I wrote last week about attending the 8:00 a.m. Rite I Eucharist at Good Shepherd Episcopal. Despite my unfamiliarity with the language I felt comfortable at the service. I did take care to wear my Good Shepherd name tag, so the denizens of the Rite I service world would know that I was not new to Good Shepherd, even if I was new to the 8:00 service and Rite I. Everyone there was very friendly and gracious. It was a good feeling.
What was strange for me was when I went forward to receive Communion. I felt like a complete and total newcomer. But at the same time there was a real feeling of connection.
It’s not something I understand, but Communion is not something we understand with the left side of our brains, is it?
There is a lot of complexity in returning to the town I left 41 years ago.
One might think that I would want to return to the Methodist church in which I grew up. Indeed I had that thought.
But while I am in many ways the same person who left Hemet 41 years ago, in others ways I am a different person. Certainly from a religious and spiritual perspective I am a different person.
I have moved through apostasy and secularism, to Unitarianism, and then New Thought (that being reflected in Unity and Religious Science), to a deep affection for and desire to be part of Judaism, back to Religious Science and training for and being licensed as a Religious Science practitioner. I then gave that all up, because I was burned out and it wasn’t working for me, and turned to the Episcopal liturgical path. I had a ten-year sojourn into the Lutheran version of the liturgical tradition, but returned to the Episcopal world when I found, thanks to my spiritual director, a healthy, stable Episcopal parish in south Santa Clara County.
So when we arrived in Hemet my first church visit was to the Episcopal parish, Church of the Good Shepherd.
It was the only church visit I needed to make. It offers what I need. It is the liturgy and the Communion which feed me.
And that is a Good Thing.
In the process of digging up an electronic copy of our household philosophy for yesterday’s blog entry I came across a page I did for my Pitzer College reunion in 2000. The class of 1975 was asked to do a page that reflected our current thoughts and values. That was because in 1975 we had a yearbook in which each senior was given a page to express themself however they chose. I was struck by what has changed for me and what has not changed.
I included this picture of me. Terry and I were on a hike, and the t-shirt I wore while holding my camera said, “Baseball is life. The rest is details.” The caption beneath the picture read, “Important things in life: baseball, hiking, and photography” I’m sure Terry and I staged that specifically for the page. Today we don’t hike much because of Terry’s knees, I don’t do anywhere near as much photography as I used to, and I follow baseball, but not with an intense interest. Beyond our household philosophy (which also appeared on the page) and time spent with Terry and Tasha, these days I’d probably list my three important things as writing this blog, cooking, and reading books on my Kindle iPad app.
But one thing is unchanged. On the page I also quoted the now Emeritus Dean Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral on the importance of the Eucharist:
Every day and every Sunday we celebrate the politics of God in the Eucharist—one table where everyone is welcome and there’s food for everyone: a subversive table, stirring up our longing for liberty.
Today the Eucharist is as central in my life as it ever was, as is the importance of being inclusive at that Table.
Many things change. Some don’t.
While Pastor Kathleen was away on vacation, the priest filling in for her on the second Sunday reminded me of a basic truth. I wish I had a transcript or recording, but what she said in essence was this.
Why do we keep coming back here week after week after week? For the Bread and the Wine, because that is what allows us to go back out there and deal with the challenges of the world.
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.
The 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:
Come 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.
It’s no secret that I am a believer in open Communion, and that I was disappointed that the last General Convention of the Episcopal Church failed to change the policy of baptism being required for Communion. So I am happy to know that most priests and bishops of whom I am aware conveniently ignore that canon.
Jennifer Phillips writes a marvelous piece over at Episcopal Café in which she describes how she meets each person where she or he is, and gives the host to those who wish to receive, while giving a blessing to those who are not comfortable receiving. She writes about giving Communion to a woman who turned out to be Jewish, but who “had a sense of the presence of God in the service and sermon…and thought it would be right to do what others were doing around her.” Phillips wrote, “I trust the power of Christ in the Sacrament.”
All sorts and conditions of people are drawn to the rail for all sorts of reasons conscious and unconscious, in a great variety of states of preparedness and unpreparedness. There’s always lots of teaching going on to help form people in our sacramental life, but the plain truth is that the power of God in the liturgy touches, moves, transforms, and attracts people right then, and at the rail doesn’t seem a good place to question beyond “do you desire to receive the Body of Christ?” At the heavenly throne I’d much rather be explaining why I fed some people inappropriately than why I failed to feed some who hungered and thirsted for God and put their hands out; and I’d rather give an extra blessing with a touch to someone who is drawn forward than explain they should be satisfied with a general blessing at the end. Like grain, in full measure, poured out, spilling over into one’s lap, this love and graciousness of God in the sacrament of the altar.
Thank you Rev. Phillips. I’m glad your views are reflective of those of so many Episcopal priests.
A couple of years ago on the first Sunday of Advent, St. John’s rearranged its Sunday services. The 8:00 a.m. Rite I Holy Eucharist was discontinued, the 10:30 a.m. Rite II Choral Eucharist moved to 9:00, and the 9:00 family service moved to 10:30. It’s much easier to get responsible adults without children to show up at 9:00 than it is to corral the kids and get them out of the house and into the car for church at that hour. I’m sure I’ve groused about that change here before. When previously I could sleep in on Sunday and attend the Choral Eucharist, I now have to choose. But really, if doing what is important means a little inconvenience, well what do I have to complain about?
Even in the summer when we don’t have the choir and the procession isn’t much of a procession, the Holy Communion portion of the service is unchanged. And you know how important Communion is to me.
My friend Fran posted this on Facebook this quite some time ago:
People often ask me why I go to church. There are many reasons, but let me tell you this – I can go to confession all I want, I can “wash my hands” all I want – I still show up kind and typically I am kind of a mess. It would seem that God asks us to show up, with open hearts, open hands. I pray to be willing. Sometimes I am, sometimes not so much. I keep trying… lather rinse repeat. If I think I can clean myself up for God, I am kidding myself. God does all the heavy lifting, all the major clean up. And if we can’t go and be a part of it, because so much of it happens when we are all together, then what? Then what?
Fran is Catholic. I am Episcopalian. Yet we share many values in common, and we both value Communion greatly.
It doesn’t hurt me to get up a little bit early on a Sunday.
I wrote about my aggravation with the budget politics in advance of the Episcopal General Convention. In a moment of frustration I thought, “Well, I could attend a Presbyterian church.” Immediately it hit me.
I don’t want to attend a church where I cannot receive Communion every Sunday. After receiving Communion that first time at All Saints’ Palo Alto in 1997 my desire for what I need in worship changed forever. Communion is now central to my worship experience.
That of course limits my choices. They amount to Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal. I’m not going to become a Catholic, as I have written, despite many areas in which I respect the Catholic faith. I spent more than ten years in a Lutheran church, but all that time I still considered myself an Episcopalian. I never did think of myself as a Lutheran. And I like the rather doctrine-free structure of the Episcopal church in comparison to the Lutheran. Indeed, there’s much I love about the Episcopal Church.
So that is where I will go to kneel, open my hands, and receive the Bread and the Wine each Sunday.
I wrote last week about Communion and baptism in the Episcopal Church. I wrote in the abstract, so today I wanted to share my personal experience.
When I first started exploring the Episcopal Church I was nervous about Communion and unsure of the rules. At the first church I visited, St. Timothy’s in Mountain View, I did not go forward for Communion, but it was an unusual Sunday, being the bishop’s visitation day. He was very gracious, though, and after the service said “I am a visitor here too.”
At St. Bede’s in Menlo Park, I still was not ready, but was impressed when the usher, an elderly gentleman, having no idea who I was, asked me, when I did not go forward, “Do you wish to receive Communion?”
At All Saints’ Palo Alto, which I soon joined, and where I was later confirmed by that same bishop, I was ready. After receiving for the first time, Communion became a central part of my life. I visited St. Stephen’s Gilroy and the Episcopal Church of the Almaden once each, and spent a year at St. Stephen In-the-Field in South San Jose. I am now happily a member at St. John the Divine in Morgan Hill. In none of those churches was I ever vetted or questioned. In every case I went to the altar rail as a newcomer, kneeled, opened my hands, and I received the Gifts of God.
Canon law aside, all of those priests knew the Right Thing to do, and that in large part is why I am a once and future Episcopalian. Or more accurately ever the Episcopalian who spent eleven years in a Lutheran congregation. In either case, I am happy to be where I am and hope the Episcopal Church will alter canon law to reflect actual practice.
Two of my Episcopal online resources, the Episcopal Café and the Episcopal News Service were writing about Communion and baptism in the Episcopal Church this week. Episcopal Café had multiple separate stories, including one by Jim Naughton and one by Theresa Johnson. Both focused on remarks made by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at a town hall meeting in North Carolina early this year. ENS had a more detailed discussion of the subject, including mention of resolutions before the General Convention this year regarding whether baptism is required to receive Communion.
I knew that canon law says that one must be baptized to receive Communion, and I know that all of the Episcopal churches of which I have been a part, either as a member or visiting on a one-time basis, have ignored that statute. Canon 1.17.7, as it is worded, is indeed stark: “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”
In answer to a question, Jefferts Schori said that “the Communion table is not a place for discipline. The communion table is a place of welcome, and it’s not a place to turn people away from.” At the same time, she said, “If we’re aware that there are people coming to the table who have not been baptized, it’s time to do something.” She suggested some kind of “on-call baptism.”
I appreciate greatly that the Presiding Bishop has said directly that “the communion table is a place of welcome, and it’s not a place to turn people away from.” I’m not sure that I agree with the need for on-call baptism. I really like the proposed resolution by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon which allow congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.”
That is the direction would like to see the Episcopal Church take.