What do we believe?
Sacraments (what exactly are they?)
Sacraments are the ways that God's grace comes to us in specific and tangible form. In the ELCA, we understand there to be two sacraments: Baptism and Communion. There are three things that make a sacrament a sacrament:
(For more info on what ELCA Lutherans believe, click here. This will take you to the "What We Believe: Basics" page of the ELCA.)
Baptism isn't just something you do; it's the way you live. It's the way God comes to us, to seal us in a promise of grace that affects what we do every single day. Actually, baptism is just as much about living today as it is about our hope for resurrection.
Baptism offers us forgiveness and a new beginning--every time we fall short of what God wants for us. But it also marks us for service in the world, going outside our doors to love the way God loves us. That means carrying that love even to people who may not understand it, and who certainly don't deserve it--but who desperately need it. Just like we do.
In baptism, people from all walks of life are brought together into the Body of Christ. So we at St. Paul, and in the ELCA, are actually part of the same Body, the same Church, the same promise as every other Christian who has been baptized in the name of Jesus. (So if you've been baptized in another church, we won't re-baptize you here. But if you want to, you can publicly affirm your baptism with your sisters and brothers in faith.)
Adult or Infant baptism?
Well--both. Many of our members came to us as adults who had never attended church before, so adult baptism isn't anything new to us. But we also baptize babies. That's because we believe that baptism is totally and completely God's gift to us; we don't earn it or deserve it--not even by "understanding" it. But it's a serious gift to accept, because as we said, it marks us for service. You might choose, someday, to walk away from your baptismal calling. But you can never not have it anymore.
So when we baptize babies and little children, their parents and the whole congregation make promises to provide them all they will need--love, guidance, and teaching--to live out that call. Even though it's a pretty serious commitment, we think it's a great thing to give a child in this world.
Communion (the Lords Supper)
We celebrate communion every Sunday at St. Paul. We believe Jesus Christ is truly present to us in this gift, offering us forgiveness and strengthening us for love and service in the world.
Who can receive communion?
Every baptized Christian is welcome to receive, regardless of your denomination (or lack of one). Again, we believe that baptism makes us one Body, and everyone who shares in that Body may receive communion.
Even young children?
Yes--again, because sacraments (baptism and communion) are God's gift to us, not things we earn or deserve because we understand them properly. (After all, who really understands God's grace fully?) We believe that, by sharing in the meal, children are strengthened by the Holy Spirit in grace and love. This may seem like a new practice to you, but it is in line with the practice of the Church throughout most of its 2000-year history. The ELCA officially recognized the appropriateness of communing children in 1997, following several years of study and the adoption of the document, "Use of the Means of Grace"at the Churchwide Assembly.
At St. Paul, parents decide whether their children will receive communion or a blessing. And all of our kids, whether they've received communion before or not, are invited to take part in a "faith milestone" program around third grade, where they and their families come together to learn more about communion.
Can I receive if I'm not baptized?
Generally, people who are not baptized come forward to receive a blessing. That's because we believe communion strengthens the gifts of baptism--both faith within the individual and the bonds between believers. So if you're not baptized, we encourage you to explore whether the baptismal calling is for you before you take communion.
(If you do receive communion before you're baptized, however, we won't throw you out!)