Communion and the Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church’s 78th triennial General Convention was seriously anticlimactic last week after the votes on marriage equality. A lot of business got handled and a number of resolutions were dispatched quickly.

Two resolutions were of particular interest to me. They both had to do with allowing everyone, not just the baptized, to receive Communion. One had to do with conducting a study on the subject and the other simply would have changed the canon to allow everyone to receive communion. There years ago a similar resolution was amended so as to be essentially meaningless. This year neither resolution even made it out of the House of Bishops.

waferThe thing is, canon law and practice are two different things. I have never seen any priest in the Episcopal Church ask about one’s baptism status when someone new comes forward for Communion. In all of the writing I have seen about this I have never seen any knowledgeable writer suggest that any Episcopal priest ever does this. If it does happen it is highly rare and very unusual.

This is not something that we should take for granted. In the conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church newcomers are often advised to check with the pastor before the service to see if they have proper Communion Credentials. A Missouri Synod pastor might refuse Communion to someone he doesn’t know. This is not the case, I hasten to point out, in the larger and more mainstream Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with which the Episcopal Church in the United States is in full communion.

The Episcopal Church leadership seems inclined to keep the canon in place while at the same time parish priests (and bishops as well, for that matter) are free, even perhaps expected, to refrain from any sort of enforcement. A few years ago the now outgoing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori made comments to the effect that if people who are not baptized are coming forward for Communion we should see about getting them baptized. She didn’t say that they shouldn’t be receiving Communion.

As bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry did a marvelous video on Communion. I shared it last week, but I’ve included it here below as well. He quoted the King James version of Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He emphasized:

quoteCome unto me
all ye, all y’all

He didn’t say “all y’all baptized,” but simply “all y’all.”

I am not a theologian, but I regularly see stated that there are sound theological reasons for not changing the canon. I have read this enough times that I don’t doubt that it is true. But perhaps there are times when practicality and hospitality should take precedence over theology.



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