Variety of Membership Vows in the #UMC

knit-together-stormtroopers

“Knit Together” by Kristina Alexanderson

When we are knit together, what do we say?
When people join a church, what do the vows mean?

I was reading an article by an evangelical United Methodist megachurch and I noticed that they included their church’s membership vows in it. One line from their vows jumped out at me:

Will you be loyal to Jesus Christ as expressed through _____ UMC?

Really? Loyal to the Christ as expressed through that local church? What if I gradually disagree with the image of Christ being proclaimed? What if the pastor changes (not likely–it’s a megachurch) and the “Jesus being expressed” changes? It’s an odd adaption of the membership vows that may reflect the character of the congregation as demanding loyalty to a distinct image of Christ.

It made me wonder about how other churches have adapted the membership vows to fit their context.

In conversations online with other pastors, there seems to be a variety of membership vows that people profess when they join a United Methodist Church. These are not baptismal vows: these are only for baptized believers who wish to transfer their membership or renew a profession of faith to a local congregation.

The 2008 official vows of membership in the United Methodist Church are just two lines:

As members of Christ’s universal church, will you be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries? I will.

As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness? I will.

While some churches are still using the membership vows found in the 1989 hymnals (which are not the same as the above official liturgies), some local churches have changed the vows to adapt to their context.  Here’s a few examples from multiple conferences and I’ve attached some commentary to each one.

Church #1

  1. Do you renew the vows you made at your Baptism?
  2. As members of the Body of Christ, will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and do all in your power to support its ministries?
  3. As members of _________ UMC, will you faithfully participate in our ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

Commentary: This one does not make much of a departure from the official liturgy. It reminds the person of their vows at their baptism (a helpful link) and uses the term “Body of Christ” rather than “Christ’s Universal Church.” No reference to the 2008 addition of support by “witness.”

Church #2

  1. Do you desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  2. Do you wish to make ______ United Methodist Church your church family and will support the church with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?

Comment by the pastor of this congregation:

I no longer ask people to pledge themselves to the UMC. It just doesn’t feel helpful or relevant in our culture. We do talk during membership class about the benefits of being Methodist, and we are a decidedly connectional church (unlike some who seem to be Methodist In Name Only).

Commentary by Hacking Christianity: I like the concept of MINOs (haha will use it somewhere!), but this one is a departure in that it focuses on loyalty to Christ and focuses on a connection to the local church and not the global church. The question is whether the church’s supportive practice of connectionalism trumps the trumpeting of connectionalism in the membership vows–the pastor here would say that it does. No reference to the 2008 addition of support by “witness.” The pastor emailed and said that they do ask “and your witness.” My bad!

Church #3

  1. Will you join with us to follow the model of Jesus:  to bring love and justice to all of God’s creation; to love both the powerless and the powerful; and to seek to bring wholeness to all of humanity?
  2. Will you join with us and the United Methodist Church to explore questions of Christian faith through the Wesleyan perspective, combining personal holiness and social justice?
  3. Will you join with us in support of this community of faith through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness, so that together we may grow stronger in expressing God’s love for all creation?

Commentary: this one offers the most additions to the text of the traditional vows but in doing so, it does some really helpful framing of what the vows really mean. AND +1 for the 2008 addition of support by “witness.”

Church #4

  1. Will you love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength?
  2. Will you love your neighbor as you love yourself?
  3. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and pledge allegiance to his kingdom?
  4. Will you live a life of generosity and hope, serving the work of God’s mission through ______ United Methodist Church?

Commentary: This one removes the commitment to the UMC and truncates the commitment to the local church but brings in two important biblical commitments: the Greatest Commandment and the second greatest commandment, both uttered by Jesus. It also includes the “savior” language that we don’t use in typical membership questions (that’s a baptismal thing). Seems to be more about Jesus and his teachings than the denominational assent, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but interesting when one is talking about pledging loyalty.

Your turn

Your turn…but wait! Before you get started with the comments on whether these are good or bad, Director of Worship Resources Taylor Watson Burton-Edwards has already chimed in to caution local churches against doing the above alterations to the membership vows:

Congregations have no authority to alter these vows. This is given uniquely to General Conference. Professing membership in this church is dependent upon taking the vows enumerated in Para 217 as embodied in our ritual. That’s what the paragraph says. And in the whole bruhaha that it took to get the language of professing and baptized members incorporated into the discipline, Judicial Council was quite clear to say these are the vows, period…

We can add to them, or ask clarifying questions (as the alternative ritual for reaffirmation we used at GC 2008 does), but from everything I can see in the BoD and from JC, only GC has the authority to alter them.

For those interested in what he means by “bruhaha,” the longer history of this process and the relevant Judicial Council decisions is found in a supplement to Water and the Spirit written by Rev. Gayle Felton.

Your turn:

  1. Does your church use the old vows of membership? If they say “be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church” then they are using the updated ones. If they say “be loyal to the United Methodist Church” that are in the Hymnal, they are using the old ones.
  2. Do the above variety of membership vows seem like additions/clarifying questions (which would be allowed) or do they not seem to be compatible with the official vows?

Thanks for your comments!

(UPDATE: made all references to 2004 vows to 2008 per Stephen in the comments…thanks!)
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Comments

  1. Randy Silver says

    Even though we have the original 1989 hymnals, we follow Church #1’s example and add witness, and don’t use question number 1. We have eliminated the great need for written text in our church by using a projector.

    I think that Church #3’s vows are great and relevant to this time. I do think the inclusion of “witness” is a must.

  2. Mark Painter says

    I assume we are all in agreement that since clergy who alter the membership vows without the approval of the General Conference have violated their oaths of obedience to the UMC, their bishops have no option but to move swiftly to appoint prosecutors, convene courts, and strip them of their orders. Because, as we were recently informed, that is the only possible response. Right…? Right…?

  3. Laura Farley says

    We still use what’s in the 1989 hymnal. I don’t see the need to change it. I also don’t get the pastor from example 2 who doesn’t ask people to pledge themselves to the UMC because it doesn’t seem relevant or helpful in our culture.

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