Fires have damaged or destroyed at least six predominantly black churches across the southern United States in the two weeks since a white supremacist was arrested for the murder of nine black parishioners at the historic Emanuel African...
At First Church, in keeping with our Reformed Protestant heritage, we recognize two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion—ancient practices arising from gospel commandments. Through these simple rites, we rediscover the holy in the ordinary and the everyday. Water, bread, the fruit of the vine, help bring home to our hearts God’s acceptance of us in Christ and recall us to the things of earth in loving service.
Baptism is the “initiation rite” of the Church. We are immersed in or sprinkled with water in the name of the Trinity as a sign of new life in Christ. We promise to renounce evil and injustice. We are incorporated into Christ’s “body” and welcomed into the Church that follows him. The Spirit’s gifts are bestowed on us so that we can share his ministry. “Going down into the waters” of baptism signifies our dying and rising with Christ. It is the sacrament of discipleship.
At First Church, we gladly welcome to the baptismal water persons of any age who seek to be united in the faith and family of Jesus Christ, or in the case of young children those whose parents are ready to make a profession of faith on their behalf. By this act of “proxy,” we are reminded that God’s gift of new life is truly a gift. It does not depend on our understanding or will, but is offered freely, even when we do not know how to ask or receive.
Baptizing infants not only expresses the radical inclusion of Jesus, who turned no one away: It also commits the whole congregation to raise our children in the ways of Jesus, so that they may one day come to know, love and accept this gift of grace for themselves. The sacrament is the same whether it involves an infant whose parents choose on his or her behalf, or an older person who makes the choice for him or herself (“believer” baptism). With infants, the emphasis is on God’s gift of grace. With those who choose to be baptized, it is on the human response to that gift.
At First Church baptism is celebrated in the midst of the worshiping community, with the support and commitment of the people of God and on behalf of the Church Universal, with whom the one baptized is joined through water and the Holy Spirit. Private family baptisms are discouraged, although exceptional circumstances might permit them occasionally.
BLESSING OF CHILDREN
Sometimes family members have different religious backgrounds, theological convictions, or other circumstances that make it difficult for them to celebrate a baptism with integrity. In these cases, families often wish instead to ”bless” or “dedicate” a child in the church. Although not to be confused with baptism, dedications and blessings are done at First Church as a way to celebrate God’s love and goodness to us in our children, to give thanks for a birth or adoption and to welcome a child into the community of faith.
The sacrament of Holy Communion, sometimes called Eucharist (Thanksgiving) or the Lord’s Supper, originated in the last meal Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died. At supper he took bread and wine, gave thanks, and shared them with his disciples. He likened the bread and wine to his soon-to-be broken body and poured-out blood and told his disciples to remember him whenever they shared such a meal together. Thus Holy Communion has come down to us as a memorial of Jesus’ death.
But the Eucharist is more than a remembrance of the past. It also looks to the future. Jesus practiced a ministry of table fellowship throughout his life. He invited sinners and outcasts. He ate with rich and poor. A meal with Jesus was a sign that God was doing something new—breaking down barriers, restoring the kinship of all creation, extending radical hospitality in a world characterized by exclusions. Table fellowship with Jesus is a foretaste of the day when God will usher in the promised kingdom of justice, abundance and joy for all creatures. When we eat and drink at the communion tables, we pledge ourselves to wait and work for that day in all we say and do. Communion is a sacrament of justice and hope.
Holy Communion is also a precious time of fellowship. The Lord’s Supper nourishes us not only as individuals but as a community. Steeped in self-giving and unity, our Communion celebration draws us ever closer in “the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.”
There are no barriers to receiving Communion at First Church. All are welcome to the Table who seek to know the mercy of Christ, the faithfulness of God, and the peace of the Spirit, and to walk in the ways of justice and compassion. Children of all ages are warmly welcome to partake, at the discretion of their parents.
Communion is celebrated at First Church on the first Sunday of each month and on the festival days of Christmas and Easter and at all monthly Jazz services. Depending on the occasion, we may receive communion in our pews, with individual cups and pieces of bread, by intinction (dipping)—coming forward and forming lines—or in a circle around the table.