Baptism before communion is still church’s norm

Convention debate shows practice doesn't always follow canons

The 77th General Convention affirmed that it is “normative” for people to be baptized before receiving communion. ENS photo/Mary Frances Schjonberg

[Episcopal News Service] The seeming disconnect in some parts of the Episcopal Church between the theology and practice of admission to communion became newly apparent to the Rev. Canon Beth Wickenberg Ely on a recent Sunday morning.

Ely, canon for regional ministry in North Carolina, who was presiding at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, had to consult her notes to remind herself exactly how to describe who was welcome to receive communion.

“I didn’t know whether they say ‘everybody come’ or ‘baptized Christians’,” she recalled during a July 23 interview with Episcopal News Service. “I go with what the church does, and it varies.”

For Ely, who chaired the diocesan deputation to the recently concluded 77th General Convention, that moment at St. Martin’s epitomizes why her diocese proposed (via Resolution C029) that the Episcopal Church spend the next three years studying its theology that underlies access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Convention rejected both that suggestion and one from the Diocese of Eastern Oregon (Resolution C040) that would have allowed the church’s congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion” by eliminating Canon 1.17.7, which says “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

Instead, the convention passed a substitute for C029 in which the Episcopal Church “reaffirm[ed] that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples.”

The substitute resolution came out of the convention’s legislative committee on evangelism to which C029 and C040 were assigned.

“The committee worked very hard with the two original resolutions and it was very clear that even those who would be leaning more towards the open-table idea were not ready to change the canon at this time,” the Rev. Canon Dennis Blauser, the Northwestern Pennsylvania deputation chair who also chaired the deputies’ Evangelism Committee, recalled during a July 25 interview with ENS.

Blauser said the committee heard from nearly 50 people during its hearing on the two resolutions. Some witnesses voiced concern over East Oregon’s proposal to do away with the baptismal requirement while others gave personal or second-hand testimony of people “who had had this powerful call to go to communion — to receive communion — and [how that experience] brought them into a new relationship with Christ and with the church, and eventually being baptized into the body of Christ,” according to Blauser.

In the end, the committee members sensed from the witnesses and amongst themselves that “there was really no strong pull” to abolish the canon, but they wanted to acknowledge that unbaptized people were receiving communion in the Episcopal Church.

Thus, when the House of Deputies first considered the committee’s substitute resolution on July 9, it included a second sentence saying: “We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.”

That sentence remained in the version of the resolution the deputies passed, despite an attempt by the Rev. Canon Dr. Neal Michell, chair of the Dallas deputation, and others to remove it. He told the deputies that accepting the sentence would give clergy permission to violate the canons of the church.

The Very Rev. Canon James Newman of Los Angeles, who opposed removing the sentence, said those distributing communion do so amidst a tension between deciding what do when someone puts out his or her hands to receive the sacrament and knowing what Canon 1.17.7 says.

In the end the House of Deputies passed the committee’s resolution on a vote by orders, by 77 percent in the lay order and 64 percent in the clergy order. The resolution then went to the House of Bishops.

When the bishops took up C029 on the morning of the last day of convention, they eventually rejected the “pastoral sensitivity” sentence after first considering rejecting the entire resolution or referring it to their theology committee, which convention had done in 2003 (via Resolution A089) at the bishops’ behest.

Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith told the House of Bishops during its debate that the issue is “an ongoing concern” for the house’s theology committee and so “whether you tell us to or not we will keep addressing this matter.”

Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi, chair of the bishops’ legislative committee on evangelism, said that the bishops and deputies’ committee chose to rewrite C029 (and eventually discharge C040) because the former “was a more appropriate vehicle for what the committee wanted to say.”

Northern Indiana Bishop Ed Little told his colleagues that “we don’t need to tell clergy in the parish to be pastorally sensitive, and this will be read as opening the door to communion of the unbaptized and will put a resolution of General Convention in conflict with the canons of the church, so I urge a no vote.”

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who converted to Christianity from Judaism and was baptized as an adult, said that when her priest invited her to consider being baptized, “I had to deal with my identity. I had to deal with what it meant to make a public affirmation of faith.”

“And for those who have found their faith through communion I say ‘Wonderful, I’m happy for you. I’m not going to turn you away if you come up to the altar rail.’ But I also want to say I’ve written a little banner here for myself that says ‘open baptism’,” she said “I rarely ever see the invitation to adult baptism expressed in our churches and if we’re talking about identity and if we’re talking about faith and mission I believe this is where it begins.”

New York Bishop Mark Sisk moved that the bishops strike the “pastoral sensitivity” sentence but approve the rest of the resolution because doing so “communicates clearly where we are.”

Blauser said the deputies’ committee then faced in the “last minute on the last day” whether to recommend that the House of Deputies concur with the amended resolution, of which he said “we thought that it really gutted the resolution as we intended it.” The committee did recommend concurrence and the one-sentence resolution was accepted by the entire house.

The Rev. Anna Carmichael, who helped write the Eastern Oregon resolution, told ENS on July 23 that she wished convention had accepted the entire substitute resolution because she found it to be a “really great example of how we try to find a middle ground and work together in this church even when we don’t necessarily always agree theologically or even pastorally.”

Carmichael, for whom this was her first foray into General Convention resolution drafting, said she was glad C040 “sparked a lot of conversation both online and actually at convention.”

“We should be proud as a church to be willing to engage in these kinds of dialogues,” she added.

Ely admitted she was “very frustrated with the disconnect that I see between the interest in the particular topic and the unwillingness of some people to have a church-wide discussion on it,” which she said was “all we were trying to do with what we sent” to convention.

“There were many people at the hearing that wanted to talk about this particular thing and I think when people show up to give their input and they show up in such numbers it’s irresponsible of the church to basically shove it aside,” she said. “It’s time for a conversation.”

Blauser told ENS that the committee rejected the idea of a study, “which was going to cost money and we felt that we did not to have another committee set up to do this [because] the study will be done by the reality that this practice has been in the church and will continue in the church at some level, and we will continue the discussion.”

Both Carmichael and Ely agree that the question of what is variously called open communion, open table and communion of the non- or unbaptized is not going to go away.

“I think we go back to meeting it head-on with a resolution in three years, again saying we’re doing one thing and we’re saying another,” Ely said.

Carmichael said she was not entirely surprised that the committee’s resolution was amended in the House of Bishops, “but I think it gives us great some food for thought and an opportunity to reflect on how we could better present a resolution like this in the future.”

“This discussion is ahead of us and we’re not going to be able to avoid it forever, particularly if we re-vision ourselves,” Ely said, referring to convention’s decision to re-imagine the work of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century.

She said that future decisions about open communion will inevitably be “a by-product of the way we’re going to be church in the future.”

Meanwhile, Carmichael says she will not change her practice of inviting all people to receive communion at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Hood River where she is rector.

“While I understand that as a priest I have taken a vow to uphold the rubrics of the prayer book, I feel that sometimes pastoral care and pastoral sensitivity are equally as important as our theology behind what we do,” she said, adding that the Episcopal Church is always striving to extend its welcome to all people “and I hope that at some point our welcome will include unbaptized at the communion rail.”

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service. The Rev. Pat McCaughan, an ENS correspondent, and Melodie Woerman, a member of the ENS General Convention news team, contributed to this report.

Comments

  1. Scott Knitter says:

    On retreat at a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery, I asked one of the monks whether the rules about non-Roman Catholics were the same there as in Roman Catholic parishes (basically, as an Anglican, I shouldn’t receive but pray for eventual unity). He said my understanding of the rules was correct and that they were the same in the Abbey, but he then looked me directly in the eyes and said extra-clearly: “We never turn anyone away who comes forward to receive.” I felt completely freed by that: I could still decide to receive, and no one would question me later or “have a word” with me about it. If in prayer I felt led to go forward, I could do so.

    I think that’s the way to be honest about the canons and pastoral to those attending our services: Let it be known in the bulletin and/or an announcement that all baptized Christians may receive Holy Communion, and then leave it up to the people and their consciences whether to come forward. But don’t lie and say “The Episcopal Church invites absolutely everyone to receive,” because we don’t, and there are important reasons why. Tell the truth, and then administer the Sacrament.

    • Some of us are old enough to remember the strict prohibition against receiving Holy Communion unless Confirmed. That was the way it was presented to me in 1947, when I found the Episcopal Church at age 16. Only later did I find that there was a, shall we say, “pastoral sensitivity” clause that said, “or ready and desirous of being Confirmed.” I wonder if there is something in that part of our tradition that may be useful in this conversation.

      • David Yarbrough says:

        “ready and desirous of being confirmed” indicates that a candidate has been prepared and is merely awaiting visitation of a Bishop of the church to be confirmed.

        “ready and desirous of being baptized” would indicate that a candidate has been prepared and is awaiting the sacrament of Holy Baptism – which any priest of the Church can administer at any service of the Eucharist.

        “Pastoral sensitivity” appears to be a cop-out on the process of preparing candidates to receive the Sacraments.

      • Prior to Convention, I polled my local parish (St. Michael & All Angels, Seaford, NY) and the result is on the normative side. It is interesting however that the newer members tend to opt for “open communion.” Those who argued against open communion feel the need for parishes to develop a more thorough formation course that emphasizes baptism as pre-requisite for full ecclesial life.

    • Ann-Marie Montague says:

      Scott’s comments make sense. How does any priest “know” who has or has not been baptised? There is no outward mark. While it is correct to have the note in the bulletin about “all baptised” are welcome to receive, the next move is then between the person and God.

    • Bob Greiner says:

      I really appreciate Scott Knitter’s pragmatic, pastorally sensitive, and gentle reply.

    • Louis Stanley Schoen says:

      I, too, recall welcomes at Roman Catholic altars, explicitly affirmed by their clergy – most notably including during the Feast of Annunciation at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth in 1995. Of course, we know that Rome has tightened up since then in enforcement of its various restrictions.

      These institutional restrictions, grounded in tradition, urgently need revision in the modern age. It is tradition that’s driving attendance down in the historic denominations, not openness to all people.

      Why can’t the church understand the logic of inviting all to the Eucharist, its fundamental symbol of community, and then inviting new participants into instruction preparing them for Baptism?

      • James Chapman says:

        I wholeheartedly agree: if we want people to come join us on Sunday morning, we cannot turn them away summarily in our service booklets with a pronouncement that they cannot come to the altar for communion with us unless they have been baptized. Let God be the judge of who is worthy of communion with the Christ and his earthly body of disciples.

    • Michael Hubbard says:

      I agree. Our church has a statement on the front of our weekly service leaflet that all baptized Christians are welcome at the altar to receive Holy Communion. Our priest does not ask each would-be receipient if they are, in fact, “baptized Christians”. As Scott Knitter points out, it is the conscience of the individual that decides whether they conform to that description. “Pastoral Sensitivity” in these cases can be merely a device for promoting “inclusivity” by our more liberal clergy and laity.

  2. The Rev. Lucretia Jevne says:

    I contrast this resolution with our Gospel for July 29 in which Jesus takes what little is available and makes it available for the whole crowd. I think that anyone who holds out their hands to receive the bread of blessing, hope and reconcilliation should be able to receive it.

  3. Jan Robitscher says:

    There is a confusion here about “hospitality”, “pastoral sensitivity” and Christian identity. No one is ever turned away from the Communion rail. Baptism is the “ancient and normative” entry into the Christian life and community. The appeal to Wesley’s “converting ordinance” of early Methodism–that the receiving of Communion could become a converting experience–never meant that this should be ongoing. Once converted, the person was expected to receive baptism and become a member of the Christian community. Nor should there ever be pressure (social or otherwise) on non-Christians to receive Communion. What is lacking in our efforts at Christian formation is that Communion is the repeatable part of the baptismal rite.

  4. Jesus said, “Take, eat…Drink this all of you…Do this in remembrance of me.”

    • David Yarbrough says:

      Jesus said these words to his disciples, not to the general public.

      • Barbara Marques says:

        There is no Biblical evidence that the disciples were baptized.

        • Timothy Warren says:

          However, there is no biblical evidence that the disciples were NOT baptized either. Scripture is clear that baptism was an expectation, not a suggestion. The scriptural evidence suggests that Jesus’ follows, including his disciples, were baptized just as St. Paul was following his conversion experience.

  5. Rosemary Bagin says:

    I can understand that theologians have a true interest in topics like Open Communion and whether it is appropriate or beneficial. But I have been thinking, DOES GOD REALLY CARE, ONE WAY OR THE OTHER. Or is he/she more interested in bringing people to Jesus?

    • Edgar Wallace says:

      Amen. You have said it well. Thank you.

    • Ferank Harrison says:

      It is not so much whether “God really cares” for only the most arrogant will say about what God cares with any specificity. The issues here seem to me to revolve around the notion of what is the Church and who are Christians. Traditionally in the Episcopal Church, as part of the Anglican tradition growing out of Roman Catholicism, these issues were set within Scripture, the history/traditions/councils of the Church, and good reason. Today this does not appear to be so much the case. In the place of all of this appears to be a type of fuzzy Romanticism and “feel good” attitude and all of this coupled with an anti-intellectualism. Where this will take the Church is not clear.

  6. Frieda Carstens says:

    we don’t know if the disciples were baptized, but we do know that Jesus was, and he instituted communion to remember him and do as he did.

  7. Kate Chipps says:

    Would somebody help me here? I have not found any reference to the disciples being baptized.

  8. The Episcopal Church should be ashamed of itself. The Body and Blood of Jesus is not its private property. It is His.

    • David, I am extremely surprised to see you making that statement. I recall a spirited discussion with you on Facebook a few months ago, in which you took the position that the Episcopal Church ought to communicate the unbaptized. In this statement, you acknowledge that TEC is not the owner of the Sacrament, but that God is. Exactly my previous point! We, a tiny tiny twig on the great Tree of Life, must not dare to fool with so great a gift as though it were ours to play with.

  9. Vance Mann says:

    For me, the Holy Spirit is calling the Episcopal Church to invite baptized and non-baptized to communion. This ancient tradition of baptism before communion will never change unless some of us begin inviting everyone to communion.

  10. F. William Thewalt says:

    If we don’t offer Communion to all, what happens to our slogan, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”?

  11. Marylin Day says:

    My observations – I have not been confirmed in the Episcopal Church nor do I plan to do so, however I have been attending, participating and praying with my Episcopal church family for over 10 years.

    Many years ago while attending a Catholic mass and, although I was not a baptized Catholic, I took communion anyway. I didn’t tell anyone, nor did they ask. This is between me and God! It is not something that needs to be “tallied on a score sheet.”

    I believe everyone should have the opportunity to come closer to Jesus and communion can encourage this closeness. Whether you are baptized or not; whether you are confirmed or not; whether you are gay or straight; black or white; etc. – all should be able to use the gifts God to learn more of our faith and be held in God’s caring love.

    • Ferank Harrison says:

      Your first paragraph contains comments which I assume to be rather wide spread. On the other hand consider this situation. What if someone said to you that she wanted to play chess with you and you agreed. The two of you sit down to play. However, when playing the person who willingly came to the table to play chess begins to change the rules to fit her feelings at the time of play. It may look, in some respects, that chess is still being played. But is it? And, if so, under cheating circumstances? Just a thought.

      • Budd Kirby says:

        Ah, yes, changing the rules. I believe that Jesus tried his whole ministry to get the religious folk of his day and faith to change their rules and he was always met with resistance, particularly by the clergy of the day. I am 66 years old. I was raised a Southern Baptist (when that denomination was really “Baptist”). Because of that, I feel that I have a very good knowledge of the Scriptures. My dad was also a moderate Southern Baptist and he and my Mom taught me how to live into the knowledge of the Scriptures, that is “The Bible is about God and not about us” and “Jesus loves me, this I know.” That is how we are to live. Acknowledging these 2 statements show me all the time that the more I think I know about about faith and scripture, the less I really know. I came to the Episcopal Church in 1984. Ready to become totally invested in the Church. I had a friend who asked, “How can you baptize infants? They have no idea what is going on.” Another friend said, “However, we don’t know what the Holy Spirit is up to at the time of the child’s Baptism.” That, my friends put an end to that argument. Babies do not come of their own free will to be Baptized. We bring them and promise “as a church parish” to assist in raising this child in the faith.

        Scripture tells us that it is Jesus’ choice who enters the Kingdom. If we deny anyone coming to receive Jesus’ Communion, not ours, then we become a major stumbling block to the work of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life. So, again, we do not know what the Holy Spirit is up to when the Spirit tells an unbaptized person to go and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Following is a very wise statement: “Let go and let God.” Wonder what would happen in the world if we Christians really did let go and let God?” Scary thought! But I bet it would be really exciting. Let’s stop being “stumbling blocks” in our own lives as well as others’.

  12. Russell Graham says:

    Thank you, thank you Rosemary and David. Well said. Communion can be and often is a wonderful door into a life in the community of faith. It is one of the great truths of our faith and the working of the spirit among us throughout history that loving practice is often many steps ahead of theology – thank God. We do not need to be afraid to share the love of God with everyone.

  13. I wonder how many people go exactly the speed limit? Actually, driving on interstates I know the answer… The rubrics state “is is appropriate that there be only one chalice on the Altar, and if need be, a flagon of wine from which additional chalices may be filled after the Breaking of the bread”… How many parishes fail to follow that rubric all the time?

    The common saying is that the exception proves the rule. Holy Scripture gives us plenty of stories about the exceptions… Joseph was not the first born, nor was Moses, nor was David. Yet the rules were never changed about the first born normatively being the heir. The Spirit fell upon the crowd, then they were baptized. Yet, Jesus said go and baptize as the final command to the disciples.

    We are a Church that has always understood that there are times that Grace (not to mention good manners) sometimes supersedes the letter of the law. But we also have understood that those times do not necessarily mean that the rules need to be changed to handle the exceptions.

  14. (The Rev.) Robert F. Solon, Jr. says:

    I’m dismayed by Ely’s comment that, “We need a conversation.” There actually has been an ongoing conversation about these issues. They have mostly happened in the theological literature, most recently in the Spring 2012 issues of The Anglican Theological Review, and reaching back over several years to at least 1994 if not earlier. (See Myers, ATR Spring ATR, p. 233 ff). But just because they are in the academic press does not render them invalid. It’s irresponsible to say that conversation is not happening. It actually is, and it behooves those who wish to enter the conversation to actually do their homework and not assume that their ideas are sui generis.

    • Budd Kirby says:

      Writing back and forth is not real conversation. Conversation takes place between at least two people talking not writing back and forth to each other. It is very easy to hide on the written page, not so when together.

      After all, where 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus’ name, he promises to be there. So that adds a third person to the conversation, said third person being largely overlooked and ignored.

      I would hope that some day those of us who have studied the scriptures and think we dwell on some high theological plane, will at last be humbled by all that knowledge and work to overcome our arrogance.

  15. michael horan says:

    I’d simply point out that on Ash Wednesday 2009, this lapsed Catholic wandered into an Episcopalian church at noon. And heard these words from the altar: “ALL are invited to take Communion.” Those were the words that moved me beyond belief (so to speak)–I was filled with a sudden, visceral sense that I could belong here. And I’m not exactly one prone to spiritual experiences. Not because I had been baptized a Catholic–heck, I had no say in that–but because the priest said “All,” and didn’t qualify.

    Three years later, and I’ve been formally inducted into the EC by our Bishop, and I’m serving as Junior Warden at our church.

    Weird to think that if the priest had added any qualifiers, I wouldn’t have had that same joyous sense I had at that moment and possibly, even probably, wouldn’t have returned.

    Theology, which sometimes becomes a compendium of things-Jesus-didn’t-say, should never be allowed to be a stumbling block. Would it have been worth losing me over this?

    • Rebecca Baggett says:

      Michael’s experience was very similar to my own. Although I was baptized and raised as a Christian in the Methodist Church, I had rarely set foot in any church in my adult life, primarily because I was so troubled by the exclusion and lack of welcome I saw in my extended family’s Baptist and Catholic churches. On my first visit to an Episcopal church, I glanced down at the bulletin and read this statement: “Whoever you are and wherever you are in your journey of faith, know that you are welcome to join us at the altar and share in the bread and wine made holy.” I never left and have been a faithful member of the Episcopal Church for over a decade now (including serving as junior and senior warden and on a search committee and as a Eucharistic minister). That statement and the theology it expressed made ALL the difference to me, as it seems it did to Michael and, I know, to many more at my church.

  16. I was the celebrant at a Eucharist during an Elderhostel (a residential continuing education program opportunity for seniors in academic or conference settings) in an Episcopal monastery a number of years ago. At the time of communion, a Jewish Elderhostel participant came up and knelt at the altar rail and held out his hands. I gave him communion, and afterwards shared this with one of the monks. I will never forget what he said: “If Jesus had been been behind you, and you had turned around and asked “Shall I give it to him?”, I’m sure that Jesus would have said “Of course!”.

  17. Sally Rowan says:

    I don’t understand why being baptized first is seen as such an unfair or difficult prerequisite? It’s not a complicated service, and baptismal preparation is a good idea, not a waste of time. The most complicated part of it that I’ve heard about is finding a Sunday when the whole family from various distant places would be able to come.

    Is skipping baptism or making little of it by receiving communion a way of avoiding something important?

  18. Len Freeman says:

    Basically what I hear here is not a theological or pastoral discussion, but people not really willing to accept any authority other than their own opinions. The catholic side of our faith in essence conveys a stance of willingness to recognize that the God through the larger church may have some wisdom that I do not… in essence a touch of humility about one’s own position.

    The “I’m gonna keep doing what I want to do regardless” stance has a touch of pompousness to it that could use a step back. Other people than ourselves may actually know something.

  19. Jon Spangler says:

    I have received communion–without asking permission or showing a “union card” first–many times at RC churches without having lightning strike me dead on the spot. And at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, my church home since 1998, we always offer communion “to everyone without exception.”

    I grew up with the 1928 BCP, the KJV, stand-sit-kneel, ponderously slow organ music, and no communion until after Confirmation. And I have stayed active in the Episcopal Church for almost 50 years. But I no longer want to belong to a church that does not freely offer the sacrament to all who desire it. Love Incarnate should not be rationed…

    Just like the rest of us, the Church Universal is in constant need of loosing and losing its chains and being freed from the bondage of small-mindedness and our species’ crazy need to constantly contain and restrict Love and Grace….

  20. The Rev. Canon Nancy Platt says:

    Nancy Roth’s comment on giving communion to a Jewish participant jogged a memory of a similar situation for me. When I spoke to my Jesuit spiritual director later and asked what should I have done, he said ” it was their supper first” Nice way to put it for a person who comes to the rail and is Jewish. I also do not go down the rail and ask “are you baptized” before I give the bread and wine. Should I be in a private pasdtoral situation I would simply ask to baptize them before taking communion with them which I always do at a bedside anyway… all it takes is water and the blessing. A bief explanation would be simple and appropriate.

  21. I am well aware of the canon and rubrics. Being “blessed” to serve in a vacation community, there are any number of visitors on any given Sunday, as well as playing host to Camp Jabberwocky, the Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy camp during July and August, when we have to take out the first two rows of pews to accommodate all of those confined to wheel chairs and their attendants…which some days can number 60 – 70+ children of God. I always state that “Everyone, ABSOLUTELY everyone, is welcome to receive Holy Communion. The altar as well as what transpires on and around it belong to Christ, not to Grace Church, me, the Wardens or anyone else, and that All means ANY and ALL.” And when I place the Body of Christ on the tongue or in the hand of one of those special children of God, I know with every fiber of my being that I am “seeking and serving Christ in all persons.”

  22. Rees Olander says:

    My daughter-in-law was raised in a Jewish-Christian household, and she is raising her daughters in the same way. On Christmas Eve I traveled to join my granddaughters for Hanukkah songs and prayers at their other grandmother’s home before taking them to Christmas service with me. The highlight of that service for them was receiving Communion and then viewing the creche. Now I grew up in the Episcopal Church, received my first bread and wine at 12 when confirmed, and believe in the high merits of discipleship. But I have come to believe deeply that taking my granddaughters to Communion is one of the primary ways I can introduce my grandchildren to Jesus Christ. My prayer is that when they are older, this basic act of Communion will be the keystone for their decisions to be baptized. I remember most painfully the Roman Catholic funeral of friends and children, all killed in a house fire, when the deceased woman’s family, all Episcopalians as was she, were denied Communion (whereas I could receive it being “under the radar”). It was my own revelation on the road to Damascus how such rubrics interfere with God’s grace. My lovely daughter-in-law says she would receive the sacraments if invited, but in the meantime respectfully presents herself for a blessing as directed. Deep down I have come to believe that the table that invites me but not mine not only lacks God’s full grace but does not fully welcome me.

  23. Marc Kivel says:

    Perhaps we spend to much time on thinking about feeding each other rather than just doing it?

  24. Marc Kivel says:

    BTW, to invite someone to “dinner” with the hopes they will convert strikes me as unhospitable and disingenuous at the least. You feed folks with God’s bounty because God feeds you with His bounty…

  25. Angela Hock says:

    So many thoughts swirl in me as I engage the canon and these comments.

    My basic stance is to allow all to come to the table. My deep question is what is the point of requiring baptism before communion. My very, very limited understanding includes the use of the rite in the earliest church — after three years or so of preparation — as a means of assuring that the candidate was not someone intent on harming the fledgling community in some way. A way to demonstrate commitment and conversion (or vice-versa). An antidote to fear. Is that what we’re still doing? An assurance of safety.

    What does someone think will happen if we were to open the meal to all and then continue to encourage commitment via baptism? What actually is the purpose/place of baptism? Are we still holding to the standard of baptism only being an action that proceeds “by water and in the name of the Trinity?” Conversion seems at the heart of the rite, however it is experienced or practiced.

    Some believe they have been baptized spiritually without benefit of water or words pronounced by another. They live a converted life of faith in the Risen Lord, a life that looks for all the world like adherence to our “baptismal covenant.” Conversion again. Hunger. Desire for communion. Any and all of those interior movements can proceed either baptism or confirmation or communion. Are we saying to that person, “Sorry. Your idea of baptism isn’t right and doesn’t match ours, therefore you cannot receive?” Granted, such a person can decide for herself if she “fits” or wants to receive. I’m converted/baptized daily — drawn to a deeper life with Christ and walk of faith.

    And the invitation that uses the phrasing “all baptized Christians” confuses me. Is someone a Christian without baptism? What’s a Christian then? If we’re going to say something, might “all who are baptized” not serve the purpose? Seems redunant otherwise. And I’d still prefer just plain, unqualified “all are welcome.”

    Yes, I was baptized as an infant. And yes, I’ve spent the following 65 years trying to figure out what that meant. Growing up in the Episcopal Church — then 12 years as an adult convert to Roman Catholic Christianity then a return to the Episcopal portion of Christianity — I’ve been guided by others into understanding what it means to live in Christian community, to proclaim good news by word and example.

    I just really, really would like us to engage the conversation around what baptism is and how it’s actually connected to participating in communion. Scripture is helpful, even in its silence. So is the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. I look forward to the continuing conversation. Whew! Didn’t know I’d go on so much. Doubtful will be read anyway.

    • Alex Storrs says:

      Bless you, Angela, I read the whole thing. Thank you for writing. While I, too, agree with the apparently general sentiment that we should continue to extend communion to all, it is also apparent that this is a big change in the way we work. I think we need to reconsider our canon, and perhaps update it if necessary to match our practice.

  26. I think that everyone of us–lay or ordained–has had to deal with this question occasionally or frequently. I learned in seminary [BDS] that the altar rail during the distribution of Communion is not the appropriate forum in which to ask people questions about their canonical status. Even my RC priest friends follow the same principle–and their communion requires that one be a practicing Roman Catholic in order to receive Communion–not just baptized. As interim rector in a parish where my predecessor had been one of the most canonically proper priests I have ever known, there was boy of about 7-8 years who presented himself with his grandmother at the Communion rail every Sunday–arms crossed over his chest–to receive a ‘blessing'; all of the other children received Communion. I asked his grandmother why he did not receive Communion and she replied that he had gone to first Communion class but that his parents had not given permission for him to be baptized. I asked her if he had ever expressed the desire to receive Communion and she said that he had many times. I told her–and him–that his desire to be baptized was sufficient ‘for now’ in order to receive and that he would be baptized when his parents allowed or when he was old enough to decide that for himself. ‘Baptism of desire’ has almost forever been sufficient to include among the faithful those who–by some impediment–have not been baptized. Discussion groups and individual counseling are the right venues to talk about why baptism is the appropriate entrance into the fellowship of those who gather for Jesus’ Supper–not at announcements or the altar rail. Let’s agree that there are appropriate times to talk about why the Church requires Baptism and that Communion time is not it. On the few occasions that I have been asked by an RC priest whether I am ‘catholic’ as he is distributing Communion I always answer ‘yes’. After all, every Sunday I say that I believe in ‘the … Catholic Church’. Why would I belong to a different one?

  27. The Rev. Canon Jack Belmont says:

    I do not seem to recall any baptized persons being present at the Last Supper! What did Jesus do? Are we not doing this in remembrance of him? I, too, have been the victim of the exclusionary practices of other denominations and caution our Church to err on the side of “welcome.”

  28. V. Tupper Morehead, MD, MDiv, TSSF says:

    Were all of the folks at The Last Supper baptized? Did Jesus exclude anyone from The Last Supper? It seems to me that Jesus included Judas Iscariot in the eucharistic meal. I suppose Jesus must have said, “Get on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture.”

    Who are we as laypersons, Religious, deacons, presbyters, and bishops of The Episcopal Church to judge who is and who is not welcome at the table of the annointed Jesus? If we believe that Jesus is really present in the eucharistic meal, then we must believe that all are welcome at His table; to do otherwise is heretical. Do you believe that Jesus is the anointed ruler in your life? Do you believe that Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross for ALL? If so, let go of your ego, your controlling, your privilege, your power, your affluence, your acheivements, your big hats, and your vestments of empire, and welcome all of your brothers and sisters to the table of Christ with humility and love.

    The table of Christ does not belong to The Episcopal Church. The Real Presence is in the eucharistic meal, but not in church doctrine and dogma. Thanks and praise to the holy and undivided Trinity, one God of all, baptized or not. Some, I suppose, only want to admit the circumcised to the Episcopal table; let the clergy start checking to see who qualifies. Or perhaps baptized persons should be required to bring their certificate of baptism with a photo I.D. to Jesus’ table in order to receive Him in the eucharistic meal.

  29. Linda Barber says:

    We have a Thursday “soup kitchen” and welcome all to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would not want to get to the point where we have to ask each person if they were baptized.

    It is not for us to exclude people. Amen.

  30. According to Scripture, there were no “baptized” persons at the Last Supper. And there were perhaps no “baptized” persons present whenever and wherever Jesus sat at table. And on the day of Pentecost God’s “Kairos” had interuppted and transcended man’s “Chronos”….and as a result, there was no “time” for belief! Peter and John quickly lined up all of those present, and perhaps yelled to someone, “quick! grab the buckets of water!” Peter simply commanded them to “repent and be baptized.” And so they were. If we as a church are going to open up the entire spectrum of ordination to all, we must first open up both the personal and corporate avenues that lead to new life in Christ and ultimately to ordination that draws all of us to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps in the Eschaton, there is no “time” to do otherwise!

  31. The Rev. Robert M Rainis says:

    As a pastor in the ELCA, a full communion partner with TEC, the invitation in the congregation which I have been called to serve is ” All Baptized Christians who believe that the bread and wine about to be received is the True Body and Blood of Christ, are invited to commune at His table. All may come forward for His blessing”. If I read TEC Canon referred to in this thread, belief in the “True/Real Presence” is not required? Therefore those who believe that the bread and wine are somehow “symbolic” of His Body and Blood may also commune? And yes, I do know (and regret) that the ELCA is in full communion with Christian communities that hold to “symbolism”, ie The RCA, Presbyterian. Thankfully the UMC is moving toward a different understanding of the Lord’s Supper. I would also note, that a number of responders have stated that they were “baptized Catholics’, I would offer that all who are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit are baptized into the Body of Christ and not a particular Church body. Good discussion thus far, as we “sinner/saints” continue to ponder His words, “This IS My Body….This IS My Blood”

    • Angela Hock says:

      Thanks so much for your comments. And you touched on something that is a pet peeve of mine — the use of “I was baptized a _______ (name the denomination). We still have LOTS of baptismal teaching to do, I guess! “I am baptized” should suffice, I’d think.

  32. Anna Highsmith says:

    I was baptized in the Episcopal Church as an infant, confirmed as a teenager, and was a weekly churchgoer until I left home for college. As a young adult, I went to various churches a few times a year, but had no sense that I “really belonged” and didn’t know how I could reconcile my own imperfect faith with the declarations from the pulpit, but I still had a desire for communion — in all senses of the word.

    It wasn’t until I heard “whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome” that I realized I didn’t have to be a Perfect Christian in order to participate in the life of the church. I felt more welcome at that church than any before, and I came back to the Episcopal church as a weekly churchgoer and pledging member. I am baptized and confirmed, but I feel most welcome as part of a community that embraces, loves, and serves without discrimination.

  33. Wendy Beckers says:

    Sometime during the summer of 1933 my father’s sperm entered my mothers uterus. For nine months, the embyro was supported and nourished in a body of water. This is such a miracle in itself that from such a beginning came a person made in the image of God. Could this not be a baptism in itself? There was no church in the little mill town where I lived for the first eight years of my “earthly” life. I grew up un-churched, but never felt disconnected from God.

    My mother finally got around to having me baptized when I was twelve because it was the thing to do. At one of the morning gatherings of youth which preceded our Sunday School Class, we were asked to stand up and tell why we felt dancing was a sin. My fondest memories of my father were that of when he would place my feet on top of his feet and “dance” with me. Not knowing any better, I stood up and announced that I did not consider dancing a sin.

    Much later in my life, I attended a midnight Easter Vigil at a Greek Orthodox Church. The entire service was in Greek; but, I understood all that was taking place.

    • Wendy Beckers says:

      Sorry, i hit the wrong key. I have never felt any disconnect from God; but, I was so pleased when I finally “found” the Episcopal Church in 1995 and was invited to receive Holy Communion without having to produce any document that said I was qualified. It is such a joy for me to be able to go to a retirement home once a month as a representative of St. Mark’s and offer Holy Communion to all who desire to receive it. It is a wonderful experience to see the expression on faces when someone asks “Is it okay for me to receive since I am of another church” and they are invited to partake. It is not for me to judge, but to invite.

  34. Doug Desper says:

    So, what canoncial consequences will be exercised with those clergy in our Church who continue to create their own ecclesiology on this, i.e; teaching and offering communion to anyone without discretion? If our canons matter on the parish’s real estate property then should not canons matter on the care and development of Christian souls?

  35. Linda Nichols says:

    I have been a member of the Episcopal Church since I was 22, when I started attending with my then husband. I was skeptical at first, but quickly fell in love with the traditions and the history of the Church. I was raised in the Baptist Church, whose traditions and history were somewhat less than fascinating to me. I took no communion until I was baptized. Now I take my grandchildren (ages 5 and 7) with me to church, since their father is not interested in going and their mother is from a different tradition. My granddaughter was baptized this January, when she asked to be. Both her parents jumped on “Is she ready? Does she know what it means?” Yes, I believe she did. Her little brother, meanwhile, is still waiting for baptism, waiting for when he expresses interest and his parents are convinced he wants it. Both children take communion. Tell me, what is the difference? Will my granddaughter be taken up into Heaven if we should all be killed in an accident, and my grandson not be taken? I watch them, and I believe they both have a pretty good feel for what is going on at the communion rail. I will continue to work for my grandson’s baptism, but am glad that he is not denied communion in the meanwhile.

  36. Debra Goebel says:

    I will never forget overhearing a young boy in the next pew tell his young friend “I can’t go up there (to the communion rail) because I’m not a member of this family.” His father had refused to allow him to be baptized or to receive communion (which in my parish was offered him regardless of his baptismal status.) I was devastated by this young boy’s statement. Of course he was a member of our family, Christ’s family, and I told him so later on. But he did not feel he was because he was not permitted to share our meal of fellowship. He instinctively understood that he was excluded from something that was central to our life together as Christians. (Because of his father’s wishes, not our rector’s. I am using this incident only as an example of how excluding a child of God from Christ’s table is spiritually damaging to that person.) I did a lot of reflecting on baptism and Holy Eucharist. If baptism is an “outward and visible sign” of God’s grace, this is an ongoing grace, which begins at conception and never ends! A friend once asked me if I thought anything “special” happened at baptism. As far as what God does, nothing any more special than what He had been doing since He created that new life. As far as what we do, yes. We have set aside a special day, created a special ritual, called together our community of faith, and given thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the life of this person. If we believe every person on this earth is a child of God, made in His image and a recipient of His grace, it may be extremely important to acknowledge that with baptism, but I do not believe it must be a prerequisite for communion. The little boy in my story understood, appreciated the significance of communion. He knew that he was “excluded” and felt the pain of being denied a place at the table to which everyone else was invited. Somehow I cannot imagine Christ turning him away and saying, “When you, a seven-year-old boy, have convinced your father to allow you to be baptized, you may come to My table.” As far as the disciples being baptized, no one knows. However, as far as we know Christ never said “Do this in memory of me, but only with those who have been baptized.” If this was important, I suppose He would have been more specific. As He sacrificed Himself in order to restore the whole world to God, I tend to believe the celebration of His sacrifice should be available to the whole world. I believe we are called to baptize not in order to initiate people into Club Christian, but to celebrate God’s love which is transforming the world through each and every individual. Another observation. We may pour excess wine that has been blessed back into the earth (which I do not believe was baptized), and yet we cannot offer it to a unbaptized child? “Even the dogs may eat the crumbs…” It is offensive to me to see a priest “finish off’ leftover hosts, while others in the congregation are left spiritually hungry…

  37. Bob Boyd says:

    My grandson was baptised when he was 6 months old. Over the years, whenever he was with me I took him to the communion rail. At 3, without receiving permission from the priest, I started giving him a piece of my communion bread. Thereafter he received directly the bread and eventually wine also. Other parents in our parish followed our example. I think this has a positive impact on my grandson even at his young age of 8. I can only hope the same is true for others who receive communion, regardless of being baptised or now.

  38. Father Mike Waverly-Shank says:

    In my little Church in the Catskills we recently welcomed two new large families. When they came most were not Baptised. This did not present any problem. They gladly knelt and received a blessing. In June 4 of them were Baptised. The rest will be Baptised soon. They believe in Jesus and were so happy to be welcomed at St. Mary’s that waiting for baptism and Communion was no problem at all.

  39. Karen Morgan says:

    I am by no means a theologian, nor learned in any way about the Episcopal Church except that I have been a member since birth, with totals 68 years. I therefore have seen the transformation from the 1928 BCP that I was brought up on to the revised BCP 1976, to the present day which includes the Revised Common Lectionary readings. Again the changes in the Rite of Holy Communion were that I had to be confirmed before I was able to receive. My children who arrived after the 1976 revision were able to receive their “First Communion” when they were ?? whatever age the priest accepted, as long as they were Baptised. The congregation now in 2012 is invited to the Lord’s table if they are a baptised christian, no matter what denomination they belong to. My understanding was that they were invited to receive if they were baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and if they believed they were receiving the “body and blood” of Christ, not just a token or substitute/representation of the body and blood. If they did not truly believe in the “Real Presence”, as stated in the Catechism in the BCP page 859, 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. If one does not believe they are receiving the real presence, the body and blood of Christ, then they should not be invited to the table. They however, should not be denied if they come to the table – that is their conscience.

  40. John Williamson says:

    I believe that all who truly seek God are welcome at his table.

  41. Dennis Maher says:

    That the Episcopal Church is considering open communion should receive more press. As a Presbyterian I fought in the early ’70’s for admitting children to the table before Confirmation. We succeeded in that, not in small part because a seminary professor’s 5 year old daughter wanted to participate. When asked why, she responded “Because it is about Jesus and about love.” I was much influenced by Norman Perrin who wrote extensively about the “table fellowship of Jesus” with sinners as foundational to the sacrament. So I have been in favor of open communion. A Roman Catholic priest explained to us at an ecumenical service that Canon Law prohibited non-Catholics from participating, but also forbade him from turning anyone away. The Episcopal Church was too extreme in the past. In the mid ’60’s I was asked to leave an Episcopal Christmas eve service midway through because I was not a member. I never went back.

  42. Peggy Williams says:

    I have read all of the foregoing and I deeply believe that the Episcopal Church should be inclusive and not exclusive. I had an experience today that shines even more light on what the Episcopal Church should be about. The doorbell rang, I was at home alone, sitting at my piano practicing an anthem for Sunday. From the piano bench, I could clearly see a young man approach the door. He had tattoos up one arm and down the other. His hair was long and tied back in a pony tail. I thought, o.k., Lord, where is this going, as I answered the door. I live in a gated community. We engaged in a friendly conversation and when I told him I was in a church choir and was practicing the anthem for Sunday, he expressed an interest in our church. I invited him to come to our Christmas Eve midnight mass, and he sounded as if he might actually come. I told him I would be looking for him. (He was actually delivering a business card from his boss, who had just been in our house to do some cabinet work.)

    So, now he comes to our Christmas Eve service; however, he notices in the bulletin that only baptized Christians were welcome to receive Christ’s body and blood at His altar. What a disappointment for him! He no doubt will feel unworthy and will not come back to our church. Shame on us! Are we not to receive the last, the lost, and the least? How about the unlovely, the sinner, the homeless (you name it). We are called to care for those around us with reckless abandon (borrowed from December 10, 2013, Forward Day by Day). Isn’t that what Jesus did? Can we do no less? I am disturbed and ashamed about this canon. I look forward to the day when everyone is welcome to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Episcopal Church.
    Peggy Williams, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington, NC.

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