Communion resolutions open the table for discussion

At issue: unbaptized people receiving the Eucharist

Communion elements

The Episcopal Church's General Convention faces questions about who may receive communion. Photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

[Episcopal News Service] The young woman who called St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Hood River, Oregon, was upset and asked if the church offered communion.

“I really need some support right now and I feel like it starts there,” she told the Rev. Anna Carmichael, the parish’s rector.

The wrinkle was that while the woman had attended various churches she had “never formally been baptized and yet somehow this needing to be in community and needing to be supported, in her mind, had something to do with communion as well,” Carmichael recalled.

“I just couldn’t tell her no, I’m sorry we can’t offer that to you,” the Diocese of Eastern Oregon rector recalled during a recent interview.

There is a tension, Carmichael said, between “the theology behind the importance of baptism,” something she said is “incredibly significant to me,” and “the very lived reality that people need to be supported in their community.”

Therein lies an example of the thinking behind Eastern Oregon’s proposal that General Convention allow the church’s congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” Eastern Oregon’s Resolution C040 would pave the way for this invitation by eliminating Canon 1.17.7, which says “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

It is one of two resolutions on this topic the convention will consider when it meets July 4-12 in Indianapolis. The Diocese of North Carolina has proposed a longer-term look at the issue. Resolution C029 calls for a special commission to conduct “a study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion” and recommend to the 78th General Convention any amendment to Canon 1.17.7 it believes is needed.

The texts of both resolutions are available here. Eastern Oregon’s is accompanied by a diocesan statement explaining its stance.

This will be the second time in recent years that what is variously called open communion, open table and communion of the non- or unbaptized has come to convention. In 2006, the General Convention affirmed Canon 1.17.7 (via Resolution D084) and asked for the House of Bishops Committee on Theology and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to provide to the 2009 meeting of convention “a pastoral and theological understanding of the relationship between Holy Baptism and eucharistic practice.”

In its report to the 2009 convention, the SCLM said it had been in contact with the bishops’ committee and “stand[s] ready to cooperate with them on this important issue in the future.”

The bishops reported that a study was “on-going.” In June 2009, the committee circulated “Reflections on Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist: A Response to Resolution D084 of the 75th General Convention,” which was later published in the Anglican Theological Review. The committee called it a “promissory note” because “we do not assume this is our last word on these matters.”

“It is essential to understand the doctrinal and liturgical connections between baptism and eucharist, especially in a church that has been rediscovering the centrality of baptism,” the members wrote in their conclusion. “We invite the church into this work.”

This year, the bishops’ theology committee reported in the Blue Book (beginning on page 51 here) that it is “undertaking a renewed engagement with the theology of the Eucharist.” They noted what they call “the continuing (and controversial) practice of inviting the un-baptized to receive communion” and suggested what is needed is “a renewed and fundamental understanding of the eucharistic assembly and of eucharistic celebration as the quintessential gathering of the people of God.”

Carmichael said Eastern Oregon began discussing what she called this “issue of practice versus theology” during its 2010 convention and agreed to submit a resolution to General Convention.

“For many of the folks out here in the diocese we have already started living into the practice, which I know gets us in a sticky situation but it’s reality,” she said, adding, “we don’t check ID at the door” and strangers who come up to receive communion are not asked if they have been baptized.

“We feel like it’s been a lived reality for us and we imagine that that may be true in other dioceses as well,” Carmichael said.

The Rev. Canon Beth Wickenberg Ely, canon for regional ministry in North Carolina and chair of that diocese’s convention deputation, echoed that sentiment. “Our gut reaction is that we’re not the only ones facing this,” she said in a recent interview. “We think that this is probably true for every single diocese.”

“Every Sunday we face this,” she said. “It’s not just a Christmas and Easter thing. If something is that much part of our lives together, we really need to bring this out in the open and talk about it.”

Hence, the diocese’s proposal that the church study the issue.

Deputy Joe Ferrell, a professor of public law at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, championed his diocese’s resolution not because he opposes an open table, but because “we have a canon that specifically prohibits it and my view has always been we don’t get to pick and choose the laws that we will obey unless we’re impelled by a higher moral authority, and I don’t think this issue is compelled by higher moral authority, so we need to do something about the canon.”

Ferrell said that if he “could wave my magic wand” the canon would be repealed.

“We’d be left with rubrics of the Prayer Book, which I think are perfectly adequate,” he said in an interview. Reminded that the Book of Common Prayer is silent on the issue, he chuckled and replied, “that’s right, that’s right.”

Having been raised in the Episcopal Church, Ferrell, 73, remembers prior to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer when Eucharist was not the principal service each Sunday and when communion was rarely a part of weddings and funerals.

“Now it’s commonplace and, particularly at weddings and funerals, you’ve got severe pastoral problems if you attempt to restrict who is going to be welcome at the altar,” he said. “And you have it to some extent on Sunday mornings.”

His “bottom line” is this: “clergy who feel that this is important from a pastoral point of view should not be put in a position of knowingly violating a canon that could not be more explicit.”

The Episcopal Church’s canons have contained a version of Canon 1.17.7 only since 1982, even though baptism as a pre-requisite for Holy Communion is rooted in the earliest part of the early Christian church. It appears that explicitly stating the tradition in the Episcopal Church canons happened due a legislative compromise between two competing resolutions. At the 1982 meeting of convention in New Orleans, deputies and bishops faced two resolutions dealing with the canon titled “Of Regulations Respecting the Laity” (then numbered Canon 16 of Title I).

Resolution A48 (submitted by the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and available beginning on page 60 here) was prompted by a mandate from the 1979 convention that it show how the church could implement the then-six-year-old ecumenical statement, “Toward a Mutual Recognition of Members,” which called for an understanding that baptism initiates people into the entire Christian church, according to the 1989 supplement to Edwin White and Jackson Dykman’s classic Annotated Constitution and Canons (available via a link here).

Resolution A78 (submitted by the Standing Liturgical Commission and available beginning on page 154 here) was based more specifically on the understanding that the Episcopal Church now considered baptism to be one’s entrance into the full life of the church. (In many, if not most, parts of the Anglican Communion, confirmation is still required before receiving communion.)

“The two resolutions reflected specific persuasions and purposes that differed sharply,” the supplement’s authors wrote. “Deputy Charles Crump of Tennessee, sensing the problems inherent in these proposals and the vast legislative time and debate which would be consumed on the floors of each House, crafted Resolution A048 as a compromise.”

The changes reflected in all three resolutions felt revolutionary to many. Allowing unconfirmed people to receive communion was a major change, as was the accompanying implication that children did not have to reach an undefined “age of reason” before coming to the altar rail.

The age tradition lingers in some families and in some parts of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is still working to rewrite its canons to conform to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s baptismal theology. A summary of some of that work done by the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education begins on page 153 of this year’s Blue Book.

Still, the requirement of baptism before Eucharist remains and hearkens to the early church. For example, the Didache, a catechism dating from the late 1st or early 2nd century, tells Christians, “… but let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord …” And scholars suggest there is evidence from early church liturgical sources, including The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome that non-baptized members of the Christian community had to leave the eucharistic liturgy altogether after the proclamation of the word.

Carmichael would hearken to an even earlier source.

“This is our construction around this issue because Jesus never said you have to have baptism before you have dinner with me,” she said. “So, this is our mess that we’ve created and sometimes I wonder in the grand scheme of all things how much this really matters. When we get to heaven is Jesus going to be more excited that we invited people or is he going to be more excited that we said you can come, but you can’t?”

Wickenberg Ely in North Carolina places at least part of the issue against the question of diversity. “I think we’ve had the diversity conversation ad nauseum but, I don’t think we’ve had it in the context in the open table,” she said in an interview. “To me that’s about diversity, so who are were going to leave out? The answer, the biblical answer to that is: [leave out] nobody who wants to come.”

The open-table issue is also part of the Episcopal Church’s struggle “about who are we as a church in the 21st century,” she said.

Wickenberg Ely noted that many people who come to church are often “looking to be welcomed wherever they go and whatever they believe.” Yet, there are some churches that say “if you are to be a member of our community in Christ this entails discipline and commitment, so that belonging is not just by virtue of being a child of God, but it is by virtue of being willing to pledge yourself to this way of being of a child of God,” she said, adding that this is the stance of the Roman Catholic church.

The Episcopal Church could be “known as a church that is welcoming of anyone at the Lord’s Table, willing to entertain questions, willing to dialogue with people of all beliefs and no beliefs — a generous stance as a church,” she suggested.

“Do we want to be known as a church like that going into the future? Or do we want to be known as a church that has some boundaries, [legal and canonical] expectations, also with [practice] and educational expectations, or do we want to be in the middle?” she asked. “I mean, who are we going to wind up being? This is just one of the things about that big discussion in my mind.”

Those questions frame up an even larger context for the communion issue. Removing the baptismal requirement for participation in communion would undoubtedly have major ecumenical implications. In 2008 the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations rooted its opposition to an open table in the once-revolutionary recognition of a common baptism, noting that that acceptance “has made ecumenical ventures possible.”

In The Vision Before Us the commission warned that “a move toward the official communion of the non-baptized undercuts, threatens, and in the end denies basic ecumenical tenets.” The members also noted that Anglican credibility in ecumenical conversations is threatened when Anglican texts say one thing, but practice suggests another.

“The practice of admitting non-baptized people to the Eucharist overthrows a century of ecumenical insight and growth,” they conclude.

The women who called St. Mark’s looking for support has been coming to the parish regularly, and Carmichael said the two of them have “regular conversations about how she can become more involved in the community and that that includes, when she’s ready, the decision to be baptized.”

“It’s not a prerequisite to being able to participate in community life, but that it is an adult decision about her faith and that I am happy to walk in the journey with her when she’s ready,” Carmichael said.

Read more about it

Here is a selected list of additional resources (beyond those linked to above) about the issue of unbaptized people receiving communion:

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” (Faith and Order Paper No. 111, the ‘Lima Text’), World Council of Churches Faith and Order commission (1982)

Open, the journal of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Music, essays

Anglican Theological Review essays

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

In Spanish: http://bit.ly/JpdrhD

Comments

  1. Dennis Bosley says:

    If certain clergy in Eastern Oregon don’t feel as though they can in good conscience follow the Canons of the Episcopal Church, they should resign. The General Convention can have whatever conversation they wish to have, but until that Canon is changed, it should be observed.

    • Martin Stern says:

      As this article begins, the writer poses the situation of a young woman who inquired about Holy Communion although she had not been Baptized. The question which immediately came to my mind was why that woman was not invited to an inquirer’s class, or at least a discussion of Baptism.

    • (Rev.) Charles W. V. Daily, Jr. says:

      Amen. Why dumb down the sacrament?
      Spirtual counsel, a blessing and further preparation would have been sufficent, appropriate and inkeeping with the teaching. I think the lady needed more that the wafer would offer. I say wafer for she was not prepared to recieve more. I wouldn’t abuse the Canons that way.

  2. William Thomas Martin says:

    I am confident that there have been unbaptized communicants in my parish and I have never governed the altar rail preventing their reception; but changing the theology of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist is another matter. It seems to me that as long as the church is silent on this issue the greater the possibility for entering into dialogue with those who have not been baptized. By opening the Table to all we will simply miss an educational and formational moment that may draw both the seeker and the parish into a deeper and more spiritual place.

    • T.D. MacLam says:

      I think Fr. Martin has hit the nail on the head (as has Mr. Green [below]). If opportunities for teaching are not taken, how then are we preaching the Gospel? Discipleship is not some warm comfort zone in which one is not challenged. If the Eucharist (and other Sacraments) is bereft of the inward and spiritual grace we carry forth from Baptism, which most of us learn initially through instruction, perhaps it is not even important that one self-identify as Christian, or that the Church be that of the Body of Christ.

      I also do not believe in “governing the altar rail,” nor would I refuse an individual request to receive Communion if I did not know one’s baptismal status.

  3. RICHERSON RHODES says:

    At the institution of the Eucharist, the Last Supper, how many of those present had been baptised? As far as I can understand from scripture, only our Lord. I’ve not found any reference to any of the Apostles being baptised.

    The sacraments, encluding the Eucharist, are gifts of God. Do we have the right to deny them?

    • Kevin Roberts says:

      AMEN!

      • Alex Scott says:

        But then, weren’t all of the original Apostles Jewish? From what I understand, baptism is closely linked, arguably derived directly, from the mikvah practice in Judaism, which is used to remove ritual impurities and initiate converts. So it might actually be safe to assume that they *had* been baptized.

        Even without that, though, Jesus took part in John’s baptism. John is even reluctant to do so! Plus, John (the gospel) names several Apostles as having previously been followers of John (the Baptist). And, of course, there’s the Great Commission: the risen Christ told the Apostles to baptize, and according to Acts and Paul, they did so eagerly.

    • The Methodists, our closest cousins, say: “It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours, and it is Christ who invites you. As our ritual puts it: “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” We do not refuse any who present themselves desiring to receive. Whether you should receive Communion with us is between you and God.”

      • Edgar Wallace says:

        Thank you. Well said.

      • David Griswold says:

        The Methodist invitation to communion for the unbaptized is more qualified than the one being advocated in the resolution proposed by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon. The Methodist invitation presumes a newcomer’s desire to live a renewed life in Christ, and church policy directs that unbaptized persons should be counseled and nurtured toward baptism soon after they participate in the eucharist. Adopting the Eastern Oregon proposal without providing similar guidance in the Episcopal Church would leave us with an process of Chrisitan initation that is far different from that which Methodists observe.

    • David Ruppe says:

      We have no record of the apostle’s circumcision either, but we assume that they were. The argument from silence fails. If John is right is saying that Jesus’ disciples baptized, isn’t it fair to assume that they were baptized. Besides, the question is not whom to exclude. It is rather whom to invite. Jesus did not invite the masses to the original Eucharist,though he was happy to dine with them in other contexts. It is not a matter of being righteous or holy or pure. It is a matter of having made a commitment (or having one made in one’s name) to the project of Jesus of Nazareth. That last night at supper lying, it was with the twelve, his chosen band, as the hymn puts it. It was not with all the well intentioned seekers of Jerusalem.

    • Steph Houghton says:

      RICHERSON RHODES, go back and reread the opening chapters of the Gospels. Some of the Apostles were as baptized as Jesus was.

  4. Bruce Green says:

    I suggest that the more important question is “Are you in love and charity with God and your neighbor?”

  5. Michael Smith says:

    The non-bapitzed visitors or parishioners can come to the altar rail during the Eucharist and receive a blessing from the priest. That is welcoming any and all who worship in one of our parishes. If TEC votes in favor of an open table, what is the next step? Do away with baptism? And then Confirmation? And then Ordination and then what would come after that? Stop using the Prayer Book all together? Well let’s don’t stop there, let’s do away with all the Sacraments! That should please every single person that enters an Episcopal parish.

  6. Susan Butler says:

    God calls and welcomes each person. Joining in the Body of Christ through worship and communion will pull people of any background to know and learn more, and if not, they will go onward on their spiritual journey refreshed to the place they will meet God. Asking people who are beginning to recognize their relationship to God to stop and take classes doesn’t seem to be Jesus’s way. He often interacted with foreigners, Gentiles, and those cast out by religious authorities.

    • P. LePine says:

      Yes, he had many inquirers, but relatively few disciples. You have a point that Jesus’ way didn’t seem to be taking classes… it seemed that his way was to call people to leave their nets behind, forsake even their familes, and devote themselves to becoming his disciples. Compared to that, a period of instruction seems like a low enough bar, doesn’t it? Look at Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 – after *learning* about Jesus, the Ethiopian’s first question wasn’t “when can I have Eucharist?” but “why shouldn’t I be baptized right here and now?”

    • Mo. Melissa Frankland says:

      What I can’t understand is…
      After 2000 years of Christendom, we apparently, are not following the “Jesus Way?”

      Who makes that decision? Us or God?

      Furthermore, the first Christians received three years of teaching, after their baptisms, before they could receive the Holy Eucharist.
      If we “officially” begin to have open table, we will be selling the importance of the Holy Sacrament short! It will become a meal instead of a sacrament. Who serves their guests a sip of wine and a piece of bread?

      Sadly, the majority of us are not well educated around tradition, theology, sacraments, and scripture. When I ask fellow Anglicans “why are we baptized?” the majority respond … “well that’s what we’ve always done!”

      Because we have been poorly educated by the church, the majority of us do not understand the sacredness of Baptism, Holy Communion, and the other five sacraments. They have gone from being this Holy Sacred Other to this watered down thing we do every Sunday.

      Jesus was very clear in His final message… “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)

      Perhaps we should go back to having a three year catechetical program for all of us, and than come back here and elsewhere to discuss this issue?

      • T.D. MacLam says:

        Mtr. Melissa, it is unfortunate that your common sense approach (Tradition, Scripture, catechises ) does not prevail. The further we go from the teachings of the Apostolic Church, the looser our bonds become. The Holy Mysteries are 1) Biblical, 2) theologically correct, and as such have stood the test of time. The important and foundational teachings are as you say, “watered down [pun intended and not intended],” while issues less central to Christian life and the Gospel in action are given nearly all the institutional attention.
        Please pray with me for Christian unity “in the essentials,” and that we all remember our Baptismal Covenant particularly to “continue the apostles’ teaching,” and further recalling that Jesus Himself was so convinced of the necessity of baptism that He directed John to so baptise Him.
        +Timothy

  7. Sanford Z. K. Hampton says:

    I am of two minds on this subject (How Anglican).

    At the moment I’d be inclined to welcome all as long as we include a phrase something like, “Those we seek a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.” Having said that, I would be concerned if folks came forward repeatedly without having made the commitment to Christ and the Christian community through Baptism.

  8. Janet M. Malcolm says:

    Is the church making it easier for people to become more aware of God in their lives, or is it a fence over which some are not tall enough to see?

    • P. LePine says:

      Why do you imagine a fence, and not a gate? Who is not tall enough to see? If there is such a person, the clergy can give them a boost rather than tear down the fence.

  9. Wayne Rollins says:

    I have broken a small piece of wafer to place on a child’s tongue before there are enough teeth to chew. I have smiled when an older child, when seeing the size of the wafer, looked up and said, “I’ll take two, please.” I appreciate the significance of the sacraments, and find joy in their celebration. However, are we more about protecting doctrine than we are about transforming lives? Our sacraments are, at best, the church’s acknowledgement of what God has already done and continues to do in the lives of those gathered. While theological and doctrinal arguments have their place, there are also any number of times when a “generous pastoral response” is more beneficial, and, I think, more pleasing to God than our upholding of doctrine and canon.

  10. Joseph F Foster says:

    Since the Episcopal Church loves compromises, or says it does and with some historical justification, let me suggest this one. (Re)adopt the Eastern Orthodox (and some Byzantine Roman Catholic) churches’ practic of the antidoron bread. Specific ministratation details vary, but it is bread left from the prosphora</I., or loaf from which the priest cuts the bread to be consecrated for the Eucharist after having blessed it at the altar. It is distributed to any who want it right after the liturgy — including the Faithful who have communed, those who haven’t that day, and all guests and visitors.

    The practice actually started in the West very early but was later largely abandoned though retained on some occasions in the French and Quebec Roman Catholic Church. It is a normal part of the Divine Liturgy, i.e. the Eucharistic Liturgy, in the Orthodox Churches.

    • I have to say, Joseph, I think this is a wonderful and FANTASTIC idea that, as a priest, I would throw myself behind whole-heartedly. Thanks for sharing it.

  11. I think we should respect the Canons, though there is no reason why, if we disagree with them, we should not work toward reforming them. In the old days (according to the 1662 BCP and its offshoots) those who received communion were to “be confirmed or desirous of confirmation.” Perhaps the Canon for those who are permitted to receive communion should be amended to “those who are baptized or desirous of baptism.”

  12. Jessica Dye says:

    When I walked into my church a little over two years ago I was a 36 year old woman who had never been baptized. I made a point of letting the congregational development director know I hadn’t been baptized, which is when I learned there are exceptions to this “law” made openly and knowingly. Soon after, as part of greeting us before the service, the priest gestured to the altar and said, “This is Christ’s table, and we don’t believe he would turn anyone who seeks a relationship with him away. All are welcome at his table.” I went to the rail that day, and nearly every Sunday since. I was baptized along side my three children a few months later, and confirmed along side my eldest a few months after that.

    Now I serve as Clerk on the Bishop’s Committee, will cast the lay vote for my church for the Bishop Suffragan in a couple of weeks, and have started a discernment process. My children serve as acolytes and my husband works as both a greeter/usher and as the Treasurer. All of which helps our beloved little church and none of which would have been possible if it weren’t for the exception that allowed the priest to love me as Christ’s own even before I bore the mark that will last forever.

    It was Love that brought me to the rail, that drew me to baptism, that stirred my enthusiasm for learning about the Episcopal Church through confirmation, and it continues to be that genuinely unconditional love that fills my heart as I serve my life as a proud Episcopalian.

    I see the Open Table as simply the next step to living a more Christ like life as a church, which I sincerely hope continues to be our goal as we move into the future.

    • Keith Bailey says:

      A heartwarming story. Glad the Church made the right choice for you, and you the right choice for the Church. Amen! Our Church in CT is a ” welcoming Church” as well.

    • David Griswold says:

      Your example demonstrates that an “open table” policy can lead newcomers to full inclusion in the church community, and yes, this should be our goal. But the choice now before the church–either to assert or to delete the canonical rule against communing the unbaptized– leaves us with no model for open communion in the context of baptismal formation. The Eastern Oregon proposal would declare that God’s hospitality is the entire focus of the eucharist, as if the fuller implications of discipleship imparted through baptismal formation plays no part in the sacrament’s meaning. The church needs to reflect on how to revise the canon in a way that opens the table without marginalizing baptism. The articles by Ruth Meyers and Bishop Breidenthal in the current issue of Anglican Theological Review are thoughtful starting points.

  13. Alex Scott says:

    “The Episcopal Church could be “known as a church that is welcoming of anyone at the Lord’s Table, willing to entertain questions, willing to dialogue with people of all beliefs and no beliefs — a generous stance as a church,” she suggested.”

    I don’t know, what communion without baptism really suggests to me is a Church that’s not even willing to expect, explain, or defend beliefs. I also don’t see any serious engagement with sin, repentance, humility, and redemption. What exactly are we calling people to?

    I’m also not seeing much theological support; it all seems very vague. The appeals to scripture seem superficial (Jesus was nice, but he undeniably made demands; the Eucharist has traditionally involved soul-searching, repentance, intimacy with God; plus Jesus did tell his disciples to baptize, and according to Acts, they did), tradition is ignored, and the theology of the sacrament vague. If baptism isn’t a requirement for full participation in the Church, then what is the inward spiritual grace that’s being accomplished through the visible sign? What about communion itself?

    I also think this is a false dilemma: a church can welcome, entertain questions, and dialogue as much as it wants. Those are not necessarily tied to who takes communion. Doesn’t the church have to have something to say? or offer answers to those questions? or offer a channel to integrate newcomers?

    When I tell non-Christians about this, the response is usually, “How does that make sense?” or, “Why would I participate when I don’t believe in it?” I’ve even encountered people who felt coerced by this practice, either because they’re not religious or they feel it violates their own religion. And if you don’t want to accept the invitation, what does that make you?

    • Joseph Farnes says:

      Amen.

      Every stewardship season the Church asks people to make a commitment to God and God’s Church through pledging their time, talent, and treasure. Yet somehow asking someone to pray to God (the Daily Office does not require baptism… and why shouldn’t laypeople and catechumens be taught how to pray the Daily Office?) and make a commitment to Christ in Holy Baptism before coming to the table is too much. Asking someone to give themselves to God before they eat the Body and Blood of Christ is “too exclusive.” Why would you partake of something unless you believe the truth of the message, and if you believe in the truth of the message then why would you not follow through with baptism?

  14. Rt. Rev. Douglas E. Theuner says:

    The Episcopal Church has “LAWS” (believe it or not); called CANONS and unless, or until they are changed they MUST be obeyed, or we will no longer be “Episcopal”, nor “Church”! (That might not be a bad thing, but I doubt that it’s what most on either side of the debate want.) How about a compromise; a canon that ALLOWS but does NOT ENCOURAGE. I’ve never knowingly refused communion to the unbaptized, if they have come forward,- on their own iniative – (How are we to know unless we make them fill out some ” Missouri Synod-type” cards to ensure the “purity” of our recipients?) To me, it’s a far cry from the priest standing in front of the congregation and inviting all to come and get the “Magic Cookies” (which is how I fear the wafers will be seen by those with no theological training.)

  15. Joseph S. Ferrell says:

    Bishop Theuner hits the nail squarely on the head. As one of the principal sponsors of the resolution of our diocesan convention that led to introduction of North Carolina resolution, his is the approach I would like to see occur.

  16. http://www.christchurchnh.org/communion-and-baptism-resource/

    This links to a variety of posts considering this question..

  17. Charles Gaston says:

    So why didn’t Ms. Carmichael simply offer the young woman baptism first, and then communion? (Last time I checked there was no water shortage in Oregon!) Mary Frances, when you (presumably) interviewed the rector, did you ask her that same question? If so, what was her response?

    • Per Mr. Gaston’s question, Mother Carmichael and I did talk about offering the young woman baptism. I mistakenly forgot to loop back to her experience at the end of the story. You will see that I have added the details just above the resource list.

  18. Cody Blair says:

    I can appreciate this conversation, and I too can see a via media approach & mentioning to the people that “Those who feel drawn to the person of Christ are welcome at His table.” However, I too understand that the Church has laws, and I can appreciate that. With that said, I also understand that the spirit of legalism can and does run rampant in many a church! St. Paul warned us “…the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” I believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to broach this subject, and failure to maintain an atmosphere of welcoming will in the end work destruction. Let us all remember that Judas was welcomed at that first Eucharistic table; even though our Lord knew of his plan he was welcomed without question. I think it will be a huge mistake on the part of the TEC to start checking baptismal records at the rail. At the end of the day the Lord doesn’t need us to “protect” His Sacrament. He is perfectly capable of protecting the Sacrament Himself. Jesus simply says “come” it is up to the person to decide if that “come” applies to them or not. I agree that the canon should be changed, and I also agree that we don’t need to totally “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Ultimately, I believe that the Sacrament of the altar is more fully realized by the baptized; however, I cannot deny that many many graces are received in Holy Communion and we may never know what exactly ONE Holy Communion may accomplish in the life of one person.

    • Andy Hook says:

      Legalism isn’t our problem. The canons forbid open communion, priests do it anyway. The canons, up until recent, did not allow for the ordination of openly gay men and women, bishops did it anyway. The canons still do not explicitly allow the blessings of same-sex marriages but priests do that anyway as well. Our problem isn’t legalism, our problem is that were are so caught up in trying not to offend anyone with our beliefs that we pretend we don’t have any. Maybe we don’t anymore.

  19. No bishop, priest,or deacon that I know will turn away anyone from the altar rail who stretches out eager hands to receive holy communion. The point is, what is “normative” for church practice in this area. Let us not lose the ground we have to painstakingly gained over the years concerning the centrality of baptism. Especially when there are many more, generous, if costly ways to extending hospitality to the stranger in church life.

  20. The Rev. Cathy Cox says:

    The earliest church had a similar problem – what to do about outsiders, Gentiles who had not been properly circumcized – But “God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us…for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15.)

    Of course there is a relationship between baptism and Eucharist – just as there is a relationship between confirming our faith and being initiated into it in baptism. Still we expect that these relationships will become clearer as we mature, especially when we baptize infants. But John Wesley was right that communion may itself be a “converting sacrament.” The order of receiving God’s good gifts – including the gift of faith itself – cannot be guaranteed or assumed. And it does not need to be. IF we believe that Christ Jesus is really present in the communion we share, then the experience of his presence can serve as the God-welcome people without any previous experience of Jesus sometimes desperately need before they formally enter a community of faith.

    I would not think of urging unbelieving or even unbaptized people to come to communion – but I want to be very sure that any who DO come, believers or not, baptized or not, receive that deep healing love and welcome of God present to them – which is what we ourselves seek – and always need.

    • P. LePine says:

      Of course, the Council at Jerusalem did agree that circumcision was not required, but they did not abandon all requirements, did they? Peter argued on the basis of evidence that their hearts had been purified. Although not mentioned in Acts 15, we see baptism today as one of the signs of that purification of hearts. It requires an examination and committment to be baptised. That goes a long way toward looking at Eucharist as a holy sacrament, and not a token of simple welcome, like a peace pipe or handshake.

      I would agree with the sentiment that we should not have baptism police at the rail. But if somebody who we know to be unbaptised presents herself for communion – and let’s agree that she’s looking for deep healing love and welcome – perhaps there’s a more fruitful way to meet that need? Perhaps she REALLY needs prayer and discipleship, and perhaps eating a wafer without any understanding is actually NOT going to be very helpful.

    • Dave Curry says:

      How well said. I truly believe that Jesus would offer communion in this case. To refuse communion to one who requests it is not loving your neighbor.

      • P. LePine says:

        But WHY do you believe that Jesus would offer communion? (It’s a fairly amusing proposition to begin with, since the whole idea is predicated on us doing it in his memory, not in his presence!) :-) And by what authority do you assert that refusal is not loving your neighbor?

  21. P. LePine says:

    The Episcopal Church seems to always be re-inventing itself, as if the profound questions have never been asked and answered. There is a Canon restricting who may participate in communion – why? As the article says, it’s based on ancient tradition – why is the Church second-guessing that based on a vague emotional sense of “welcome”? Furthermore, why is nobody discussing the role of scripture as the basis for both the ancient tradition and current praxis? Read 1 Corinthians 11, for example. The Eucharist is not simply an agape feast, like a brunch that we want everybody to enjoy and take comfort in. “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” If that’s not what we’re doing when we receive, then we’re making a mockery of the Words of Institution. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” Potential converts might take The Episcopal Church more seriously if they observed its priests and bishops taking the sacraments more seriously.

  22. Andy Hook says:

    When this debate comes up people rattle their sabers that by denying communion to the non-baptized we are being rude and they feel left out. I’m a youth minister and I tell my non-baptized youth that they cannot receive the Eucharist but they are welcome to come up and receive a blessing and every time we come to communion they go up and receive that blessing. They have not once complained either through voice or through action and they always come back. It also offers me a chance to explain baptism and encourage them to take that step. Not only would creating an ‘open table’ stand against our Sacred Tradition it would also take away, and this was mentioned above, a great opportunity to encourage a foundational faith step. The Episcopal Church needs to remind itself that it/we are not a philanthropic group of do gooders, we are a Christian Church and that means something different.

  23. John Kirk says:

    “This is our construction around this issue because Jesus never said you have to have baptism before you have dinner with me,” she said.”

    The long, winding, twisting road of Sola Scriptura!

  24. Alex Scott says:

    “I think it will be a huge mistake on the part of the TEC to start checking baptismal records at the rail.”

    No one is suggesting that. I just want TEC to stand up for its traditions and make its ways clear to converts. If someone does feel their conscience compelling them to take communion, no one should prevent them from doing so. But the clergy should be willing to guide them through the sacraments and the process of becoming a Christian.

    I worry that we’re sending the wrong message to the world: that we trust Christ to forgive us and offer himself to us, but not enough for us to let someone pour water on us in his name.

    As for the charge of legalism, as said above, look at 1 Corinthians. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” Which is exactly what Judas did. This isn’t about protecting the letter of the law. But the universal Church has, over many, many centuries, argued that this is the best and most effective way of grafting people onto the Body of Christ, that these are means of a particular and complex set of graces. I don’t think it’s so easy to dismiss all that.

  25. Alexander Scott says:

    I am sorry but I believe that Holy Communion is for the Christian and not for a non-believer. That has been the norm since the beginning and should not be changed. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized so that he could participate.

  26. Alex Scott says:

    One other thing:

    In some of this, I keep seeing the implication that if you’re not baptized, that is some judgment against you; that if we ask people to be baptized, we are asking them to “earn” salvation. It draws a lot on the juridical language internalized by Western Christianity.

    I don’t intend to imply that. I much prefer the non-juridical, therapeutic language of the Orthodox Church. To be baptized is to be admitted to a spiritual hospital, and is the start of the healing process; and the Eucharist isn’t just a table fellowship, but the focal point and culmination of all the other sacraments. And it’s a sacrament that itself points to a deeper and more glorious reality, the salvation of the soul through its union with Christ.

    I think communion without baptism risks making communion too small. If being part of the body of Christ and committing yourself to living up to him are no longer essential, what is? If I want fellowship, I can just go to the coffee shop — or even coffee hour! I take communion because I want to be one with God.

  27. My actual comments on this article wind up being more appropriate to a comment on a blog. Thus, I’ll simply post the link to my comments here. I agree with much that has been said and raise a few other points that I think are important.

    http://carewiththecure.blogspot.com/2012/05/episcopal-digital-network-formerly.html

  28. Jessica Dye says:

    I can only truthfully speak to my own experience, as I wrote above. I want to clarify a handful of things, to ensure no one is getting the incorrect impression or making assumptions. No one pressured me, as an unbaptized person, to take communion. I cannot agree that not being baptized equals being a non-believer; I believed with the whole of my heart the day I walked into our little church and the steps in my life since I first knelt at the rail and received the gift of the Eucharist have only served to meld that belief into my every day. Why I hadn’t been baptized is a long and private story, though not one that is terribly uncommon of people of my generation. The act of receiving the sacrament was profound for me, and I give credit for that in large part to my priest.

    There were still areas of church life I was barred from, ways I couldn’t serve until I had fully committed myself through Confirmation. I haven’t any idea of my story is an exception or exceptionally common. Regardless, it remains a truth. Nothing was lost when I received communion before I was baptized, no one was harmed, the Church didn’t suffer for it. Ultimately, in my view, a great deal was gained.

    For me it isn’t about demeaning our Christianity, it’s about living up to it.

  29. Julian Malakar says:

    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”- John 8:32.

    Only Holy Spirit could reveal the truth about God, not by our personal feelings. Holy Spirit speaks thru words of the Bible and the Bible already resolved the debate whether Baptism first, followed by Holy Communion to be children of God or Holy Communion first then Baptism. Without biblical reference debate is baseless, because we came to know Jesus thru biblical record. We should review historical record of institution of Lord’s Supper and effects of Baptism to decide which come first in our life to be children of God.

    Matthew 26:26-28
    26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
    27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

    Do we have scope to take this Holy Communion lightly like any beer party? Please note that all are invited but His blood is shed for many, but not for all, for remission of sins. It is misconception assuming blessed bread and wine is magical bread and wine. His blood is shed for those who believe His crucifixion is historical facts not an imaginary story. It is sad but true that many priests give Holy Communion even to pet animal.

    In other incident, in conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said “I tell you the truth, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5. Jesus started His ministry after Baptism when God confirmed Him as beloved Son. Who will tell us the truth about Body and Blood of Jesus Christ unless we have Holy Spirit in our mind attained thru baptism.

    Faith on Baptism is pre-requisite for remission of our sins thru Christ’s blood at the cross.

  30. Barbara Briggs says:

    I never told the adults in our catechumenate that they could not receive communion. I told the story of the early church and of those who ardently desired to come into the body and of how they prepared for it; of their baptisms; and of the experience of coming to the table and then deepening their understanding of that experience over time. They decided on their own not to receive until after being baptized. Their individual reasons were different. In general it had to do with the awesome experience of standing in communion with a long tradition of those who had gone before. Let’s not forget the power of the story of our heritage.

  31. Barbara Snyder says:

    The BCP is not actually silent on this issue, though. TEC’s Catechism (http://www.bcponline.org/Misc/catechism.htm) says this about the Eucharist:

    Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist?
    A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.

    Q. What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord’s Supper?
    A. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.

    Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?
    A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.

    It’s hard to see how any of this can apply to somebody who’s just walked in the doors. It’s especially hard to see how the last point makes any sense in that context….

  32. This is actually part of the text of the service and leads into the offertory hymn. it respects the current and I think the scriptural and traditional understanding of the purpose of communion but also recognizes that the Holy Spirit will do what the Holy Spirit will do. I do not believe that it is my job to police the rail where it comes to people’s consciences and encounters with the Living God right there and right then. I may take note and follow up with that person and invite them into a deeper understanding but I would never police the rail or uninvite someone. Below is what is in our liturgy:
    “Any Christian who has been baptized with water in the Name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is invited to partake of the consecrated bread and the wine which we believe to bear for ours and the world’s sake the very presence of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Any person no matter the state of their faith or religious expression who is called by God’s Holy Spirit to partake of the bread and wine may come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord. For this is the Lord’s table and no one is turned away. Therefore, let us walk in love as Christ has loved us and gave himself as an offering and sacrifice unto God.”

  33. I wonder if it all comes down to where we first “entered the mystery” of the church. While I was baptized as an infant, it was not until I received communion in an Episcopal Church in 2001 that I felt a transformation in my own journey of faith. Yes, I was baptized so it was “legal” but I think I can safely assume that had I received communion that day without having first been baptized, I would have felt the same transformation and, I can guarantee you that if I was denied communion on that day, I would not have returned to that church. In my life I have been cast out / set apart / not welcomed in any number of contexts and would not stick around in a church that was just one more such place. While the article begins with the story of a woman who first called the priest; how many others come into our churches without making that phone call first. . . same back story for the individual; no phone call. . . then discovering no welcome at the table. Yikes.

    Glad to be a church Where Everyone is Welcome . . . .

  34. Barbara Snyder says:

    I also don’t think it’s a terrific idea to argue that Baptism is a barrier – because Baptism, after all, is a Sacrament, just like the Eucharist.

    Martin Luther said that when he despaired, he could always find strength in the thought, “I am baptized, and believe in Christ crucified!” Baptism, he said – not the Eucharist – was the one thing the church couldn’t ruin or manipulate. He said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to the riches of His mercy has at least preserved this one sacrament in His Church uninjured and uncontaminated by the devices of men, and has made it free to all nations and to men of every class.” (http://christianbookshelf.org/luther/first_principles_of_the_reformation/concerning_the_sacrament_of_baptism.htm)

    IOW, Baptism is a good thing, not a bad thing. It’s not an obstacle, but a Sacrament and a mystery that’s available to anybody who asks for it, just as happened in the story of the Phillip and the Ethiopian. And then, in our Baptismal Rite, the whole community promises aloud to help and support the newly baptized in their life of faith – something that just doesn’t happen anywhere in the Communion Rite. People can be left to drift alone for months and years, without any real contact with the community, or any real support.

  35. Jaime Sanders says:

    How about a new canon, something like this?

    “The norm in this Church is for all baptized persons to be eligible to receive Holy Communion.”

    This would, I think, accurately express what has been done historically – no Episcopal Church checks baptism at the communion rail, but our expectation is that people who present themselves for communion have been baptized. But by stating it as a positive norm rather than a prohibition, we also allow for pastoral exceptions.

    Like all compromises, this would displease people on both sides of the debate, but maybe another bitter argument isn’t what we need just now?

    • Alex Scott says:

      I’d be absolutely fine with something like that.

      Honestly, most of my opposition to removing the canon boils down to this: our Communion is already very open. All baptized Christians, regardless of denomination, are eligible to receive. For those who aren’t sure if they are baptized, we have conditional baptism in our prayer book. No one checks the rail, no one asks for certificates, no one wants to restrict the canon. It’s the honor system, basically; and as mentioned below, blessings are available for those who request them. It retains both the traditional sacramental teaching of the historical church while simultaneously living up to the all-embracing love of Christ.

      I think it’s essentially harmless, and I’m completely unconvinced it needs changing.

  36. Barbara Snyder says:

    I’m never sure why it isn’t considered welcoming to make the offer of a blessing available to everyone. When I’ve received a blessing instead of Communion (this has happened for a variety of reasons), I’ve always found it very comforting and sometimes very moving.

    To my way of thinking, it’s far more welcoming to offer a blessing than to invite people to partake in a religious ritual when they may have literally no idea even about the mechanics of it. I’ve been a chalicist in this situation, actually; once a young guy asked me, with a host in his hand and glancing at the chalice in mine as I approached, “What do I do?” He really didn’t have the first idea. We’ve all had the rite explained to us beforehand – or perhaps we’ve seen it before; he obviously hadn’t. And this doesn’t even get into the issue of whether or not it’s proper to involve people in a religious rite who may know nothing at all about it. I don’t think it is, myself; I mean, according to the rite we celebrate, the priest says things to the communicant, and the communicant responds. I surely don’t think it’s right to ask people to respond affirmatively to statements they haven’t had explained in any way to them – but that’s what’s in the rite.

    A blessing is very welcome. You have real contact with the person who gives it – they stop and talk to you for a minute – and you get a cross traced on your forehead sometimes. It’s lovely, and doesn’t demand anything of a person. I notice in Adrian Amaya’s invitation that the offer of a blessing has been left out completely – and that has been the case at many parishes that offer CROB, in my experience. Blessings are no longer offered – which is, to me, a shame.

  37. Judith Wood says:

    Jesus gave us two sacraments – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. You take it from there. Enough said!

  38. Steve Marlow says:

    Anyone who has read Sara Miles of San Francisco, her books Take This Bread and Jesus Freak, will understand how necessary it is for any one, seeking Christ or not, to be welcome at the Communion Table. It was in an unplanned Communion participation activity that she “received” Jesus and is now a leading person at her Episcopal parish, and in the city of San Francisco.

    Yes, we need North American wide open communion access. Let God be the Judge and Jury.

  39. Edgar Wallace says:

    Open Communion does not diminish the importance or the sacramental grace of Baptism, nor does it diminish the importance and grace of Communion. I remember very clearly the day I was baptized. I was nine years old. I knew I wanted to give my life to Christ. It was a big day. I do not, on the other hand, remember the first time I received communion. From the time I was old enough to go and kneel at the rail next to my parents, I received Christ’s Body and Blood. Those Sundays were also big days for me. That was in another denomination. My point, however, is that we do not all come to the love and knowledge of God according to the same timetable. We don’t all receive the sacraments in the same order. Chronology is our issue, not God’s. God knows and loves us eternally. Jesus said “Whoever comes to me, I will never turn away.” My guess is that God brings some to seek baptism first, others to seek a blessing first, others to seek communion first.

  40. Julian Malakar says:

    Do we remember Jesus’ parable of Wedding Banquet for King’s son- Matt 22:1-14, where special guests were unable to attend due to busy- busy day? Later King invited all people at the street corners to attend King’s dinner table. Everybody came with joy and honor but many came without proper dress. We know the rest, that those who came without proper dress were thrown into darkness where they wept and gnashed teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.

    Likewise, Jesus invites all human beings from all corners of the world at His dinner table to eat and drink His Body and Blood until His second coming and asks us to repent every time we take His Body and Blood remembering His suffering at the cross for our sins so to refrain from doing again.

    If this is the true purpose of Holy Communion, what good wafer and wine would serve to persons who do not believe Christ’s crucifixion as in case of non-believer or partial believer such as Hindu, Muslims, atheists, etc.?

    Even to become citizens of America, applicants must fulfill some conditions before they enjoy privileges of being citizens.

  41. Father Mike Waverly-Shank says:

    In my opinion this debate is far too legalistic. My wife is a Pentecostal Christian. In the Church where she grew up Baptism is a matter of personal salvation. Participation in the other sacraments of the church is based on belief and church attendance. I find it fascinating that no one in this debate is mentioning the importance of Christian belief for the receiving of Holy Communion!

  42. Patricia Bailey Conway says:

    I write from another part of the world, where Christians are a very small minority. From my perspective, the nexus between Holy Communion and community is important. For most people who do not know Jesus Christ, his grace and love can only be glimpsed as they are reflected in the daily action of his people. In a community, how can we not know our brothers and sisters in Christ? Yes, of course, there are always strangers who come to the Lord’s table with us. Some of them move on, so that we never learn much about them or their journey in faith. Many more are with us, week after week, Sunday after Sunday. I have been in parishes where many parishioners made a vigorous effort NOT to get to know strangers. They had an attitude of ownership over their parishes, and they certainly did not want “different” people (odd, brown, Yankee, gay, etc.) in their company. I will never forget the shock of hearing, “We don’t want to see pickup trucks in the church parking lot on Sunday morning.” However, I have spent my life in parishes where everyone is welcome to the Lord’s table — and then to coffee in the kitchen, prayer in the rector’s study, and a variety of opportunities for fellowship and spiritual growth. Very soon, the stranger is no longer a stranger, and we have shared our confessions of faith, informally as well as formally. In such circumstances, the meaning of Holy Communion is clear.

    We live in a fractured and fragmented world; in my experience, most of the strangers on the parish doorstep have been baptized, but then somehow they have become alienated from a Christian community. Often, the stories they tell are of church authorities who put them outside the boundaries of their previous church community because of some rule: they married outside the church or they felt in some way rejected.

  43. Mark James says:

    I am theologically very liberal, but I don’t think this is the right way to go. If we want to give people Communion on the spot, then we should perform “emergency baptisms” right there at the altar rail. This is just another issue to divide people and drive people away, while we should be focusing on serving the poor and broken.

  44. Michael Gillum says:

    Christ Jesus died for all of God’s Creation once and for all, but it was a gift an incredible gift.

    Gifts need to be accepted to be what they are intended to be, and the person receiving the gift needs to understand what the gift is and what it’s for.

    Could the young lady at the beginning of the article not receive a blessing and then all the aid and comfort the church has to offer?

  45. Michael Gillum says:

    1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (NIV1984)
    23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
    27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

    From the Didache
    9:5 And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, …

  46. Michael Gillum says:

    Whether in EFM discussions or around the table in the Coffee Rite do you ever get the impression that those early Christians who were closer to the Lord in time and space, and spiritually were just complete idiots?

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