A hard-bitten boss paces around a circle of workers in his sales force. “I got a phone call this morning from one of our oldest customers,” he says. “He fired us. After 20 years, he fired us. Said he didn’t know us anymore.”
The scene is from a United Airlines commercial from almost 30 years ago. The boss’s response is to tell his sales people that they’re going to stop doing business by phone and fax. (This was in the days before email…or female sales staff, it seems.) They’re going to go have face-to-face conversations with their customers. “But Ben, that’s over 200 cities,” one man protests.
“I don’t care,” Ben the Boss says. And he hands out plane tickets. (From United, of course.)
I’ve been thinking about that commercial lately as I think about the United Methodist Church. Like the fictional company in the ad, we’ve been around for awhile. Also like that company, many of the people we used to touch don’t know us anymore. For all our fascination with programs and new communication technologies, relationships still matter. As does our willingness to put ourselves where people are.
Many United Methodists, myself included, are internally focused during these early months of 2019 as we await the special General Conference that will consider plans for a way forward beyond our impasses over human sexuality. But I fantasize about a meeting on February 27, the day after that conference, when we recreate the old United ad (and the old model of those traveling circuit riders). When we all take an assignment to go out and talk face-to-face with the people we say we serve, whom God loves, and who feel that they don’t know us anymore.
My hope is that we will be able to do that because these months of prayerful preparation will help US know who we are. Let’s get flying again.