SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH
In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among Christians, we recognize
two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
Please contact the church office if you wish to receive the sacraments.
“In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, the United Church of Christ recognises two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.” —From the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ….” —Acts 2:38
“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” —Galatians 3:26-28
The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. Through baptism a person is joined with the universal church, the body of Christ. In baptism, God works in us the power of forgiveness, the renewal of the spirit, and the knowledge of the call to be God’s people always.
Baptism with water and the Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of our common discipleship. Since baptism is God’s gift, the Holy Spirit is called to be upon the water and those being baptized. The act of baptism also marks the beginning of new life of discipleship with Christ, the human response to that gift.
Water is an essential element of baptism. Water is a prominent symbol of cleansing and life in the Bible—the water of creation, the great flood, the liberation of Israel through the sea, the water of Mary’s womb, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, the woman at the well, and Jesus’ washing of the feet of the disciples. That is why water is visibly present in the service. In the United Church of Christ, the mode of baptism is a matter of choice. Some traditions use sprinkling, some pouring, and some immersion.
Infants, children, youth and adults. For infants and children, as well as for youth and adults who have never been baptized before, baptism marks their acceptance into the care of Christ’s church, the sign and seal of God’s grace and forgiveness, and the beginning of their Christian faith and life.
The United Church of Christ recognizes the validity of all baptisms, therefore there is no need for re-baptism. If there is a question about whether baptism has taken place, a conditional phrase may be added as a person is baptized, such as “if you are not already baptized.” It is a well-accepted practice, however, for people to renew their baptismal vows in a service of baptismal renewal, such as the Order for Renewal of Baptism in the UCC Book of Worship.
Baptism is a personal celebration in the lives of the individual candidates and their families. It is also a celebration within the local church family and a recognition of its commitment. For this reason, baptism is celebrated in the presence of the community gathered for worship. If circumstances require baptism to take place outside of corporate worship, members of the local church, if possible, may participate in the ceremony with the pastor. In urgent circumstances, such as imminent death, any Christian may perform the baptism.
Baptism may take place at any worship service where the community is gathered. In the early Christian church, the season of Lent was used as the final period for the preparation of candidates. In the scriptures that are read during the seasons from Advent up to Easter, there are many texts that teach the faith and point toward baptism. In the early church, the candidates were baptized together at the Vigil of Easter (the pre-dawn Easter service). Some local churches still perform baptisms at this service, or on Pentecost Sunday, and also baptize throughout the year.
Parents, in consultation with the pastor, may choose sponsors or Godparents for infants and young children who are to be baptized. Other candidates for baptism may also be given this opportunity to have sponsors. At the time of the baptismal service, the sponsors, who accompany the candidates and present them for baptism, may make promises identical to the promises of the parents concerning their role.
The Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ provides an Order for Baptism and orders for Affirmation of Baptism. The recognition of our baptism by the ecumenical church is important to us, and the Book of Worship encourages the use of language recognized in most Christian churches: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Feminine images for God may surround these words to enrich understandings and offer balance.
“In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, the United Church of Christ recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.” – From the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ
“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'” – 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
“When Jesus was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” – Luke 24;30-31
“Here, O my Lord, I see you face to face; here would I touch and handle things unseen. Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, and all my weariness upon you lean.” – Horatius Bonar, 1855, alt., The New Century Hymnal
Sacraments are ritual actions in worship which, according to Scripture, were instituted by Jesus. In the sacraments of baptism and communion we ask the Holy Spirit to use water, bread, and wine to make visible the grace, forgiveness, and presence of God in Christ.
The communion meal recalls the table fellowship Jesus shared with his disciples, and in particular the Last Supper on the night before his death as well as his appearances to the disciples during meals following his resurrection. Throughout its history these Biblical events have been central to the Church’s worship life.
In the sacrament of Holy Communion, also called the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, meaning “thanksgiving,” Christians hear, taste, touch and receive the grace of God revealed through Jesus Christ in a unique way. Communion is:
a joyous act of thanksgiving for all God has done, is doing, and will do for the redeeming of creation;
a sacred memorial of the crucified and risen Christ, a living and effective sign of Christ’s sacrifice in which Christ is truly and rightly present to those who eat and drink;
an earnest prayer for the presence of the Holy Spirit to unite those who partake with the Risen Christ and with each other, and to restore creation, making all things new;
an intimate experience of fellowship in which the whole church in every time and place is present and divisions are overcome;
a hopeful sign of the promised Realm of God marked by justice, love and peace.
The United Church of Christ Book of Worship reminds us that “the invitation and the call [to the supper] celebrate not only the memory of a meal that is past, but an actual meal with the risen Christ that is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet at which Christ wi11 preside at the end of history.”
The broken bread and poured wine represent—present anew—the crucified and risen Christ. The wheat gathered to bake one loaf and the grapes pressed to make one cup remind participants that they are one body in Christ, while the breaking and pouring announce the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Some churches provide non-alcoholic and gluten-free elements. As we grow increasingly aware of the rich cultural diversity of the church, the use of elements other than bread and wine is becoming an issue for global ecumenical reflection.
The Book of Worship and The New Century Hymnal contain several liturgies for the celebration of Holy Communion. In addition, many liturgies from ecumenical and global sources are frequently used. At the heart of the service are Jesus’ words about the bread and the cup from the Biblical account of the Last Supper.
A variety of practices are found in the United Church of Christ, including the sharing of a common loaf or the use of individual wafers or cubes of bread and the sharing of a common cup or of individual cups either at the Table or in the pews. Intinction (dipping the bread in the wine) is also an acceptable practice. Care should be taken to ensure that the full meaning of the sacrament is communicated by the way the elements are used and served. The pastor presides at the Table, normally assisted by elders or deacons.
In most United Church of Christ local churches, the Communion Table is “open to all Christians who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God’s people.” (Book of Worship). Some visitors from churches which believe communion should only be celebrated among Christians who are in full doctrinal agreement might not choose to participate. Their decision should be respected.
In many Christian churches baptized children and even infants are able to receive communion. Practice in the United Church of Christ varies, but increasingly children are welcomed to the Table at their parents’ discretion following a period of instruction about the sacrament’s meaning.
In the early church Communion was served weekly, a practice continued and encouraged by the Protestant Reformers. Gradually the frequency of communion decreased in many Protestant churches. This trend is now being reversed. While no one pattern prevails in the United Church of Christ, many congregations are moving toward monthly or weekly communion.