Members in good standing?

The Washington Post notes that President and Mrs Obama and their daughter, Sasha, attended St. John's Episcopal Church this morning.

Hmm - baptized, attended communion 3x in the past year, given time talent or treasure to the community? Does that make them members in good standing?

Comments (19)

Are they even Episcopalian? I thought they were UCC?

Nope, don't believe so, not members of St. John's or any other Episcopal Church, unless their baptism is recorded in that parish, at least according to what we have to file in parochial reports each year ...“All persons who have received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, whether in this Church or in another Christian Church, and whose Baptisms have been duly recorded in this Church,” are members thereof. (Canon I.17.1)
Note: A person’s baptism, when duly recorded in the Register of Church Membership and Rites (also known as the Parish Register or Church Register) of the recording congregation, is his/her record of membership in the Episcopal Church."

I wonder how many count members from those who attend not checking their parish records?

Ann ... I wonder too... however, there is also a line to count "others" on the parochial report.."Others who are active whose baptisms are not recorded
in the Parish Register, or in another Episcopal Congregation." If they are not recorded in another Episcopal Parish, then technically, I suppose they could go under this category there...at least that is how we might count them here.

Grossly generalizing, the younger generation really doesn't understand the business of transfer of letters from another parish. Nor are they interested in doing us a favor by declaring in some institutional way that they are members.

As to the Obamas, claiming them as members is a bit like Mormons doing unauthorized baptisms.

Oh for goodness sake. We count them as sisters and a brother in the Lord. No more. No less.

What Roberta said. Joining the Episcopal Church isn't something that happens to you without your intending to do so (unless you're an infant baptized into it, I suppose - and even then *someone* intended it. You don't visit your local ECUSA parish three times in a year, taking Communion and dropping a donation into the plate each time, and wake up the morning after the third visit transformed from a member of the UCC into an Anglican.

"I wonder how many count members from those who attend not checking their parish records?"

None, I hope. Don't parishes other than mine keep track of membership, at least around parish meeting time, for voting purposes?

Bill: We do.

I largely fault parochial clergy who fail to ask newcomers if they wish to formally transfer membership - an easy step that any parish priest or administrator can initiate in a few minutes with a form letter.

Interestingly, to John's point, I find more and more young families asking me now how might they join the parish. Maybe the past is future?

They're not Episcopalians so they can't be members in good standing. The Bush's attended St.John's every so often as well.

What makes an Episcopalian and who cares - if they attend, give, participate in the life - seems like that is what counts.

Ann, if you are asking who cares if one is an Episcopalian or not, then maybe your original comment should have just mentioned that the Obama's attended a Christian Church, and then commented on their Christian faith, and whether or not they participate in it (besides just going to a church service on a Sunday, that is.).... but maybe the problem TEC is having is that many people don't even know why they attend an Episcopal Church (or not), and what difference it makes to practice our faith, in and with Jesus Christ, in an Episcopal Church.

I do believe Jesus isn't counting who is what denomination, but, for many, a certain denomination (whether it be TEC, or another) helps them in this journey of faith that we are all on with Christ. It would be good for each of us to know and be able to articulate why we decide to worship where we do, and interesting as well to hear the testimonies of many as they share that.

But, unfortunately, there are reports, and statistics that denominations gather, so, definitions have been made to cover various questions that come up in annual reporting.

For me, what counts the most, is my relationship with Jesus and how I live it out where I am, with others, as well as in a personal faith life between me and my Redeemer. Numbers and statistics may not mean much to many, but, they are gathered, and sometimes show us interesting things about how we might be able to reach more people for Jesus... and then again... sometimes they ARE just numbers, numbers, numbers ...

What makes an Episcopalian? For people who have been baptized, the real requirement is wanting to be one, since the canons say all you have to do is to have your baptism recorded in your parish. It's not a terribly onerous or arcane process. It seems to me that if the Obama's (or anybody else) wanted to be Episcopalians they would become Episcopalians by the simple expedient of letting their priest know.

Shouldn't people be able to visit - even for extended periods of time - without being drafted?

I thought that what Ann said was said tongue in cheek, as a joke, not seriously. Now everyone else is getting all high and mighty about it.

This can also be an issue when it comes to diocesan voting. In some areas, small parishes are notorious for counting anyone and everyone who's ever been a member, even if they haven't been around in years. And they wind up claiming some crazy number of members in good standing, even though they haven't had 100 people in the church in anyone's memory. The sad thing, too, is that this sort of gamesmanship undercuts the democratic nature of TEC and sometimes makes it difficult for us to move forward in coherent fashion.

Eric Bonetti

Counting is no longer done on members in many places but on ASA -- Average Sunday Attendance. I am surprised at the accusations of malfeasance in counting - as though small churches are somehow different from large in this practice. See later article on Trinity Wall Street!. Mostly I posted this as a bit of humor - probably should have said that - sorry. But I am curious about what makes a person feel welcome and willing to commit. I don't think it is a numbers game.

Keeping the rolls clean is a task which most parishes don't seem to bother with until the rector leaves and the interim forces the housecleaning. You can generally look at the membership charts from R&S and make a good guess at when their was a change of management, as there is frequently an abrupt drop in membership without a corresponding change in ASA.

If a parish counts members by ASA, might that not cause problems at their meetings - knowing if there's really a quorum, who can vote and so on? Usually parish meetings are pretty drama free, but I recall stories involving parishes splitting up in which there was considerable trouble regarding numbers and votes. Do the Canons or Constitution specify how numbers are kept? It just seems like something you'd want everybody following the same procedure on.

Church numbers seem so iffy, anyway. Look at the Church of Nigeria - part of their huge numbers is accounted for by people claiming membership in several churches of different denominations at the same time, as I understand it.

Mo. Fontaine, it occurs to me that one way to make people feel welcome might be explicit invitations to become official members of the Church , either from the pulpit or in the newsletter. I imagine a lot if people might not join because they don't know how, and making a general invitation or explaining the process might make it clear that the parish really does want them there. I've never been somewhere where that's done regularly.

Ongoing inquirers classes would be helpful, too. Newcomers might be overwhelmed by the assumed theology of the BCP if it's not fleshed out for them. Left to their own devices, some non-Church(wo)men might feel as if everybody else were "in the know" and not be willing come forward and ask for information; they're also handy for long time Episcopalians who just never learned. For some reason, inquirers classes of this type seemed more common back in TexS than they are up here in Yankeeland.

Hi Anne. Sorry for the delay in posting--the sign-in system was done for a couple of days.

My sense is that issues with counting membership are a case of misfeasance, versus malfeasance. Specifically, this is a task that often is ignored in this day and age of limited resources, and there's little incentive to do so.

The issue looms large in some of the dioceses that have had a rocky go of it in recent years, where some would say that small parishes have at times been the "tails that wag the dog."

To speak to the other issue you've raised, which is how do we get folks to actually become members, my parish seems to do a good job of befriending new attendees and making sure that they are included in things. The rest often falls into place quite naturally. I've attended other parishes, though, where it very much felt like "the frozen chosen," and meeting people felt like cold-calling in a sales or marketing situation. It does feel, though, like overall the church is getting friendlier--perhaps our recent challenges have made us more sensitive to these issues.

Eric Bonetti

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