By Barbara Sadler, Path 1 Associate
My husband Herb and I worshipped in one of our annual conference’s “restart” churches this past Sunday. The congregation had been a declining downtown church. They decided to sell the property and start over in a new location. After worshiping in a school gym for three years, they were able to purchase property and build a sanctuary. Their numbers have more than doubled and their average age has halved. This past Sunday was a celebration of one year in their new location.
I asked the pastor, given the large numbers of new Christians in the congregation, how he uses the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. His response was that he uses them as teaching opportunities.
For Holy Communion he sometimes uses the liturgy found in the Methodist Hymnal and sometimes talks through the meaning of the elements to help people understand, not to just recite by rote. Communion is offered the first Sunday of each month although he plans to begin having it available each Sunday for those who are so moved by the Holy Spirit during the worship service that they wish to partake.
For newcomers to the faith who wish to be baptized, he offers a range of options from the traditional Methodist “sprinkling” to immersion. Again, this is to provide each person both the knowledge and the opportunity to choose what they are most comfortable with. He holds quarterly new member orientation classes during which he teaches about these sacraments, their meaning and the methodologies of experiencing them. The teaching element is so vital because those new to the faith can sometimes be put off by traditions that are familiar and comfortable to the rest of us.
I was not raised in the church. I do remember attending church once with a grade school friend. As a part of the service, several persons, dressed in their white baptismal gowns, were baptized by immersion in the large baptistery. As a child I was so frightened by observing that experience I did not go back to any church for years. In fact, I was well into adulthood before I accepted God’s claim on my life.
The sacraments are vital to our faith, but it is also vital to use them (every time) as a teaching tool. Class is in session! What lessons do you think the sacraments can teach us?