Resolutely Reading: Liturgy

This is the fourth in a series of posts on the B, C, and D resolutions to be considered by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this summer. It follows my series on the A resolutions of the “Blue” Book. The previous post in this series was about health and pension reform. Be sure to check out the index of all General Convention 2012 resolutions and the 7WD official position on them.

too much too soonI already covered a zillion liturgy resolutions in the “Blue” Book here, here, here, here, and here. But there are even more, so here you go.

C013: Add Whiting Griswold to HWHM. Likely vote: NO.
As I’ve said elsewhere (here and here), Holy Women, Holy Men has quite enough commemorations already. We need to take a deep breath and collect ourselves before we think about adding any more.

C029: Access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Likely vote: YES.
If passed, creates a special commission to conduct “a study of the theology underlying
4 access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion in this Church” with recommendations to the next General Convention. We certainly could use this study, though I worry that some people will want to enter this study process with foregone conclusions. At first, I thought it was strange to set up a special commission to do this. But reading the explanation, I learned that the House of Bishops has twice been tasked with working on this, and both times they failed to deliver. So the third time’s the charm.

Our church is arguably entering its third phase of life now (pre-Constantinian, Christendom, post-Christendom). This new era may require a different take on even our core practices, but we must not make these changes lightly. Maybe it’s time to resume the practice of a serious catechumenate. If that’s the case, we certainly wouldn’t want to have “instant” baptisms and offer Holy Communion to all who come. Or maybe we need to baptize on a whim, but continue to require baptism before Holy Communion. There are a variety of approaches that would be consonant with tradition and scripture. Let’s reflect and take our time. As St. Paul reminds us, the consequences of receiving communion or offering it unworthily are grave.

C040: Open Table. Likely vote: NO.
We are just starting to understand and practice the baptismal theology of the 1979 prayer book, and this resolution proposes to toss that all out. If passed, the canon which requires baptism for those who receive Holy Communion would be deleted. For twenty centuries, we have understood that one’s Christian life begins in baptism and then is nourished by Holy Eucharist. Perhaps our new post-Christendom context requires a new way of thinking, but we’re a long ways from being ready to make this shift. I’d support a study (as long as it’s unbiased, thorough, deep) of this question, but that’s it. Really, there’s just no compelling reason.

I’ve written about this before. The impulse toward “open communion” is well intentioned but misguided. If we want to offer hospitality, invite someone to brunch. Or start by talking to them at coffee hour. By all means, invite everyone to come to the Holy Table for a blessing. But it makes no theological sense to offer Holy Communion to someone who is not in the Body of Christ. Now, that said, we can articulate this principle — and maintain the ancient, universal, catholic custom of the church — and also feed those who come forward. I do not check baptismal certificates at the altar rail. This topic has been well blogged, so I won’t add much more. Basically, I think we have plenty of other things to worry about right now, so let’s allow this one to slide. It’s too important to do hastily or an a whim.

C053: Add Dr. Artemisia Bowden to Liturgical Calendar. Likely vote: NO.
No, thanks. See above.

C070: Addition of the Rev. Hiram Hisanori Kano to HWHM. Likely vote: NO.
Seriously. I’m sure Hiram is awesome, but we need to sort out our criteria for adding people to our calendar before we further complicate it. The fans will have to wait.

C076: Theology of Marriage. Likely vote: NO, but I am easily persuadable.
This one creates a task force to study the theology of marriage. Resolution A050 does the same thing, sort of (blogged here). I support that resolution. We certainly need to study the theology of marriage, urgently. This will benefit opposite-sex couples, etc., as well as inform our understanding of same-sex marriage. This really should be done by the SCLM working in consultation with the House of Bishops theology committee. However, the SCLM has shown a predisposition to be biased by sunk costs and some will worry that they may well orient their work around justifying the existing liturgy they’ve created. In that regard, this resolution is helpful, because it gets an “outside” group to look at the question and specifically charges them to attend to a variety of perspectives. I don’t much care who does the work, as long as it’s thorough, transparent, and open (that is, not bound to a foregone conclusion). My “NO” here only reflects the fact that we only need one study of marriage; which one is immaterial. If this proposal is the one that comes forward, it’ll get my vote.

C090: Add Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, George W. Foote and Edward N. Goddard to HWHM. Likely vote: NO.
Really? Three names? 40 gazillion weren’t enough? No, no, and no.

7 Comments so far

  1. Marguerite on June 25th, 2012

    Agree our church desperately needs a theology of marriage. Surely the grace issuing forth from a deep and committed relationship must be articulated. Now is the time.

    But I am terribly conflicted over the open table issue. At our church, we have the policy that anyone who “sseks the real presence of Christ” is welcome at communion. It feels good to me to have this, but too many years following rules stops me short of true acceptance. I’d welcome anything the GC could offer about this. Of course, being a lay person, it’s all in my head anyhow.

    And I always love the comments about HWHM. Enough already.

    Great blog as always.

  2. Laura on June 25th, 2012

    I think there’s a misunderstanding here about what is meant by hospitality with regards to the open table.

    I absolutely agree that the issue of hospitality in our church is distinct from whether or not those who are not yet baptized should be invited to partake of Holy Communion. For me, the issue is: Does GOD invite those who are not baptized to receive communion? Does Jesus call people to eat with him without conditions? And if so, I am certainly in no position to turn people away.

    I used to be of the “be baptized first” school. It was reading the gospels with an eye to finding evidence for this position that changed my mind. Jesus was profligate about sharing meals with anyone, whatever their preparation, whether or not they continued on with him afterwards.

    That being said, although I would vote yes for the Open Table resolution, I think it is very reasonable at this time for the church to deliberate on the process through a study of the theology underlying access to baptism and communion.

    Oh, and HWHM? Hold your horses, people! I wonder if instead of saintly commemorations, we should instead set up an Episcopal Hall Of Fame to recognize these wonderful folks.

  3. Scott Gunn on June 25th, 2012

    Laura, when we read the Gospels for evidence regarding open communion, the question is whether or not the Last Supper is a different kind of meal. I think a pretty good case can be made that Jesus did not intend it to be the same kind of meal; it was in the upper room with his disciples, not among a large crowd. Also, the Pauline letters seems to suggest a Eucharistic meal that is for the ekklesia. But I’m not a Bible scholar.

    I’m not closed to the possibility of opening the table, but I think the burden of proof is on those who advocate the change in practice. I’m unaware of any historical evidence for a practice other than baptism-before-communion.

    Of course, our positions are not so different. I’ve never turned away anyone at the Holy Table.

  4. Laura on June 25th, 2012

    If you’re not going to turn anyone away, then it seems to me that you support open communion as well. I just don’t see how the requirement for baptism can hold up as a practice unless people are willing to turn people away from communion, not just passively but actively. And I don’t see that happening. But then I live in California, where this is standard operating procedure.

    I would argue that this is not a change in practice; this is a recognition of an ongoing practice that has been in the church for many years, either openly or sotto voce. I’m curious to know if this is true or merely a biased perception.

  5. Kevin Montgomery on June 25th, 2012

    I used to be of the opinion that people should be invited to receive communion regardless, but as I studied further the history and theology of liturgy and sacraments, the more I became convinced that Baptism really is the necessary prerequisite for Eucharist. One of the major strengths of the ’79 Prayer Book is its emphasis on the vital importance of Baptism in forming the Church. Baptism does set a boundary, and that’s a good thing. We might not know for sure where the church is not, but we do know where it is. The Eucharist is more than just a community dinner; it’s a participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that we may be formed and sustained as the Body of Christ, the Church. There is, of course, the need for pastoral allowance, and I oppose any sort of “card check” at the altar rail. However, to make a blanket policy eliminating Baptism as prerequisite for communion undermines the baptismal foundation of the Church and gives in to the dominant societal trend that opposes larger commitments.

  6. Small Farmer in Frisco on June 30th, 2012

    A thought: in lieu of continuing to expand HWHM perhaps commemorations should be made at diocesan level through their individual conventions? This would allow each diocese to honor those persons and groups which have a strong local association and be more meaningful exemplars of Christian living and Christian vocation. The commemorations could then appear on the diocesan calendar with relevant stories, pictures, etc. which would be meaningful to the folks most impacted by the saint’s life….

    I note that having “local saints” has been a catholic and orthodox practice since the 4th century and has been, and can be, a rallying point for a community as well as the Church.

    While keeping traditional feasts and fasts at GC level this approach would reduce workload on SCLM and the need for visiting HWHM at every GC.

    Thoughts?

  7. [...] You can check out his preparatory blogs with a liturgical flavour here, here, here, here, and here. If you have a blog post, or know of any good ones – please put them in the [...]