Membership in local congregations of The United Methodist Church comes with four different labels.
- Baptized members are people who have been baptized by water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and who wish to be (or in the case of infants and children — are sponsored to be) members of a local congregation of the United Methodist Church using the whole of Baptismal Covenant I or II.
- Professing members are those who have professed the faith of this church themselves, using the language and ritual of Baptismal Covenant I. (Note: As of the 2004 Book of Discipline, the vows printed in Baptismal Covenant I, II and IV must be used for professing membership in this church. Baptismal Covenant III should thus no longer be used unless the Disciplinary vows are used in place of those printed. See Book of Discipline 2004, paragraph 217).
Both of those categories of membership represent people who are members both of The United Methodist Church and of the particular local congregation.
- Affiliate members are professing members of another United Methodist Church who may be temporarily far from their home congregation and wish to connect with the life, ministry, and watch-care of a congregation nearer to where they now are for a time.
- Associate members are non-United Methodists currently located at some distance from their home church. They have been baptized by water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in another Christian denomination, wish to connect with a local United Methodist Church, but wish to retain their current denominational affiliation rather than become professing members of The United Methodist Church while in their current location.
While we have in The United Methodist Hymnal and The United Methodist Book of Worship clear forms of reception for baptized members and professing members, the ritual itself does not designate how we should receive affiliate or associate members.
Here is our recommendation. Receive affiliate and/or associate members as part of a service of the Baptismal Covenant (I or II) where others are being baptized or received as professing members. These people should be presented with other candidates and noted how they are being received — as affiliate or associate members. In Baptismal Covenant I (UMH 33), paragraph 3, you might consider replacing the last statement with the following four:
"I present Name(s) who come to this congregation as professing members from ______ United Methodist Church."
"I present Name(s) who come to this congregation as affiliate members from ______ United Methodist Church."
"I present Name(s) who come to this congregation to become professing members from ____ Church."
"I present Name(s) who come to this congregation as associate members from ____ Church."
People who are seeking to become affiliate members need not respond, unless they wish, to the questions beginning in paragraph 4. They have already affirmed the faith of this church in another congregation of The United Methodist Church. People who are seeking to become associate members should not respond to these questions, as they are designed for people who are or wish to become professing members of this church. Candidates for both affiliate and associate membership may respond to question six, which refers to the church more broadly, and all should join in confessing the faith in the Apostles Creed, as provided in paragraph 9.
Candidates for affiliate and associate membership may then be invited to step back for the acts of blessing the water (paragraph 10), baptism (paragraph 11), and confirmation/reaffirmation (paragraph 12), but may be invited to use the water to remember their baptism (paragraph 13). Affiliate members are already professing members of The United Methodist Church, and therefore need not participate in paragraph 14. Associate members are not seeking membership in The United Methodist Church, and so should not participate in paragraph 14.
We suggest that all people who are being received as professing members, affiliate members, or associate members participate in paragraph 15, with separate introductions for each group as follows:
"As professing members of this congregation of the United Methodist Church …"
"As professing members of _____ United Methodist Church and affiliate members of this congregation …"
"As baptized Christians from ____ (Church) and associate members of this congregation of The United Methodist Church …"
All people received in these services are then welcomed using the form in paragraph 16.