Scroll down to find information on the following:
- The meaning of membership
- How you become a member
- Young people and membership
- Baptism and membership
- Church decision making and membership
The Meaning of Membership
This Church seeks, in its approach membership, to affirm the right of all who seek to follow Christ to find a place of acceptance and belonging in the church. Our approach to membership is a little different to that of many Baptist churches so if you have come from another Baptist church you may be surprised.
Our membership consists of a group of people who have chosen to unite with one another in living in response to the call of Jesus. We recognise that Jesus calls particular congregations to live out their discipleship in different ways, and our understanding of his call to us is set out in the Church Covenant. This Covenant represents the ways we believe we are called to “be church” together. While in our baptism we have all become members of Christ’s whole Church, in making a Covenant together we commit ourselves to be the local church by living out the meaning of our baptism together in quite specific agreed ways. Without such an agreement, there would be no church here. The Covenant is reconsidered each year, and we commit ourselves to it each year in our church anniversary service in mid June. Everyone is called to prayerfully reconsider what their discipleship and church membership mean each year, and we provide resources during Lent each year to help with this. If a person does not choose to covenant with us for the new year, their membership lapses, but they are gladly welcomed back if they wish to recommit to it later.
In a nutshell, membership is about two main things, each of which can be looked at as both promise and responsibility. The first is that membership is about expressing and affirming belonging. The congregation is committing itself to you and promising to support, nurture and care for you. Along with that you are taking on the responsibility of being a part of the congregation, of being one of those who offers such support and care for others here. You are moving from being a guest of the congregation, to being one of the hosts of other guests who may come.
Secondly, membership has some legal dimensions. Without a formal membership, we could not exist as a legal entity which can own property, employ staff, etc. Formal membership promises you certain rights in the church’s decision making processes. Your right to a say is guaranteed. Accepting those rights comes with the expectation that you will be willing to be identified as one of those who is responsible for the decisions and for carrying them out; that is, one of those who is responsible for the ongoing life, prayer and ministry of the church.
How you become a member
There are four things that need to be true of you for you to become a member of this church. They are as follows:
- You recognise Jesus Christ as the one who leads us into the fullness of human life in the image of God, and you are committed to seeking and following his Spirit’s lead.
- You want to share the journey of faith with this congregation of God’s people and you are committed to ongoing participation in the life of this church.
- You are able to affirm the Church Covenant as an expression of Christ’s call to us as a community.
- You have undertaken a solid process of formation in the Christian faith and its practices. We offer such a process through the Catechumenate.
If those four things are true of you, we would invite you to approach a pastor to talk about becoming a member of the congregation. A Church Meeting will vote to accept you into membership, and then you will be accepted into membership during a special ceremony, held during a worship service. If you have been previously baptised, the ceremony involves you reaffirming the commitments that were expressed in your baptism, and being prayed for by the church. If you have not previously been baptised, you would be enrolled in the Catechumenate and brought into membership through its process of formation and commitment, culminating in baptism.
Young People and Membership
Children and young people who are regular participants in the life of the church, but who are not yet ready to make or confirm baptismal vows, can be become members of a special category within the membership of the church, known as the catechumens. A catechumen is a person, of any age, who is engaged in a process of education, nurture, and spiritual formation in preparation for entering the vowed life of Christian discipleship through baptism. They are accepted into the life and care of the congregation, and that the congregation is actively involved in nurturing their growth in faith and Christian living. In most regards the catechumens are given the same rights within the church as any other member of the congregation. The main difference is that such rights are offered only within our congregation, rather than in the name of the wider church, because the catechumens have not yet made baptismal vows, pledging themselves to a lifetime of faithful allegiance to Christ and his Church.
Infant children are enrolled as catechumens through the Infant Presentation ceremony, during which they are prayed for, blessed, and welcomed into the life of the congregation. Children who are old enough to speak for themselves may prefer to participate in the same ceremony of enrolment of catechumens as an adult candidate would.
There are special rites for our Junior Catechumens in our worship services several times a year.
We do not usually baptise children until they are old enough and experienced enough to really grasp what it means to “commit” for life and to be aware of the attractions of the other pathways that the world offers but which baptism commits us to refrain from following. For most young people, such clarity and maturity is not reached before their late teens or early twenties (or even much later for some of us!). However, we recognise that there are exceptions, and some children are ready for and hungry for the commitments and responsibilities of membership much earlier. For those children, we are currently developing an alternative pathway within our junior catechumenate program, known as the Order of St Thomas. It will be open to appropriate children from the age of eleven, and will engage them in several years of deeper engagement with some of the big questions of life, with the wisdom and traditions of other religions, and with the call to humble service among those in need. Children who have demonstrated their readiness through the Order of St Thomas may then make an early entrance into the adult catechumenate and prepare to be baptised into the membership of the church.
Baptism and Membership
Baptism is seen as important in this Church because it was instituted by Jesus and has traditionally been understood as the rite of initiation for those who wish to follow him and belong to his people. We understand baptism as marking a beginning, not an accomplishment, and therefore we will offer baptism to all who demonstrate commitment to Christ, to Christ’s mission in the world, and to this congregation of Christ’s church.
We believe that baptism is the ordination of every believer to Christian ministry, and we therefore encourage and expect all those who have been baptised into membership of the church to discover and exercise their gifts in the service of Christ in the church and the world.
People seeking Church membership who have not been previously baptised will be prepared for baptism through participation in the Catechumenate.
It is our understanding that baptism is a sacrament that should only be administered to a person once. We are therefore very reluctant to baptise a person who has previously been baptised in another Christian tradition, at any age or in any way. However, in some extreme circumstances, we may be persuaded that there are pastoral reasons to consider bending this rule.
Church Decision Making and Membership
This Church recognises the supreme authority of Jesus Christ over the life and mission of the church, and we therefore seek to discover and submit to the mind of Christ in our decision making processes. We believe that the leading of the Holy Spirit is more likely to be reliably discerned by the group than by any individual, but we also believe that those who have an active commitment to something are most likely to sense the Spirit’s leading for it.
Most of the time we operate on a consensus approach, and take little notice of who is or isn’t eligible to vote. Everyone who is involved in the Church at some level is welcome to attend Church Business Meetings or Host Group meetings and to participate in the discussion. Only in the event of a divided issue where no clear consensus emerges but a decision needs to be made would it become necessary to formally count votes. When a formal vote is required, it would be restricted to those who are officially members at that time, having united themselves to one another under the Church Covenant for that year.
Normally though, our church business meetings operate on a consensus approach and we prefer to keep discussing until substantial agreement is reached rather than force things to a vote before we are all ready.