Membership, Centers, and Boundaries

This month we’re welcoming 16 new members into CMC.  Four joined this past Sunday.  Another 12 will join this coming Sunday.  As has become our custom, we’ll hear brief reflections from each of them.  We’ll share Communion, served by new members.  And we’ll recite together our Membership Commitment statement – an old practice with new (and fewer!) words.

Membership actually seems like a bit of an anomaly for how we generally do church.  About 30 years ago missiologist Paul Hiebert proposed the now-common categories of Bounded Set and Centered Set.  Groups that operate as a Bounded Set actively define who’s in and out.  They emphasize lines and boundaries, and what criteria determines those boundaries.  A primary image here is a fence.

A primary image for Centered Set groups is a well.  There are no limits on how far away you are from the well, but if you’re thirsty you’ll move toward it.  I also like to think of Centered Set communities in terms of a gravitational force.  We’re all orbiting, in our own ways, around a common center of love/community/Christ/justice/peace. It’s the strength of the center, rather than the fences around it, that holds us together.

CMC is definitely a Centered Set kind of congregation.  Yet membership is closer to a Bounded Set way of operating.  You’re either on the role or you’re not. 

I don’t find this slight hybridization overly problematic, just worth pondering.

Membership is a way of publicly claiming affiliation and affinity with this congregation.  In reciting our Membership Commitment statement, we’re literally making commitments to one another, with the acknowledgement that we often fail, and that the whole endeavor is energized by God’s grace.

And perhaps membership can be done as a Centering exercise.  Its our way of claiming that we are all orbiting around a common Center, that we are consciously choosing to be a part of that orbit, and that we’re giving one another the grace and space needed to do that in the most authentic way.

Joel