Comments: General Convention is near

I wish that we could avoid calling the practice in question, "open Communion," as the bishops' committee does. That term already has a well-established meaning in American church life: the practice of offering Holy Communion to Christians who do not have formal ties with the local community. The opposite is "closed Communion," in which one has to be a member of the local congregation's denomination (or, in some cases, of the local congregation itself) before receiving Holy Communion. The Episcopal Church already practices open Communion; groups such as the Missouri Synod or the Roman Catholic Church do not.

That said, I was at the installation of the rector of a neighboring Anglo-Catholic parish last night, and was surprised to see a notice in their regular Mass booklet that seemed to have been lifted from an RC missalette, to the effect that non-Anglicans could not receive Holy Communion; it went on to say that those confirmed by a bishop in the apostolic succession ( or "ready and desirous to be confirmed") could go ahead and receive, if they were spiritually prepared for it. This was not in agreement with a more welcoming notice in the actual service leaflet we were using, however, and I wonder if it will survive under the new rector. At any rate, it was a reminder of Episcopal practice of the early 20th century, when (I have read) it was common at ecumenical gatherings for there to be three separate celebrations of the Eucharist: one for Episcopalians, one for Lutherans, and one for everybody else.

Posted by BillyD at Tuesday, 30 June 2009 at 2:09pm BST

"No one, as far as we can tell, advocates that churches establish checkpoints on the way to the altar."

Absolutely not, but why would we need to? Among the many other things it is, reception of the Eucharist is an expression of one's desire to participate in the work of the Kingdom, a sign of a person's acceptance of Jesus and His Gospel. How many would want to do that if they were not interested in actually becoming a member of the ecclesia and taking part in the work of the Kingdom? Who'd want to lie to God, even one they don't believe in? Perhaps if this were taught a bit more clearly from the pulpit, it wouldn't be much of an issue. All you'd have to do is be clear that reception of the Eucharist is a sign of one's reception of the Gospel, so if you are not prepared to receive the Gospel and follow Christ, then do you really want to carry out an act that say you are indeed prepared to do so? Then we can just rely on people's consciences and sense of respect for others. If they don't have either of those, well, the consequences of "unworthy reception", as we used to say, are between them and God. Of course, some guilt assumers will want to try to portray this as somehow being all exclusive and elitist. But seriously, encouraging people not to give evidence of their willingness to receive the Gospel when they are not actually willing to receive the Gospel, is that so terribly exclusive? "If you aren't interested in being a part of this fellowship, don't do something that suggests that you are." Is that so terrible a thing?

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 30 June 2009 at 2:09pm BST

Generally, I agree with Fr. Bill Carroll. Yet Tom Sramek, Jr. has a point: perhaps there should be “exceptions to the restriction within their dioceses for pastoral and/or evangelistic reasons."

Posted by Kurt at Tuesday, 30 June 2009 at 4:55pm BST

Jim Norton's article on 'Episcopal Cafe' draws our attention to the fact that GC 2009 will - among other important issues - become a definitive anvil for the working out of future attitudes towards the implementation of the Church's recognition and blessing of same-sex unions.

Whether or not the delegates will decide to defer the whole question of official liturgies, the outcome is bound to affect the rest of the Communion. If General Convention decides to go forward with any accommodation of the need for specific legislation allowing Church blessings of same-sex partnerships, they should do so without resort to subterfuge of any kind - as this will only exacerbate the situation of equivocation that has marked other aspects of moral decision-making in the Church at large. (One only has to think about the havoc that has been caused by the R.C. Church's ruling on the matter of contraception, and its wide-spread avoidance by ther majority of Church members).

Subterfuge can only heighten the suspicion of non-Church people, whose experience of the Church has led them to a lack of confidence in the Church's ability to deal with real issues of concern to the wider community, which impinge upon their personal and common life situations.

If the issue is between maintaining the status quo of Anglican solidarity, and moving forward in prophetic response to the call of the Holy Spirit on an issue of justice and integrity; then TEC has no other recourse but to 'listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church', and do what the local Church feels is its authentic calling to do in the circumstances prevailing.

To wait for the rest of the Church to 'catch up' to what has become an important matter of human emancipation of a significant sector of the Churches' membership (though this might seem to be the more prudent option - in order to please those who might prefer the status quo) would be seen by many as a 'lack of nerve' equivalent to the decision by our Roman brethren to resile from some of the recommendations of Vatican II.

The Anglican Communion is not like the Church of Rome. We are not dependent daughters of the Church of England (though affiliated by bonds of love to the See of Canterbury). What we are is a group of independent provincial Churches, bound by filial relationship to the Catholic and Reformed elements of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, that emerged from the reformation of 16th century Western Christianity. Our common aim might be said to contain the modern-day call to embrace the ethic: 'semper reformanda'. This culture allows the Church to respond to the specifics of ministry arising from the real needs of the local community - which may not be identical to, nor consonant with, the particular needs of other local Churches.

What happens at GC 2009 will undoubtedly have some effect on other Churches of our Communion.
What the TEC delegates decide will determine the future shape of the Communion, but will not make any difference to those, such as ACNA, who are determined to separate out from the culture of Anglicanism as we now know it in the wider world.
Kyrie eleison, Christ eleison, Kyrie eleison!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 30 June 2009 at 7:02pm BST

"All you'd have to do is be clear that reception of the Eucharist is a sign of one's reception of the Gospel, so if you are not prepared to receive the Gospel and follow Christ, then do you really want to carry out an act that say you are indeed prepared to do so?"

But what does that MEAN, Ford?

I agree w/ you, as far as this goes.

But that's not the same, I don't think, as being "a baptized and receiving member of one's local church" (much less, the even more exclusive permutations).

Any individual person can decide for themselves---even on the spur of the moment---whether they are "prepared to receive the Gospel and follow Christ". However, to be baptized/previously-receiving requires prior actions (inc. by others).

The crux, for me, is whether we're even going to PERMIT the Holy Spirit to act in the moment, on an individual non-baptized/non-previously-receiving, or not.

Personally, I'd like the canons to formally acknowledge such Moments of Grace (***NOT*** to be confused w/ some blanket reductio-ad-absurdio as "Open Communion", much less "Oh, in TEC you can believe whatever you want". Feh!)

Posted by JCF at Wednesday, 1 July 2009 at 3:23am BST

Mentioned at Tobias Hallers' blog, but worth repeating:

Our priests invite all baptized to received, and the unbaptized to receive a blessing at the altar. And no :-) no credentials are checked - and my church does get a reasonable amount of out-of-town visitors and tourists.

I'm starting to feel incredibly old-fashioned on this issue, no doubt because in the 1960-1970s, we were raised with no communion until after confirmation. I'm not offended at an RC mass that I'm not invited to receive, but that's because I honor their beliefs and traditions, and my friends that follow them. We were taught about such things in Sunday school, and at home - though I didn't quite understand the "why" until I was an adult.

I think most people want to do the right thing, so let them know, gracefully - and I think a priest's blessing is a thing of grace. It offers grace to me, sometimes, when I don't feel my mind and heart are quite open to receiving the Eucharist.

Posted by Lynn at Wednesday, 1 July 2009 at 4:02pm BST

I am Jewish and sing in the choir of an Episcopal church. One day, nearing Maundy Thursday, I e-mailed a priest at the church and asked him what were the Episcopal Church's view on what actually occurs at Communion. His asnwer was essentially, "It depends." He said some people believe in transubstantiation, others believe in consubstantiation, there are church teachings on Real Presence, etc. Seeing such anbiguity, and wanting to be respectful, when the choir receives communion, I have always opted to be blessed instead.
I believe communion to be a 2,000 year essentially unbroken chain of priests and worshippers following Jesus' command to "do this in rememrance of me". It is a memorial.
I know that properly ordained clergy are believed trough the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine, but for me, the sharing of that bread and wine is a formal, liturgical way of keeping the life and teachings of Jesus alive.
Since Jesus requested/commanded that his followers "all be one", it puzzles and confuses me that some Christian churches feel free to exclude other Christian church's followers from communion. "You're not good enough for us" is hardly within Jesus' teachings.

Posted by peterpi at Wednesday, 1 July 2009 at 5:50pm BST


The problem is that, according to some, if you don't do and don't believe exactly as they do, you aren't really a Christian. You see and hear it all the time from the extreme ends of things, where there are folks who refuse to call Roman Catholics Christian, for example.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Wednesday, 1 July 2009 at 11:24pm BST

"Any individual person can decide for themselves---even on the spur of the moment---whether they are "prepared to receive the Gospel and follow Christ". However, to be baptized/previously-receiving requires prior actions (inc. by others)."

And, having made that decision, that person is then received through baptism. If your argument is that this is the Spirit moving people to accept the Gospel (and I see no more reason to say that than to deny it), and that such reception then constitutes what in the Early Church was called a "baptism of intent", then fine. But that person still has to go on and formally become a Christian, because baptism is an awful lot more than simply standing up and saying "I believe this stuff". We are not talking about someone jumping through the appropriate hoops to become a member of the club, after all. Becoming a Christian is a big decision, and requires a bit more discernment than getting the warm fuzzies in the middle of Mass. How many of the parishes that want to do this have the structure in place to support these new Christians in their journey of becoming Christians? How many of these parishes will tell people that coming forward to receive shows a desire to become a Christian? What stops us from saying "If you feel moved to receive, then let come to one of our ministry team after Mass and we will be delighted to support and inform you as you become a Christian, and then you can take part fully in the Eucharist." But is that what this is about, really? It sounds more like "Oh we have to be all open and inclusive and not turn anyone away." Indeed. In the words of an old Mar Thoma priest in india, it isn't good to turn anyone away from Holy Communion. But the Eucharist is also the central mystery of our faith, one of the highest graces. We need to be careful that in our desire to be inclusive, something I think is often afflicted by the phenomenon of people being so open minded their brains fall out, we do not at the same time strip all the meaning and dignity from one of our most treasured gifts. Unless it is quite clear to people what reception of the Eucharist means, and that such reception signifies a desire to follow Christ, and unless such parishes put in place the structures to support these people who are moved by the Spirit to accept the Gospel, then you run the very real risk of people getting the warm fuzzies on a Sunday when they are there to watch their friend's kid be baptised, and trotting on up for a nosh because, well, it just feels all warm and fuzzy. Do we not have a higher regard than this for something that we at least pretend to believe is one of the most important gifts we receive from God? And how much of an issue is this anyway? Are there large numbers of people out there with such a sense of entitlement that they think it is their right to take part in the sacred rituals of a religion they do not profess? And if so, is it appropriate for us to give in to that sense of entitlement, or perhaps, in a Christian manner, of course, suggest that they get over themselves and try to show a bit of respect for others?

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 2 July 2009 at 4:19pm BST

Ford Elms makes a lot of sense here. However, what ought perhaps to be taken into account is the need for teaching about what the sacrament of Holy Communion is really all about. I guess this marks out a major difference between Roman Catholics and Others (including some Anglicans, it must be said) who have no particular belief in the actual Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Once one is convinced that Christ is indeed present in a special way at the Eucharistic celebration (and in the consecrated Elements), then one's presence at, and reception of, the Eucharist, takes on an altogether different significance - a reality not, perhaps, encountered by everyone present at a celebration of the Eucharist.

What, then, about those present at a celebration who may not be aware of the Presence of Christ in this special way? Should the Church forbid their off-the-cuff response to the invitation:
"O taste and see how gracious the Lord is", by the priest at the altar? In connection with this, I wonder how many people have been affected spiritually by responding naturally to such an invitation when offered - even though they may not yet have been either baptized or confirmed? To imagine that such a response would be an offence against God or the Church might be short-sighted, to say the least.

However, the opportunity to teach about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist ought perhaps to be taken much more seriously than it often is, and if newcomers to the Faith were made more welcome at the eucharistic liturgy, then we should not be too surprised if the Holy Spirit encourages them to become become more fully engaged as fully fledged members of the Body of Christ - with a growing appreciation of what the other major sacrament (of Baptism) will come to mean in their lives.

When I am in Rome (in a R.C. church where I am not known) I feel a distinct obligation to take part fully in the Eucharistic Celebration - not to prove a point to anyone about else about my membership of the Body of Christ, regardless - but to share, albeit anonymously, in the Presence of Christ, as He is recognised in that particular community. For me, where Christ is recognised in the Eucharist, He is accessible to all who believe He is really present.

Can we deny access to this presence of Christ to anyone who detects His Presence and wants to receive Him? If Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, can He not begin a work of conversion in the heart and mind of a former non-believer?

This, I feel, is where those who want to protect Christ against 'unqualified participants' - in their insistence on admitting only their own to reception of the sacrament - may be preventing their ever experiencing the grace that Christ just might have in mind for them at that time.
Christ is more generous than we are, and the Church needs to heed that reality. We in the Church are not 'gate-keepers' but 'God's little poor, showing other poor people where to find Bread'.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 2 July 2009 at 9:03pm BST


I'm not disagreeing with the tenor of your post, but "Do we not have a higher regard than this for something that we at least pretend to believe is one of the most important gifts we receive from God?" and "Unless it is quite clear to people what reception of the Eucharist means..." are difficult statements, when even professed, baptised and active Christians cannot agree on what the Eucharist is and what it means.

We must be careful that we do not over-intellectualise what being a Christian means, and that we do not fall into the trap of believing that our personal understanding is The Truth that others have to proclaim too before they can join our club.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 2 July 2009 at 9:47pm BST

"Can we deny access to this presence of Christ to anyone who detects His Presence and wants to receive Him?"

There are some presuppositions in this that I don't necessarily agree with. First, does the warm fuzzy, "It'd be nice to take part in this, gee I wish these Christians weren't so exclusive" really about detection of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Second, the idea that this is "denying access" is perhaps a bit skewed. We are not saying to the unbaptised "You may not be one of us." We ARE saying "If you want to be one of us, that consists of a lot more than just deciding in the middle of Mass that you would like to do whatever it is the people around you are doing so you can feel included."

This gets at your attitude to reception in a Roman church. I did once, but only after I asked the priest if he had any objections. That isn't about me being prevented from taking part in a sharing of the Body of Christ, it's about respect for the rules of one's hosts. Rome doesn't allow open Table Fellowship. I think they're wrong, but I don't think I have the right to take part in their celebration unbeknownst to them. Sorry, but that just seems rude. No doubt you have equally deeply held beliefs as to why it is not, and I respect that, but I can't share your practice. It's too much like demanding hospitality.

"the trap of believing that our personal understanding is The Truth that others have to proclaim too before they can join our club."

It isn't about that at all. But there IS something of a club, after all, there are some basics. There were lots of beliefs going around in the first 3 centuries of Christianity, many of them did not make it. Why? Do we stand for anything or not? If so, why is it in some sense "exclusive" for us to stand for those things? If not, then what's the point? Does the Church not have a responsibility to explain to a world ever more alienated from its message actually what that message IS? Anglicanism is a bit loose on that, preferring to give wide expression to the variety of ideas we have developed over the years than imposing some rigid doctrinal uniformity. But that is part of what we believe the message is. You seem to be implying the Church has no right at all to teach what She believes, lest it contradict the personal attitudes of individuals. But the Church has never seen the Truth as being expressed in the personal ideas of individuals, but in the communal understanding of the ecclesia. I might have great difficulties with some of what Augustine taught, but I certainly wouldn't say that my understanding of the faith is equally as valid as his. I mean, if Christianity is nothing more than what we as individuals believe it to be, we are all essentially in a community of one.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 6 July 2009 at 7:47pm BST
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