by Reverend Bob LaVallee
Hello Folks – A few weeks ago South Valley performed one of our happiest rituals: a new member ceremony. It’s a wonderful thing to welcome lovely folks into this community (Hi Tina, Amy, Darin, Katie, Ryan, Bryan, Michelle, Ryan [the second] and Brenda! We’re so happy that you’re here!)
I love the new member ceremony because it takes the form of a covenant, an agreement between the folks who are joining and the folks who are already members. Here’s the words we use:
Into this covenant community of memory and promise,
these new members are now enfolded.
May this congregation nurture and challenge them, offering comfort and guidance,
and calling forth the best within them.
May they, in their turn, bring to this institution energy, vision, and commitment,
that it may become ever more fully the community we have hoped for it to be.
And it’s also a time of intentionally recommitting ourselves to each other, via our church covenant. In this sense, the new member ritual expands beyond the new members to the entire community. Becoming a member is a statement of intention and purpose. It’s a commitment! (A side message to folks who have been coming for more than a year and still haven’t joined: I’m genuinely curious about your decision and I’d like to learn more. Call me or send an email. No judgment, I promise. Thanks!)
The act of membership is amazing, with music and flowers and the palpable warmth of community but as I told our new members before the service, the act of Re-membership* is also important. The experience of joining is beautiful and powerful, a happy time focused on our best intentions and highest energy. Beautiful things happen in this congregation. And the truth is that we’re a bunch of humans, stumbling along with burdens and distractions, and sometimes we screw things up.
Things getting screwed up is a normal part of all facets of our lives but it’s really painful when it happens in our church. We bring our deepest aspirations and tenderest vulnerabilities to this place and when we feel hurt, it really hurts. Sadly, that’s part of being in a church community. We make a covenant, we fall out of covenant, and we have to figure out how to get back into covenant.
And this is where re-membership comes in. Or rather, remember-ship. Remember-ship is necessary when the high of new membership fades, and the realization sets in that South Valley is not perfect. When this happens, we need to remember what brought us here, remember the commitment and covenant, and remember the truth that our community is strongest not when everything is perfect, but when we are doing hard things together. Remembership is at the heart of membership.
New members, old members, and non-members: I wish you all a shiny 2019! May your dreams come true.
Rev. Bob LaVallee
*Thank you to my seminary classmate Liz James, who coined the term “remembership.”