People in our congregation fall into two general categories; one is church member, the other is constituent. For most practical purposes, the two categories are hardly discernable. This is because we welcome and encourage the participation of all people in the life of the congregation. It is often hard to distinguish a church member from a constituent. Some church members act like constituents and some constituents act like church members.
A constituent is someone who has a relationship with the congregation. As with members, they may participate in a variety of ways. Most constituents support the church financially. Some may serve on standing committees, volunteer their time, sing in the choir, ring bells with the bell choir, teach Sunday school, go on mission trips, serve communion, help with worship leadership, volunteer in the office, and generally be active in various aspects of church life. There are really only two things that constituents are not able to do. Constituents may not hold some church offices (Governance Board, Trustees and Staff-Parish Relations, for example) and constituents may not vote at the annual church conference.
When one becomes a church member, that person (or persons) typically stands up before the congregation during Sunday worship and vows to do five things. Those five vows are to support the congregation with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness. After people who are becoming members make their vows to the congregation, the congregation responds by renewing their own membership vows and pledges to support the new members and the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. I sometimes liken this membership ritual to a tiny wedding ceremony because people publicly vow to support one another in a worship setting.
For the sake of clarity, let me restate that many constituents are strongly committed to the congregation. Constituents often carry out the vows of membership without taking them publicly. Unfortunately, some who make membership vows don’t fulfill them very well. It can be really difficult at times to know who is a member and who is a constituent in a United Methodist Church.
I will be offering membership classes on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. beginning May 29 and running through June 26. The classes are open to everyone. Members who want to meet some new people and take a refresher class are welcome. Long-time constituents and those who are new to the church are welcome to attend. Participation does not obligate anyone to become a member. If you just want to learn more about United Methodism and your local church, you are welcome to attend. Whether you are a member or a constituent or anyone who considers this their church home, you are welcome to participate in the life of the church to the extent that you are comfortable. I hope that we will all take this time to be reminded to support one another with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.