Communion and Bishops

By Zachary Guiliano

General Convention’s Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music deliberated further Friday afternoon on a resolution that allows the distribution of consecrated Communion elements by lay ministers (see “Saints and Communion”).

A substitute resolution proposed that the measures be put in place only “on a provisional basis for 2016-2018,” “with permission of the bishop diocesan,” and “for extraordinary circumstances.”

A primary concern involved the authority of diocesan bishops and the potential regularization of extraordinary practices.

“I’m concerned about what I hear as a fear that we will lose out on something,” David Miron, deputy from Central Pennsylvania, said while speaking in favor of the substitute. “I think we have allowed individuals to control dioceses.”

He said episcopal elections in his diocese were typically centered on the beliefs of nominees, and he thought that individual diocesans should not be able to determine policies in their diocese to the extent that they do.

“I’m going to resist that,” said Bishop George Wayne Smith of Missouri, the committee co-chair. “I’m going to remain the ecclesiastical authority, and will exercise that authority. I have tried to make ordination accessible to every congregation that desires that. I can think of only one congregation for which this might work as a stopgap.”

Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington urged the committee to accept the resolution: “I think it’s really difficult for those of us who have such regular access to the sacraments. We take it for granted and don’t understand their needs. I would like us to bend over backwards to find a way to provide sacramental access to them.”

Thack Dyson of the Central Gulf Coast responded, “We should bend over backwards, but within the structure we already have.”

He said the Episcopal Church does not have a priest shortage. The ratio of priests to people has never been higher. He said “people simply need to be redirected” to the proper place. “That’s bending over backwards; that’s attending to their needs.”

After this debate, the substitute resolution was approved by deputies but defeated by bishops. This result caused a procedural delay, and the committee was unsure of how to proceed, even after consulting Robert’s Rules of Order. The problem was eventually resolved by a joint vote, in which the substitute resolution was defeated.

The Rev. Margaret Zeller, deputy of East Tennessee, proposed a new substitute resolution: that General Convention “direct the ecclesiastical authority in each Diocese to discern and implement ways in which small congregations within their Diocese who are without benefit of clergy may receive Communion on a regular basis.”

Bishop Daniel Martins rose to support the substitute, thanking Zeller for thinking of the solution: “This is a pastoral issue, and the chief pastors in the diocese are the bishops. Although I am not sure that the General Convention can direct a diocesan bishop to do anything, I think the House of Bishops can take care of that [in floor debate].”

The substitute resolution won the approval of both deputies and bishops.

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