Enuma Okoro: A sacramental church plant

A new church start in the suburbs is a perfect place for the beautiful and disruptive rhythms of sacramental life.

I love it whenever there’s a baptism at our church.

Our pastor, Greg Moore, reminds us that what’s about to happen is a life-changing moment for everyone in the sanctuary. Then he gathers all the children in the congregation up by the altar to tell them, “Today is another special day in the life of All Saints because we’re baptizing someone into our family. In just a little while we’re going to all gather around it and join together in baptizing so and so into the family of God and the family of our church.” He looks around at all the kids and says with excitement, “You guys are about to get a new brother or sister today. I think we need to go welcome them right now.” Then he leads the children through the congregation to where the soon to be baptized family sits, and introduces the children to the family, and all together the children loudly yell, “Welcome to the family!”

I belong to a new church start. All Saints United Methodist Church in Brier Creek, NC turned two years old in November. It is a church in which the leadership is intentional about forming the congregation around the beautiful and disruptive rhythms of the sacramental and liturgical life. One way we do that is by teaching the children what it means to follow an ecclesial calendar. At the start of each new church season the children sing an opening anthem to usher in God’s time. During the children’s sermon a lay leader teaches both the children and the adult congregation what it means to live into the newly appointed season, what God expects of us and what we should expect of God.

When I share with others about life at All Saints, I’m often met with surprise. People wonder how a new church start can be successful at drawing people into a life that is so liturgically and sacramentally focused. They wonder how a Protestant church dressed up in the ancient traditions of sacrament and liturgy could speak to and appeal to people in today’s American suburbs who either aren’t familiar with the demands and challenge of church life at all or who are only returning once they have their own children, rusty and unsure of what they can remember from their childhood Sunday jaunts.

Once every few months, Moore takes the time to teach new members why we worship as we do. He teaches both in Sunday school and in worship the reasons why we sing both for the glory of God and for our own survival, why we cross ourselves, why we stand for the reading of the Gospel and for weekly Eucharist, why we walk towards the table with our hands open before God, bringing nothing but gratitude and expectation to the bread and the cup. He explains to us why we enfold new baptismal candidates with our bodily presence around the font, why we offer our children the front-row view, why we tithe, why we share the prayers we do for one another and for the community at large, and why we are sometimes called to surround specific individuals for prayer with the laying on of hands in the midst of worship. With a congregation full of lapsed Catholics, Episcopalians, Southern Baptists and lifelong Methodists, he does not assume that any of us have been schooled in the whys of liturgical life. Everyone is invited to start on the same page, to journey alongside one another for the building of the community.

At All Saints everyone is learning to tell time all over again.

Enuma Okoro, a native of Nigeria, has also lived in Cote d’Ivoire, Oxford (UK), New York and Minneapolis. She writes now from Raleigh, North Carolina, and blogs at "Reluctant Pilgrim."