The Dean’s Corner: New Roots, New Members

The Dean’s Corner: New Roots, New Members

The Very Rev. BJ Owens

A few years ago I was surprised to learn that Membership was one of the most frequently-visited pages on my former church’s website. Happy as I was to learn that folks wanted to know how to join, I was even more surprised to learn that what most of us thought about how to become a member of an Episcopal church was in fact wrong.

For the most part, we thought one became a member of a church when confirmed by a bishop.  Some also thought that membership required completion of a newcomer class or a financial pledge, or simply becoming a regular worshipping member of the congregation.

It turns out that according to the canons (rules) of the Episcopal Church, if you were baptized in another church then becoming a member of Trinity is easier than any of these: one simply needs to ask to become a member.   That’s it!  We then record the date and location of your baptism in our Baptized Member Registry (an actual book), and you join those baptized at Trinity as members of the community. And while we hope that all adults will choose to be confirmed as well, that is actually not necessary for membership.

This simple practice springs from a robust ecclesiology: “membership” is a shorthand for those who have been baptized. All our communal life flows from that.  A Christian church is not simply a place of shared faith and common beliefs; it is a community of the baptized from which deep fellowship, heartfelt worship and passionate advocacy emerge.

Our canons are quite clear that our primary membership is not in one particular congregation, but in the universal Church. Denominations and hymn preferences and high-church/low-church sensibilities are all secondary considerations: we share a kinship in the church with all who have been baptized.  We welcome also those who have not been baptized to our community, as we share God’s invitation to new life through the sacrament that binds us together.  And as a cathedral congregation, we have a particular opportunity to celebrate the gifts of baptism while also honoring the giftedness of those from other faith traditions who help us to serve the people of our city.

Membership may not be as important as baptism, confirmation, or even simply being a regular worshipping part of the congregation, but it is an expression of our our rootedness in a particular church community.  It’s also a wonderful point of entry into that community and an occasion for welcome and celebration.

This Sunday at all three service we will offer a short Liturgy of Welcome to introduce and welcome those who are new to the life of Trinity and have chosen to become members.  If you’re new in the last little while and wish to be a part of it, please feel free to reach out to me or  Ginger Bitikofer to let us know or to ask about becoming a member. You may also decide on Sunday to participate, and we can simply follow up with you.

But if “membership” is not for you, that’s ok too. That, too, is a part of a baptismal ecclesiology:  we celebrate the same life in Christ regardless of who is an official member and who is not.  The wonderful gifts of our faith may be rooted in a particular tradition or community, but they point towards the love of God that joyfully transcends even the places that we call home.

Blessings,

The Very Rev. Bernard J. Owens