Congregational Pledge 2 at Baptism of Children (from former Methodist Church) found on page 44 of United Methodist Hymnal (UMH): With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ that these children, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
Communion Confession UMH page 12: We have failed to be an obedient church … Free us for joyful obedience.
Baptism and Communion are our two sacraments. Other denominations have more, but United Methodists, just has these two. They are important statements. Both have community implications.
In infant baptism, we pledge to “so order our lives after the example of Christ” to help confirm and strengthen children. During that ritual, I often remind the congregation that we are making a community commitment to this child.
Communion without confession should be rare. Confession isn’t to shame us, but to offer a thought or seven about the example of Christ and an acknowledgement that we are works in progress, inspired by Christ. The ritual includes the idea that through Christ we are forgiven.
I want to write to you freeing some of you to respond in joyful obedience.
We need adult participation in our Children’s Ministry. As a community, we are not being obedient to our baptismal covenant. We are not, as a community, so ordering our lives to establish, confirm and strengthen our children. We are limping along here in our fulfillment of our sacramental responsibility, when this ought to be a core strength.
The current situation is not new. When we look over the minutes of children’s ministry back to 2004, variations on this theme are revealed: we need more, reliable, and not stop gap temporarily patched on volunteers.
I have had more than one volunteer in this area urge us, sometimes quite strongly, that every family who has a child in Children’s Ministry should be told it is an expectation that they help in this ministry. I frankly have resisted that because I think every situation is different, and I traditionally resist one size fits all, cookie cutter solutions. I know there are powerful volunteers in the areas of church music and scouting for example who have children in our Children’s Ministry program. Do I have to tell them to sacrifice their choice of using their spiritual gifts in music or scouting to devote time on Sunday morning? That is just one clear example; others abound. The covenant we entered into through baptism doesn’t say the parents will do this, it says the church will do this. We sing: “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” The baptismal banners we hang are to remind us of our community commitment, not solely the parents commitment.
We are declaring, briefly I hope, a pause in Children’s Church at the 10:30 service. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact one reached only after much discussion, prayer, anguish, and many invitations to the congregation. We are mindful that there is potentially an impact on evangelism and worship attendance, but we needed to make the failure here a shared failure and to stop limping along without a coherent or clear strategy for fixing this. I said in my April Newsletter that I am a person of hope, and I am. But I am also pragmatic: I think we need to fail, in order to build the elements of success.
I have instructed Caitlin Collins, your staff member leading in the area of Children’s Ministries, to receive volunteers into Children’s Ministries within the current structure, and to examine over the summer the very framework of how we provide this service. At this point, I do not wish to entertain good ideas while trying to address a fundamental shortfall in volunteers. I am prepared to believe that a different model might be beneficial in the long term, but no model is going to work without volunteers.