Thursday, May 17, 2012

Open Communion?

OK, Elizabeth Kaeton has thrown down the gauntlet.  She who a year ago was bemoaning the taking of Ash Wednesday out into the highways and on to the platforms of train stations now wants open communion to everyone.  No baptismal requirement.  No denominational requirement.  At least that is what I read here.

Since both of us come from the rather anal approach of the Roman tradition to membership in the Church, we can both claim a catholic heritage and ecclesiology.  The rules that demand membership, baptism or shriveness come not from God but from those who are pledged to guard those sacraments from profanity.  They are warned by their office that they are to make sure that the faith is handed down in a particular way.  It matters not what denomination or tradition.  Each group wants to preserve a particular way of administering the signs of God’s presence in the life of the Church.  The Church demands of its ministers: lay, bishops, priests and deacons, to administer the signs of faith in ways that further the teachings of Christ and the Church. 

In the third and fourth century Church one could not even attend the Eucharistic portion of the service if one was not baptized.  Only those who were shriven or confessed of their sins and were in a ‘state of grace’ could receive Holy Communion.  Only those who had been immersed fully and cleansed by running water were accounted as baptized.  And even in the earliest churches (Ebionites) after Jesus, circumcision was still demanded to be considered part of the faithful. (cf. Galatians)  The Church demanded some commonality of religious experience as normative for membership and consequently for reception of the Sacraments.

Now we all know that who determines what is normative has control.  Of course, the clergy have been those who have been ‘in control’ of who comes to the table for millennia.  We are taught that we ‘safe guard’ the sacred symbols so that they do not become a mockery or ‘common’ (which is what profane means).   And so we end up being ‘religious cops’ rather than those who host and include.
Early in our sacramental lives we tend to like the role of having control of the sacraments.  We clergy have a noble cause to make the sacraments ‘available’ to the faithful who present themselves for our Good Housekeeping seals of approval.  But if we are truthful, we are no more arbiters of what is holy or what is profane than the next guy.  We find that what is holy and sacred is something far more complex and far more interior than we were taught.  And if we allow ourselves to observe how such things as the communion with Christ interacts with those who receive it, all we can do is stand in awe.  That foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet is so much more than we can ask or imagine that there is no way that it can be limited.
Today, I am unwilling to hold ANYONE from the sacraments unless there is a bold attempt at mockery.  If someone presents themselves to receive Holy Communion, I give it to them.  I do not know where that person is on their journey of faith and I am unwilling to stand in their way.   I don’t care what denomination they are from, whether they are baptized or not, because I believe that God is the one that is acting in that person’s life at that moment.  I have communed those who did not claim themselves as Christian but came to the Altar moved by something beyond them.  Even if they did not understand it the way I would like, they will ponder it and eventually ask.  There is a reason why the bread is called the Host.  It is Christ who invites, not the mere cleric.

I cannot ask other denominations to do as I do.  They may understand Holy Communion differently than I.  And if I am in my clericals I do not present myself to receive communion in those traditions that do not recognize my faith or office. I try not to put another cleric in a difficult position.  He/she is in a system which is different from mine.  If I am in mufti, I might, depending on where I am in my desire to be a part of that community of Christ.  At a wedding or a funeral, I generally will to be in solidarity with families and friends. 

If I understand the era in which we find ourselves at present, I see a great ‘un-alignment’ with Church going on as the various denominations realign themselves.  When the various churches begin to realign I think that there will a fairly clear line between those who have open communion and those who do not.  I find that in the higher liturgical traditions,( Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholic and Orthodox)we will see a shifting of allegiances by how we interpret scripture and how we administer the signs of the faith.  It will be there that there will have been considerable discussion the meaning of the signs of faith.  There will be a gradual redefinition of what it means to administer those signs and symbols.  And perhaps a whole different schema of those signs and symbols much as Trent did in the 16th century. 

In the meantime, I will give communion to anyone who puts out their hands.  I will baptize anyone who comes.  I will marry and bury those who wish Christ’s blessing on their lives.  I will follow my bishop’s guidelines because I am a priest of the diocese.  But I will be more inclined to ask ‘for forgiveness’ than ‘permission’  because I want to be an invitation to the Christian life rather than a guard dog.  


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, first up, if you think "Ashes to Go" is the same thing as Eucharist, you are in worst shape than I thought you were.

One is a smoosh of ashes on the forehead in a public place, the other is one of Two Great Sacraments which takes place within the context of Word and Sacrament.

C'mon, girl. You can do better than that!

And, actually, I'm not at all clear about Open Communion. I've still got lots of questions, but, as I said, I would tend to err on the side of compassion and generosity.

I know you're from Texas and we're friends of long standing, but that doesn't give you permission to put words in my mouth.

Here's the thing, girlfriend: You are - I am - any priest is - in violation of the canons of TEC whenever we give Eucharist to someone whom we know has not been baptized.

That's the bottom line. The previous bishop in your diocese would have brought you up on charges for that. Then again, the previous bishop wouldn't have allowed you to practice your priesthood in that diocese.

Even so, this is not a violation of rubrics. This is a violation of Canon. That's still important, at least, to me.

Here's my point: We need to take a closer look at the canons as they exist. Otherwise, why bother with canons? We need to change them, if necessary, to at least give clergy a bit more latitude in the pastoral application of the sacraments.

So, I'm going to be supporting the resolution from NC. I think this needs lots of thought and care. Because, it's important.

Muthah+ said...

Ok, my dear. I am in violation of the canons. I can think of a few other canons that I am probably violating. I have no problem with that. And you are quite right I would not be working in this diocese if the previous bishop was still a bishop. But he chose to violate other canons and is gone.

But canons do not make the faith. And it is the faith that I am concerned about. I have never been one who paid more attention to law than the Gospel. This does not mean that am antinomian. It just means that I think that the pastoral work of the Church is more important than how we govern ourselves.

As they taught us at EDS (perhaps before your time 8>)) that if you had to turn to the canons in order to pastor your flock you had already lost the battle with your parish.

I haven't looked at the canon proposed by NC. Personally I would call for a complete revision of the whole of canon law--and the committee charged with the job may not have either a lawyer or a bishop on it! I am so freaking tired of a code of canons that the lay folk can't understand that I can't see straight. And I am really tired of making our bishops into lawyers rather than pastors. So much for the Age of Aquarius!

I do not think that violating rubric or canons are the bottom line. It is the relationships that are the important thing and our present canons do not and cannot promote the loving kindness that the sacraments sign. There must always be a caveat in the canons for pastoral situations otherwise the Church is dead. Which may just be what has happened.

I just had a guy tell me today that he didn't think he could 'join my church' since he had been divorced twice'. Granted there is nothing in the canons that say that. But that is how TEC is understood---that we refuse people because of this or that reason. Not in my church! If I am welcome--everyone is welcome. No matter how many times you have been born or married or whatever.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, at EDS they taught us to respect the canons enough to work the system to change them. I remember Carter saying, that no one respects someone who breaks the rules just for the sake of breaking the rule. In order to affect real change, you have to get your opponent to respect you. Takes longer but much more effective.

I know I'm breaking canons when I knowingly give someone communion who is not baptized. My conscience is appeased when I then spend some serious time in pastoral care and education, trying to "do the right thing" and move them toward baptism. It's never failed. I don't know what I would do if it did.

And, no one at EDS ever said that if you starting talking canons you had already lost your flock. They said, "If you have to resort to the bylaws, you've already lost the argument."

Here's what I do want: I would like us to base our theology less on cognition and more on intuition. I would like the canons to be more loosely worded enough so that my pastoral judgment in individual situations is respected and I have some wiggle room. I would really like us to take the time to carefully study and discuss this issue which impacts our sense of identity and mission and evangelism.

I guess I'm a good Anglican. I like order and decency. Yes, I have raised my share of hell in the church and will continue to do so, but I hope I've been as respectful of the institution as I know how to be. That means, sometimes, that I break a few canons, but I don't do so lightly or inadvisedly but prayerfully and reverently and thoughtfully and deliberately.

I know that makes me sound like a real pain in the ass, but well, so be it.

Muthah+ said...

I don't oppose anything you have said Elizabeth. And if you don't take almost everything that I have said knowing that I am grinning from ear to ear we need to have another telephone conversation. And you ARE a royal pain in the ass but that is what makes you such a fine priest.

I too want canons that speak to the pastoral needs of our parishioners.

You are a better woman than I if you can tolerate the legal tap dances that lay upon the church to make people conform to what WE want. I am too tired of a church that makes folks jump through hoops to claim their faith.

We are relatively on the same page theologically. I am probably more liberal than you (this makes me laugh because in comparison with my friends, I am a conservative)on theological issues and this comes from having studied with the Jebbies in my formative years.

But I have enough church history under my belt to know that the rules and regs that we apply to the ministry is what is making the church irrelevant to the people in the pew. No longer are they finding Christ in the sacramental signs we are providing because we have "ordered" them to a fairtheewell.

I am tired of bishops who have law degrees who try to control the Spirit that makes the sacraments the grace-filled moments that they have the power to be. We have too much structure in the Church as it is and it is the structure--canons et al. that are like millstones.

At the moment I am grieving that I cannot do the wedding of a couple in my choir because a divorce decree hasn't been finalized for a full year. The separation was years ago, but the fricking decree has to keep a couple who met in the Church and who have found the love of Christ so fully in their church can't have the blessings of the Church simply because of rules.

If I could count the times I have married kids who didn't know squat about what they were doing and knowing that they didn't have any more investment in the church than grandmother would be pleased to be doing what they were doing, and then compare it with this older and wiser couple because of some rubric---Give me a break!

Train priests to have a heart and then trust us to do the work of Christ. Quit giving us hoops to jump through to make the J's among us happy.!

Lindy said...

"Train priests to have a heart and then trust us to do the work of Christ."

How much do you think I will trust someone who thinks I am not able to understand the canons and calls me a "folk"? Have you ever noticed? It's ordained men and ordained women and lay folk. (see above.) Maybe the reason so many people don't trust clergy is that we are tired of being treated like a bunch of hayseeds. Maybe not. But, maybe.

I'll tell you who I trust to do the work of Christ. I trust Jesus and his Spirit. Clergy? Not so much. There aren't enough revised canons to change that.

Muthah+ said...

I apologize if I have offended in any way. I find that the divisions of the orders of the church unwieldy too. I am using 'folk' here in the German sense--as 'people'.
I do not think the laity as being hayseeds--but I have worked for many years in small northeastern towns where the people of my parishes were not the doctors, lawyers or money changers of our large cities. Consequently my experience in parishes tells me that most of the church cannot understand the canons as they are now provided--especially in many dioceses where the diocesan canons can be just plain bizarre.

I am also in a diocese where the previous bishop refused to even make the diocesan canons available for review by the church. He also did not make the budget available or other important documents keeping both clergy and laity in the dark for YEARS.

I do not trust a canonical system that has no accountability and that is what we have.

I understand what Elizabeth Kaeton is trying to do--she wants us to think canonically about how we do ministry. But I definitely am so BSed by the way that Canon Law is handled by the church at present that I am unwilling to drink that kool-aid.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ - When I was going through the ordination process - an open lesbian and the fourth woman to do so with a bishop who had only recently experienced a 'conversion' to being opposed to the ordination of women - I was asked what I would do if the COM turned me down.

I replied that the UCC church had already told me they would accept me "in care" (not "in process"). The important thing was that I felt a genuine call to ordained ministry through the Episcopal Church. If TEC didn't want me and my gifts, then I would obey my call to ordained ministry in another denomination.

They respected that. And, I learned an important lesson. Yes, I am working through the system with as much integrity to myself and the institutional church as I can.

It's been a long, hard slog, these past 30 years, to get the church to authorize liturgical rites of blessings for LGBT people. We are coming 'round the home stretch, but it's going to happen. It's going to happen because we worked through the legislative process at GC. Yes, some of us have - myself included - in the meantime, proceeded "as if" and gone ahead and done it anyway. Some with our bishop's silent approval. Others, not.

I think we need both.

BTW, I think it's a good spiritual discipline to have people wait at least a year after a major life change before entering into a sacramental covenant like marriage or ordination. That's not so much about following a rule as being wise. People need time to heal and gain clarity.

Yup, I can be a pain in the arse. Damn proud of it, too. I'm going to continue to do three things (1) give communion to the unbaptized (2) provide catechesis (Aren't we really Rabbis?) and (3) advocate for a change in the canons.

If anyone doesn't like that, well, too bad. I only worry about being faithful to what I understand it is that Jesus is calling me to do.

Matthew said...

If the canons are hard for clergy to follow, how is a lay person to follow them or even know about them when we are not instructed in them. I am a lay person in my diocese. I am also licensed to distribute pre consecrated elements at public worship services designed for this purpose. These 'communion services' are for when a priest is not present. Its sort of like a deacons mass except that a licensed lay person can do them. I received training to be licensed to do these services and in all the training I received they never covered this issue. They taught us how to lead the services. They never said whether we were to exclude or not or if we even could or ever had to. They told us to distribute. And so how do you bind lay people to this canon or bring us up on charges. I was never even told this was possible or that this canon existed. So if the canons "matter" at all we have bigger training issues for lay people than whether it is followed or not. Or does this canon only apply to priests when they distribute communion but not lay people when we do it? Thanks for listening. Matthew Wright.

Linda McMillan said...

No offense Muthah+, but I think the words we use do matter and reflect the things we might think but not say. Just start paying attention to the context when you hear the term "lay folk." I think you'll find that in many cases -- as here! -- the term is used of people who are not as bright or as capable as the non-"folks." Of course, it might be different in Germany.

I hear you about being fed-up with the canons, and my wild self might often want to agree with you. But I hope that cooler heads will prevail. Elizabeth is right to try to make the canons workable, not just throw them out.

People like you and me have to rely on people like Elizabeth to make the way clear. Personally, I don't have that sort of temperament. I'd commit murder if I had to work on tedious things like that with other people. But I am thankful for those who have the stamina to put up with one another long enough to make the system more workable for everyone.

I hope things will turn out to be better for both of you.

Muthah+ said...


I do not worry about my dear friend Elizabeth. I have already made her promise to preach my funeral sermon. 8>)!

And you are most likely right that we need those who will do the nitty-gritty bit about canons. She is good at it. But I am too tired of those who put canons in place who pay no attention to fair play, pastoral need and equality. In the past 15 years I have watched the canons become the bludgeons in bishops' hands to cover their asses while leaving their hard working and over worked clergy to hang in the breeze. I have also watched people turned away from the sacraments simply because of jots and tittles and consequently turned away from church and even faith over 'following the letter of the law.'

I am serving in a diocese that was ignorant of the canons because the previous bishop put in a "bishop's ordinary" that precluded the national canons and these people have no idea what the canons say. This includes the clergy.

I am primarily a pastor and as such want the sacraments of the church available to all because that is where we all (laity and clergy) meet Christ. We have spent too much energy in this Church keeping folks (all folks) out.

'Folks' in my parlance is what you call people in my part of God's kingdom. It is not a put down. I am one of those 'folks' and proud of it.

When I took canon law at EDS we followed the Jesuit class on Canon Law. Those guys carried tombs and tombs to class. We had a 1/4 term class on a book that was barely a 1/2" thick. We followed the principle that the less law there was the better it was. Less law meant that we could listen to the individual situation and make determinations about how to address issues.

Since the reconstruction of Title IV we have gone crazy trying to 'legalize' every freakin' thing we are doing in the Church. IT'S NUTZ! (We have done the same thing with our national legal code too) It is as if lawyers don't have enough to do so they devise ways to create loop holes.

Justice isn't about loop-holes and Loving Kindness isn't portrayed by legal systems. Even Jesus preached that! Here endeth the rant!

Muthah+ said...

@ Matthew. I am so happy to hear that you are able to take communion to the shut in or infirm. It is one of the greatest ministries we have in the church. Our national canons are on line at the Episcopal church. org website and usually the diocesan are on the diocesan websites unless your bishop is leery of letting everyone know what the law is.

The canons themselves are not difficult to read. That isn't the problem. The problem is the interpretations by various bishops. Some see their job is to "protect" the sacraments or the church or whatever they feel that they must control. Others see that the canons are permissive and support the broader and more inclusive way of dealing.

Lay people generally do not have to worry about having their livelihoods placed in peril if they do not adhere to the canons. Clergy do and it depends on how the bishop sees the sacraments as to how you do ministry. I have known bishops who feel threatened and therefore use their canons to manipulate their clergy. I am sure that you do not live in such a diocese, but they are certainly out there.