All Saints Day
November 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. It is not nearly as well known as the day before, All Hallows' (Saints') Eve, better known as Halloween, but is far more important in the life of the church.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it "a festival I truly love."
All Saints Day is an opportunity to give thanks for all those who have gone before us in the faith. It is a time to celebrate our history, what United Methodists call the tradition of the church.
From the early days of Christianity, there is a sense that the Church consists of not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us. For example, in Hebrews 12 the author encourages Christians to remember that a "great cloud of witnesses" surrounds us encouraging us, cheering us on.
Charles Wesley, John's brother, picks up on this theme in his hymn that appears in our United Methodist Hymnal as "Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above," #709. In the first verse, he offers a wonderful image of the Church through the ages:
"Let saints on earth unite to sing, with those to glory gone, for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven, are one."
On All Saints Day we remember all those—famous or obscure—who are part of the "communion of saints" we confess whenever we recite The Apostles' Creed. We tell the stories of the saints "to glory gone."
Alongside the likes of Paul from the New Testament, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John and Charles Wesley, we tell stories of the grandmother who took us to church every Sunday. We remember the pastor who prayed with us in the hospital, and the neighbor who changed the oil in the family car. We give thanks for the youth leader who told us Jesus loved us, the kindergarten Sunday school teacher who showered us with that love, and the woman in the church who bought us groceries when we were out of work.
Retelling these stories grounds us in our history. These memories teach us how God has provided for us through the generosity and sacrifice of those who have come before us. The stories of the saints encourage us to be all God has created us to be.
Excerpt from "All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved" by John Iovino, published for UMC.org.
Do United Methodists Believe in Saints?
United Methodists believe in saints, but not in the same manner as the Catholic Church.
We recognize Matthew, Paul, John, Luke and other early followers of Jesus as saints, and countless numbers of United Methodist churches are named after these saints.
We also recognize and celebrate All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and "all the saints who from their labors rest. "All Saints' Day is a time to remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith with us. On All Saints' Day, many churches read the names of their members who died in the past year.
However, our denomination does not have any system whereby people are elected to sainthood. We do not pray to saints, nor do we believe they serve as mediators to God. United Methodists believe "... there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:5-6a).
United Methodists call people "saints" because they exemplified the Christian life. In this sense, every Christian can be considered a saint.
John Wesley believed we have much to learn from the saints, but he did not encourage anyone to worship them. He expressed concern about the Church of England's focus on saints' days and said that "most of the holy days were at present answering no valuable end."
Source: Ask the UMC, ResourceUMC.org.
What is the Communion of Saints?
When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we feast with past, present, and future disciples of Christ. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.
During the sacrament of Holy Communion, the communion of saints becomes more palpable. Both ancient and modern liturgies include “with your people on earth and all the company of heaven.” We join our voices to sing God’s praise with all the saints, living and dead.
In this day of social media and internet connectivity, the question of offering Holy Communion online has come to light. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry recently hosted a meeting of church leaders to discuss the possibility. Reverend Greg Neal of Northgate United Methodist Church in Irving, Texas, has offered Holy Communion online since 2003. Neal recognizes that receiving Communion “within a physically localized community of believers” is better. He notes that most people receiving online do so to “supplement and amplify” their experiences in local faith communities.
While nothing can replace physical touch and physical presence, the communion of saints certainly extends to believers in cyberspace.
Source: Ministry Matters. Excerpts from "Communion of Saints" by Katie Shockley.
Inspiration in All Saints Day
Many churches today will celebrate All Saints Sunday, when we publicly recognize and honor in a variety of ways those saints who have passed away. Many churches read the names of their saints aloud. Some congregations stand as the names are read, and some congregations ring bells or place flowers to mark the occasion.
How do we honor our present and future saints? Every time we baptize someone, we honor a future saint. Every time we celebrate confirmation, we honor present and future saints. Even openly welcoming children and youth in worship honors our present and future saints.
When we honor our saints, we recognize that they inspire us to live a saintly life.
We believe in the communion of saints. We believe that we encounter and worship with a community of faith that knows no bounds of space and time. When we receive Holy Communion, we partake at Christ’s Table with past, present, and future saints. The saints in our lives inspire us to live in holiness and righteousness.
Source: Ministry Matters. Excerpts from "Communion of Saints" by Katie Shockley.
Celebrating All Saints Day with Families and Children
On All Saints Day, United Methodists remember children of God who have passed on. In many of our congregations we light candles, ring bells of remembrance, and call the saints lost in the last year by name. We celebrate the impact their lives made on our lives. For people who recently lost a loved one, this can be comforting or painful. For many children, this may be confusing. How do we make All Saints Day accessible for children who may not fully understand this holy day? All Saints Day is a perfect time to raise children’s awareness of the importance of love and mercy in our lives.
SEARCH THE BEATITUDES AND THE APOSTLES’ CREED WITH CHILDREN
Read the Beatitudes to children from the Common English Bible, the New Revised Standard Version Bible, or the Spark Story Bible. Emphasize that this is where Jesus offers us his expectations for his followers. Within them we see humility, sorrow, meekness, justice, mercy, and peace. God’s blessing will be on those who experience these.
Take some time to help children think about the people in the church, in history, in the community, and in their families who are examples of these expectations of Jesus. Ponder some of these questions with children, and follow up with an activity.
- I wonder how we might offer hope to the hopeless?
- I wonder how we might offer gladness to the grieving?
- I wonder how we might offer nourishment to the hungry? I wonder if nourishment can be more than food and drink?
- I wonder how we might offer mercy to others?
- I wonder who we know that is humble? How have we witnessed this?
- I wonder who we know who has a pure heart? How do we witness this?
- I wonder who we know that offers peace to others? How have we witnessed this?
- I wonder who we know that stands up for what they believe, even when they are bullied by others?
- Share stories about these saints.
- Draw pictures of these saints.
- Write a note of thankfulness to the saints who are still with us.
- Light candles for the saints in our lives.
Read the Apostles’ Creed together. Point out the “communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed. Help children to see how they are counted in the communion of saints as children of God. Singing the hymn, We Are the Church (UMH #558) together will help children make the connection.
FAMILIES CREATE TOGETHER
Families can celebrate the saints in their lives each year by creating something together for storytelling each year.
- Make a quilt or another art piece that tells their family story
- Gather items in a box that tell a story of saints they know
- Create a collage of photographs of saints they know
Reminder: Be sensitive to family dynamics.
Invite the children to come to the front of the sanctuary so that they have an unobstructed view of this ritual.
Source: Disscipleship Ministries. Excerpt from "All Saints Day with Children and Families"
A Prayer Meditation for All Saints DayWe give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Used as wave offerings across the land.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited
They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.
This article is an example of the wide range of resources available at ResourceUMC.org. Excerpts shared with permission of United Methodist Communications. §