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Christian Initiation and Community

A lesson plan to accompany Living Worship curriculum that addresses the design and performance of Christian Initiation rites in light of the on-going life and practice of the Christian assembly.


The practice of Christian initiation is part of not only the life of an individual, but also the continued life of a Christian community. This lesson facilitates students in understanding and analyzing Christian initiation practices in terms of how they shape and are shaped by the deeper context and practices of the congregation.


1. Understand how Christian initiation rights relate to past and future events within a Christian community

2. Analyze the effects that both the content and performance of initiation rites may have on the life of the assembly

3. Evaluate Christian initiation rites – both textual and performance elements – in terms of meaning and result

Best Context:

This lesson is intended for higher-level seminary students in a practicum of a liturgics or worship class. It is highly suitable for a class on church and culture or a course on sacramentology or ecclesiology.

Before Class:

Have the studentsread: From the Community section of Living Worship, the students should read both subsections of “Initiation Rites at Ravenswood.” From the Order of Service section read the bulletins for both the Edstrom Dedication and the Nielson baptisms.

Have the students write: Write a one to two page summary of how Christian initiation rites are used in the Christian community of which you are a part. Be sure to pay attention both to the written liturgy and the performance of the rite. Write in detail about a particular rite that you have observed, paying special attention to contextual and cultural factors.

Have the students interact with Living Worship: Watch the Edstrom dedication service and the Nielson baptism service on the DVD. Note at least two circumstances of each context that affect how the rite is enacted and may be interpreted. Write down two or three contextual circumstances for initiation ritesthat you have observed.

During Class:

Begin the class by leading the students in a discussion of the Edstrom dedication and the Nielson baptisms. Elicit comments from students regarding the contextual factors of each rite, helping them analyze them in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Have the DVD available to review certain segments as appropriate. Gradually expand the discussion from the Ravenswood rites to bring into the discussion the students’ personal experiences with initiation rites.

Guide the discussion to consider how context and particular events of life influence the congregation, and what place initiation rites take in terms of context. Facilitate as the students consider the roles that Scripture and tradition have in interpreting and shaping culture and context.

In the witnesses section of Living Worship, view Mark Stamm’s segments: Pastor and the Baptisms” and “Strengths of RCC’s initiation practices.” Discuss the role of pastors and other church leaders in helping the assembly to understand how its own worship fits into the framework of God’s revelation and continued action.

View Robert Webber’s “Major Issues in Worship Today.” Wrap up the discussion of the relationship of cultural context and God’s story, looking at the importance of each and the balance of the two.

Assign students to write a one to two page reflection paper on an initiation rite: either one that they have experienced, or one of the Ravenswood rites. Have them evaluate the chosen rite in terms of how it balances or does not balance God’s story and cultural context.