By Rev. Lori Ethridge
Minister to Senior Adults
I always look forward to the arrival in the mail of the bi-monthly periodical, The Christian Century. Therein are invariably thought provoking articles, much like the one that caught my attention this week; the headline was, “Church of Sweden Renews Connections with Drop-in Weddings and Baptisms.” I thought to myself, “What is the world coming to… drop-in weddings and baptisms?! What’s next?” According to the article, this reaction of shock and dismay was similar to that of the church’s hierarchy when they heard of Pastor Jerker Alsterlund’s strategy of encouraging the church to meet people where they were. The article went on to affirm that the Church of Sweden, like other mainline denominations in Europe, has a large number of members, but few who participate in the life of the church. Pastor Alsterlund’s ideas have quickly become popular, and last year he received the Church of Sweden’s Innovator of the year Award.
When I read this article, I could not help but think of John Wesley and his un-orthodox practices of circuit riding and preaching in the fields and
factories in and around London. Undoubtedly the hierarchy of the Church of England was aghast at some of his liturgical practices, however, in time he was much appreciated for his ability to take “the church” to the people, and to meet them where they were. Nevertheless, for United Methodists, a
baptism is an act of corporate worship, with the congregation present. Baptism is an inclusive act on the part of God, and in my understanding as
a United Methodist, baptism should not be conducted in an exclusive environment. Vows are exchanged between the one being baptized and the minister, then, the congregation responds with its own vows to support the one newly baptized. I cannot help but think that a “drop-in” baptism is
missing the vital element of congregational responsibility. I feel less strongly about the congregation being absent at a wedding. In fact, I have performed several intimate wedding ceremonies with just a half a dozen people present. Sometimes stripping away the social attributes of a wedding can decrease the theatrical quality and actually enhance the holy aspects of the occasion. What are your thoughts on “drop-in” weddings and baptisms? Are they innovative as the Church of Sweden attests, or are they intolerable?