New Membership Vows and Ritual (Revised and Corrected)

Among the many actions taken by the 2008 General Conference were revisions to paragraphs 217 and 225 of the 2004 Book of Discipline that changed vows for all professing members in The United Methodist Church and clarified the process for receiving members from other denominations. The changes in the vows in the Discipline also affect the official ritual of the church in Baptismal Covenants I, II, and IV (UMH 33 ff., UMH 39 ff., and UMH 50 ff.).

All these changeswentt into effect January 1, 2009.

(Note: As of 2004, the vows in Baptismal Covenant III are no longer Disciplinary. The required vows are those in Paragraph 217, as revised by the 2004 and 2008 General Conferences. Baptismal Covenant III does not contain these vows. Baptismal Covenant III should no longer be used in The United Methodist Church.

The Changes in the Discipline

Alterations to Paragraph 217 changed the language of two of the vows for professing membership (217.5 and 217.6). The new language of 217.5 will read:

5. To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;

The new language of 217.6 will read:

6. To faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, and their service, and their witness.

Alteration to paragraph 225 clarified that all eligible persons enter the professing membership of this church in the same way -- through the public profession of all of the vows of professing membership in the appropriate service of the baptismal covenant.

The new language of paragraph 225 reads:

225. Transfer from Other Denominations -- A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church may shall be received as either a baptized or a professing member. Such a person may be received as a baptized member by a proper certificate of transfer from that person's former church, or by a declaration of Christian faith, or some certification of Christian baptism and as a professing member upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith through appropriate services of the baptismal covenant in our ritual (see paragraphs 214-217). In baptism water is administered in the name of the Triune God by an authorized person. The pastor will report to the sending church the date of reception of such a member. It is recommended that instruction in the faith, work, and polity of the Church be provided for all such persons. Persons received from churches that do not issue certificates of transfer or letters of recommendation shall be listed as "Received from Other Denominations."

Why These Changes?

The mission of The United Methodist Church, affirmed at the 2008 General Conference, is "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Board members and staff believed improvements could be made to the existing vows to strengthen the connection between professing membership and discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Paragraph 217.5 had called for loyalty to The United Methodist Church. This appeared to our Board to suggest that our discipleship is to a denomination rather than to Jesus Christ. The changed language clarifies that our loyalty, and thus our discipleship, is to Jesus Christ, and that those seeking to become professing members of this church are here promising loyalty to Christ through their participation and ministry with The United Methodist Church.

Paragraph 217.6 had become the United Methodist membership mantra: "prayers, presence, gifts and service." In some of our congregations, these words became the only "membership vows" many of our people knew, despite the fact that our Discipline names all the vows of the baptismal covenant as requirements for professing membership (see the entirety of paragraph 217). When the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders submitted its proposal to GBOD, our Board agreed that the vows of "prayers, presence, gifts and service" were primarily "inwardly" focused and institutional in character. They offered little insight or inspiration for disciples of Jesus Christ to engage in God's mission of transforming the world. Though in an earlier vow those seeking professing membership promise to be "Christ's representatives in the world" (UMH 34, paragraph 6), there was no reflection of that baptismal promise in the vows of membership in a local congregation. Adding "and witness" to the list ("prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness") may help our members, new and old, to recognize their responsibilities not only to "show up," but to "show forth" God's saving love in all that we do.

Paragraph 225 had created significant confusion about how persons from other denominations could become professing members in The United Methodist Church. By one interpretation, the paragraph allowed persons who had not been members of this church to become professing members by a letter of transfer or a personal statement without taking the baptismal and other vows that persons who had been part of this church all their lives were required to take. By another, Judicial Council Decision 1032, the senior pastor appointed to a charge had sole authority to determine whether a person was ready to become a professing member in this church, regardless of letters of transfer or the willingness of the person to take vows.

The revised language clarifies several things: It echoes the Constitution of the Church in affirming that all persons baptized in other Christian denominations shall be received as members in The United Methodist Church if that is their stated intent. It does not conflict with the Judicial Council's interpretation of the senior pastor's sole authority to determine readiness to take the vows of professing membership in this church. Rather, it notes that such persons may be received as either baptized or professing members. And it makes plain that all professing members in this church become professing members based upon Christian baptism in this church or certification of Christian baptism in another and taking all the vows of professing membership in this church, using the appropriate ritual of the baptismal covenant (Baptismal Covenant I).

Changes to the Ritual
The changes in paragraph 217 changed not only the Discipline, but also the ritual of The United Methodist Church. Here is the new language you should use, beginning January 1, 2009, for receiving new professing members into The United Methodist Church and your local congregation and for other services of the Baptismal Covenant affected by the Disciplinary changes.

Baptismal Covenant I, UMH 38, paragraph 14 The opening paragraph of rubrics (red italics), implying that persons transferring membership from other denominations may not have taken the previous vows, is deleted. All persons seeking to become professing members in The United Methodist Church participate in the entire ritual and take all vows, both of the baptismal covenant and of membership.

As members of Christ's universal church,
will you be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church,
and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?

I will.


Baptismal Covenant I, UMH 38, paragraph 15

As members of this congregation,
will you faithfully participate in its ministries
by your prayers, your presence,
your gifts, your service,
and your witness?

I will.

Baptismal Covenant I, UMH 38, paragraph 16

We give thanks for all that God has already given you
and we welcome you in Christian love.
As members together with you
in the body of Christ
and in this congregation
of The United Methodist Church,
we renew our covenant
faithfully to participate
in the ministries of the church
by our prayers, our presence,
our gifts, our service,
and our witness,
that in everything God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ.


Baptismal Covenant II, UMH 43, paragraph 16

We give thanks for all that God has already given you
and we welcome you in Christian love.
As members together with you
in the body of Christ
and in this congregation
of The United Methodist Church,
we renew our covenant
faithfully to participate
in the ministries of the church
by our prayers, our presence,
our gifts, our service
and our witness,
that in everything God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ.


Baptismal Covenant IV, UMH 52

We give thanks for all that God has already given us.
As members of the body of Christ
and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church,
we will faithfully participate in the ministries of the church
by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness,
that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

Please also see the shorter version of this document in pdffor cut and paste into current hymnals.


New Membership Vows and Ritual" © 2008 by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Extracts from the 2004 Book of Discipline and Baptismal Covenants I, II, and IV are from The United Methodist Hymnal © 1989 by The United Methodist Publishing House and are used by permission.

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Copyright 2008 The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Ritual texts © 2008 The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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