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A Question of Belonging

July 8, 2010

I get asked lots of questions, a lot of the time and they pretty much run the gamut from the everyday “Where’s the bathroom?” to the eternal, “How do I know my grandpa will go to Heaven?”  One of the questions that I hear often seems like it ought to be a pretty easy question to answer or at least one that has a definite answer of some kind.

“Father?  How do I become a member of the church?”

I often find myself stammering for words when I get this question.  I feel like there ought to be a definite answer, but there just isn’t, because membership has so many potential meanings.  In the days of yore and to some extent still today, belonging to an Episcopal church meant that your “Membership Letter” was on file in the church office.  This letter usually had your name, date of birth, baptism and confirmation dates on it, along with various other pieces of information.  If, for whatever reason, you moved or changed parishes, you could request to have your “letters transferred,” and thus “join” your newly chosen parish. Sometimes this is recognized liturgically through Confirmation or reception.

Almost no one does this anymore.

Which is probably why I stammer for an answer to the question.  Probably the best and most clear answer is that in order to be a member of the church, you need to be baptized.  P. 298 of our prayer book has these powerful words to say on the subject: “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in  Baptism is indissoluble.”  That’s it.  Be baptized and join Christ’s body the church.

But often people say, “I know that, but how do I become a member of this church?”  I usually respond with, “Well, since you’re coming regularly and participating in the life of this parish, I would say you are already a member.”  Now, that’s not the textbook definition, but it is one I like to work with.  The textbook definition would say that “you are a pledging communicant in good standing,” meaning that you are a financial contributor of record (have made a pledge and have kept it) and you receive communion at least three times a year.  (Notice, that’s one more than just Christmas and Easter!)  But that is such a dry definition of what it means to belong to a parish community.

What do you think constitutes belonging?

Fr. Ryan+

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Allison M. permalink
    July 9, 2010 12:23 am

    Belonging over the last few years has been a question that I have thought about…a lot. Living a distance away from St. George’s and some health issues have made getting to church every Sunday difficult. I have contemplated having my “letters transferred” (I’m old enough and my mother was “high church” enough for me to know what that’s all about) to a tiny congregation about a mile from my home. After much thought and many visits to “the other” church – it just doesn’t feel like home. For me, belonging seems to have evolved into: an historic relationship (over 50 years) as a congregant, a bit more than the obligatory 3 communions, a financial commitment, a sense of loyalty through my family, the knowledge that St George’s is a place that will acknowledge and honor the life cycle events of my life and a gratefulness for this electronic world that makes it possible to stay connected to my spiritual home (the Dragon’s Tale and this blog) in such a unique manner.

  2. Pete permalink
    July 9, 2010 8:30 am

    You are truly a part of the Church when you deliver your first tray of baked goods.

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