Frequently Asked Questions
Who can receive communion in this church?
Anyone who is baptized, who believes that Jesus is really present to us in the communion, who turns away from his or her sins, and desires to be in communion with God and with one's brothers and sisters. Some of this language you may have some questions about, and we can take up some of those questions in an Inquirers' Class, about which we will talk later. But, for now, if you are baptized, you are welcomed at our altar. People usually look puzzled when they learn that basically, this is all one has to do to become a part of St. John's. As Peter Sellers said, about a different matter, 90% of it is just being there.
After you have been here for a while, and if the community seems right to you, the worship speaks to your soul and lifts your spirit, and the theology seems to describe the world as you know it, then, you can take the next step. That is an Inquirers' Class. There are, normally, two of them per year, one in the late fall and one in the late spring. There are usually eight classes, and often meet on successive Tuesday evenings. This class may be the first experience you have ever had in which you can explore Christianity at an adult level. We will look at basic Christian beliefs, the Bible, the history of the Church, worship, church customs, practices and architecture, the development of a spiritual life, and how the church community works. The Episcopal Church shares, with the other branches of Catholic Christianity, a common core of belief and practices. But there are some aspects of the Episcopal ethos which are distinctive and which give our church its characteristic style and flavor. These you will learn about in detail.
When people have been baptized, they form a covenant with God. We call that, not surprisingly, the Baptismal Covenant. From time to time, it is personally and pastorally useful to renew that covenant. Usually, if one was baptized at an early age, one will wish to renew that covenant when one enters adulthood. This renewal of the Baptismal Covenant is called Confirmation, and it is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. Sometimes, a move from one church to another can be an occasion for renewal of the Baptismal Covenant (and now, you see why we bring this up just now). A major change in vocation or personal life can be another occasion for renewing of the baptismal covenant.
So, if you have come to us from another tradition, settled into the parish, and taken an inquirers' class, you may wish to renew your Baptismal Covenant and be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church. If this is your first adult renewal of your Baptismal Covenant we call it confirmation, if you have done this before we call it reception.
The important thing to remember, however, is that you are renewing a commitment you made to God years ago, and that commitment is something you will come back to again and again throughout your life; it is your Baptismal Covenant.
What should I consider in leaving one church for another?
Because Christianity is a very diverse religion, expressed in many different ways, we often welcome into our church people who have been dissatisfied with their previous religious commitment. Many people turn to the Episcopal Church, and to parishes like St. John's, because we are perceived as having fewer rules and more liberal, inclusive social positions. Some people come to us because their previous church did not celebrate and hold up the ministry of women. Some come to us because their previous church did not welcome gay men and lesbians. Some find us appealing because we have a more tolerant view of abortion, divorce, or other issues of sexuality. All of this is true: We ordain women, women take prominent places in the life of the church, and, in the Diocese of New York, we have a woman bishop. We have openly gay and lesbian clergy, gay men and lesbians take their places in the life and governance of the church right alongside everyone else, and both single and coupled gay men and lesbians find spiritual nurture here. It is possible for a divorced person to remarry in this church, and the church recognizes and respects the struggle a woman goes through in making decisions about childbirth and pregnancy.
But this is not a perfect church, and if perfection is what you are looking for, keep looking. Inclusiveness, of the sort that Anglicanism embraces, does not readily lead to clarity. There will be a lot of issues about which you will find the Episcopal Church to be uncomfortably vague. We place a high value upon the role of the human conscience. We trust not only scripture, but also tradition and human reason as sources of authority. We believe that God guides us by placing us in communities where we struggle together to discern what God would have us do. But, and this is a new perspective for some, there really is no book in which you can look up just what the Church says you must believe about social issues.
So, as you leave your church of origin and consider making your home with us, remember that the Episcopal Church and even St. John's are imperfect institutions. You may not have yet discovered our warts; but trust us, they are there.
Who needs to be baptized at St. John's?
If you were raised in another religion, or raised with no religion, you may not be baptized. If this is the case, in order to become a member of the church, you need to be baptized. Baptism is a wonderful way to begin your life anew.
There are some things you should be aware of at this point in your life with us. You must defer receiving holy communion until you are baptized. This is not an attempt to exclude you, but arises rather from a desire to do Christian initiation in its logical and traditional order. Baptism and Holy Communion (which we call the Eucharist) are, and were historically, parts of the same process--Christian initiation. In the Eucharist, we renew our incorporation into Christ's body by receiving, sacramentally, the body of Christ into our own bodies. What we are renewing in that act of communion is what was done for us in our baptism, when we became part of that body. So, understanding that you cannot renew what you haven't yet done, you should wait until after baptism to receive holy communion at the Eucharist. But, do come to church, hear the readings, learn, we hope, from the sermons, pray the prayers, and worship God present with his people. These are things you can do right now.
In order to be baptized, you participate in what is called the catachumenate. It is a series of classes and other experiences of the church designed to teach you the Christian faith and lead you in its practice. We begin the catachumenate here at St. John's in Advent (the beginning of December) or Lent (in the early spring.) In the catachumenate, you will study scripture, learn theology, learn how to pray, learn about the operation of the church, study the liturgy and its practice, learn music, and learn about the living of a Christian life. You can see, by the scope of the study and experience, why the process takes about six months.
The catachumenate ends with baptism at the Easter Vigil or at Pentecost. The Easter Vigil is simply the most important liturgy of the entire church year. In it, we enter a darkened church, light candles to symbolize the resurrection, sing ancient chants from the very dawn of our tradition, and baptize new Christians. Then, the Eucharist is celebrated--the first mass of Easter--and the newly baptized receive Holy Communion for the first time.
If this is your situation, speak to the rector who can help you begin the process of the catachumenate.
Leaving one Episcopal Church for another
If you are an Episcopalian desiring to make St. John's your church home, you can do so by transferring to the parish. In order to do this, you should make an appointment with the rector and get acquainted with the parish and the clergy before you take this big step. The transfer happens in one of two ways. You can ask the rector of your previous parish to transfer your membership to this parish, or you can ask our rector here to send for your letter of transfer. In either way, the process results in your being removed from the membership list of one parish and entered upon the membership list of this congregation. It is also desirable at this time for you to make a pledge of financial support to the work of the parish; for this is the way in which we all participate in the broad scope of ministry which is God's and ours in this place.
May my child be baptized here?
It was, and in some places still is, a cultural assumption that children should be baptized. We agree with that assumption--to the degree that we think everyone should be baptized and become members of Christ's body the Church. The sacrament of Baptism is probably the most important sacrament of the whole church, and this is why it is celebrated in Church, on Sundays, at the main liturgy, with full ceremonial and music.
Because Baptism is so central to the Christian life, parents should consider exactly what they are doing, promising, and pledging when they present a child for baptism.
In the baptismal liturgy, parents and sponsors promise that they and the child will "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers." This language means that parents are promising to see that the child learns about the faith (the apostles' teaching), maintains active participation in the church (the apostles' fellowship), regularly attends the Eucharist (the breaking of the bread), and develops an active live of prayer (the prayers.)
What this means is that when you present a child for baptism, you are committing yourself and the child to the Church. This means regular church attendance, Christian formation and education, and participation in the community.
These promises are so important that we want to insure that no one makes them hypocritically or without fully understanding their import. If you are just wanting to have your child "done" without becoming a part of the church, baptism is not for you. It would be better to simply give thanks to God for the birth or adoption of the child (for which we have a ritual) and to defer baptism until such a time as you or the child are ready to make the commitment that baptism entails.
If you are planning a commitment to St. John's and wish to have your child raised in our faith and common life, then make an appointment with the rector to discuss baptism.
A word about sponsors, which were formerly called godparents. A sponsor takes the baptismal vows on behalf of the candidate who is usually unable to answer for him- or herself. Further, they promise to "see that the child is brought up in the Christian faith and life" and they are charged to help the child grow "into the full stature of Christ" (Prayerbook, page 302). In the first instance, the sponsors are renewing their own baptismal promises, and, in a sense, including the child in the covenant community defined by those promises (Prayerbook page 298). This can only be done, we believe, with integrity by those who genuinely believe in the doctrine and are willing to engage in the discipline of those promises. All sponsors must be baptized persons, active in the Episcopal Church, and at least one of them must be a member of St. John's in the Village. There is no restriction as to the number or sex of the sponsors.
While not directly related to Baptism, there are other rites which may be of interest to those thinking about baptism of infants. They include the Blessing of a Pregnant Woman, and the Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child (Prayer Book, page 439-45).
When parents are thinking about baptism and their responsibilities for the religious upbringing of their children, they might also think about making a will, establishing a provision for legal guardianship of their children, and providing for bequests for religious and charitable institutions.
May we be married here?
Very often people come to church when they begin to think about marriage. This is a very happy event and we rejoice with you if you are planning a marriage. And, if you are, at the same time, looking for a parish church home, then let's talk about your being married here.
A marriage in the Episcopal Church presumes a commitment to our church. We believe that the married life of a faithful couple shows us an image of God's glory, goodness, and love. We also believe that a married couple or a family is a manifestation, in miniature, of the Christian community we call the Church. When a couple seeks to celebrate their marriage in Church, they are asking the gathered community of the Church, through its priest, to bless the marriage. Therefore a marriage in a church only makes sense for those who have made a commitment to God, through Jesus Christ, and to the community gathered at St. John's.
People sometimes ask "How long must I go to St. John's before I can be married there?" We feel that this is not the best question to pose at this point because it reflects a certain minimalistic, legalistic approach to a matter than should be considered in a more wholistic way. But, in general, we would hope that you had made this your parish home, and that you would have been active as a member of the church for, say, one year or so. We want you to be a part of our church, not just for the day of your wedding, but for a lifetime of Christian growth.