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Belonging and Membership

The Rev. Lori Walton

Mary Oliver died today.  She was my favorite poet.  For years, I’ve looked to her for inspiration, for solace, for grounding, for peace.  Her words were simple, yet they communicated a depth of being that few can rarely put to words.  One of my favorite poems, and likely her most famous, is “Wild Geese”.  It is a short poem about repentance and belonging, announcing to the world through the animal sound of wild geese that everyone has a place in this world.  It goes like this:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Everyone has a place in this world as it is God’s world and we are God’s people.  At St. James’ we try to make that reality tangible by throwing our doors and our arms wide open, inviting all to join us in praise and worship of the God who created us and who invites us to “let the soft animal of our bodies love what it loves.”

Some have recently asked about what it means to be a member of St. James’.  Because the Episcopal Church works hard to live by the motto that all are welcome, we tend to hold membership lightly and not ask for a set of requirements for membership.  The canons of the Episcopal Church define a “communicants in good standing” as those who “have been faithful in corporate worship, unless for good cause prevented, and have been faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God”.  Translated, a member of the church is someone who participates in regular worship, prays with and for other members of the church, and pledges a portion of their income.  Administratively, we keep a database of our members (those who pledge and/or have agreed to be part of the membership).  This number gets reported the total number to the National Church on an annual basis and helps us measure our growth and vitality as a Christian community.

Sacramentally, baptism makes one a Christian, whether or not one is a member of the church.  Membership helps one belong to a specific church.  If a step beyond membership is desired, one could be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church.  Each year, confirmations and receptions take place the first Saturday in June at Grace Cathedral.  It is a deeply meaningful way to re/commit to Christ through the lens of the Episcopal Church.

Regardless of your status, we are blessed by your presence and we are more fully the Body of Christ because of you.  If you would like to take an additional step of becoming a more formal member or of seeking confirmation or reception, please feel free to talk with me or our Associate Rector, Anna Horen.