Communion resolutions open the table for discussion

At issue: unbaptized people receiving the Eucharist

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted May 15, 2012
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


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Comments (74)

  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.

    1. 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.

    2. (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.

    1. 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?

    1. Kevin Roberts says:

      AMEN!

      1. 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.

    2. 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.”

      1. Edgar Wallace says:

        Thank you. Well said.

      2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    1. 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?”

    2. 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?

      1. 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?

    1. 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.

    1. Jared Cramer says:

      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. John Speller says:

    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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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?

    1. 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.)

    1. Judith Wood says:

      Amen to that!

  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. David Cobb says:

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

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

    1. Jared Cramer says:

      Thank you, Fr. Cobb.

    2. Bob Griffith says:

      Yes, thanking you Fr. Cobb for providing perspective and balance.

  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?

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

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