When I was around twelve years old, I took a confirmation class at my church. Confirmation is when you confirm your place in the church; after having been baptized as a baby, you're now old enough to decide these things for yourself. I did not take this class very seriously. It was taught by the preacher, and I was in the company of three or four other twelve-year-olds. I have heard from others that their confirmation classes had a lot of theological discussion. That seems like it should be the point - before you join the church you should learn about the positions of the community you're signing up with. I only remember learning about the history of Methodism. That's not to say that there was not an attempt to engage us in doctrine-based discussion, just that I don't remember it. I do remember cutting up a lot.
Since then, I've been a member of the United Methodist Church, though for ten years or so I did not regularly attend any church.
When we had been going to a local Lutheran church for a month or two, Josh started talking about joining. And I was alarmed. I was not ready for that step. We were attending regularly and were thinking about getting more involved, but joining seemed too official and too permanent. I'd joined a church once, and it had involved a class and a baptismal font.
Of course, I did not realize that when you join a new church, unless you are switching over to a snootier faith, they will accept your previous baptism. Some places may offer a class, but really it's a matter of a little ceremony and a letter to your old church about transferring membership.
I was right to hold back on the Lutherans, because it turns out that we're really more Episcopalians. After we'd been going to the Episcopal church for a few weeks, they sent us an information sheet to fill out. On the bottom was a question about joining the church. Here again, Josh was ready to go and I was hesitant. There was a yes box and a no box, but I added a new one that said only one of us was ready to join. I felt bad, but I did not see the point into rushing into membership.
Josh and I have been together for eight years, and we've known each other for five years beyond that. But it took going to a new church together for me to find out that Josh is a joiner. People quickly found out that they need only ask Josh if he was interested in doing something for him to volunteer full-throatedly. Which is why he is an usher, a lector, a consulting member of the Communications committee, and on the fellowship team. Meanwhile, I am only on the fellowship team, because Josh signed us both up for that.
Remember that informational sheet that I added a third box to? It never got sent back to the church. This was not intentional. I was waiting until after we were married, just in case we needed Josh's membership at his old Lutheran church in order to have our ceremony there. The Episcopalians were not to be deterred. They sent another form. This time, we'd been attending for several months, and I was starting to get attached. And Josh had explained to me that joining was not the song and dance that I thought it was. So I did not make a third option this time, just checked the yes box.
A few Sundays ago, after the sermon, the preacher asked us and the other new folks to come stand up front with her. We did a short liturgy, where she asked us some questions and we answered them. Then she asked the congregation whether they accepted us and they said "Yes! Yes! Yes!" just like it said to in the bulletin. Then everyone clapped and someone handed me a loaf of homemade bread and we sat down, newly Episcopalians.
I did not feel any differently than from when I had been a Methodist, only minutes before.
In the liturgy where the preacher asks the gathered community if they accept us, it tells them that by letting us into the body, we will change it. It means that we have the ability to change the church's mission and how it fulfills that mission, just by being there. All those years in the Methodist church, and I did not really pay attention or think about very many of the words that were said, but I've been thinking about being a part of the body and changing it. And the preacher warned them, but they all said Yes! Yes! Yes!
My husband, the joiner, answered a query about recording the sermons for putting on the website. It would be a valuable resource for people interested in our church or for people who couldn't make it that (or any) Sunday. Turns out, everything was all ready for this to happen, except they needed someone to push the RECORD button at the beginning of the sermon and the STOP button at the end. The equipment was there, the preacher was happy to wear a microphone, and there was even a page on the website all ready to list the recorded sermons. They were just waiting for a body to show up and do it. I wonder now of all the things that could happen just because there are sermons on the website - maybe nothing, maybe something big, maybe a ton of little things that we'll never know about. But here we are already, changing the body just by being a part of it. Neat, right?