Home Equipping Leaders Adults The Vine United Methodist Church: A Hybrid Community of Faith

The Vine United Methodist Church: A Hybrid Community of Faith

By Jefferson Furtado

LS Hand Heart

Like the season of spring that brings new life and color to what was once made bare by the winter season, The Vine United Methodist Church seeks to bring healing and connection to those who desire to be part of a community that actively pursues a faithful and generous way to follow Christ with others. The Vine is not a novel experiment or reaction to present challenges but a new avenue for faithful discipleship grounded not in what sets us apart one from the other but on the one who unites our hearts and minds—Jesus Christ, the True Vine.

The people called United Methodists have long understood that each generation has a responsibility to discern anew how to live out God’s gracious invitation to love and serve in the here and now. Throughout the history of our denomination, we have sought to carry this work near and far, in conventional places and in spaces where few would dare go. We have sought to expand our reach so all those created in God’s image would have an opportunity to hear the story of salvation, be transformed, and move forward to share the good news of Christ with others.

The Vine United Methodist Church seeks to continue this vital tradition by developing a community of faith with a robust online presence and small local expressions—fulfilled through intentional small groups that gather to worship, study the holy scriptures, and engage in mission with their neighbors.

What is unique about The Vine? The Vine is a church without a building. A team of four pastors works together to prepare worship services, develop discipleship content, and shepherd a dispersed community that gathers throughout the footprint of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference and beyond. Over the last year, The Vine has moved from synchronous worship on Facebook, YouTube, and other online platforms to asynchronous worship, allowing people to participate on their own time. Our Branches, our name for small groups, gather on Zoom, living rooms, coffee shops, and places where people can feel at home.

The Vine has become a home for some who have experienced denominational disaffiliation, others who have experienced church hurts, and yet others who are seeking to grow in their faith. One of our members, Josh Shaw, explains the impact of The Vine in this way:

Josh Shaw headshot
Josh Shaw

One of my favorite musical numbers is “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. The cast sings this number after a tragic loss and a turnaround in their grief.

I sang along to this song on the drive home after the passing of my former home church's disaffiliation vote. I remember feeling the heavy feeling of an identity crisis. I did not know where I belonged. I was still healing from other church hurt and had a new layer of it all together. As I belted the lyrics over and over, it became a comforting reminder that even in my grief, I am not alone. Despite my hurt, God was at work.

I was still unsure of where to turn to call my home church. For a person like me with experience in children’s, youth, and collegiate ministries, a delegate to General Conference, and the camp work I’m a part of, I realized there weren’t many options with low expectations of me. I knew in this next chapter, I needed to be a congregant, but where? I did not want the “Cheers” moment of going where everybody knew my name. I wanted to show up, baggage and all, and just be present.

After hearing wonderful things about the work of The Vine UMC at annual conference and from a beloved mentor, I took the plunge. I’m so glad I did. Each week, I get to show up and be present. I’m not expected to be anything but authentically me. I’m blessed with four phenomenal pastors who have been incredible about meeting me where I am, with no expectations.

The Vine UMC has helped this lost sheep feel found, celebrated, and loved. I’m so grateful to be home!”

In this season, Charles Wesley’s hymn, A Charge to Keep I Have (United Methodist Hymnal, 413), reminds us of the truth shared by Josh. The call “to serve the present age” is vital in these times of social polarization, misinformation, division, and displacement. The people of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference have sought to answer this call by planting ourselves firmly in the words of Jesus, who said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything” (John 15:5, CEB).

The words of Jesus remind us that the work we do is not our own, so we must constantly strive to ensure that our actions are aligned with God’s preferred future for our times. The COVID realities we experienced a few years back taught us some valuable lessons in hybrid community formation. We know that with careful intentionality, it is possible to create and nurture community life with those who are physically distant from one another. We understand that the realities of God’s kin-dom can be manifested on earth not only through churchwide missional efforts but also through the caring, prayerful, and generous actions of a single individual. We understand that caring for others is not a task reserved for clergy but a call to all who have said “yes” to the limitless love of God, revealed through Jesus Christ.

Jefferson Furtado headshot
Rev. Jefferson M. Furtado

The work of The Vine, as “A Movement of Living Love," has involved recruiting, equipping, and journeying with lay individuals who wish to develop intentional small faith communities. We understand our mission to be a dynamic call to action, inviting individuals and communities to engage in a living, breathing practice of love—not as a seasonal sentiment but as an eternal endeavor as demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

At its core, the concept of "Living Love" goes beyond words or doctrines; it is an experiential faith that manifests itself in tangible ways. It is a love that is active, love that does, love that moves. It's not confined to the walls of a church building but expressed outward, flowing from the individual to the community and world at large. This love is not just an abstract idea but a concrete force for change, healing, and empowerment.

The term "movement" signifies that this is not a solitary endeavor but a collective effort. It suggests momentum, a forward thrust that aims to bring about transformation both within the individual and the community. This is a movement that is not content with the status quo but is always exploring the boundaries that prevent us from fully loving others, always seeking to grow and evolve, and always looking for new ways to embody the love of Christ in the world.

Since our founding in July 2023, our community has accumulated 87 members and averages 240 weekly encounters through our social media channels. We have formed eight small groups and continue to recruit and train small-group leaders. We have produced discipleship resources being used by fellow United Methodists in our conference and beyond, and we continue to develop partnerships with congregations whose vision aligns with our mission.

Rev. Jefferson M. Furtado, originally from Brazil, currently serves as pastor of The Vine United Methodist Church. In addition to his pastoral duties, he is actively involved with the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference as a ministry associate, where he contributes to the board of ordained ministry, the board of laity, and the extended cabinet. Jefferson shares his life and ministry with his spouse, Rev. Linda L. Furtado. Together, they are the proud parents of three daughters, nurturing a family grounded in faith and community service.

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