See also Occasional Services and For Further Exploration
The writer, an ELCA worship specialist, identifies the rich variety of Evangelical Lutheran Worship resources that support Christian vocation. Centered on the baptismal covenant, the worshiping assembly is shaped, strengthened, and sustained to extend God’s mission in the world.
When my five-year-old son, Erik, passes an open baptismal font, he reaches in, immersing his hand in the water, then traces the sign of the cross on his forehead. With water dripping from his face he declares, “Mommy, I am baptized!” After five years of participating in worship where he has witnessed countless reminders of his baptism — from the baptism of others to getting wet as water is sprinkled during a thanksgiving for baptism — Erik knows the baptismal waters mark his life, even if he can’t yet articulate how he is shaped by them every day.
The call to Christian vocation begins at baptism.
The call to Christian vocation begins at baptism. We are washed with water, marked with the cross of Christ, and filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a public celebration—the riches of which take a lifetime to discover. Martin Luther reminds us that the Christian’s life is one of daily dying and rising with Christ in the waters of baptism. Preparing adults for baptism, ongoing participation in worship, study of Scripture, prayer, and ministry in daily life reveal and affirm the riches of a new life in Christ. A community that frequently recalls in worship the promises of baptism and the call of the baptized to serve God’s mission is also one that supports and encourages baptized Christians to discern, celebrate, and be supported in their Christian vocation as they live it out every day.
Worship resources in Evangelical Lutheran Worship intentionally lift up the church’s mission — that is, the vocation of the baptized in the whole of life. The pattern of the Holy Communion service emphasizes this rhythm: God shapes our lives, affirms the promises of baptism, and calls us to serve. The gathered assembly may give thanks for the gift of baptism or remember baptismal promises in confession and forgiveness. Scripture reading, preaching, and prayer proclaim the gospel for our time and remind us of the world’s need for God’s grace. In Holy Communion, God feeds the assembly with the presence of Christ, offering sustenance and strength for service. Those gathered for worship are blessed and sent from worship reminded of their call to participate in God’s mission in Christ for the sake of the world. To emphasize the vocation of the baptized, songs and hymns centered on themes of vocation may be included. (See the section, “Vocation, Ministry” in the Assembly Song section of ELW, pp. 574–84).
The Rite for Holy Baptism (ELW Pew Edition, p. 227) celebrated in the midst of the assembly affirms the vocation of all of the baptized: Members of the assembly affirm their faith with the Apostles’ Creed, acknowledge their responsibility to care and support the one baptized, and welcome the newly baptized into the body of Christ and its shared mission.
Evangelical Lutheran Worship also provides a number of services that celebrate the vocation of the baptized in various circumstances. These periodic and public affirmations, prayers, and blessings for individuals and groups call the community to faithfulness and accountability to their vocations. The public nature of these services strengthens the relationship between individuals and the Christian community and fosters a stronger commitment to God’s mission in Christ.
Those gathered for worship are blessed and sent from worship reminded of their call to participate in God’s mission.
A newly included rite for welcoming those inquiring about the Christian faith strengthens the connection between those preparing for baptism and the whole assembly of believers. Welcome to Baptism (ELW Pew Edition, pp. 232–33) presents to the congregation those who are inquiring and asks the assembly to affirm their commitment to support those preparing for baptism. This rite has its roots in the catechumenate in which public blessings and prayers at transition points in the preparation for baptism confirm the whole assembly’s vocation to care for and shepherd those being newly formed in the faith.
Affirmation of Baptism reminds individuals and the assembly of the covenant God makes with us at baptism in terms of God’s promise and our call to live out those promises. During a baptized Christian’s life, Affirmation of Baptism (ELW Pew Edition, pp. 234–37 or ELW Pastoral Care, pp. 141–47) may be used at various times as an individual or a corporate affirmation. For example, it may be used at the end of a time of intentional renewal or learning about the baptismal covenant, when transferring to a new congregation, or in pastoral care situations, especially times of transition, change and decision, or crisis.
Affirmation of Christian Vocation (ELW Pew Edition, p. 84) provides the opportunity to affirm a specific vocation. This brief address and prayer has been adapted from the concluding rite of the catechumenate in which the newly baptized affirm a particular Christian vocation to which they are called. It may be used in the sending of the worship service to connect a particular vocation with God’s broader mission in Christ. The one affirming his or her vocation acknowledges a commitment to “endeavor to pattern your life on the Lord Jesus Christ, in gratitude to God and in service to others, at morning and evening, at work and at play, all the days of your life.” This brief order concludes with a prayer for the vocation of the individual as well as all members of the assembly.
The new service Blessing and Sending for Mission (ELW Occasional Services for the Assembly) may be used when a congregation sends members of the assembly out for a particular mission ministry or distributes collections for mission such as school supplies or food. Used during the sending of the worship service, this rite places the mission work of a portion of the community within the mission of the whole church.
Other Services, Settings
Services that affirm and support the vocation of the baptized are not restricted to the assembly’s weekly worship. Families and smaller groups within the assemblies can also facilitate an understanding of baptismal vocation in more informal settings.
ELW Pastoral Care includes an order to celebrate the anniversary of a baptism in the home or another context (pp. 128–39). This order, which may be led by a parent or baptismal sponsor, includes various ways to remember the baptismal event and remind those gathered of baptism’s continuing promises. Prayers include specific petitions recalling the gifts of the Spirit, continued participation in the community of faith, and joining in God’s mission. A similar order, Thanksgiving for Baptism (ELW Pastoral Care, p. 136), is appropriately used in retreat or small group settings.
Holy Baptism celebrated in the midst of the assembly affirms the vocation of all of the baptized.
ELW Pastoral Care also includes a vast array of readings and prayers for transitions and other concerns in daily life, such as Vocation in Daily Life (pp. 375–76) and Difficulty in Vocational Life (pp. 376–77).
Worship is rich with continuous reminders of the daily dying and rising in Christ that characterizes the baptismal life. They shape and guide the assembled people of God into God’s mission in Christ for the sake of the world. For my son, Eric, and for all of us, as we participate in the church’s life and in worship that includes baptismal affirmations, reminders, and thanksgivings, I trust that our understanding of our vocations will deepen and grow.
Jennifer Phelps Ollikainen serves as associate for worship resources in the Worship and Liturgical Resources unit of the ELCA, Chicago, Illinois.
The body of material commonly described as “occasional services” is available in two volumes: Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pastoral Care
and Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services for the Assembly
Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pastoral Care
can be ordered online
. Price: $40.
Coming Fall 2009 is Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Occasional Services for the Assembly
(price to be determined). It will include occasional services related to the life of the Christian community, for use throughout the church (congregation, institution, synod, or churchwide) within assembly worship. It will also include services related primarily to a congregation’s life and mission and orders related to the church’s ministries (such as ordination or installation).
- Bushkofsky, Dennis, and Craig S. Satterlee. The Christian Life: Holy Baptism and Life Passages. Vol. 2 of Using Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008.
- Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Leaders Desk Edition. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.
- Schattauer, Thomas H. “The Missional Shape of Worship in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.” Dialog 47, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 181–84.
- Welcome to Christ: A Lutheran Introduction to the Catechumenate. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997.
- Welcome to Christ: A Lutheran Catechetical Guide. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997.
- Welcome to Christ: Lutheran Rites for the Catechumenate. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997.
This article appeared in the September / October 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners Online .