There is a movement afoot in the Episcopal Church to remove our restriction that only the baptized receive Communion. In my new location, it seems to be diocesan policy not only to allow the unbaptized to commune, but to invite them explicitly to do so. Every parish my family has visited in the diocese has made it very clear that absolutely everyone is invited to the altar for Communion. I have found this grating, theologically. It disregards the proper sequence of initiation. It undercuts the long-standing historical practice of Christian churches. It renders incoherent any sort of claim to have a baptismal ecclesiology. Most important, it downgrades the central role of commitment to Jesus Christ and a life of discipleship to something optional. I’d heard of such things from afar, and now my eyes have seen them.
Recently, our family ventured a bit further north, into the Diocese of California, to a parish where the logic of Communion without baptism is being carried to its logical conclusion, which is also a reductio ad absurdum. The parish we visited did much well: the hymnody and chant were excellent; the liturgy, while using expansive language, remained fairly grounded in traditional forms. Then we reached the fraction anthem.
After a verse about Christ giving himself to his beloved in the bread, we turned a corner in which claims about breaking this bread with Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims were articulated. While I am confident that the intention behind these words was to be open and inclusive, to express solidarity among people of faith, its effect was to undo any sort of claims about Christ’s uniqueness or the necessity for salvation, as well as to colonize these other religious traditions, rather than respecting them in their diversity.
The canons of the Episcopal Church are clear: no unbaptized person is eligible to receive Holy Communion at our altars (I.17.7). This creates a rather interesting contrast in the current church.
Having updated our canons (but not our doctrine, as set forth in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) to make marriage gender-neutral, there is a movement afoot to bring Communion Partner bishops into line, so that the trial rites for marriage are celebrated in all jurisdictions. At General Convention, Resolution 2018-B012 provided a means for doing this while also respecting the consciences, teaching office, and liturgical presidency of bishops within their dioceses. William Love, the Bishop of Albany, has caused a furorwith his refusal to comply with the provisions of B012, prompting suggestions that Title IV charges be brought against him. Leaving to the side the question of the precise canonical force of a resolution passed by General Convention, and, hence, the applicability of disciplinary charges, we must acknowledge that this outcry is in some tension with other realities in our church….