This is Doug. He is a member at West End Methodist Church in the Tynedale Circuit. I encountered him on Sunday at the celebration of ministry service organised to mark the moving of two ministers in the circuit. The worship event was splendid, the send-off superb, and afterwards in the tea and cakes I met Doug. He has been Methodist all his life and he told me he had never met, let alone shaken hands with a President of the Conference. So we shook hands and talked and he was clearly delighted to have this opportunity to share, and so was I. I was enriched to have a conversation with someone who has been on the path of discipleship much longer than me.
It made me reflect on how important it is that the President and Vice President are available to meet members and worshippers throughout the Connexion. Alongside the access we are accorded to meet with some influential figures in our society – next week we are invited to lunch at the Korean Embassy – a large part of our calling is to meet, encourage and link together the Methodist people. As we are enriched and encouraged by their faith and stories, we can, sometimes, in turn pass these on to other individuals and communities, so that all are built up. We are ‘go-betweens’.
St Paul was a go-between. Not only did he travel to and fro among communities but his letters linked one Christian community with another, one set of individuals with others. He regularly includes the names of those who are with him at the time of writing the letter. (See the first verse of I Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians and Colossians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.) The final sections of the letters are often reserved for passing on greetings (e.g. 1 Cor 16.1-20 and Philippians 4). Indeed, greetings and commendations of people fill almost all the last chapter of Romans, whilst the whole of Philemon is a (re)linking of two Christians and a reimagining of what the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus might now be in Christ. Paul was a go-between, knowing that his communications travelled across a web of relationships.
All this represents, expresses and strengthens the deep connectedness of the Christian people. Dispersed and scattered as they may be, in small churches and large, in town, city and rural village they are joined together in Christ and therefore bonded to each other in a special way. Recognising that connection not only provides a sense of being part of something bigger but also demonstrates that each person is special within that larger body. And this gives confidence to our discipleship. We urge each other on ‘to see more clearly, love more dearly and follow more nearly’ the Jesus we follow.
There are many ways of connecting: visits, handshakes, conversations, letters, cards, texts, MMS messages, photos on Facebook and tweets on Twitter. They can be used for good or ill. We know that all of these media have been, and are being used to degrade, discourage and bully but equally they are, and can be used to connect, encourage and affirm. And it is not just the job of the President and Vice President to make good links. All of us can be go-betweens for good, if we choose to be.