Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bridging the Disconnect

There is no other time I feel more disconnected from the Philippines, than at Christmas time. It's just not the same! Now don't get me wrong. Celebrating Christmas here in Alaska over the past 6 years has been meaningful. But there are certain nuances, certain traditions and ways of celebrating that are unique to my homeland that I truly miss and crave. And the disconnect from friends and loved ones back home is truly magnified during this season. Listening to Filipino Christmas carols in my car or from my computer usually brings tears to my eyes as my soul acknowledges this disconnect. Thankfully, the wonders of technology allow me and my family to connect with our loved ones across the seas.

Being disconnected is a reality we have to deal with as residents of Alaska. In my traveling to the different ministry contexts around the state, the reality of isolation became very evident, more so in the contexts like Nome and Unalaska. Yet even in churches on the road system, it can get pretty isolating.

It is not unusual for our churches to feel disconnected from each other and from the Conference. I am hoping to be a bridge for the latter and we are working to find links for the former. One of the common responses I've gotten from my church visits was a sincere thankfulness for joining them in worship, meals and holy conference, for taking time to listen, or for just being there and being fully present.

It is also not unusual for our pastors to feel isolated. This became very evident at the recent Clergy and Professional Church Workers retreat. A thirst for genuine connectedness was expressed and was quenched by the time together in fellowship, prayer and conversation.

Fr. Richard Rohr characterizes our disconnect in this way: "Each of us replicates the Wholeness of God and has a certain wholeness within ourselves—but we are never entirely whole apart from our connection with the larger Whole and the other parts." He goes on to say that, "Religion's main and final goal is to reconnect us (re-ligio) to the Whole, to ourselves, and to one another—and thus heal us."

We are called to bridge the disconnect. One way we can easily do this is through prayer. Beginning in January of 2015, aside from the weekly e-newsletter, people will be receiving an email before the weekend, calling them to pray for specific concerns of a local church or ministry setting. The idea is to have the whole conference connected in prayer for a specific context every week. These can be lifted up during the worship service and during individual and small group prayer times. A schedule is being developed and churches and institutions will be asked a week or two in advance for specific things that need to be lifted up in their contexts. We thank Pastor Gary Grundman of Chugiak for this idea. It is my sincere hope that all would take this seriously as a step towards being better connected.

There are other ways that we can respond to the call of bridging the disconnect. Make an effort to reach out. Make an effort to stay in touch. Call each other. Send an email, a text, a Facebook message, a card or a letter. The United Methodist Church is a connectional system. We thrive on our connections. When we are disconnected, we falter. We need to nurture and take care of our connections and make sure that no one feels isolated. I encourage our clergy to build networks of support with each other. I encourage our churches to reach out to one another and build partnerships in prayer and ministry.

I believe that the time we spend connecting is time well spent.

Your fellow disciple,

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