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Baptism and United Methodists

 
 Baptism is a sacrament.
The word sacrament comes from a Latin word for vow or promise and a Greek word for mystery. Sacraments are ritual practices that connect us to the mystery of God’s love and grace and call us to respond in faith. While there are many ways of opening to the love and grace of God, United Methodists recognize two rituals as sacraments: baptism and Holy Communion. These are the only two practices that Jesus specifically commands in the Gospels (see Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 22:14-21). Baptism is our welcome to the family of Christ; Holy Communion sustains and nourishes us on our journey of faith.
 
What happens when we are baptized?
In baptism, we acknowledge and celebrate the grace of God, freely offered to us before we were even aware of it. We confess our sin, accept membership in the family of Christ, and vow to trust in and serve Jesus Christ as our Lord. Baptism is the outward and visible sign of our covenant (holy agreement) with God to accept God’s gifts of freedom and power and to grow in faith through the constant efforts of the Holy Spirit and the lifelong practice of prayer, study, service, witness, and worship. In The United Methodist Church, baptism is a communal celebration; the congregation vows to nurture and support those being baptized—adults or infants. These United Methodist services are called Baptismal Covenants in recognition of the sacred nature of our holy agreements with God, as individuals and as a community of faith.
 
Why and how is water used at baptism?
Water cleanses and purifies. It is necessary for all life. The use of water reminds us to be
grateful for all that God has already done for us—in the waters of the Flood and the promise of the rainbow; in the escape of the Israelites from Egypt and their survival in the wilderness; and in Jesus’ baptism, life, death, and resurrection—all reminders that we need to be washed and renewed, purified by God’s love and by the ongoing work and power of the Holy Spirit.
 
Sprinkling, pouring, and immersion are all acceptable uses of water for baptism in The United Methodist Church. Whatever method is used, baptism is made in the name of “The Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”—the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of our life and faith. Then representatives of the community of faith—the pastor and perhaps parents, sponsors, and congregational leaders—lay hands on the baptized person’s head and offer this powerful blessing and call to action: “The Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ” (from The United Methodist Hymnal, copyright 1989 by The United Methodist Publishing House).
 
At what age should someone be baptized?
In The United Methodist Church, as in many other Christian traditions, baptism may occur at any age. The practice of infant baptism is supported by biblical authority (see Acts 2:38-39; 16:15, 33). We enter this world as imperfect beings in need of salvation (that is, we need to be freed from our imperfection by God’s love and power). When infants are presented for baptism, parents, sponsors, and the entire community of faith pledge to surround the children with Christian nurture and teaching as the children prepare to profess and confirm their faith for themselves (often as young teens in a service called confirmation). Young people and adults who have never been baptized and who wish to join the family of faith and The United Methodist Church may profess their faith, receive instruction in the beliefs and traditions of The United Methodist Church, and be baptized into membership.
 
How do christening and dedication compare with baptism?
The term christening has sometimes been understood as a ritual for naming a child, but it is the same service as baptism. While the child’s name is spoken in the Baptismal Covenant service, the focus is on the work and power of God’s love. A service of dedication is the action a family takes on behalf of a child. It is not practiced in The United Methodist Church. Baptism is a celebration and acknowledgment of the loving action God has already taken and continues to take on behalf of all creation.
 
Can I (or should I) be re-baptized?
Baptism is recognition of God’s gracious love already at work in our lives. God’s grace endures, and God’s promises are never broken. The United Methodist Church recognizes the baptism of most other Christian traditions.
 
We sometimes fail to keep our promises to God and need to renew the commitment made at our baptism. The United Methodist Church offers opportunities for reaffirmation of baptismal vows at significant crossroads of individual lives and the life of the church. These may include confirmation, entry into membership in a United Methodist congregation, marriages, funerals, celebration of the baptism of Jesus, Easter, and Pentecost. At these services, we renew our vows of love and service and are encouraged to remember our baptism and be thankful.  
 
Learn more about it . . .
For more information about baptism in The United Methodist Church, speak to a United Methodist pastor or:
‑Read “By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism,” the report on baptism adopted by The United Methodist Church’s highest legislative body, the General Conference. The report is available for download at http://www.gbod.org/worship. Click on the “Sacraments” link, then on the report title.
‑Go to http://www.umc.org or http://www.gbod.org/worship and enter the word Baptism in the search window.
‑Read Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982), available at 1-800-672-1789, http://www.cokesbury.com, or at your local Cokesbury store.
 

Copyright ã2010 Cokesbury

 

 

 

It’s all about  God’s Grace
 
When we talk about “God’s love,” we are trying to express our understanding of who God is. That’s hard because God is love, beyond anything that words can describe. Yet words are the symbols we use to communicate, so we struggle and fumble and use imperfect words to talk about perfection.
 
Love
God is love, and love can exist only in relationship. This gives us a glimpse of God as the One who cares, who creates, and who seeks to be with the creation.
 
What is love? First Corinthians 13:4-13 helps define it for us:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
                Love never ends. . . . For we know only in part . . .; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. . . . Then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
 
This is the love that is God—God’s love—in and for all of creation. God’s love empowers us to be the best people we can be. It freely gives all of itself for our welfare and longs for but does not depend on our love in return. This is love we can count on, no matter what. As Christians, we know the truth of this love that is God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Christ is Emmanuel—God with us—in his selfless human life on earth and in the ongoing presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
 
Grace
As United Methodists, we have a rich tradition of language for the love that is God, drawn from Scripture, formed in the writings of John Wesley, and reinterpreted in each generation. Wesley wrote of God’s love as grace.
 
Before we explore his language, however, let’s look at the word grace. It is the root for the words graceful and gracious. When we say people, animals, or things are graceful, we usually mean that they have a gentle, powerful beauty with lines or movement that flow smoothly and easily in the world. When we describe people as gracious, we mean that they are welcoming, kind, patient, warm, and calm in the face of adversity. Grace is a word for God’s love that includes all of these qualities: powerful beauty, fluid movement in and through the world, patience with our shortcomings, welcome and kindness when we turn again to God’s calm persistence in seeking us out.
 
In the language of grace developed by John Wesley, the journey of faith offers us many different ways to experience God’s grace.
 
Prevenient Grace
First, we believe that God’s grace is fully and freely available to all people. This is prevenient grace, the grace that comes before we are even aware that it exists. This is the love of God that called all of creation into being and that continues to reach out in love for relationship with humanity. This is the grace that freely chooses to love us first with no expectation or demand for love in return. This grace cannot be earned or bought. It is God’s free gift of self.
 
 
Justifying Grace
In the moment that we become aware of this glorious gift of love, we have the free will (also a gift from God) to choose to accept it or turn away. The awareness may come to us in a blinding flash of insight, or it may grow slowly over many years. It may be in a time of deep joy or deep distress, shame, or guilt that we let down our walls of self-reliance enough to recognize God’s love waiting for us. However it happens, we arrive at the moment of awareness that God loves us, even us, just as we are, broken and imperfect. God loves us so much that God came to be with us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ to show us how to become love. When our eyes are opened to this truth, we have the opportunity to accept the gift of God’s love. And in the very moment that we say yes, we are justified, or set right and made clean. John Wesley spoke of this moment as justifying grace because it is God’s unearned love that welcomes us and gives us the faith to say yes.
 
Sanctifying Grace
Once we have said yes to God’s free gift of love, we are changed for all time. God pursues us through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, working within us as individuals and as the body of Christ to open our hearts to love more, to open our minds to know more of love, and to open our hands to give more and to accept love from others. This is a lifelong relationship of love that fulfills God’s longing for us and deepens our personal and shared hunger for God. Throughout the rest of our lives, the love that is God will work within us through the power of the Holy Spirit, helping us become more like Jesus the Christ. Through this relationship, we are sanctified, or made holy. We are freed from slavery to sin (missing the mark) and freed for deeper, more powerful love of God and neighbor. This is the ongoing work of sanctifying grace.
 
Beloved Community
Each individual and community that says yes to God is engaged in this lifelong process of sanctification. It is critical, however, to remember that love exists only in relationship and that we are human—not God. Saying yes does not mean we are perfect or that we will never sin again. To truly grow in grace, to become like Christ, we need to practice; we need reminders; we need to confess our failures and receive forgiveness; we need to celebrate our victories; we need to study; we need to share the gift of love with others in words and actions. Most important we need one another—Christian community that encourages and challenges, that rejoices and weeps together, and that welcomes us in to heal and learn and sends us out to serve and spread the love of God throughout
the world.
 
We are not alone. We are surrounded and embraced by the love of God the Creator; justified through the selfless life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; made one with Christ and with one another through the persistent, powerful work of the Holy Spirit; called to loving community in our present journey to become Christ in and for the world, and in our future hope of oneness with God.
 
 Learn more about it . . .
To learn more about God’s love and the United Methodist understanding of grace, speak to a United Methodist pastor or:
‑Go to http://umc.org, the official website of The United Methodist Church, for information and links to opportunities to learn, connect, and serve.
‑Read The Wesley Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009) and Questions and Answers About The United Methodist Church by Thomas S. McAnally (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), available at 1-800-672-1789, http://www.cokesbury.com, or at your local Cokesbury store.
 
Copyright © 2010 Cokesbury
The scripture quotation is taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
copyright
ã1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
 

 

What’s so Great about being United Methodist?
 
At our best . . .
 
We embrace God’s grace.
God loves us completely before we know it. That love, that grace, is a free gift offered to all people. We accept God’s free gift of love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and open ourselves to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, who accompanies us and empowers us to become like Christ for the world. One God creates in love, saves us for the sake of love, and renews us through love.
 
We follow three simple rules.
These General Rules have governed Methodists from the beginning of the movement:
•‑first—do no harm by thought, word, or action;
•‑second—do all the good you can in building up the body of Christ and in loving and
serving others and all of creation;
•‑‑third—follow the ordinances (spiritual
practices) of God including the Lord’s Supper, study of the Scriptures, prayer, and good works.
Though these rules may be simple to say, they are not easy to follow. We need one another and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to guide, motivate, and help us remember to keep it simple and keep our focus on God.
 
We are a connected community.
The people of The United Methodist Church are The United Methodist Church, loving God and neighbor. Clergy and laity are equal partners in leadership, but Christ is the head of the church.
 
We are connected through our structure, our will, and the power of the Holy Spirit to learn how to be Christ in and for the world. Each individual builds a relationship with God in community with the local congregation, which is linked and knit together with other congregations and with the larger body (regional conferences, denominational service and support agencies, and the General Conference, which sets policy and direction for the global United Methodist Church). Together, as the body of Christ, we shine the light of God’s love throughout the world!
 
We are devoted to social holiness.
“There is no holiness but social holiness.” Our tradition of social justice began with John
Wesley; it continues with us; and it is our hope for future generations. We take the joy of the gospel story to the world in word and action as
•‑‑advocates for the poor and marginalized;
•‑‑active participants in the work for restorative justice;
•‑environmental accountability;
•‑‑equality of access to the essentials of life (food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education) and to opportunity;
•‑political and personal freedom;
•‑‑the dignity and value of each person and all people;
•‑‑building a world of trustworthy relationships among people and between people and God.
 
We are compassionate and generous.
The United Methodist Church reaches out with deep compassion to help hurting people. Our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is quickly on the scene all over the world to provide aid, love, and care to victims of natural disasters, violence, and warfare. The offerings collected in local congregations help support the work of the church in the neighborhood, the community, and the world. It is the people, however, who do that work, who are the body of Christ in and for the world.
 
  
We are open and diverse.
Jesus sought out and welcomed all who
wished to know and love God—the poor and marginalized as well as the powerful. The Methodist movement brought new life to this focus on openness and diversity, taking the good news beyond the church walls to meet people where they were, to nurture and strengthen them as human beings and beloved children of God, and to send them out to continue sharing the joyful message of God’s love.
 
Our Social Creed
  We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
  We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.
  We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
  We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.
  We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.
  We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.
  We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.
(From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008. Copyright 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)

As United Methodists, we are called to
•‑‑open our hearts to love and care for all people;
•‑open our minds to learn all we can about God’s love and explore new ideas, fresh
perspectives, and thoughtful dialogue; and
•‑‑open our doors so that we may both welcome the stranger and go out to love and serve the world.
We are a worldwide church. You can find a United Methodist church, mission, school, hospital, or clinic in villages, hamlets, towns, and cities around the world. More important, you can find United Methodists around the globe (more than 11 million of us) working, serving, and loving in the name of the risen Christ.
 
We are moving toward perfection.
Will you find all of these wonderful aspects of United Methodism actively at work in every local congregation? No, we are not perfect. What you will find is that we, following the teachings of John Wesley, believe that we are called to live in ways that move us toward perfection. We work together and pray together and study together and worship together so that we can go out into the world with the love of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to love and serve in the name of the risen Christ—to transform the world.
 
Learn more about it . . .
To learn more about what makes The United Methodist Church special, to find a local United Methodist congregation, and to find ways to serve and connect, speak to a United Methodist pastor or:
‑Go to http://www.umc.org, the official website of The United Methodist Church with links to services, information, opportunities, and local congregations across the globe.
‑Ask InfoServ: a ministry of United Methodist Communications and the official information service of The United Methodist Church. E-mail them directly at InfoServ@umcom.org.
‑Read our Social Principles: http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1686
‑Learn about and donate to UMCOR: http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/
‑Read The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009–2012 (Nashville: The United Methodist Church, 2009); Three Simple Rules by Rueben P. Job (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007); and Questions and Answers About The United Methodist Church by Thomas S. McAnally (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), available at 1-800-672-1789, http://www.cokesbury.com, or at your local Cokesbury store.
 Copyright ã 2010 Cokesbury
 

 

Membership and United Methodists
 
Membership Vows
Persons who join The United Methodist Church make sacred commitments to God and to the community and promise to be held accountable to their commitments. Through these vows we accept God’s free gift of freedom and power to turn away from evil; to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to believe in the Christian faith as contained in the Bible; to live a Christian life; and to
  ‑faithfully participate in the ministries
of the church
  ‑by our prayers, our presence, our gifts,
our service, and our witness,
  ‑that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
(“New Membership Vows and Ritual” © 2008 by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church)
 
Prayers
There is not one right way to pray. We speak the Lord’s Prayer together, and we are one with millions of Christians throughout history who have opened to the mystery of God’s grace through those words. But we are also one with ages of Christians when in distress we cry a silent Help! to God, when we wait in stillness for God’s guidance, when we shout our anger at injustice, and when we take action to right wrongs and reach out in compassion to a hurting world. All of this is prayer.
 
Our vow of prayer calls us to employ the power of prayer as the foundation of our lifelong journey to become like Christ—as individuals and as the body of Christ. Our faithful response to God’s love through Christ is to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our words, our work, and our ministry.

Presence
When we are doing something we love, a hobby or a sport, we give it all of our attention and we are engaged and focused—we are fully present. That’s the nature of our vow to give the church our presence. We promise to give the life, work, and ministry of the church our full attention; to listen actively; to participate with enthusiasm; and to offer our joy, creativity, skill, talents, and gifts to help the congregation become more like Christ. When we are fully present, we connect with others in ways that deepen community and grow our faith.
 
Our vow of presence does not mean saying yes to every request for service or taking on tasks and roles that we cannot do. It does mean offering our time and energy in large and small ways that help us grow spiritually and that add value to the congregation, the community, and the world. Our vow of presence does not stop at the door of the church building. We are the body of Christ in and for the world. We are called to be fully engaged and focused on God in all aspects of our lives—work, play, relationships, and ministry.
 
Gifts
When we have chosen the perfect gift for a loved one—often something personal—we get as much joy in the giving as the loved one does in receiving. A bond of true affection is deepened by a thoughtful gift given with love. Think about our vow to faithfully participate by our gifts in this way. It is more about growing a generous spirit than about actual gifts of time, money, talent, skill, or spiritual power. Our vow calls us to open to the presence of God within and among us; to accept the free gift of God’s love through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ; and, with the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to joyfully share our gifts with others.
 
Because we are all unique, our gifts of love vary widely. You may hear people talk about tithing, giving ten percent of our income to support the work of the church, but the size or amount of a gift is never as important as the spirit of the giver (see Exodus 35:20-29; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Gifts of generosity, given freely with joy and hope, are avenues of God’s love that contribute to the
spiritual growth of the giver and help build up the body of Christ and transform the world.
 
When we vow to give our gifts, we promise to share the love, power, and freedom of God with whoever has need.
 
Service
All of our membership vows are related. When we are faithful in prayer and fully present to God and one another, we will be moved to generosity in sharing the joy of God’s love with others. Our vow of service is an extension of that sharing. Service within and beyond the congregation—in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, communities, and around the globe—is the evidence of God’s love and power at work within us. We do not serve because we have to; we serve in response
to God’s abundant love that overflows our joyful hearts.
 
When we take the vow of service in The United Methodist Church, we join a proud tradition and long history of faithful, selfless ministry through education, healing, preaching, addressing social injustice, and caring for and with the poor and marginalized. Our Holy Communion service reminds us that by the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are “one with Christ, / one with each other, / and one in ministry to all the world” (from The United Methodist Hymnal, copyright 1989 by The United Methodist Publishing House).
 
God calls us in love; fills us with power, joy, and strength; and sends us out to be the body of Christ in, for, and with the hurting world. Fulfilling our vow of service is God’s love in action.
 
Witness
In a courtroom, witnesses are expected to offer faithful accounts of an event. In the family of Christ, we have seen and experienced the transforming love of God in Christ. Our witness to the world is to offer a faithful account of the truth we know, the freedom and power of God’s love to change the world. Our witness shines in the way we live our daily lives, and in how we share the story of God’s love—the good news of Jesus Christ—with a hungry and hurting world.
 
Witness is as old as the Christian faith. The life of Jesus of Nazareth provides the perfect example of faithful witness to the love of God. We are not perfect, but our vow calls us to enter the struggle together to become like Christ.
 
As with the vow of service, faithful witness is the outward sign of the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us. It is as if we are filled with light and have no choice but to shine. Witness grows through prayers and presence; it is nurtured by our gifts of generosity and spirit; it fills our service with joy. We are all one in Christ, and we are all called to grow in God’s love and to share it with others. Our true witness in the world is the fruit of the Spirit, the ways we actively live out “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
 
 
Learn more about it . . .
To learn more about membership in The United Methodist Church, speak to a United Methodist pastor or:
‑Go to http://umc.org, the official website of The United Methodist Church, or http://gbod.org/worship, the worship website of The General Board of Discipleship, and enter membership vows in the search window.
‑Read Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living by Rueben P. Job (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), and The “Unofficial” United Methodist Handbook by F. Belton Joyner Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), available at 1-800-672-1789, http://www.cokesbury.com, or at your local Cokesbury store.
 

Copyright ã 2010 Cokesbury

The scripture quotation is taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

 

The People of The United Methodist Church
 
Our History . . .
The United Methodist Church is the expression and hope of a rich tradition of spreading the gospel to every corner of human society. The Methodist movement, led by John and Charles Wesley, began in England after each of the brothers had transforming religious experiences that moved them to work for the renewal and revival of the Church of England. They took their message out of formal worship settings, directly to the people in the fields and streets. They formed small groups—many led by laypeople, both men and women—to nurture people in the Christian faith. Their message of personal experience of God’s love nurtured in faithful community through study, worship, and service found willing audiences among a broad range of people, from the elite to the poorest of the poor.
 
In the mid-1700s, the Methodist movement spread to the New World. Leadership included laymen and laywomen, both European Americans and African Americans. John Wesley sent lay preachers, including Francis Asbury, to America to strengthen the work of the movement. Wesley later sent Thomas Coke, an Anglican priest whom Wesley had ordained a superintendent (later called “bishop”), to oversee the American movement.
 
In 1784, at the famous “Christmas Conference” in Baltimore, Coke ordained Asbury a
superintendent and several others as deacons and presbyters. The Methodist Episcopal Church in America was born with an emphasis on strong discipline; ordained and lay preachers who traveled from town to town (circuit riders) to preach, teach, and spread the gospel through revivals and camp meetings; and a system of regular conferences to conduct the business of the church.
 
Two other churches were being formed in America about the same time as the Methodist Episcopal Church. Philip William Otterbein, a German Reformed pastor, and Martin Boehm, a Mennonite, preached about spreading the gospel (evangelism) and personal experience of the Holy Spirit. Their followers organized the Church of the United Brethren in Christ in 1800. Also at the turn of the nineteenth century, Jacob Albright, a Lutheran farmer who had ties to both the United Brethren and Methodist movements, took his message of evangelism and the ministry of all the people to German-speaking settlements in Pennsylvania. The Evangelical Association was formed by his followers. These two churches merged in 1946 to form the Evangelical United Brethren.
 
In 1939, three Methodist bodies (Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Episcopal South, and Methodist Protestant churches) merged to form The Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is the result of the 1968 union of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren.
 
Our Beliefs . . .
The heart of our Christian faith is the love of Jesus Christ that reaches out to all creation. We are called to serve wherever Christ would have us work to heal and free others through the power of the Holy Spirit. United Methodists believe in God’s grace, which is the unearned, loving action of God in our lives. In spite of suffering, violence, and evil in the world, we believe that God’s grace exists everywhere—in our present struggles to become like Christ and in the future when we will be one with God.
 
As United Methodists, we believe that we receive God’s saving love as a free gift, working through our faith, which is also a gift from God. As creatures with free will, we can continue to sin (literally, “miss the mark”) after we have accepted God’s love, but forgiveness also continues to be available to us when we repent (turn around and refocus on God).
 
We practice spiritual disciplines that open us to awareness of God’s gift of love already at work within us and the mystery of God’s power and freedom. These disciplines include the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, along with prayer, study of the Scriptures, thoughtful debate, fasting or abstinence, good works, and service. For United Methodists, good works are the evidence of our living faith—the “fruit that will last” as we love and serve God and neighbor (see John 15).
 
With all Christians, we believe in the reality of God’s reign (God is in charge); that we are
saved through the love of God, the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. All Christians are part of Christ’s body, the church. Scripture has authority for us, although beliefs vary on the nature of that authority, from the literal word of God to a divinely inspired guide to the faith story.
 
People find different means and methods effective in encountering God. The United Methodist Church welcomes all who desire to know God in Christ and seek to love and serve God and neighbor; to attend our churches, receive the Lord’s Supper, be baptized and admitted into membership; and to go out to be the hands, heart, and mind of Christ for the world.
 
With John Wesley, we believe that there is no holiness except “social holiness.” Our acceptance of God’s love in Christ calls us to respond with love for the hurting world. United Methodists have a long tradition of caring about and working to create justice for all people. We have built almost as many schools and hospitals as churches through the years. Methodists were among the first to create institutions of learning for settlers, women, and newly freed slaves in the 1800s. We continue that focus on learning, nurture, and service around the globe today.
 
United Methodist churches are connected by a system that guides our work and governs our policies. We continue to take the lead in social, spiritual, political, and moral concerns. We strive to lead with our hearts, keep our minds open, and welcome all who wish to love and serve in the name of Christ.
 
Our Mission . . .
The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Christian disciples are followers and students who devote their lives to becoming like Christ through study, worship, service, prayer, and the ongoing work and power of the Holy Spirit. To make disciples, we reach out and receive people; help them build a relationship with God; nurture and strengthen them in the Christian faith; send them forth to live transformed and transforming lives—to be the hands, heart, and mind of Christ for the world. Each local congregation fulfills this mission in ways that make the best use of available human and material resources and that best meet the needs of the community. All of this is possible only by God’s grace, the love of Christ, and the power and company of the Holy Spirit.
 
 
 
Learn more about it . . .
To learn more about the beliefs and history of The United Methodist Church, speak to a United Methodist pastor or layperson or:
‑Read The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008), available at 1-800-672-1789, http://www.cokesbury.com, or at your local Cokesbury store.
•‑Go to http://www.umc.org and click on
“History” under “Our Church” or “Beliefs” and “Mission and Ministry” under “Our Faith.”
 
 
Copyright ã2010 Cokesbury

Communion
and United Methodists
 
Holy Communion is a sacrament.
The word sacrament comes from a Latin word for vow or promise and a Greek word for mystery. Sacraments are ritual practices that connect us to the mystery of God’s love and grace and call us to respond in faith. While there are many ways of opening to the love and grace of God, United Methodists recognize two rituals as sacraments: baptism and Holy Communion. These are the only two practices that Jesus specifically commands in the Gospels (see Matthew 28:19-20;
Luke 22:14-21). Baptism is our welcome to the family of Christ; Holy Communion sustains and nourishes us on our journey of faith.
 
What is Holy Communion?
Holy Communion is the meal of bread and drink (cup) shared by the family of Christ that opens us to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice in giving up his body and shedding his blood to show us the way to freedom and eternal life. It nourishes and sustains us as we seek to live as faithful disciples (followers) of Christ. It is a celebration of our life together as the living body of Christ in and for the world.
 
According to three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), on the night before Jesus was arrested and later killed, he gathered with his followers and began this sacred tradition by sharing with them bread and wine, everyday foods of that time. He told them (and us) that whenever they eat bread, they should remember that his body was broken for them; whenever they drink wine, they should remember his blood poured out as a sign of the new covenant (holy agreement) between God and humanity—a covenant of forgiveness of sins and new life in becoming like Christ through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
 
Why do United Methodists call the sharing of bread and cup by different names—Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, and Eucharist?
Each of these names from the New Testament highlights different meanings of this sacrament. Calling it the Lord’s Supper reminds us that Jesus began this sacred meal and is our host at the table whenever we share it. Calling it Holy Communion reminds us that it is an act of the most holy and intimate sharing, making us one with Jesus Christ and part of his body, the church. Calling it the Eucharist, a term taken from the New Testament Greek word meaning thanksgiving, reminds us that giving thanks to God for all that God has done is an essential part of the meal. By using different names we acknowledge that no single term can contain the rich wealth of meanings in this sacred act.
 
Do the bread and wine actually change into Christ’s flesh and blood in this sacrament?
United Methodists believe that the Communion elements, the bread and cup, bring about
powerful, spiritual change. These elements do not become the actual body and blood of Christ, but as symbols of his body and blood they help us be Christ’s body in the world today, freed from sin by Christ’s blood. We pray over the bread and the cup that they may make us “one with Christ / one with each other, / and one in ministry to all the world” (from The United Methodist Hymnal, copyright 1989 by The United Methodist Publishing House).
 
Why do United Methodist churches serve grape juice instead of wine for Holy Communion?
The practice of using grape juice instead of wine began in the late nineteenth century, when Methodists were active in the temperance movement. It continues out of concern for recovering alcoholics, to allow the participation of children and youth, and to support the church’s stand on abstinence. During the Communion service, you may hear this element referred to as the cup, wine, or juice.
 
Who can receive Communion in The United Methodist Church?
Holy Communion is the Lord’s Supper, not ours. United Methodists practice an “open table,” which means that “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another” (from The United Methodist Hymnal). We do not refuse anyone who desires to receive. This includes those who have not yet been baptized, although they are encouraged to seek spiritual teaching. In The United Methodist Church, whether you should receive Communion is between you and God. If for whatever reason you do not choose to receive Communion, simply remain seated when others go forward, or pass the bread and cup along if they are passed to you, and no one will question what you do.
 
Two thousand years ago Jesus ate with sinners and those on the margins of society. He still does. None of us is worthy, except by God’s grace. Thank God we don’t have to earn worth in God’s eyes by our goodness or our faith. Each person’s sacred worth is God’s free gift. No matter what you have done or what your present condition, if you want Christ in your life then you are welcome at his table. Holy Communion provides the opportunity for you to confess your sins, to receive forgiveness, and to indicate your intention to lead a new life.
 
May young children receive Communion?
When some of Jesus’ disciples tried to keep children away from him, he said: “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them. God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children” (Mark 10:14 CEB). Do young children understand the full meaning of this holy sacrament? No, and neither do any of us. It is a wonderful mystery, and children can sense wonder and mystery. Children cannot
understand the full significance of family meals, but we feed them at our family tables and at Christ’s family table. Young children experience love by being fed and can sense the difference between being included and excluded. Parents should decide when it is time for a young child to begin to participate in Holy Communion.
 
What about food allergies and health or hygiene concerns?
United Methodist churches may include rice cakes or gluten-free bread as an option for persons who have gluten intolerance. Be sure to let the pastor know if you have such a need.
 
United Methodists recognize the health and hygiene concerns of people who participate in Holy Communion. Special care is taken to ensure that plates and cups are clean and that all servers wash their hands before sharing the elements.
  
Learn more about it . . .
For more information about Holy Communion in The United Methodist Church, speak to a United Methodist pastor or:
•‑ Read “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion,” the report on Holy Communion adopted by The United Methodist Church’s highest legislative body, the General Conference. The report is available for download at http://www.gbod.org/worship. Click on the “Sacraments” link, then on the report title.
‑Go to http://www.umc.org and enter the word Communion in the search window; or go to http://www.gbod.org/worship and enter the phrase Lord’s Supper / Communion in the search window.
‑Read Eucharist: Christ’s Feast with the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), available at 1-800-672-1789, http://www.cokesbury.com, or at your local Cokesbury store.
 
Copyright ã2010 Cokesbury
The scripture quotation is taken from the CEB Common English Bible,
copyright
© 2010 by Common English Bible