'Water first, or table?' Committee hears 'open table' testimony

By Pat McCaughan
Posted Jul 6, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] There was standing room only at two separate hearings July 6 as the 77th General Convention’s Evangelism Committee heard both personal testimonials and theological rebuttals of the controversial “open table” Resolution C040.

Bishops, deputies, visitors, youth observers and committee members themselves testified in morning and afternoon sessions about which should come first; baptism or communion.

The resolution calls for a rubric change in the prayer book to invite all people “regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion” and would delete Canon 1.17.7, which holds that “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this church.”

Emma Grandhauser, from Minnesota, a member of convention’s official youth presence, testified that she didn’t attend church until she was six, and she was baptized at 13.

“I still remember my first Sunday in church at St. John the Evangelist in St. Paul,” she said. “It’s a church with their own open table policy.

“I was blown away by how welcoming the community was,” she said. “They didn’t just tell me about God’s love, they showed me that God’s love is for everyone.

“Communion is a really radical statement that we make,” she added. “We proclaim that Jesus died for us, that he loved us so much, so what better way to nurture new believers than by offering them a piece of God’s love which I know is for them? It’s not just for the baptized, it’s for everybody. I don’t think I would have been as comfortable with my baptism at 13, in my doubting, skeptical years, if the church hadn’t shown me the radical hospitality of open table. I don’t want the Episcopal Church to be a place of exclusion.”

But the Rev. Jason Wells, a deputy alternate from the Diocese of New Hampshire, said that to the unbaptized he offers a blessing at the altar rail “and prepares them for baptism, to make their first communion immediately after that. I don’t do that because there’s a canon on the books. I do it for the theological and biblical rationale. To remove this one line from our canons does not change what my practice would be in the church.”

He called the resolution’s language “confusing and somewhat self-defeating.”

T.J. Geiger, from the diocese of Central New York and a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s young adult presence, said he belongs to the Episcopal Church because of an open table policy.

When he first visited an Episcopal church in April 2010 there was no indication that baptism as a precursor to communion was the practice of the church, he said.

Now he is a vestry member and in the process of being licensed as a lay preacher, none of which, he says, would have happened “had I seen explicitly the statement of exclusion. Had I seen the warning that only baptized persons may receive this sacrament or if I had heard it, like a border warning saying you must present your documents, I would have felt like an undocumented immigrant trying to enter the kingdom of God. We need all the people to be in reconciliation with each other.”

But others, like the Rev. Carola von Wrangel, a deputy from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, said that if passed, the resolution would create serious challenges for interfaith and ecumenical relationships.

“I serve a church in Europe that has 35 different countries represented, has people of many denominations and we are part of an ecumenical body and interfaith dialogue with others. Our stepping ahead of our interfaith and ecumenical dialogues by going straight to open communion will greatly harm our relationships with others, both within and outside parish life,” she said. “We are called to move together as a church, as the greater church, not just as the Episcopal Church. Communion, baptism, ministry are bigger than just us.”

Anne Watkins, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Connecticut and a Province 1 representative to Executive Council, said she favored the resolution. “I’m of the age, 59, that I remember the time when confirmation was the ticket to the table,” she told the committee. “Baptism wasn’t, and I remember at age seven or eight asking and never getting a satisfactory answer why when I’m with everybody else in church, am I not fit at the table. We corrected that, in my humble opinion.”

The resolution should be reworded, she told the committee, because “it seems to be dividing us into a false dichotomy, that it has to be either/or. We’re making the assumption that if we invite people to an open table we’re throwing out baptism. You have an opportunity to amend the resolution to make it stronger so it isn’t either/or.”

The Rev. Patrick Malloy, a liturgics professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, rejected it because “the resolution is extremely thin in its theology. There isn’t anything supporting this resolution except the notion that we should be hospitable,” he said.

“Every other way we understand this very complex mystery of Christ’s presence among us is completely ignored.”

Ariana Gonzalez-Bonillas, an official youth presence participant from the Diocese of Arizona, said she has seen the fruits of the open table. “It is more welcoming and evangelical, nurturing believers,” she said. “I’ve seen a whole Latino congregation accepted to take open communion before being baptized. They did get baptized … participating can lead to baptism. We gave them that nurturing and the open table gave that connection with God.”

The Rt. Rev. Scott Hayashi, bishop of Utah and a committee member, said he was baptized at age 27 but had taken communion many times prior to that. He testified “in opposition to both resolutions and I also rise in favor of every single person who has spoken about the way to welcome all people to community, regardless of how they were baptized. How can I do this?” he asked. “It’s easy. I’m an Episcopalian.”

He called a companion resolution, C-029, which would establish a special commission to study baptismal and Eucharistic theology, unnecessary. “In regard to setting up a special commission to study this. I do not think we need to spend any more time studying holy baptism or communion. So much work has been done on it, it is redundant.”

He added, “We’ve been doing theology, we’re not of the same mind and the Spirit of God is moving in both directions. It’s a great Episcopal way to be, if you ask me.”

The Rev. Leonel Blanco, also a committee member, said he favored the resolution, because of a personal pastoral experience.

During a pastoral visit to a parishioner, a family member asked for communion. “She was suffering with cancer in the head,” he said through a translator. “I did not ask her whether she was baptized or not.”

The community made her happy because she had been refused communion by her Roman Catholic priest, “because I am not legally married,” she told him. “I remembered Jesus Christ’s words; come unto me all of you who are tired and weary. I wonder if we were here with Jesus Christ today, would he say come unto me, all of you who are baptized or confirmed?”

“Communion is also an act of evangelization; that is the reason why I give communion to everyone,” Blanco said.

—The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.


Comments (37)

  1. Jeremy Bates says:

    Seems to me that those who object to the open table feel a need to make sure that people “understand” what they are receiving.

    Most people understand what bread and wine are. Most people also understand the words of the eucharistic liturgy, and can judge for themselves what the bread and wine become.

    Perhaps that is what most troubles people–the idea that people might judge for themselves?

    1. Bruce E. Ford says:

      The Eucharist is the action of the Body of Christ, the Church. All are invited to be incorporated into the Body of Christ through Baptism. Those who have not been baptized are NOT members of Christ’s body.

      It is precisely because the Church is the Body of Christ that when the church offers itself to the Father in the Eucharist, Christ is offered. The unbaptized are not part of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and a canonical change cannot make them part of it. Only Baptism can.

      The church and the world are not co-terminous. “Inclusion” means “closing in.” Unless people who are IN the church can are distinguishable from those who are OUTSIDE the church, talk about inclusion is meaningless.

      Communion, in the full sense of the word, is ESTABLISHED through Baptism.

      I am sickened to see this grave issue discussed in terms of peoples’ FEELINGS. The inclusion wrought by Baptism is objective. It has nothing to do with whether people FEEL included.
      FEELINGS are irrelevant to this discussion.

  2. What is interesting is that nearly all the opposition is from clergy. No one is ordained to be a gatekeeper.

    1. J. Harold A. Boyd says:

      Maybe those speaking before the committee who were opposed were all clergy but that does not mean all non-clergy members of our church agree with you. I for one am an Episcopalian from birth. My father was an Episcopal Priest. I was not allowed to have Holy Communion until I was confirmed. Today, all you need is to be baptized. I feel that this is the very least that a person should show they have chosen Christ before taking part in His Communion.

      1. I grew up in the same era you did. So at age 8 I asked the Rector, Fr. Craven, what I had to do to receive communion. He said you had to be confirmed. I asked what did I have to do to get confirmed. He said learn the catechism. So I took a prayer book home and learned the catechism verbatim. I told him I did. He asked me the questions and I responded with the correct answers, verbatim. He presented me to the Bishop for confirmation the next time the Bishop was there. So at 9 years of age, I was confirmed and started receiving communion. HOWEVER – I was unusual. I’d like to see everyone at the table without having to jump through hoops.

    2. David Jackson says:

      The fact of the matter is this. One does not need to be baptized, confirmed, ordained, etc. to become member of Gods’ family. These are all rituals. One has to simply accept in their heart, Gods’ son Jesus Christ & the free gift of salvation that was made available to all at Calvary. Of course God wants us to be part of a church family with other like-minded believers so we can grow spiritually, but don’t get it twisted. The church rituals are in no way a pre-requisite for salvation & eternal life.

  3. Joseph Farnes says:

    I find it interesting that the article is written to lean toward those who favor abolishing baptism as a precursor to admission to the communion table. Which side starts and ends the article?

    Question: when will we also abolish baptism and confirmation as requirements to holding church office? What, then, is the role of baptism, and does it confer any spiritual grace or actually incorporate someone indivisibly into the Body of Christ?

    At what point will we recognize that God can be worshiped and adored outside the context of the Holy Eucharist? I’m glad that we as a church have returned to the ancient practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist each week and sharing the Body and Blood with even infants who have been baptized, but now have we neglected our rich heritage of Morning and Evening Prayer (which, oddly enough, have never required baptism) because “worship won’t happen without bread and wine and a priest”? Those who have not been baptized are also called to prayer and devotion to God – hence why Paul has that whole conversation in Acts about the altar to the “Unknown God”. Those who have not been baptized are still loved deeply by God and God graces and blesses those whom God so chooses. God is Love, and God sends blessings and love to all the corners of the world. Those who are not baptized can still pray, even if they do not really know who they’re talking to. How many people are there who aren’t really sure who God is but pray anyway? God hears their prayers. Baptism and the Eucharist, however, are special sacraments that God has entrusted to the Church for nourishing those whom God has called into the Church. If God calls someone into the Church, then they are incorporated into the Mystical Body by means of Baptism. The Holy Eucharist, then, is the sacred feast of the Church where Christ is mystically present – it is God’s gift to the Church to observe with love and reverence.

    Honestly, I fear that this entire debate about “welcoming” is a way to avoid having real conversations about real issues. When the debate is kindly framed “welcoming / open table” and “exclusivist / gatekeeping / baptism before Eucharist” we have already tried to paint people into a corner.

    Do I oppose communion without baptism? Yes, because I hold Baptism in the highest regard as the means by which we proclaim the reality of what we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist. Why would someone partake of the Body and Blood when they haven’t decided that they actually believe in the Good News which the sacred meal proclaims? And why would they believe in the Good News and not be baptized?

    The issue, for me, is not that people “don’t understand” the Body and Blood. I confess I really don’t, either, though I do trust that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament. The issue is that “being welcoming” is taking precedence over really wrestling with the mysteries, with what we live and proclaim (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again – now what is it that we are baptized into, again?). People are not excluded from God’s grace because they are baptized or not (God is free to bless those whom God chooses), but this is not just “some” wafer and wine we’re eating. It’s participating in a real, holy mystery which is part of deep spiritual preparation and finds its deepest roots when the soil is well-nurtured.

    (And if those who favor ending the requirement want to say that I’m unwelcoming and excluding others, I’d like to remind them that they and I are already bound together by the vows we have made in baptism. If they want to doubt my love for others who have not been baptized, if they want to say I’m being “exclusionary”, then I’d like to ask them this: if you’ll treat someone who is bound to you in baptism with dislike, then how will you treat who are not bound to you in baptism? Can one member of the Body say to another, “I have no need of you”?)

  4. Elaine Jenkins says:

    I agree with Joseph Farnes that “welcoming” is an excuse for not dealing with deeper theological issues about who we are as followers of Christ. It seems that the answer to declining membership is to be “welcoming.” The inference is that people will visit once, find the congregation nice and continue coming back. This is shallow and unrealistic. I am not dismissing the need for people to be welcomed by the parish, but I am thinking that if all people are looking for is a welcoming community, they can find that at the Kiwanas, Eagles, Elks and many other community organizations.

    My belief is that the Church has more to offer. We have the healing love of God as manifested in Jesus. We have the potential of entering into deep relationship with one another based on our relationship with God. We have the potential for continual renewal and growth as individuals and communities. This is far more than being “welcoming.” How is it that we demonstrate the gifts that God gives us on a deep level? How can we touch the tender places of people’s hearts and help them open to God’s healing love? How can we nurture people to continue to grow in Christ?

    Admittedly this is more difficult than inviting everyone to the communion table. It requires intention and commitment. But it seems to have worked for the early Christian Church. This was a church without a lot of political power. It was struggling to survive and its members were being persecuted and killed. Strangely, their faith attracted others- for there was something to this new faith that must have been of value; people were going to their deaths singing and praising God. People value that which requires commitment and that which costs them something. Perhaps we should focus on forming those people who are already in our churches and prepare them to share the love of Christ with those who walk in the door. Perhaps this would help us be better disciples and perhaps we would have something richer and deeper to share with people who come through our doors.

  5. Jeremy Bates says:

    Joseph, you say that “the issue is not that people ‘don’t understand’ the Body and Blood”–but the rest of your comment makes clear that this is indeed the issue.

    You seem want to make sure that everyone at the communion table shares your view of what is happening there.

    You want people to “really wrestle with the mysteries” first. Only then, by your lights, is the recipient deeply spiritually prepared–or to use your rather suggestive metaphor, only then is the “soil well-nurtured.”

    1. Joseph Farnes says:

      Jeremy, the peace of the Lord be with you.

      I don’t think you read my comment at all. Please re-read it. What I believe about the Eucharist isn’t the issue, and I was abundantly clear about it. Never have I stated that “everyone should believe X about the Eucharist”. The nature of how it becomes the body and blood of Christ is not the issue. It is a spiritual discipline issue.

      1. Jeremy Bates says:

        Peace, Joseph.

        Please do not assume that merely because I disagree with you, I have not read what you wrote. Indeed, I re-read your comment several times before posting my comment above, so that I might better understand what you said.

        You said that “The Holy Eucharist, then, is the sacred feast of the Church where Christ is mystically present – it is God’s gift to the Church to observe with love and reverence.”

        This is one understanding of communion. I would say it is a bit ahistorical–the Christian communion has fairly deep roots in Judaism–but it is one understanding.

        Some Christians, however, regard communion as a common meal, or as a memorial of Christ’s suffering and death. This freights the bread and wine with less significance–and surely this is an easier position for a beginning Christian to take.

        You asked, “Why would someone partake of the Body and Blood when they haven’t decided that they actually believe in the Good News which the sacred meal proclaims?”

        One answer: Because belief is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Suppose this someone has only a mustard seed of faith?

        You now say that this is a “spiritual discipline issue.” Could you please clarify? Are you saying that everyone needs to work a little bit before they can partake of the bounty of our Lord?

        But what if someone wants God’s grace, or understands that he or she needs God’s grace, yet cannot achieve much discipline to prepare for it–because he or she is too depressed, too upset, too bitter, too grieving?

        One traditional view is that such people, even if they are baptized Episcopalians, should not take communion, because they are not sufficiently at peace with themselves and the world.

        To me, however, it is especially for such people that communion is made.

        1. Joseph Farnes says:


          So what we do agree upon is that the Eucharist is incredibly significant (otherwise we wouldn’t disagree so strongly).

          As far as what the Eucharist is, I don’t think we should so readily identify it with a Jewish seder — Jesus does say this is his body and blood, and our Prayer Book says in Eucharistic Prayer B on page 369:

          “We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with [______________ and] all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.”

          This language is not the language of a seder. In this prayer, we are asking God to unite us to his Son in the sacrifice of the Cross. We are united with Christ in baptism. Maybe we should be practicing the Moravian Lovefeast (which is kept distinct from communion)?

          I am a young convert to the Episcopal Church – and I came to the Episcopal Church from church traditions that did not have strong theologies of what the bread and wine (or water, when I was Mormon) were. Did I partake not knowing what it was, other than that the Church taught it was Christ’s Body and Blood, something incredibly holy? Yes. Do I still partake? Probably unworthily, but yes. And I really can’t say that the bread and wine are anything other than the Body and Blood – something holy, something incredibly holy, but I know it’s holy. I guess we need to ask: are the consecrated elements anything holy in themselves or only in context of worship? I am grateful that the priest who taught me before I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church sat me down and helped me explore Eucharistic theology so I could start making sense of what was happening in the mass (not that I’m done trying to make sense of it) so I could see the holiness of the elements.

          If someone has just a mustard seed of faith, why not nourish it and give it voice? Why not dialogue with people and listen to them to help them grow in what they believe? It might be worse to just leave the person to figure out faith by themselves because they won’t have the benefit of the vast resources of tradition, Scripture, and solid teaching. Let them first just listen to the Word, learn to say the prayers, and grow spiritually so they can ask themselves, “What is it that I believe, and why is this bread and wine so important? What does Christ’s life mean to me? What does the Church mean to me?” Wouldn’t that help them make sense of why they feel drawn to eat and drink the Body and Blood, and wouldn’t that reflection nourish their spiritual journey a lot?

          As far as the Spiritual Discipline issue, I think we all (myself included) should take St Paul’s advice a little more seriously: “For all who eat and drink unworthily eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor 11:29). The Prayer Book catechism is a little stricter:
          Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist? A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people (pg 860).

          I’m certainly not in love and charity with all people, let alone actually doing the rest of the stuff I should. Do I eat in condemnation of myself? Yes, because I am taking for granted the promises and grace of the Gospel. I am assuming God will be gracious to me, and that puts me in a position of being egotistical. Grace is a gift, not a right. God does not owe it to me (or anyone) but freely gives it to those whom God chooses.

          For those who are hurting, shouldn’t it be OUR bodies and hearts and minds that they receive first? If they don’t know our love first, if we aren’t the ones listening as they walk and figure out their faith alongside us, then will the love of God seem as apparent? God’s grace also acts outside of the elements (i.e. God’s grace can work through us outside the Eucharist).

          Does this help make my ideas any clearer?

          1. Jeremy Bates says:

            Joseph, I’m not sure. A couple things.

            I’m not certain we agree on how significant communion is. A sacrament is, after all, just an outward sign. Lots of Christians go through life without having communion more than once or twice a year, if that. But lots of people, like you, find it very significant. Some of them are baptized; some are not.

            As for communion’s roots in Judaism, I would say that a communion is, in part, a seder re-purposed by Jesus. It may not be that primarily, in the church’s mind today; but that historical link is surely why the “breaking of the bread” was such a familiar ritual to the earliest Christians, many of them Jewish.

            We all fall short of the Catechism ideal, so spiritual discipline doesn’t get us where the Catechism says we ought to be. As you say, grace makes up the difference. Why is that grace not available, at the communion table, to the baptized and unbaptized alike?

  6. Emmetri Monica Beane says:

    I am not a cradle Episcopalian. Therefore, I was not baptized as an infant. I was baptized at age 21 when I made a mature profession of faith and repentance in the Baptist church. Prior to that time, if I had become and Episcopalian, I would not have been able to participate in Eucharist and would have felt like an outsider.

    Due to divorce and custody arrangements, my 2 daughters were reared mostly in the Baptist church. My younger daughter who was only 6 years of age when I became an Episcopalian felt comfortable approaching the rail to receive a blessing. My older daughter who was 12 at the time did not and never did. She chose the Episcopal church at age 18 and was baptized into our tradition of worship as an adult. My younger daughter is now 15 and remains without baptism although she clearly professes faith in Christ. As a young adult, we are allowing her to choose the time of her baptism. When she worships with me, she is comfortable receiving a blessing especially when her favorite Bishop (Bishop Ted Gulick) is the celebrant.

    I feel the pull of both sides of this discussion. I respect the importance of Baptism as a sacrament of initiation into the church. Yet, I remember worrying that my older daughter felt like she was being shunned when she attended church with me because she was not baptized. There are no easy answers to how the Episcopal church balances this.

    I think we must work hard at building relationships with every person in our pews so that the message that the “Episcopal Church Welcomes You” is truly felt in action. Too many times have I heard from people who have visited an Episcopal church that they felt we were a closed society where you had to know special things in order to be an insider. It is our job as ambassadors for Christ to see that “all divisions cease” especially when we are celebrating our Lord’s greatest act of Love.

    1. Joseph Farnes says:

      I think the Church needs to practice real hospitality and sharing the sacred mysteries while also just practicing love. No one is an “outsider” and should be loved and respected. I am also glad that your daughters would go forward for a blessing – isn’t that something that the world really needs right now, someone to proclaim a blessing on them?

      If we want to be welcoming, then we should be welcoming – but does that mean that the guest sets the rules in the house, or that we love them enough to talk with them, share with them our traditions and how important they are (and what preparation these sacred traditions and the Gospel require)?

      Maybe instead of changing the long-standing, ancient practices of the Church, we should sit down and really focus on how to love others in daily life. Do we love the stranger without strings attached, or do we want them to feel so welcome that they contribute to the church and reverse years of perceived “decline” in the Church? Welcoming people in church and ending the requirement of baptism will not necessarily make our Church a truly more welcoming and holy place. Only a people continually changed, nourished, and re-formed by God’s grace can make God’s love that apparent.

      1. Emmetri Monica Beane says:

        I really appreciate your perspective Joseph. Thank you. It is the balance I was looking for on this topic with an emphasis on Love, ministry, and hospitality. I would add that receiving a blessing is a unique form of welcome that perhaps we should offer more openly. My 15 year old treasures it. It is a special comfort that I think she will welcome even after she begins to receive the sacrament. The priest where I am serving my field placement as a Postulant for the Vocational Diaconate offers both during Eucharist and many communicants ask for a blessing in addition to receiving the sacrament.

  7. Howie Gelles says:

    On this question, I was recently asked, “What would Jesus do?”. My short answer: He was Baptized.

    1. Lynne Jacobson says:

      Howie, I’m as certain as I can be that Jesus never baptized anyone. Please check the Gospels.

      1. Howie Gelles says:

        No, He didn’t. But He WAS Baptized. By inference, so were His Disciples. AND He did instruct them to Baptize all those who would follow Him.

  8. Anne McCorkle Garrett says:

    A former United Methodist pastor, I used the official invitation “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love thim, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” The UM stand was not that unbaptized followers were welcomed at the table (as many Episcopalians assume), but rather that the table would not be policed. The intent of this invitation was indeed to invite the baptized, but if others accepted this invitation, they would not be turned away. One time the Hindu father of a Confirmand, who was in attendance in support of his daughter’s choice, came forward and I served him. I don’t know what the moment meant to him, but it was a powerful experience for me to put the bread in his hand and say, “The body of Christ given for you.”

    It is possible to word the invitation in such a way that the policy is not changed, but no one feels excluded. If someone comes forward and does not cross arms over chest, but holds hands out, what are you going to do? I chose gracious hospitality, confident that the Spirit was at work.

  9. Wayne Rollins says:

    I’m usually too busy trying to help the baptized live in community in a loving, hospitable way to be concerned about who else might come to the table.

  10. Beverley F. Clement says:

    I was baptized as an infant in the Episcopal Church. I am in agreement with what Howie Gelles wrote. Do you reject the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist? Jesus said, “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Light. No one can come to The Father save by Me.” As an adult I left the Episcopal Church when this “welcoming” movement took away the Church I had been raised in. As this “welcoming” movement took hold I found that I had many more questions that the church could not answer or help me with finding the answers. Since then, I have been welcomed into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have found many answers here, and have found a strong connection with, and faith in, Jesus Christ. My faith has become stronger and more clearly understood than it ever was in the Episcopal Church. I have complete faith in the love of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ my Savior, and The Holy Spirit, not just for me, but for all mankind.

    1. Jeremy Bates says:

      As was pointed out above, Christ didn’t baptize anyone.

  11. Kris Christensen says:

    The article suggests that many of those testifying in favor of open table are younger. We might do well to listen to the voices of those who are inheriting the church.

    Although I was already baptized when I first came to the Episcopal Church, if the first place I visited had a closed table, I would not have stayed. No theological argument could have made up for being told there were insiders and outsiders. That’s the notion that sent me away from the church (another denomination) for 20 years. It simply doesn’t match my experience of God.

    Our inner city parish welcomes an incredible diversity of folks–from middle-class cradle Episcopalians to homeless and mentally ill folks from a variety of backgrounds. To restrict access to the table would fly in the face of our corporate call to be a place of sanctuary and community for all who enter. I wouldn’t invite someone to my home, then make them watch my family & I eat dinner because they weren’t “related” to us. I’m certainly aware we could be wrong theologically, but we trust Jesus example of radical table fellowship–soldiers, religious elites, and tax collectors gathered together. If we err, it is on the side of acceptance and love.

    1. Joseph Farnes says:

      Kris, do let me weigh in on my age: I’m celebrating my 26th birthday this month, and I’m not part of the generation “inheriting” the church. I already am fully part of the Church by virtue of baptism, and I’m part of a younger generation that is concerned about living into the deep traditions of the wider Christian tradition.

  12. The Body of Christ is all of us. It is not a closed country club. If you read our canons, the theme is barriers, barriers, barriers, to baptism, to communion, to ordination, to reception from other denominations, to transfers between parishes, to nearly everything there is a cumbersome process which can and does have the potential to be politically driven. This is not the way to spread the gospel. Baptism should be available immediately on demand and should not require a priest, not four times a year at Mass. Our table should be open to all comers without exception. We should establish objective criteria for ordination and orient it towards those who want to become priests to plant churches. Make reception of Roman and other catholic clergy quick and easy. Open table is the tip of the problem. There is lots more to be done if we are to truly carry out the Great Commission.

    1. Joseph Farnes says:

      Then should we also offer ordination to anyone who demands it? Would we, by denying it to someone, be depriving them and setting a barrier before them?

      1. I’m an attorney. The legal profession does not have discernment groups or standing committees or commissions on ministry or anything similar. To be a lawyer in California, you have to get a legal education, pass the bar, and pass a very extensive background check. On the church level, I propose some thing similar. We ordain as a priest anyone who has completed an M.Div. degree (deacon after the first two years) passes the GOE, and passes a background check. Preference should be given to those who want to start new congregations rather than those seeking employment with existing churches.

        1. Polk Van Zandt says:

          David, you might consider joining the Unitarians! Believe me, being a priest is not a “job” or “profession” like being an attorney. It is a CALLING. You cannot call yourself to the priesthood.

          1. Jeremy Bates says:

            Polk, do you really think that no one feels called to be an attorney?

            How about being called to be a teacher? Doctor? Nurse?

            Or are you saying that God’s callings are only to the priesthood?

  13. Susan Lockhart says:

    David, the Book of Common Prayer only states that it is “especially appropriate” on the 4 days you make reference to. The sacrament of baptism can be performed at any time. The Book of Common Prayer also specifies under the heading “Emergency Baptism” the following:

    “In case of emergency, any baptized person may administer Baptism.” and a form to follow is given: Using the given name of the one baptized (if known), pour water on him or her, saying, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. “The Lord’s Prayer is then said. Notice that the name of the person being baptized does not even need to be known.

    1. This should not be for emergencies only. It should be commonplace. Again – we are not a closed society!

  14. Polk Van Zandt says:

    I wonder if Mr. Geiger minded presenting his documents of confirmation before running for the vestry. Or are we going to lower the bar so much that anyone can be a Eucharistic Minister and vestry member just so we don’t offend them? Rev. Wells and Professor Malloy are both right on target. We can be open and pastoral without requiring baptism.

  15. Charlie Nichols says:

    When we offer worship and include communion, as many of our street ministries do, e.g., Boston’s Common Cathedral, are we checking that the attendees are properly baptized? This endless harangue about which should be first – the table or the font – assumes both are contained within one of our sacred buildings. Aren’t we getting the message from the empty seats?

  16. Greg Capaldini says:

    There’s a good discussion going here, which I wouldn’t want to prevent, but the solution to this matter is staring us in the face: We are Anglicans, and we can decide not to decide, at least as a body. Why not leave the prerogative of offering open communion to those in the front lines, specifically those people who administer the sacraments, who see the full or empty pews, who know the needs of their community, who know when people feel the need to uphold tradition and when people are spiritually led to do things differently: Our PRIESTS. Simply establish that Episcopal tradition is to welcome all baptized Christians to the table, but that an ordained individual, while preferring to have individuals baptized, may see a benefit to welcoming others as well to communion.

  17. Chaz Mercy says:

    So much for reporting the news in an unbiased manner. This article headline might as well have read “Open Table: Good or Great?”

  18. Paul Lewis says:

    Great discussion, my fellowship are Anglican (UK conservative Evangelical) but we never check a person’s baptismal credentials who wanders in. That may or may not come up in a chat after the service over a cup of tea (or coffee!). We do believe that communion is an opportunity for Christians to share a simple meal while reflecting on the sacrifice of Jesus. As such seems a nonsense if those coming forward have not accepted their need for rescue through the sacrifice we remember. Our Pastor does remind people of the words of Paul in 1 Corin 11 V 27-29 as we don’t want to encourage people to sin against the body and the blood of the Lord. I think it’s worth pointing out some baptised as children may even fall into the category referred to in Pauls letter while others who have accepted Jesus, but not been baptised, would not. That is of course assuming baptism to be symbolic rather than a spiritual qualification.

    By the way others may have pointed this out but in John 3 v22 John the Baptist’s disciples seem to have witnessed Jesus Baptising or at least overseeing his disciples baptising people, sort of suggests he felt this was important and the argument ‘Jesus never baptised’ a bit pointless.

    We would remind people who join our fellowship and have accepted Jesus as their Lord that they should be baptised (because Jesus commanded it) as a public declaration of their new life. We have 2 adults who are doing just that soon. However, more importantly is the fact that the Holy Spirit is with them now, they are living now as Christ’s own and as such it is a joy to see them with us at the communion table despite not yet being publicly dunked.

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