I am often asked, “Who belongs to the independent sacramental movement?”  Membership is an issue deserving consideration from a number of angles.

First, we have what might be called the Fenderson level.  The Fendersons are a family that anyone can belong to, if they simply say so.  It is the same with the ISM.  If you say you are an independent sacramental Christian, then – by automagical hocus pocus (hoc est corpus meum) – you are one.  Fendersons have the additional power of making anyone else into a Fenderson, even if they don’t want to be.  Unfortunately, we don’t have this power – but we are working on it! 🙂

Next, we have our sacramental membership in the Body of Christ – when Jesus looks upon us, and says of us, “Hoc est corpus meum.”  While I am tempted to refer to this as our membership in the spiritual church – there is too much of a tendency to hear “spiritual” as ethereal and divorced from the world of bodies, trees, and bell towers.  We are incorporated into Christ through very physical acts involving water, oil, bread, wine, and human touch.  We join a history and a people, beyond the limits of denominational identity.  It is not as if Presbyterian baptism makes you part of Christ’s left pinky, while Old Calendrist Greek baptism sends you to the tip of his nose.  (You can speculate about where Indie Sacramental baptism might place you…)  There is one baptism, joining each of us to the whole Christ.

Finally, we have membership in particular communities – local and broader.  Despite rumors to the contrary, I belong to some defined communities – but I do not believe it is necessary to do so.  I have long been intrigued by Rosamonde Miller’s church in Palo Alto: they strive to be simply a “sanctuary for travelers,”  whether those travelers stay for one day or twenty years.  There is no formal membership to divide people into insiders and outsiders.  Likewise, the Free Communion Service in Franklin is a temporary constellation composed of whoever shows up on a given Sunday, with the work done by those who volunteer to do it.  Between meetings, it dissolves again into nothingness.   

Membership is an area of considerable experimentation in the independent sacramental world, and (IMHO) well worth watching, as we try out new and old ways of being the Body of Christ together.  Maybe y’all have some ideas or experiences to share?


6 Responses to “Membership”

  1. Reverend Jack Says:

    Nice Fenderson reference. 😀

    I generally consider everyone and everything, everywhen, to have membership in my church. It’s kind of a spaceship earth we’re-all-in-this-together sort of thing. To get a better understanding of what that means, I asked myself, “You’re a minister…so what constitutes your congregation?” And the best answer I’ve ever been able to give is, “Well, the people that I’m currently congregating with…duh.”

    On the whole, I find it baffling that any church that even has to fret about such things as membership still manages to lay claim to words like “Universal” or “Catholic.”

  2. John Says:

    Yes. When ministers fret over the need to “build a ministry” or “grow a congregation,” Will Campbell yells at them that ministry is always right under your nose – it is whoever you are with, wherever you are, right now. Fnord.

  3. Chris T. Says:

    I definitely agree about membership — having gone through the membership process with a couple of congregations during and immediately after college, I always found it kind of bizarre. Even though worship, programming, and other stuff tended to have a generic mainline feel almost everywhere I went, during the membership process, suddenly it’s all about cramming cultural distinctives down the new person’s throat. And I’m not sure anyone involved really had any idea what it meant to become a “member” of the congregation, beyond getting the right to vote at meetings (which most people never went to).

    I do think there are realities underneath the “grow the congregation” language that are commendable — I know at SIU, our ministry was positioned to serve a lot of people who needed progressive Christian community and didn’t have any. So that language was pointed at, essentially, living out our vocations better and serving people who felt lost. But when the conversation gets beyond “Are we serving people or not?” and starts obsessing about numbers, that’s pretty dangerous. I’ve always tried to focus on depth of services to the people who are in the community and mostly growing organically; I think most in the movement have that kind of approach, too. The depth we can achieve because we’re not trying to fill 300 seats is a laudable charism of ours, IMO.

  4. John Says:

    Alexis ( reports that he tried to post the following comment without success, so I am putting it up for him.

    funny I’ve been playing with a post that works with this idea a bit for the past few days now – so don’t want to say too much at present.

    I think that “membership” in a particular community is valuable. It is a statement of appropriation, it is a statement that says “this is my home, and I along with others are invested in the well being and energy of this community” My experience – even in an indie context has been that people who are “members” tend to be involved, interested, even passionate about the life and vision fo the community more than those who are “participants”. I think too that both are needed in a community – participants are seekers, visitors, people considering where they are in their journey. Members are those who by their “professed” membership have said – this is my home.

    Hopefully, I’ll have my post done in the next day or so.

  5. Reverend Jack Says:

    It occurs to me, that sense of membership Alexis describes is communion. I don’t just mean Eucharist, but rather all types of gathering and sharing rituals that allow us to build community and feel at home. The openness and structure priest’s communion rituals will say a lot about the kind of community they want to build, and about their relationship to the universal community and catholic church that encompasses them.

    I’ll share some form of communion with just about anyone who wants to. What I’ve found is that this lends me a great sense of membership just about anywhere I go–people really have to go out of their way to make me feel like an outsider. Likewise, my home churches at the moment do a great deal to make everyone who walks in their doors feel that sense of belonging and membership. We still leave room for participants, people who simply want to be lead and talked at, but there are no barriers or ladders to climb to prevent people from simply diving in and being “involved, interested, even passionate about the life and vision of the community.” Heck, most of the people I’ve seen drawn into our community have been put in places of leadership almost right away…nothing fosters a sense of home like a share of responsibility. That’s pretty much how they became my home churches; I was in charge of something before I could think twice. 🙂

    Anyway, I’m a universalist. The universe is my home. I’m an official member.

  6. tim cravens Says:

    In our community, I find that there is a fuzzy idea of “membership” at the lay level — any baptized & confirmed Christian who comes semi-regularly and considers our church their home is a member, with the only “membership process” arising when someone prepares for baptism and/or confirmation. It is when someone seeks ordination and/or membership in a religious order that the boundaries become clear.

    Having said that, those who attend every week (including two clergy and a seminarian from other jurisdictions, in our local parish) are the ones who are most a part of our community — to a great extent, you get out of it what you put into it. We are welcoming to everyone, but the fact is that genuine community requires time and effort to develop.

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