Membership in What?

I am studying the possibility of offering confirmation classes here at Methodist Children’s Home. For those of you from other traditions, Here’s a brief bit from our (The United Methodist Church’s) website:

Confirmation refers to the decision a person makes to respond to God’s grace with intentional commitment, publicly reaffirming his or her baptismal vows before the congregation. Most confirmands are youth between the ages of eleven and fourteen, who have been nurtured in the church since their baptism as an infant or young child. Most churches offer a deliberate time of preparation before this service. During confirmation class, confirmands learn about the meaning of Christian faith; the history and teachings and The United Methodist Church; and an explanation of the baptismal and membership vows they will be professing.

More can be found here.

A conversation with one of our youth yesterday had me looking at this matter in a different light.  I asked her what she thought or knew about baptism. She answered that she had been baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby. I asked if she had also been through first communion and confirmation, and she replied yes to the former and no to the latter, and then asked me what confirmation was.

I explained it, and she said she was interested. I asked if she was interested in Roman Catholic Confirmation, and she said that if we offered confirmation here she would prefer that. “I haven’t been to a Catholic Church in a long time,” she offered in explanation.

As I processed her answer, I asked myself into what I would be confirming her (and others).  Upon completion of a confirmation class here at the Methodist Children’s Home, would I receive the confirmands into membership?

If so, membership into what?  We are not constituted, consecrated, declared, or in any way designated as a local church; we are a community of people who worship together, but there has never been, to my knowledge, any membership pledged. In fact, one of the biggest differences I have experienced between this appointment and others is that the congregation is made up entirely of people who have not made any particular commitment to this church.

Some are likely to remind me of the “Church universal,” or the “holy catholic church” as referred to in the Apostles’ Creed.  But I don’t find membership in an abstract body useful to someone who is trying to follow Jesus.

I have no intention of inviting people into membership in the abstract universal church unless I can, at the same time, offer them membership in a community of people who committed to caring for one another and helping each other follow the way of Jesus.

I look forward to reading your perspectives!


5 thoughts on “Membership in What?

  1. You could offer confirmation classes from any other local denomination for those students that have a previous connection to another faith. That might require some sort of defined relationship between that congregation and the MCH. Among those local churches I would hope that a UMC might be interested in sponsoring a class for MCH studetns.

    Another direction to go for the UMC component would be to organize & found a local UMC that happens to exist on the MCH campus, specifically serving in a missional way to the residents there. You would have dual roles, Chaplin of the MCH, as well as Pastor of the UMC there.

    The two roles are not mutually exclusive, but as Pastor to the declared members, there may be some advantages to the students who are moving toward a commitment to a community of faith.

    • Thanks, Michael, this might be a possibility. I wonder how we would relate to the churches that don’t have confirmation?

      I am also leery of confirming into a “Christianity in general” – at least I am guessing that each church that would enter such a relationship with us would want access/approval of our confirmation curriculum.

  2. It seems to me that you have a much larger picture to look at than just prospective confirmands; I think you need to be asking not only where the membership of your confirmands would reside, but also where does the membership of all those you lead in worship on Sunday morning reside? I think you should very much consider the possibility of forming a UMC on the campus of the MCH, if this is not possible maybe consider moving MCH worship to a different time and encouraging all those who join you in worship to find a church home in Waco.

  3. I think this is a good question for the MCH as well as the general UMC.

    It is a question not specifically of confirmation, but of membership. What are we members of? What does it mean to be a member of this?

    Too often membership is just something you sign-up to be w/out prior commitment or, necessarily, intent of future commitment. People join because (1) they’re pressured to do so by a pastor or staff who feels that it makes them look better or (2) it’s what you’re supposed to do.

    Too often we think that for a person to benefit from a church they must first be members. I think this is a backward view and reflects accurately the general sense of Christianity in our culture (it’s to benefit me/those involved). What if we say (and practice) that membership within the community meant that we were committed to, say: being active in praying for the community (within and at large); being present not only within the community, but also as the community; lending whatever gifts we have to offer to the betterment of both community and the communities mission; living the life of service, not just to, but as the community; and through all of these being witness to the work of God through Jesus in and through the community.

    I’m sure someone could condense that into a one-sentence confession…

    I think the unique challenge and awesome opportunity you have at MCH is to define what membership would mean for the students there. Is it to be defined how it is to your typical UMC or could it be something else?

  4. I was going to the gym the other day and I thought about how I was a member of the gym and I’m also a member of a church, but the two are completely different in their roles and of my view of my membership is also different in each. Then I thought, are they in fact really that different? The gym has a monthly cost, so does my church kind-of. In order to be effective I have to go to the gym regularly, same idea with my faith. There is also a certain kind of lingo that is used when I go to the gym, as well as my pop-christian chatter… and many more. And not so surprisingly we tend to stay as committed to the gym as we do the church.

    Q. What makes them different? A. Moments in time when we are able to place our faith in Christ and receive confirmation from Him.

    You certainly are Methodist, ordained and what-not, what you teach and who you represent are coming out of that tradition. So even if you are offering a confirmation class it will come from a Methodist (though I am sure broader) perspective. The thing I remember when working at MCH is that the spiritual focus was off-center. What I mean is that it didn’t seem important – you are like the D.C. of the UMC with no representatives. Perhaps by offering a confirmation class or pursuing some kind of recognition by the UMC would be worthwhile and I’m sure it would be beneficial to many people there.

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