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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Celebrating the Sacraments of Belonging this year -9.28.30

A banner hangs from the front of our church building that proclaims “All are Welcome” with a big rainbow flag to help make the point. In the past year, we have been strengthening our welcoming muscles with the revitalization of the Welcome Committee, in-person visits to neighbors to invite them to St. Peter’s events, and a welcoming litany for new parishioners.


Welcome is a celebration of beginnings, and it’s essential to a faith community that seeks to invite, grow and expand the love of Jesus in the world.


After welcome, there is a long middle-ground of belonging. And it’s here that our sacramental life, our committed life as community is expressed. This year, I plan to offer a variety of ways for our community to enter that life more fully by reflecting on our key sacraments of belonging: Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation/Reception into the Episcopal Church.


I like the definition of sacrament offered by theologian Joseph Martos in his book by the same name: they are “doors to the sacred.” Our sacraments are openings into life with God, marked by very familiar earthly elements – water, fire, oil, bread. But when included in a sacrament, woven into the word, intention and relationships of believing people – these gifts of earth and human hands become deeply resonant with what it takes to live the life of God. Water cleans and quenches. Fire lights a way. Oil soothes and smells great. Bread feeds and unifies. And all of that helps us to live lives of faith, love and intention now, with God’s help, as community.


This year we’ll learn and discern sacramental entryways more fully through learning sessions, intergenerational events and celebrations designed to help enter these sacraments more fully. Those who would like to be baptized, confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church or enter Eucharist more fully will have ways to prepare for these sacraments.


Here is what’s in store:

Opportunities for Baptism. Now that we are past many of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic in past years, St. Peter’s can return to its practice of baptizing infants and children during the Sunday liturgies that have been designated for this sacrament. These include:

  • All Saints' Day or the Sunday after All Saints' Day – Nov. 5, 2023

  • The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany) – Jan. 7, 2024

  • Easter Vigil – Saturday might, March 30, 2024

  • Easter Day – Sunday morning, March 31, 2024

  • The Day of Pentecost, May 19, 2024

Other dates can also be scheduled.


Confirmation for youth and teens. In the Episcopal Church, Confirmation is the sacrament of mature commitment into the lift of the faith. Once Confirmed, people of faith can become Eucharistic Ministers and Visitors, and take other leadership roles in the church. Those who are already confirmed in another faith tradition, don’t typically need to be confirmed again in the Episcopal Church.


When Bishop Daniel Guttiérrez visits St. Peter’s on Pentecost, May 19, 2024, he will confirm youth and teens and adults who have prepared for this special sacrament of belonging.

To help youth to learn and discern, I will offer a monthly Confirmation class after the 10 am liturgy, on the third Sunday of each month. The first session is Oct. 15 at 11:30. Please let me know if your child would like to participate. It will be most appropriate for youth and teens ages 13 and older.


Adult Confirmation or Reception into the Episcopal Church. For adults who have never been Confirmed in a faith tradition, I am planning to offer preparation sessions as well. Those who have been Confirmed in another tradition and would like to formally enter the Episcopal Church are “received into the church” in a similar ritual. They would also prepare through these classes.

Adults are typically Confirmed or Received at the Easter Vigil or when the bishop visits a parish in person. The Easter Vigil, the beautiful service that is held the night before Easter, has been a deanery-wide celebration in recent years. St. Thomas Whitemarsh has hosted it for the last two years.


Preparation classes will be scheduled when have a small group that can meet and learn together, likely four or five times. I am also happy to meet with individuals if we don’t have a small group in place. Again, contact me if you are interested.


Water Day and Bread Day

To help families delve more deeply into the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, I will be offering two intergenerational mini retreats this year. Water Day on Saturday, Jan. 6 will explore how we celebrate and live into our baptismal promises. Bread Day on Saturday, April 6, from 11 will provide some hands-on learning about the Eucharist, including bread baking and an exploration of the items that are part of our table celebrations. Both retreats are tentatively scheduled for 11 am to 1 p.m.


Solemn Communion Celebration April 6

In the Episcopal Church, children can receive Communion when they are old enough to eat a piece of bread on their own. Parents usually decide when their child is ready. As a result, children grow into their understanding of Eucharist as the Body of Christ over the years, largely through the regular experience of coming to the Communion table. This is different from the approach of the Roman Catholic Church, which celebrates a “First Communion” for children, usually at the age of 7, after extensive preparation.

For those, like myself, who were Catholic at one time, the tradition of First Communion offers a way for children to make their own special commitment to receiving the Eucharist, and to reflect on what it means to them. This year we will offer our own version of this celebration with “Solemn Communion,” in which children who would like to mark Communion in a special way can dress up, gather around the table and receive intentionally. Our Bread Day will serve as a day of preparation for this celebration, which will occur during the 10 am service on April 6, 2024.

As you can see, our 2023-2024 program year is filled with many doors to the sacred just waiting to be opened and explored. Please contact me at stpeter654rector@gmail.com or call 215-887-1765 to discuss any of these opportunities in more detail.


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