by Rev. Antony W. Ball
…to all who did receive Him,
to those who have yielded Him their allegiance,
He gave the right to become children of God…
Jn i 12 (NEB)
Last Wednesday evening, our Church Meeting asked me to write an article for our newsletter on what it means to be a Church Member – and because I’m a Church Member myself (not because I used to be the Pastor) I am doing what Church Meeting has asked me to do.
You may have noticed that, in the above sentence, there was an extraordinary number of capital letters, which was not just carelessness on my part, but an attempt to ‘make a point’. (I tried to make a similar point in the first paragraph of my article last month.) As far as I’m concerned, a church is a building, whether it’s brand spanking new or falling down and abandoned, but it can only be a Church if it is also the spiritual home of a community of Christians. People who worship regularly in the same church building may see themselves as members of that church but, certainly if it’s a Congregational Church, that alone does not make them into Church Members. A Church is not like a club where members just come together because they share the same interests. So let’s think about the differences between members of a Church and Church Members, for whom all the following must apply:
- Church Members worship in the church frequently and regularly1.
- Church Members have made certain promises2 at a Service of Holy Communion.
- Church Members attend The Sacrament of The Holy Communion frequently and regularly.3
- Church Members attend the Church Meeting4 frequently and regularly.
- Church Members deepen their personal, individual spiritual lives5.
Church Members are absolutely vital to a Congregational Church because without them the Church would not, indeed could not exist (see 4 below). Church Membership is both a great privilege and an awesome responsibility. We’re not perfect (as you must have noticed!) but we try to follow Jesus as best we can. If you think you just might be ready to join us as a Church Member, please speak to one of our Deacons. Our Church needs you.
1 ‘Covid’ has complicated this, of course, recently. Does watching a ‘Zoom’ service constitute ‘worship’? As far as I’m concerned, “the jury’s out” on that one – but for our Church it’s ‘by the way’ because our Church didn’t have ‘Zoom’ services. Traditionally, the only acceptable ‘excuse’ for Church Member failing to attend worship frequently was illness or the onset of frailty of age (becoming housebound).
2 When I was the Pastor (which I no longer am) those promises were firstly a ‘Confession of Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord’ and secondly a promise of “loyalty and service to His Church here, to live within its fellowship in Christian love.” The meaning of those promises, especially ‘to live within its fellowship’, is a matter for discussion.
3 Historically in our Church, if Members did not take Communion within a certain period (I think, from memory, it was six months) they were visited by the Minister and asked to reconsider whether their Church Membership was still appropriate. (I don’t think anyone is ‘keeping score’ these days!)
4 ‘Church Meeting’ is the (usually monthly) meeting together of all the Church Members. Church Meeting is the ‘final authority’ in a Congregational Church and takes all decisions – including the appointment of ministers, pastors, deacons and others serving the Church. Congregationalism has no bishops, moderators etc. and the Congregational Federation, as our Trustees, has no authority over Church Meeting unless the Church’s Trust Deeds have been violated in some way. Again, ‘Covid’ complicated this for a while because Church Meeting voted to permit our Deacons to take certain decisions on its behalf, but that permission has now been rescinded.
5 This can be done by prayer and studying the Scriptures (individually or together at a Bible Study group) and by meditating and/or wider reading and/or personal reflection.