Saturday, September 22, 2007

UMC Liturgy for Welcoming New Members

I've been pastoring since May and I've discovered a dilemma that I hadn't expected.

We've had three new members by profession of faith, aged variously 73, 86, and 88. All three members were nominal Christians who were raised in the faith, but had spent decades out of the Church and had no membership with any local church.

When I sat down to read the liturgy for admitting new members, I couldn't find one appropriate. There are liturgies for baptizing and welcoming adult members, liturgies for baptizing infants, and liturgies for admitting teenagers after they have been confirmed in the faith.

It appears that one of the operating assumptions of these various liturgies is that once a person is baptized, that person will certainly be nurtured in the faith to full and continuous membership in local churches. The liturgy, or lack thereof, suggests implicitly that the prevenient grace of baptism is irresistible.

What we have here are people who were at some point baptized, and at some point openly professed faith in Christ, but later point drifted (but not apostatized) from local church membership.

So I cobbled together a liturgy from official UMC sources. Working from the Hymnal on p.40, I asked the first three questions under section 4. Then flipping back to p.38, I asked sections 14 through 16. This covers all of the theological bases for membership.

Does anyone else have suggestions for how to use UMC liturgy in a more straightforward manner to accommodate the admission of new members like this? I find it rather odd that the UMC does not have a clear liturgy for this situation, which strikes me as one that would occur frequently.


1 comment:

Nathan Mattox said...

I've had similar circumstances, and similar confusion. After looking over the Discipline, and obsessing about membership audits, etc. I'm almost certain this is what's called a "Reaffirmation of Faith." Basically, go through the profession of faith stuff just like you would with a confirmand starting on page 33. For added flair, you might even do a remembrance of baptism. (I always clarify that even if the person doesn't have an actual "memory" of their baptism, our Spirit can perhaps recall things our minds cannot.)