Baptized for Life – by Dennis Kirchoff
In December of 2017, the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in Alexandria, Virginia, a five-year $1.5 million grant to implement “Baptized for Life: An Episcopal Discipleship Initiative.”
Baptized for Life (BFL) is a project of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching (CMT) at VTS. Under the direction of Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning, Baptized for Life will support congregations as they equip individuals of all ages to live into their baptismal vocations with confidence, truly believing that they are loved and made new in Jesus Christ. Kimball and her team believe a commitment to the basics, to active engagement with scripture and worship will shape lives of meaning and purpose while (re)vitalizing congregations.
“It is our working assumption that practices of Christian discipleship are necessary for vocational discernment, and that the Episcopal Church has rich, underutilized resources in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and our sacramental tradition to change lives, congregations, and communities,” says Dr. Kimball.
Baptized for Life tries to answer this question: What could happen within our congregations and our faith, if we took the oldest known discipleship program we know of (the catechumenate) and applied it with great innovation, intention, and joy, within our modern context?
You may wonder “What is this catechumenate? Where did this come from? I have never even heard of it!” The catechumenate may be new to you, yet it has roots in the early Christian Church. The early Christians were not in the mainstream of the culture they lived in. It was hazardous to be a follower of Christ, dangerous to be a disciple, and certainly was a choice to live a life that was markedly distinct. The catechumenate evolved to be a process that nurtured growth in faith and “experiencing a change of heart”’ to truly be a follower of Christ within a community.
After Christianity became the public religion of the Roman Empire, the catechumenate slowly went dormant in a church that became much more in the mainstream of culture. Baptism of infants gradually became the norm. Times and pastoral needs change. In Europe, during the 19th century, the liturgical renewal movement developed to reform Christian worship to be true to its roots from the first four centuries and relevant to the time.
The Anglican Communion was one of the Christian churches greatly touched by this renewal, and it influenced the 1979 revision of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The Rites of the Catechumenate were formally included in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services. Several other denominations have similar rites.
For those already baptized and seeking to deepen their faith, the Catechumenate provides a natural framework to prepare for Confirmation, Reaffirmation or Reception.
The methodology is simple: structured reflection upon experience of worship, scripture, and service in the light of the ongoing history of salvation. Through regular opportunities for prayer, study, and conversation, and supported by mentors, personal stories contribute to the story of the larger community of faith and God’s evolving mission. Lives are changed, and congregations grow deeper and wider.
Baptized for Life (BFL) is launching this summer as a 5-year collaborative initiative between Life-long Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary and up to twenty-four congregations in six Episcopal dioceses in the continental United States. BFL will support participating congregations as they nurture lives of meaning and purpose. BFL will use time-tested elements of the catechumenate – rich worship, regular engagement with scripture, meaningful service, threshold rites, and intentional mentoring – to stimulate spiritual growth and formation.
The Diocese of Michigan is one of the six dioceses in the United States that have been selected to participate in Baptized for Life, and Christ Episcopal Church has been invited by Bishop Gibbs to be one of the participating congregations in our diocese.
To launch participation in Baptized for Life each congregation will take an online spiritual indicator survey. Christ Church will launch the survey on June 10, and we will have three weeks and four Sundays to take it. Please look for your directions to log in to take the online survey. People will be available in the church office following the 8am, 9am, and 10am services on Sunday June 17, 24, and July 1 to help people take the survey. It's critical that we have everyone take it so that we have a baseline to measure the growth of spirituality in our congregation over the period of the BFL program.