Thursday, June 11, 2009

What is good for the goose is good for the gander

A recent commenter has pointed out the inconsistency of my tackling TEC for its faults while paying no attention to ACANZP's own. Fair point. One of our faults, I am told, is failure to discipline our clergy when they fall short of the canons. Funnily enough, that IS also a problem in TEC, according, not to me, but to the magisterial A.S. Haley, a US-resident, church attorney, writing in Anglican Curmudgeon. You be the judge etc ... here is an excerpt from a longer post:

"It is a serious enough consequence for the Reverend Mr. Forrester not to gain those consents, and I do not mean to belittle it in the slightest, but at the same time I feel constrained to point out that nothing the Reverend Mr. Forrester has done will lead to the suspension or inhibition of his ministry within the Church. Nor, be it understood, am I calling for any such discipline --- the time is long past when any good could come of that. In pointing out what follows, I am showing only the blatant double standard that the Church applies to its clergy, depending on which side of the spectrum they are perceived, by those in power, to fall. That double standard currently defines the Church, and is a necessary part of the process by which it is breaking up, as I shall show presently.

At the same time that the Church appears to be barring Kevin Thew Forrester from being one of its bishops, it sanctions (allows) others of its bishops to violate the canons with impunity. Forget about same-sex blessings for a minute, and let us just focus on the practice of inviting anyone who comes through the door of an Episcopal Church, whether baptized or not, to partake of Holy Communion --- the so-called practice of "open communion".

The very name is an oxymoron, of course. To take "communion" is to share what one has in common with one's fellow communicants --- namely, having been baptized into the Christian faith. What we have in common with all other humans is not what defines us as Christians, and to make simple humanity the common factor, or even the act of coming into a church, is to degrade the significance of baptism as both a sacrament and as the initiation into the Christian faith. Why bother with baptism if one may receive communion regardless of one's status as a believer? There is no implied threat of any kind to withhold communion if one does not choose to be baptized as a Christian. The invitation, instead, is to return as many times as one feels like to receive communion, without fear of being "excluded". To be inclusive to that degree is to define away the meaning of one's faith, and to reduce it to a Sunday gathering of whoever bothers to show up.

To accept the oxymoron arguendo, however, it remains the fact that "open communion" is, in our current Church, a blatant violation of our national canons. (Canon I.17.7 provides: "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.") Some may point to the 1979 revisions to the Book of Common Prayer which (among other things) eliminated the old BCP rubric that "And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready", and claim that its elimination meant that Communion was now open to the unbaptized. But that would be an erroneous conclusion, as Father Haller demonstrates once more to our gratitude, in this post. The intent was to eliminate any implication that confirmation was required as a prerequisite for taking communion; that is why the Canon was left unchanged.

While he was the Bishop of Northern California, the Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb was notorious for inviting all present, baptized or not, to any Eucharist at which he presided. When he was called on it at a diocesan convention, he buried the matter by appointing a task force to conduct a survey, and to make a report at a subsequent convention. And by the time that later convention came around, he had announced his retirement, so the matter was finessed. (The report of the task force appears to be no longer on the diocesan website, but its findings are described in a paragraph at the bottom of page 13 of this document.)

Now, however, Bishop Lamb is once again in charge of Eucharists, every time he visits a parish that chose to remain with ECUSA in the area of the former Diocese of San Joaquin, and he continues to invite all to take communion. There are no voices raised against his practice of celebrating open communion --- either among his parishioners, or in the House of Bishops of which he is a member."

Oh, by the way, open communion is a practice in our church too, pragmatically driven, with nary a theological reflection at an official level to support it, let alone a canon. Mea culpa.


Anonymous said...

I had always used 'open communion' to mean inviting baptized but not confirmed Christians of other denominations (incl. Baptists and Brethren) who receive communion in their own fellowships to join Anglicans in the Lord's Supper. It's absurd and offensive to invite all and sundry, regardless of any profession of faith, to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's death for us. Are NZ Anglicans really doing this? What Would Cranmer Say?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I should Cranmer would be concerned!
The open table is in the name of inclusion, of not wishing to offend any person present at the communion and not to exclude unbaptized children.
I cannot say how many parishes practice open communion here, but many do, to the left and to the right.