Church Membership, by Sara Fischer

Are you a member of a church? If you live in the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, or any number of other parts of our country, chances are the answer is no.

For a long time, church membership has been defined by certain religious practices and traditional forms of commitment. Baptism, confirmation, profession of adherence to orthodoxy, pledging, filling out a tome-like parish register, participation in all that the church has to offer, attending regularly, and/or conforming to various spoken and unspoken behavioral norms. Any of these traditional membership constructs sound familiar? Many of them are certainly familiar, well-loved, well-lived practices of many participants in worshipping communities throughout the Episcopal Church.

I have been finding it helpful to realize that church is much bigger than our Sunday morning worshipping community, and that living into a new way of being The Church includes expanding our understanding of who belongs.

I serve a community where many people gather in the building throughout the week. They are often unchurched, de-churched, ex-churched, church-phobic, Christo-phobic, or some combination. During the week, they consider our large, tired, messy, mid-century-modern building to be “their” church in the same way that those who are only there on Sundays consider it to be “our” church. What if the “our” of “our church” includes everyone whose spirit is fed when they come into our building?

St. Paul said that we are all members of one body: some teachers, some prophets, some healers, some givers, some leaders. What if the body of which we are all members is a church’s extended community, a community where some teach, some sculpt, some pray, some cook, some play ukulele, some play piano, some sing, some loan tools, and so on? What if the body includes the old-fashioned sense of the word parish: the whole surrounding neighborhood, with all of its quirky connections and non-connections to our traditional liturgy and practice? I like to think that in my community of St. David–a community that is porous around the edges but which ultimately springs forth from the creative, re-creative, and generative act of gathering around a common table to feast and pray on Sunday mornings–all are members.

When I originally shared these thoughts about membership on our parish blog, I got feedback about the centrality to our tradition of adult faith formation and baptism. Yes. That is indeed central. But a thriving, vibrant community needs to have a lot going on around the edges, not just at the center. Otherwise, it’s too hard to get in.

What makes you a member of a church?

Sara Fischer is the Rector of Saint David of Wales in southeast Portland, Oregon, the spiritual-but-not-religious center of the known universe. She blogs at and

2 thoughts on “Church Membership, by Sara Fischer”

  1. Great article, Sara. In fact, I think the “core” of what we think of as church withers and dies without all of the wild stuff going on at the edges. I think it’s huge victory when people who have never imagined coming to Sunday worship still think we are their church, whatever it means for them.

  2. Church membership doesn’t interest me as a member or as a priest. Being the Body of Christ at work in the world, however, is very exciting to me and I agree with you and Adam that the NA group meeting on a Thirsday night is fully involved in that work even if they would not think of it that way.

    The challenge for a traditiinal church (rather than a house church for example) is always that we do need people to support the infrastructure of the church so that this can happen. That core group often comes to see their role as protecting the building rather than giving it away and so maintenance discussions take priority over being the church. How then might we get more of us who are involved in the core to be animated about what the church is providing for those on the fringes of their common life, even if what is happening there may seldom lead the others on the edge to come join the worshipping life of the church. For as Adam seconds, it’s a win we get excited about thise in the fringes considering our church as theirs. How also do we make pathways so that someone on the fringes is invited in, and to do it in a guilt free, no obligation, but invitation way?

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