Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: Ted Vial
The most obvious rite in Methodism, as in most forms of Christianity, is the Sunday worship service.One can break the basic pattern of this service into the following parts:
- Gathering together in the Lord's name.Often there is music (a prelude, for example), and informal and more ritualized forms of greeting.
- Proclamation of the word.This chiefly includes scripture readings (Wesley intended for one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament to be read each week) and a sermon.There is a very strong tradition in Methodism, rooted in the many famous hymns written by Charles Wesley, of proclamation through hymns.
- People respond with prayers, offerings, commitments to serve each other and the world in God's name, etc.
- Sending out.The congregation is blessed and sent out into the world to further God's ministry.
The weekly services differ somewhat depending on the time in the liturgical calendar.The table or altar typically is covered in white linen, but there are often banners (called paraments) hanging from the table, with different colors to mark the time of the liturgical calendar:white for Christmas and Easter, purple (representative of both penance and royalty) for Advent and Lent, red (marking the fire of the Holy Spirit) for Pentecost, green (seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost).
There are many actions and behaviors that might be considered rites in Christianity in general and in Methodism in particular:praying, hymn singing, communal readings by the congregation, blessings and benedictions; even scripture reading and sermons are highly ritualized.Of these many activities two in Methodism (as in most Protestant denominations) are believed to be actions in which the grace of God is made especially present.These are "sacraments," baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Baptism symbolizes the washing away of sin and membership in the community of the saved.Some Methodist churches practice full immersion baptism, but in most the minister dabs some water from the baptismal font on the forehead of the person being baptized.As the moment of God's forgiveness, it marks the reception of God's justifying grace.Anyone joining the Methodist Church must be baptized.Methodist adults , like many Protestants, practice infant baptism for their own children.
Infant baptism has often been controversial in Protestant churches.It had been practiced by Roman Catholics, in the belief that no one, not even a newborn infant, who died unbaptized, could be admitted into heaven.Protestants stressed God's freedom to save whomever God willed, and thus argued that God could save anyone, baptized or not.Nevertheless, when some argued that because sinners were saved by faith and not works, and therefore had to be old enough to understand concepts like sin and forgiveness to be baptized, Luther and other reformers clung to infant baptism.They believed it was the symbol par excellence that salvation is a free gift of God based on no work or merit whatsoever on the part of the sinner.In this sense everyone is in the same position as the infant: no one is more capable of faith, unless God bestows it.John Wesley and Methodists remain in the mainstream of Protestant practice with infant baptism.