By Joe Thoma
General Convention’s Evangelism Committee’s support is waning for Resolution C040, which would allow Episcopal congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.” The resolution would eliminate Canon 1.17.7, which says “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”
Bishop Gregory Brewer, who is on the committee, argued against the resolution, as had Central Florida deputies Sonya Shannon and the Revs. James Sorvillo, Sr., and Danielle Morris.
At the committee’s July 7 morning meeting, the informal consensus was to eliminate the resolution and to amend Resolution C029, which 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 committee meets again the morning of July 9, when it is scheduled to vote on the matter.
C040 “undermines our whole baptismal theology of the 1979 Prayer Book," said the Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray III, Bishop of Mississippi, and episcopal co-chair of the committee. Through the resolution, “The baptismal covenant, which defines our identity, suddenly becomes optional for our identity.”
Supporters of C040 say an “open table” practice welcomes seekers and prospective members, and has served to attract them to the Church and full inclusion therein through baptism.
Alexis Longo, a lay deputy from New Jersey, said she and her father began attending church together at his parish in 2009, before she had been baptized. She said that the experience of taking Communion was “more than hospitality,” and drew her into the Church and regular attendance.
“I felt welcome, but until I took Communion, I didn’t have that experience of tears running down my cheeks from the joy of knowing Christ,” she said.
“Open Communion masquerades as inclusive but is in fact highly exclusive,” Morris said. “It excludes those we profess to love from the kingdom of God. Holy Eucharist is central to our Episcopal identity. Baptism is not only a mark of our core values, but of our Christian heritage, and marks us as Christ’s own.”
“If we want sincere and authentic inclusion, invite them to first enter the Kingdom. This isn’t a cocktail party with wine and crackers, where people are to bring a lovely hostess gift. The gift has been paid by Jesus Christ, by his body and blood.”
Sorvillo told the committee the call to Communion without baptism was pastorally unkind as it robbed the potential Christian of the joys of belief in exchange for the experience of fellowship.
The Rev. M. Dion Thompson, deputy from the Diocese of Maryland, said he was concerned about unbaptized people “coming to the table repeatedly without having the intention of becoming Christian.”
He said that although he does not try to screen the unbaptized from Communion table, when he has come across someone receiving Communion without having been baptized he offers to counsel and instruct them, “to see if they want to become a follower of Jesus Christ.”
The Rt. Rev. Scott Hayashi (Utah), a member of the committee, argued for a deliberate approach to administering the sacrament. He said one of his largest parishes uses a year-long catechumenate to bring unbaptized church visitors into the fold before baptizing them and giving them the elements of Communion.
Many of the catechumens say they had “never felt so cared for in their lives,” Bishop Hayashi said.
The committee discussed a motion to substitute for the language of C040 an affirmation that “Baptism is the ancient and normative entry point for receiving the Holy Eucharist.” The substitute also reaffirms that, “in various local contexts, there is exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who aren’t baptized.”
The committee then discussed whether the spirit of the legislation would be better served by eliminating C040 completely and substituting language reaffirming baptism as a prerequisite to communion into Resolution C029.
Most committee members who spoke supported the idea, and the committee is scheduled to act on both resolutions July 9.