest to love our neighbors as ourselves. We believe our improvements to the Imperial Beach United Methodist Church nursery allows that congregation to accomplish more than they can alone, and to carry out our shared mission in unity and strength.
"The improvements to the nursery will change the perspective from living with things the way they are to thinking about the possibilities of what can be," remarked Pastor John Griffin. "It gives us hope."
Let me know if you want to join with Imperial Beach United Methodist Church, or another church in our District, as another way to be combined in mission to our world. I will get you connected.