Even if we don't have regular contact with a Christian community, or wouldn't say we "practice" a religious faith in our everyday lives, there still may be occasions when we find ourselves walking through a church door or being part of a religious ceremony. Often, this will be at a baptism, wedding or funeral.
So what do these ceremonies mean for Christians?
The details of how weddings, baptism and funerals are conducted vary from denomination to denomination, but for Christians of different traditions, their essential meanings remain largely the same and offer a way of touching core values and beliefs.
In order to thank God for their child, many parents ask for a church baptism (or "chsitening"), in which their chld is welcomed into the Church family. Not everyone is baptised as a baby, though. Some traditions believe that an individual should make their own decision about religion and faith when they are older an be baptised as an adult (sometimes called a "believer's baptism").
When a baby is baptised, promises are made upon his or her behalf - for example, by the parents (to guide and encourage their child to understand the Christian way of life) and the church congregation (to support the child to grow in the knowledge and love of God).
Symbols are used in baptism. Water - a sign of new life, and a reminder of Jesus' baptism (as an adult) in the River Jordan; and the sign of the cross, made on the baby's forehead - a sign that the child is cared for by God and Jesus.
A Christian understanding of weddings has been discussed and scrutinised in many countries in recent times as a result of changes in civil law, particularly in relation to same-sex marriage. However, there has always been a civil as well as a religious dimension to weddings or marriage blessings undertaken in a church or involving a member of the clergy, though there are variations between different within nations within the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, when a couple is married or blessed “in the sight of God”, it is understood that the ceremony is about more than making a solemn, legal contract; it is also an act of worship in which marriage is celebrated as a gift of God. The marriage service's themes of love, hope, faithfulness, commitment and trust are at the heart of the Christian gospel.
Funeral services provide bereaved people with the opportunity to remember their loved one's life and to offer them into God's care. This reflects the Christian understanding that the life we lead on earth is part of a bigger picture. However they describe it (“heaven”, “the afterlife” etc.), Christians sense that our lives are encircled by the greater continuing life and love of God.
It was this life into which Jesus was resurrected after his crucifixion, offering Christians a hope and cause for thanksgiving, however hard it is to put it into words, in meaning beyond death.
Read more about the Methodist approach to baptisms, weddings and funerals.