Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Come. Eat. Drink.

Per crucem ad lucem
Some of you know that I spent Easter with some of my Greek Orthodox friends. As it so happened on the calendar this year, it was the week after Western Christians celebrate Easter.

I blogged about it here.  One of the stories I told of my experience of that magnificent liturgy includes the following:
After we gathered on the steps of the church - the place was PACKED and the crowd spilled out onto the street - holding our lit candles and proclaiming and singing many, many times, "Christos Anesti!" (Christ is Risen) and responding "Alithos Anesti" (Truly, He is risen), Fr. Demetri said, "I beg you. I implore you. Please don't leave now. Please come back and celebrate Eucharist. Give thanks for this Great Mystery of our faith."

He paused a moment for effect and then said, "I promise that you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay. I'm begging you. I'm imploring you. Don't leave. It has only just begun! I promise from the bottom of my heart!"

And then, about half of the congregation followed him back into the church while the rest slipped quietly away.
Here's what I didn't tell you.

A few moments later, as we were preparing to celebrate Holy Eucharist, Fr. Demetri stood on the chancel steps and said, "Only those who have been baptized in the Orthodox tradition - in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - in an Orthodox Church can receive Communion."

This, after Fr. Demetri had promised, ".... you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay".

I did. And, because I was not baptized in the Orthodox Church but still part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," I was excluded from a "foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all".

I sat in my pew and wept.

Now, I've been to other Greek - and Russian and Armenian - Orthodox churches before. I have always been invited to partake in the blessed bread. The consecrated wine, as I understood it, was reserved for those who had received Orthodox baptism.

I didn't like it, and I don't pretend to understand the theology, but I was grateful to be invited to share in at least part of the meal.

I'm not sure why this young priest has decided to make this exclusion so obvious - especially after his invitation and his begging and imploring. I asked my friend and she said, simply, "I don't know. It's just the way Fr. Demitri has done it in the three years he's been with us."

She looked pained and I didn't want to ruin the celebration or festivities by making her more uncomfortable, but I did ask, gently, "Has no one asked him about this?"

She looked away, "'s... well, he's the priest."

I don't think my experience of exclusion at that Great Orthodox Vigil of Easter Eucharist would have been quite so painful if I hadn't been given such a great build up to Eucharist.

I believe what Fr. Demetri said. I know it to be true. So, why would I be excluded, just because I hadn't been baptized in the "right" church? Don't we believe that there is one Body and one Spirit;  one hope in God's call to us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God who is (Creator) of all"?

That's not just a clever liturgical innovation that marks the opening liturgy of our baptism. Those words come right from St. Paul. I'm assuming Greek Orthodox also read the Epistles of St. Paul.

If Eucharist is truly a 'foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all', why was I being excluded from having the foretaste now?

No wonder more than half the church left before Eucharist. I know I considered it. I suspect they all knew what was coming. And, I suspect many of them came to church that night with relatives or friends - perhaps even a spouse - who had not been baptized in the Orthodox church.

The 'easy', institutional answer, of course, is to have everyone catechetized and then baptized in the Orthodox church. But, is that the pastoral answer?

What would Jesus do?

Feeding the Multitudes
Well, let's consider that, shall we? Let me take you back to a remote place in ancient Palestine. All four gospels report the story (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15)

Thousands of people have gathered to listen to Jesus. Well, Mark and Matthew say 4,000 (plus women and children) while Luke and John say 5,000, so probably closer to 6,000, give or take a few unimportant women and children who don't count anyway so why count them?

There is a quibble about whether or not it was 'five loaves and two fish' or 'seven loaves and a few small fish', but again, we're talking a miracle here, people. Lighten up!

You know the story. The disciples came to Jesus and said, "The people are hungry. Let's send them away so they can get something to eat."

Again, the details vary but the bottom line is Jesus would have none of that plan. Instead, he gathered all the food that was brought to him, blessed and broke the bread and fish and - lo and behold! - there was not only enough for everyone to eat, but even leftovers. Seven baskets, by one count.

I don't know about you, but I can't count the number of sermons I've heard in the past which tells this story as the model of our Eucharistic celebration.  This, of course, and the story of the Last Supper Jesus had with is disciples in that upper room.

Imagine, then, if you will, that when the disciples came to Jesus and said, "The people are hungry," He said to them, "What!?! I can't feed all these people! Well, I could, of course, because I am, after all, the Christ (but don't tell anyone), but I'm not going to do that now. Not yet! Idiots! They have no idea what I'm about to feed them! So, okay, let's start catechism classes first. A couple of weeks ought to do it. Then, we'll have to schedule a baptism. And THEN, we'll feed them."

"But...but...Master," says Peter, "It's really late and this is a remote place and they are Really Hungry. Why not just send them away to their villages so they can buy something for themselves to eat?"

And Jesus says, "Right. Good plan. Send them away, then. If they want the 'real stuff' they are going to have to learn about what it is I'm doing and exactly what it is I'm giving them. And then, they'll have to get baptized. I promise that no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all".

The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century
Or, imagine Jesus in that upper room with the disciples asking, "Wait just a minute. Can I see all of your baptismal certificates before we eat? Peter, go 'round and collect them all so we can begin."

Preposterous, right? Never happen, right? Jesus never turned anyone away from eating with Him.

Whew! Glad you're not Greek Orthodox, right? Glad you're part of the 'inclusive' Episcopal Church, aren't you?

Wait. Hang on just a red hot New York minute. I think we need to look at the mote in our eyes before we criticize the splinters in others.

Canon 1.17.7 in The Episcopal Church states: “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

Of course, we know that this canon is broken all the time - and not just at Christmas and Easter.  There are, however, other Episcopal churches that make that canon very clear at the announcements and/or in their church bulletins before celebrating Eucharist.

Which is why there is a resolution - actually, a couple of them - which will be considered when The Episcopal Church gathers at General Convention July 4-12 in Indianapolis, that ask us to take another look at that canon.

Eastern Oregon’s Resolution C040 would pave the way for an open invitation to communion by eliminating Canon 1.17.7.  The resolution asks to allow the church’s congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.”

North Carolina's Resolution C029 proposes a longer-term look at the issue and 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.

St. Jerome
If you don't think this is a 'hot button' issue in The Episcopal Church, I urge you to read the ENS (Episcopal News Service) article about it here, paying particular attention to the comments that follow the article.

Holy Moley! I hardly recognize some of the comments as coming from Episcopalians, much less Christians.

This discussion strikes at the very real tension between the theology and the centrality of baptism in our lives of Christian faith and the reality of how we apply our pastoral theology to people who are hungering and thirsting for the real, sacramental presence of Jesus in their lives. 

Of course, baptism is important to me. I understand the theology. I understand its importance as one of the two great Sacraments of the Church - Eucharist being the other. According to our Catechism (BCP 860), confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation and unction are five Sacramental Rites.

In truth, I have lots of questions about our assumptions concerning baptism. I understand that scripture tells us that Jesus was baptized by John, but show me one place in scripture where Jesus baptized anyone. Go ahead. I'll wait.

We may assume that the disciples were, in fact, baptized and that they also did so at the direction of Jesus, but the truth is that these facts were not recorded in Scripture.  It seems a shaky argument, indeed, to argue from the letter of scripture and then, when something is not there, to assume that a fact was so obvious that no one bothered to record it.

Although it appears that Jesus never told anyone in any of the Gospel accounts to be baptized, all of them report his many discussions with numerous people about how to have a relationship with God.

Personally, I think there's a great deal to be said about that.

Here's the thing: As a priest, I would like a little more latitude in the discretion I use in the distribution of the elements of Holy Eucharist. I would like to be able to feed someone who is spiritually hungry and then have the opportunity to talk with them about the significance of that sacramental act.

Divine Caroline
I mean, we offer communion to babies, don't we? We don't insist that 3 or 4 or even 6 year old kids be able to submit a paper outlining their understanding of Eucharistic theology before we give them communion.

We feed them first and then provide catechesis. Well, that's the plan, anyway.

And, if after some careful catechesis, the person in question still declined to be baptized? The truth of it is, I'm not sure what I would do. It would depend on the situation, I suppose.

I mean, if Peter could deny Jesus three times and go on to be the 'rock' on which His church was founded, I suppose I could allow at least as many times for someone to decline baptism.

Would that be a reflection on the efficacy of my teaching or what is in the person's heart?

Unless even evidence to the contrary, I'd rather err on the side of generosity and compassion.

I'm curious to know your feelings on the subject. What do you feel about requiring baptism before Eucharist?  Beyond being principled about (heaven forbid!) not excluding anyone from anything, what is your thinking about what Scripture and the Church's history and tradition have to say in his matter? What are your expectations of the church's role in this?  What are your expectations about the role of clergy in these pastoral matters?

If Jesus says, "Come" should we say, "Wait?"

Why? Why not?

Tell stories. Blog on it. Link your blogs here. 

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm really curious to know.


Elaine C. said...

Thanks for this! The bishop of the diocese where I serve has given lectures and published these in ATR -- against communion without baptism. He's also discussed it at clergy days, and the clergy, especially those who do street church openly disagree with him. I read his careful theological argument -- and all the questions I had which he did not discuss -- are in your blog.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'd rather err on the side of generosity and compassion.

That, my dear sister in Christ, says it all.

What are people so afraid of? Do they really think God is going to punish an unbaptized person for taking communion?

And--honestly--how many unbaptized people do they really think will take communion? It's not as if unbaptized people are currently beating down our doors to get in.

As usual with most "theological" arguments, people seem to lose sight of the forest for the leaves....


Muthah+ said...

And yet you have difficulty with taking Ashes to the streets??? Ok, you have thrown down the gauntlet. I have to think about this a bit and will post my ideas in a bit.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine C - Okay- full disclosure: I have been asked, along with Tobias Haller, Bishops Dan Martin and Joe Doss, Rick Fabian and Donald Schell to be part of a book being put together by Linda Grenz of Leadership Resources. We all differ WIDELY on the topic, but the book has questions at the end of each essay which are designed to prompt congregational discussion. This is NOT that essay, but you will catch my drift here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Doxy - Right. Great minds and all that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ - you are talking apples and spaghetti, m'dear. Ashes and Eucharist? Are you kidding me? Ashes out on the street with no liturgical context verses Eucharist in the church in the midst of community with people you know are hungry?

C'mon. You're way more savvy than that.

Alex Scott said...

Regarding that blessed bread, are you sure that wasn't the antidoron? From what I understand about Orthodoxy (granted, less than yours, since I've never been to a Divine Liturgy) the Eucharistic bread is dipped into the wine and served to the communicant, and only available to the Orthodox. The antidoron is not consecrated, only blessed, and served to everybody.

Also, regarding this:

"Although it appears that Jesus never told anyone in any of the Gospel accounts to be baptized"

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." He may not be telling every individual to be baptized. But he does explicitly command baptism for his church.

Jackie said...

First, after many weeks without leaving a comment, I want to tell you how much I look forward to the arrival of TS each day. Now on to the topic at hand...
I am not of one mind about Open Table, although I do think Jesus is a Big Boy, and that those who are claled to the table do not do so simply because they enjoy standing in a queue. I believe that partaking of Eucharist can be both an answer and a call, and that if it does not lead to initiation, then I suspect that the desire to queue up for crumbs and sips will not be sustained.
As for the (un) Orthodox, I have never heard of anything like OPen Table, but the thing that young Fr. Dimitri seems to be missing--or at least the thing you did not mention--is the antidoron, or the unconsecrated bread. Sometimes it is "rejected" loaves and crumbs, other times it is actually carved out from the loaf before it is consecrated to the Lamb. It is a form of giving back, as well as hospitaility offered those who cannot partake of the Lamb. Not perfect, but a darn sight better than what one doesn't get in Rome!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Alex - I didn't know the word but I do believe that's it. Antidoron.

Yes, I know Jesus directed his disciples to baptize in his name, but I don't think he ever baptized anyone. At least I can't see where he did. Don't you think that significant?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jackie - I do believe you're right. Fr. Dimitri did NOT mention anything about the antidoron. I would have welcomed that.

It IS a tough issue, isn't it?

Jackie said...

Well darn Fr. Demitri! He should have studied liturgical theology with a good Jesuit like I did :)

The more I think about it, however, the more come to believe it is not either fuly Open Table or baptized only. Maybe an invitation like "All are welcome to the table, that they may be led into the fullness of life in Christ." That would serve as a great reminder for the baptized, and great food for thought for those who are called before being fully initiated.
And you are right--as far as we know, Jesus did not baptize, and if we really want to be picky, the nature of baptism evolved rapidly in proto-Christian communities as catechesis developed and the notion of an initiatory rite prior to sharing the pared-down feast (which used to include olives and oil and milk and honey and pickled fish!) of bread and wine.
So much to think about, and so few reasons to blockade the altar.

BarbieAnn said...

Ah yes the Orthodox and communion. My problem with the Orthodox is that no matter how beautiful the spiritually they are eve more patriarchal and exclusionary that Rome.

Alex Scott said...

Not especially concerned, no. Christ gives his endorsement to baptism all through the Gospels. He was baptized himself, and takes many of his disciples from John's followers. He commands it after his resurrection. His disciples eagerly follow that command in Acts, and Paul discusses it as well. It seems pretty clear that the New Testament extols baptism as instituted by Christ and as the standard form of initiation for Christians.

I think there is no reason the existing canon has to imply any sort of judgment or condemnation. But this also seems to me like it goes too far toward making Christianity and the sacraments safe and palatable to the general public. What I'd rather see is more effort to articulate, defend, and celebrate the sacraments as we've received them, and recontextualize them in terms of healing and integration, instead of judgment.

Muthah+ said...

Ok, Elizabeth. You're on. My comments are here

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jackie - I also studied with the Jesuits. I know from Eucharistic theology. It's a Catholic theology, remember, not Orthodox. I've never studied Orthodox theology but I'm thinking I wouldn't last half a semester before getting into serious arguments and what's the point of that?

Jackie said...

I know you did--great stuff, isn't it? There is nothing like a wild-hair liberal Jesuit, except maybe a wild-hair liberal SSND! I am going to JST (they dropped the B since the late relationship with SCU was forged) graduation Saturday with my brother from a different mother who chairs the religion dept. But I digress. You would have LOVED studying Byzantine liturgy with John Baldovin. Now a semester at Holy Cross in the BTU--not so much. This has me thinking...maybe I can drag Paul to St. Gregory of Nyssa on Sunday morning. I hear THAT is an experience in the full sense of the word!

Jackie said...

Thatis what I actually meant about studying with the Jesuits. He would have been taken to school regarding his own liturgical tradition, and he NEVER would omit the antidoron!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BarbiAnn - the nifty thing about this service was that all of the cantors were women. I had never seen nor experienced that before.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Alex - interesting perspective. I'll have to think about what that looks like. Do you have an image in your mind? I mean, right now, the canons are pretty clear. No means no, even in TEC.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ - can't wait to read it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jackie - I loved studying with the Jebbies. They challenged me and pushed me and I loved it. Do take your friend to St G's. He'll love it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jackie - Absolutely.

susankay said...

Our parish has a (relatively) new member -- new to TEC and to the Christian Church. She started coming to the contemplative service, eventually showed up on Sunday and going to Adult Ed. Our rector knew she was a secular Jew and allowed her to take communion over about a year while urging her to consider baptism. Basically, the Eucharist evangelized her.

JCF said...

"Only those who have been baptized in the Orthodox tradition - in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - in an Orthodox Church can receive Communion."

I've never heard this said in the Divine Liturgy. . . but I HOPE I would approach the altar for Communion.

NB: as I *always* say "Roman Catholic", I *always* say "Eastern Orthodox". I refuse to let these two particular brandname churches/communions take OWNERSHIP of these theological/ecclesiological claims.

Is TEC "Orthodox"? I absolutely believe we are. If the EO priest wants to dispute that, that will be on *his* head, not any Episcopalian's.


I'm finding discussions re "Open Table" or "CB4B" (disparaged as "CWOB") to generate far more heat than light. While I favor CB4B, as the Holy Spirit initiates in a given kairos, it looks like, for this GC, it's not the kairos for this proposal. I think the fudge-y status quo will continue (those who offer the Open Table will keep doing so), and that's fine for now.

[@ AlexS: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." As I was taught in Bible study many years ago, "the ink's still wet on that one"! ;-/]

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

susankay - have you read "Jesus Freak" by Sara Miles? She is a baptized Episcopalian today because she was transformed and evangelized by Holy Eucharist.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - I agree with you on the use of the word 'orthodox'. I'm going to have to start watching my language.

My hunch about GC is that the resolution from NC will prevail. We'll study it and then it will be time, in 3 years, to make something happen.

whiteycat said...

I have met Sara Miles personally. Her story convinced me that we need to minimize "rules" and maximize LOVE when it comes to the Eucharistic Table. reading her book "Take This Bread" convinced me as well.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to become an Episcopalian if at their first service they are excluded?

I do not think exclusion is Christ like.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Whiteycat - Sara did a Clergy Retreat in the DioNwk a few years back and she was TERRIFIC. She had us all convinced that fewer rules and more love was the better way.

And then....someone of us asked the Bishop if he would write a diocesan policy - just in case one of us ever got brought up on charges for breaking the canons.

He hemmed and said he would have to discuss that with the Chancellor. Asked another question about having him stand behind his clergy if charges were ever brought. Same hemming and hawing and checking with the Chancellor.

Have seen nothing in writing.

We're on our own out here, kids.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - It's not. That's my point. The institutional church is often not Christ-like. Have you noticed?

Brother David said...

Having previously discussed that at Father Tobias' place, I can say that he and I see eye to eye on this matter. I hope that your church does not change the canon. I think folks err when confusing Jesus' table fellowship with the Eucharist. They are apple and oranges to me.

Raven~ said...


Although *seriously* inactive, and in tension with the hierarchy, I am Eastern Orthodox, and have served as a tonsured subdeacon / sacristan in an OCA parish.

Speaking from that perspective ...

Yes, the bread you've received was the antidoron. The simple fact that it was a piece of dry bread confirms it.

Although the bishops, priests, and deacons behind the screen receive small pieces of consecrated bread on their hands, and drink from the chalice, what the faithful (i.e., the congregation) receive is the bread mixed into the wine. The particles of consecrated bread are not simply dipped into the wine, they are placed in the chalice and submerged into the wine. By the time of the peoples' communion, it has a consistency like milk-toast. And, the people do not drink from the chalice, the body-and-blood are given to each communicant on a spoon. (yes, the same spoon)

During the offertory service that takes place before the Liturgy, the bread that will be consecrated is carved out from large loaves (prosphora); in some traditions, from 5 large loaves. There is a *lot* of bread left over. That bread is cut into cubes to be distributed as antidoron (which means "in place of the gift").

This wiki entry gives an accurate, succinct idea:

Practices differ, but in most parishes communicants go directly from the chalice to a table where there is a bowl of the antidoron, and glasses of wine thinned with warm water. After eating a piece of two of the antidoron, and drinking a small portion of the warm wine, it's customary in some places for communicants to take pieces of the antidoron for friends and family who have not received communion.

That produces a very beautiful dance as the single line of people approaching the chalice divides, and weaves into strands of people taking the antidoron to loved ones, or to visitors.

Then, after the service, the remaining antidoron (and believe me, there is still a lot) is distributed as people come forward to kiss the cross.

Raven~ said...

If you like, I'll say more about the theological understanding of "consecration" in an email, but what Fr. Dimitri announced was the normative understanding and practice in Eastern Orthodoxy, and for more reasons than appear on the surface.

It may help to remember that the Eastern Orthodox understanding is that the "change" is a long, gradual process that culminates with the Epiklesis, and that The Holy Spirit comes upon the whole assembly as well as upon the bread and wine. Only the bread and wine are consecrated, but one could argue that everyone present, who *is* present to the Mystery, is somehow changed.

I'll try to express it simply ... I may not succeed. To receive the Body and Blood of Christ, one must be a member of the Body of Christ, and in communion with the assembled body (i.e., the congregation). The act of receiving communion is an intimate thing, and the relationship is not only between you and The Holy, it is also a sacramental expression of the relationship between oneself and the other members of the body.

I think it is not an overstatement to say some EO people would regard it as a blasphemous mockery of the sacrament to approach the chalice in an unworthy state. "Unworthy" is susceptible to interpretation, of course. At that time, I held myself to a pretty strict standard, even if that standard was known only to me and to my confessor/spiritual father. For example, I did not receive if I was angry and resentful: I was not in communion with my brother or sister, and therefore it was not appropriate to participate in the sacrament of communal-unity!

That notion of "comm-unity" is not something we think about when we ponder the Mystery of "Tran/Consubstantiation," but for the Easter Orthodox, it is at the heart of communion.

More than once, when the priest who was administering communion looked up and saw someone he did not know in the line, he sent me (in vestments) to speak to that person to ascertain that they were OK to approach. If they were not, for whatever reason, it was part of my job to politely invite them to step out of the line and return to their pew. I hated having to do that ...

When I visited other parishes, I telephoned the priest in advance, went to Vespers the evening before
and introduced myself, and made confession if he expected it.

I think Fr. Dimitri's announcement was a much kinder way.

MarkBrunson said...

I absolutely support baptism before Eucharist.

If it means that much to you that it's going to devastate you not to take it, then become an official part of the community. If it doesn't mean that much, why get upset about it?

Communing at the Eucharist is more than just a goodwill gesture. You are welcome to come forward and receive a blessing. You are welcome to come forward without saying whether you are or are not baptized.

There's a difference between excluding someone and asking some commitment of them if they claim a desire to be in a specific relationship.

Linda McMillan said...

I think that there is more than one correct answer.

In the USA people are not as connected to community by ritual as they might have been several generations ago. For people who have not been through other initiatory or coming or age rituals, any prerequisite to communion is going to sound a lot like jumping through institutional hoops. Surly we can encourage those kinds of people to be radically hospitable at the communion table as well as in their communities. We might learn a lot about the real nature of hospitality and what it means to truly be open to all.

But I do think that other people in other places value tradition and the act of going through the steps leading up to full membership in the tribe, the church, or what have you. I don't see why they shouldn't be encouraged to build a community around those practices which are meaningful to them. In finding other ways to offer spiritual nourishment to those who are not yet baptized they will no doubt have a lot to teach the rest of us about what it means to be fed and how that might extend beyond bread and wine.

If TEC is true to its values -- at least as I understand them -- it will find a way for both approaches to co-exist, and a way for them to support one another too! I hope that can happen.


The Vicar of Pontiac said...

I think a "via media" already exists. If someone comes to receive communion, give them communion even if you're aware that they aren't baptized. No cleric I know has the slightest interest in humiliating someone by turning them away if they come forward. On the other hand, let's not change the canons so that we can preserve the hard work we've done in recognizing the centrality of baptism as initiation into the Body of Christ. Those of us who have serious theological problems with inviting unbaptized persons to communion have been treading this middle ground for awhile now.

And as much as I like a lot of what Sara Miles has to say on a whole range of issues, there are lots of other stories from folks who waited to be baptized before receiving communion. I think we need to be careful about basing our sacramental theology on anecdotes.

Anonymous said...

I got your point. I was underscoring it and trying to provide a perspective that those unfamiliar with the canon law may find it off putting and well there goes your chance at evangelizing.

I know from my personal experience that there are many priests that believe that they are the "guards" for the Eucharist. In the RCC they state that a non catholic will not understand the meaning. Then the Eucharist is transformed from a loving act to a hurtful and exclusionary act.

I am in no position to argue canon law. But I do think this poem is fitting-

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.
By Erie Benedictine Sister Marian Wehler


Matthew said...

We also have to think about what we mean by baptism. There are so many different kinds of christians today with so many different types of baptism. If we are going to exclude we have to get it all straightened out. What about Quakers who only do baptism by the spirit. Or Mormons who use water but do not believe in the trinity. A Quaker woman comes to my church because the Friends meeting house in town only meets monthly. She is active in that group but comes to our church on the off Sundays that the Friends don't meet. Mark Brunson talked about commitment. But she does not want to make a commitment to us that would violate her deeply held Quaker convictions. But she would like to be in church more than once a month. And we have gotten to know her and feel her as part of our community. So what is the definition of community then. The narrow episcopal only or orthodox only or roman catholic only community or the Christian community in a general sense as a whole. I go with the later because some people are truly Christian but are not a perfect fit for any one denomination or wish to sojourn in multiple places. The church is not united any more, it isn't her fault that the Christian community cannot come up with one definition of baptism that all denominations accept.

Alex Scott said...

"I'll have to think about what that looks like. Do you have an image in your mind?"

Basically, exactly the way it's done now. We already have very open communion, the teaching is made clear but the rails are not policed; and baptism is open to all comers, regardless of race, gender, orientation, or previous creed. I like this, especially having come from Catholicism.

I simply don't see how this is such a harmful practice. If you make the teaching clear without fear or condemnation, extend a loving invitation to baptism, offer blessings at the altar but don't refuse to anyone, and walk people through the rites, who is hurt?

If I may be uncharitable for a moment, I want to make it clear how this looks to me, a socially liberal high-church anglo-Catholic Ortho-geek Episcopalian. It honestly reminds me less of the gospel and more of my own shyness. The CWOB arguments seem to worry about what people might think, and assume that any self-assertion will drive people away. You're willing to do anything just so you avoid seeming like all the genuinely hurtful denominations. I also still see a lot of juridical thinking at play; or at least a resistance to those ideas without reinterpretation of them. I'm also greatly concerned that we risk offering newcomers a vague, overly "safe" theology that misses the richness of what the church can offer.

Believe me, I've encountered a lot of people who are or have been hurt by the church in the past. I've never heard of anyone who has been so injured because the church simply expected them to be baptized before they could participate in worship. I have encountered atheists who are put off by CWOB, because they see it as disrespecting not only their lack of belief, but as disrespecting our own tradition. They may hate fundamentalism, but they at least respect their zeal.

And plus, there's the simple question: why would someone walk into a church the first time and expect to participate on the same level as everybody else? If I went to a church in a different denomination, or a Jewish or Muslim service, or even some new club, it would be to see what they're like.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Br.David - If it's changed - and I think it has to, eventually - I hope it provides more opportunities for catechesis - teaching.

Clearly, the issue needs lots more study.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Raven - I don't think I would have minded the announcement if it had not been preceded by such a big "build up". And, if he had said that, as a gesture of hospitality, there was blessed bread for those who were not baptized in the orthodox church.

I love the "dance" of the baptized and blessed. I think he could have done that quite easily - and, gotten more people to stay.

Thanks for helping me to understand a bit of Orthodox Eucharistic theology. I appreciate the time and effort it took for you to 'splain it to me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lindy - I love your calling Anglicans to a "Via Media". Right now, the way our canons are worded, it's not possible. Well, it's possible b/c it's already being done, but it's not "legal", if you catch my drift. Technically, clergy could be brought up on Title IV charges. I don't think anyone has the appetite for doing that but it is a possibility - no matter how remote.

Thanks for your thoughts. You always provide good one - all the way from China.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Karen+ - The problem with your "Via Media" as I explained to Raven and Lindy, is that it's against the canons. A remote possibility but technically one that exists. To not change them and continue to do whatever we want is dishonest. I'd like to see the canons change to provide some guidance as to some various pastoral approaches when confronted with this situation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - I LOVE that poem. It says it so beautifully.

W said...

Let me preface my answer by saying that in terms of Christian DNA, I'm an evangelical. In the Episcopal Church, I am pretty low church. And I broke with my former church as I disagreed with their stance towards LGBT folks, so frankly tradition is also low on my list of priorities.

The author already said that the Gospels don't mention anything about the Twelve being baptized. Jesus was baptized, by John, but they were both Jews. They were NOT baptized in the church.

On the other hand, Peter baptized the eunuch when he converted, and arguably he's the founder of the church.

We can no longer assume that everyone we meet has been baptized as a Christian. With the rise of the Evangelical churches, you have a bunch of Christians who see acceptance of Jesus as Savior as the defining entry into Christianity.

I would argue that one can still take a very, very serious view of the sacraments and not require baptism before eucharist. We are ultimately saved by grace, not by baptismal status, or by receipt of communion.

However, as a church, we express our membership in the Body of Christ every week through eucharist. If we were to obey the canon strictly, then we'd have to turn away unchurched young folks who hadn't been baptized. And that would be a turn off.

Jesus tells us a parable about this farmer who goes around, sowing seed. Seed is expensive. Most farmers plow their fields and then sow their seed. This guy goes around scattering his seed randomly. He sows it on his field. He also sows it on the rocks. He also sows it on shallow soil. He even sows it on the road. The road!!

He's an idiot, one would think. Seed is expensive. Farmers can't afford to waste it. He says, oh, I'm not too worried, the seed that grows is going to return 30, 60, even 100 times what I sowed. Right, not even GMO seeds can do that.

Except that he's not a fool. There's two ways to look at it. One is that he's God. The seed may be expensive. But God's not about guarding the word. God wants to sow the word. If it fails to take root, maybe that's on us, but God's sowing it anyway.

The other way to look at it is that this farmer is the church.

And by the way - our call is to serve the whole world, Christian or not. That, and if we don't want to become extinct, we need to bring up our membership. I'd rather not poach from other mainline folks. So, I'll always be representing unchurched folks in my comments.

Linda Ryan said...

I look at it this way. It's Christ's table and we're all his guests. If he chooses to invite someone who doesn't have what we would consider proper "credentials," who are we to say they aren't welcome?

I know several people who have found their way to Christ's table because of a desire to be there, a compulsion, of sorts. I know at least one of them was not baptized, but who would I be to say she had no right to refuse an inner invitation?

I think Jesus was better at hospitality than most of us. Did he ask the 5000 to be baptized before he broke the bread and fed them?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

W - Thanks for that perspective. It's a very valid and important voice in the church. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Linda - If Jesus insisted on baptizing the 5,000 before feeding them, it was never recorded. I doubt he did. Thanks for your comments.

The Vicar of Pontiac said...

You're right, Elizabeth. The via media that is currently at play regarding CWOB is technically a violation of the canons, although there is such flagrant and widespread disregard of the canons regarding liturgy these days it's hard to imagine any bishop disciplining someone for not turning away an unbaptized person from the rail, especially considering how many bishops already tacitly practice and encourage CWOB anyway.

Frankly, the thing I'm worried about (besides the huge theological problems that largely go unaddressed in the pro-CWOB argument) is that if the canons are changed to allow the practice of CWOB, there will be a creeping trend towards making it compulsory, and if there's any issue that would make this middle-aged lesbian anglo-catholic priest have to resign from active ministry, being compelled to violate my conscience in regard to the sacraments would be it.

Unlike the ordination of LGBT's and women, where there was a great deal of study, conversation, and discernment, I simply don't think there's been enough work done on this that would merit such a huge change in our sacramental theology.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Karen+ Which is why I think the resolution from NC will pass GC without much debate. Lots of discussion, but no debate on the fact that we need study.

You know I wonder if the issue isn't larger than canons. I wonder if we're so uncertain about who we are - as Americans, as Christians, as Episcopalians - that sacramental issues like Baptism, Eucharist and Marriage (Equality) are making us all just a little bit crazy.

W said...

Another thing I just thought of is that many churches baptize infants. I grew up in a non-majority Christian country, and I converted as a teen. (In fact, my conversion was the Sinner's Prayer. I was baptized some time after that. And my church did give me communion, albeit my understanding of communion is now a lot higher church than theirs.)

I appreciated being able to understand what baptism meant - membership in the Body of Christ.

However, the US is a culturally Christian nation. A lot of people got baptized as infants. They could not possibly have understood or assented to baptism. There are some who oppose CROB who say that you should not take communion without knowing what it is you are assenting to (at least, that's my understanding of the argument). If so, we should also cease the practice of infant baptism. My understanding is that it's still the prevailing practice in most mainline denominations, including ours. My reasoning, I think, is obvious. You have no assurance that your child will want to be a member of the Body of Christ when she is older - and if we are truly confident in Christ's resurrection, we will welcome giving children and adolescents the opportunity to decide of their own accord, on their own timing.

I also hope that the folks who oppose CROB on the issue of knowledge of what it is you are assenting to (in terms of receiving Communion) will consider this.

I would rather that people choose Baptism when they are ready, whenever that time is, and that people will be offered Communion regardless of Baptismal status. The idea being that wherever you are in your walk with Christ, in this your are joined to Christ. I leave the theology to others, but as I've posted, I don't think CROB is incompatible with either scripture or reason.

On one other blog, I have heard one priest say that if CROB is given canonical status, that he would strongly consider resigning. I do not like to hear stuff like that. I can understand that CROB will be a change to church tradition, possibly a major one. But I would like to say to the folks who would consider departing: when unchurched folks see us arguing over minutiae, their first response will be, do Christians always argue over minutiae like this?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

W - I know that CWOB = Communion Without Baptisms. What is CROB?

I think the strong reaction to CWOB speaks to a deeper cord that's being struck. I think it has to do with our understanding of our identity. The UMC is also going through this. It has everything to do with identity and membership and access to the sacraments.

I find it all fascinating.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Looking at this with my "laboratory inspection" hat on, here is how I see the problem.

Seems to me everyone knows what this canon says. It's a classic question the COM asks postulants. Everyone knows what the "right" answer is to the COM. But everyone knows that it would be the rare priest, indeed who hasn't actually accidentally broken this canon, and everyone knows someone who has purposefully broken it and had a plausible pastoral reason for it. Many who have broken it freely admit it.

Therefore, it is the kind of situation that puts every "transgressing" priest at risk if a bishop wanted to nail them on a technicality.

I read the PB's statement the other day about her preference for easier access to baptism over communing the unbaptized, and I think she's trying to draw a circle big enough to hold it all.

There are ways of doing this in "rubric-speak" that we do not change the intent but give clergy some wiggle room for the case by case situation, by using phrases such as it is "desirous" or "preferred" that communicants have been baptized.

I'm going to come at this from a funny place. After reading "Take this Bread," I changed my rigid attitude about communion before baptism. I believe the sacraments have power within themselves. That said, I also think being baptized is the preferred condition--but not because of the communicant, because of the community. As a member of the baptized community, I desire them to be 110% in the community as I am, for better or worse--with no fear of being judged as "different." I wish to encourage baptism while at the same time giving priests wiggle room to be priests.

If we can handle a sanctuary full of a mixture of standers and kneelers after the Sanctus, I think we can handle this.

MarkBrunson said...

Matthew, in all compassion, then, she's not in communion with Episcopalians, is she? We don't (canonically) accept the baptism of Spirit argument. Unfortunately, human life requires choices, and she has chosen a greater commitment to Quaker spirituality over that of the Episcopal Church. If she simply seeks to attend services, then no one is making her leave. I say this as one who wouldn't be unhappy to see our understanding of baptism expand.

MarkBrunson said...

I wouldn't leave TEC over it if it became canon to throw wide the doors without requirement of any kind, but, I think it will not have any real meaning for those who didn't make the commitment. Eventually, after the novelty's worn off, we'll be left where we were, with no greater impact on the world, fewer members and perhaps another split.