One element within the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition that might clarify what it means to be the people of God is the practice or principle of connectionalism. In the early Methodist movement, connectionalism referred to a basic set of practices and structures that would insure the presence of unity. While this was true primarily among the preachers, Wesley intended for this unity to extend as well to all members of the Methodist societies in England. In his last letter to the American Methodists, Wesley urges them to declare clearly that "the Methodists are one people in all the world [and] that it is their full determination so to continue.” It is from this desire that Methodism developed structures and practices to insure this connectedness and unity: the structure of the Conference and the practices of Holy Conferencing.
Sadly, Methodism has since evolved from being a vibrant missionary “movement” to being an “institution.” The term connectionalism is now used primarily to describe the institutional structures of the United Methodist Church, rather than the interconnected nature of a missionary movement. This is tragic, if participation in the unity of the church means participation in the unity of the triune God. The “connection” should not merely be a description of our denominational structures. Rather, it is the means by which Methodists are a “People” in the world, connected to one another and to God who calls us together in worship and sends us out in mission.
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