How connected are we? This is something that I hear asked (usually indirectly - it usually comes in the form of a question like, "Why are our Apportionments so high?" or "What exactly is it that a bishop does? And how much money does s/he get from us?" or "Can we talk to the District Superintendent and ask him/her not to move you?"
Lately we have been "experimenting" with "clusters" (yeah, I know, I know, that's what I thought, too). Which have generally been a distaster. One more mandatory meeting to go and moan and whine, to get not-quite-surface-deep, to one-up colleagues ("how many you worshiping these days?"), or to get sidetracked into meaningless and fruitless discussions.
Oh, and to top it all off, the "clusters" have to be led by a trained cluster leader. Delicious. A couple of years ago, my cluster became defunct, and five of us bucked the system (ok, not really, since one of us was "trained" and we did everything asked of us, and in NW Plains, anyway, the concept of cluster was a very loose one; I don't think Tom Tumblin fully bought into the whole concept as delivered). We made ourselves into a hard core accountability group. We talked, laughed, became friends and brothers, fought, argued, got in each others' faces (when necessary) and really truly lived life together. It took us a year to get there, a year of meeting every week. But it was fantastic.
Meanwhile, the assistant DS met with us by county monthly. I felt connected to the conference through that meeting and, to a pretty decent extent, connected to the clergy in the county.
But then I moved. Once again I was assigned to a cluster, and after one meeting, I decided that it was a waste of my time and gas money (I can spend my accountable reimbursement money elsewhere just as easily). So I joined with a couple of other guys and kind of did a cessessionist's connection kind of thing.
But where I found connection was with other "young clergy" with whom I have been meeting, not because we're told to, but because we want to. We want to encourage one another and get real with one another.
And through this connection, we decided to also collaborate on a sermon series. Honestly I have never had as many authentic positive comments (not just "nice sermon, pastor") about "my" messages as I have during this series. Not in 7 1/2 years of ministry. Combined. It has been a fantastic experience, and through it, I believe we are experiencing real connection.