Saturday, July 7, 2012

'Open Table' Discussion

One of the hot button resolutions being considered at this convention is one regarding an 'open table'. (ENS article here).. some parishes and dioceses already practice this, inviting non-baptized persons to the communion rail to take part in holy communion.

It's a tricky issue. Initially, I was in favor of the very radical open table, of inviting any and all to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord in the sacrament of holy eucharist. Who are we to deny anyone anything, really? Did Jesus not practice radical hospitality Himself, inviting tax collectors and such to break bread with him?

My favorite Crusty Old Dean blogged about this some time ago and it really made me pause and consider other implications that communion without baptism has. ETA: Another Episcopal Hero, Fr. David Simmons, also weighs in.

Several people testified at the hearing that they had felt welcomed into the Episcopal Church through an open table. While they are moving testimonies it does make me wonder what else those particular churches were doing to make people feel welcome. I feel like we are a church true to our signs: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." But, I don't think that offering Eucharist to everyone is necessarily the best way to be this welcoming, loving place. There are other ways to show the radical hospitality of Christ.

Eucharist is not the only thing we do as the body of Christ. As COD says, we are already welcoming and inclusive--we baptize anyone. Ask and you shall receive! I know of someone very recently who was moved by the Spirit and during a conversation with a priest asked if he could be baptized. In my head, baptisms take place during worship service, on Sunday or some other feast day, with the whole congregation there and babies cry and people smile and it's all warm and fuzzy. But this priest said, "Ok, let's go!" and he was taken over to the font and baptized. This seemed very radical to me, and welcoming.

It's true that Jesus practiced radical hospitality and we, as the Body of Christ, are also called to do so. But it is not the instances of breaking bread with tax collectors etc. that we re-live when we celebrate the Eucharist. We remember Jesus gathered with his disciples, the ones who had committed themselves to him, who took up his yoke. We remember the new covenant forged by his words, "Take, Eat."

This resolution also has ecumenical implications--what would it mean for our relations with our ecumenical partners if we adopt it? What about in the broader Anglican Communion? I've said it before that doing the right thing is not easy--the trouble is, people have differing opinions on what the "right thing" to do is. If we put our blinders on and say, "My way is the right way!" and don't stop to consider the broader implications of our actions we risk already tenuous relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Lastly, a lot of buzz is going around about the Five Marks of Mission. The budget up for consideration even has the title of the Five Marks of Mission Budget. The five marks are:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Now, one could argue that "nurturing" new believers might mean offering them communion without baptism, but to me it seems like baptism is our way of reaching out to those who are seeking. It seems to me that people aren't comfortable with the idea of going out and baptizing. The idea of going out and giving communion as an act of evangelism just doesn't sit well with me. Looking at the early Church, they were going out and baptizing, not going around giving communion to people. Sure, people were welcomed into the community but the initiating act was baptism, not communion. As someone who just returned from a mission assignment I can identify with squirmy feelings of, "I'm not here to convert people and dunk heads." Baptism seems so much more evangelistic because it involves US putting out the effort to reach out. Offering people communion just feels so much less intrusive. All we have to do is say, "Okay, if you want to, you can come to our table..." and then we just wait for the masses to flood the rail. Baptism, on the other hand, involves more conversation. It involves helping someone to consider what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ, what it means to take on Christ's yoke. To quote from the COD, "...while something may be lawful, does it build up? Yeah, theoretically, we could change the canons and permit this. But will it really build up the church? Without broader commitment to formation, mission, and ministry, I don't see how it would. If we give someone communion and then never talk to them at coffee hour and don't empower them in their baptismal ministry, we will have accomplished nothing."

Regardless of how this resolution turns out, I hope we can stay civil, loving, and cognizant of our relationships with one another.

Grace and Peace,


  1. Well thought out and well said, Kathleen!

  2. Well said. I've always (yeah, I know) believed that the open table is a missed teaching opportunity and a missed fellowship op as well. As a professor of mine said, without the teaching in Baptismal prep and Baptism itself, into the wider community itself, the sacrament becomes little more than a bad mid-morning snack. I admit to being a theological dinosaur in some respects. But our blessed Episcopal church has welcome to offer in other ways...
    Open table is a concept, but not one I'm jumping on board with.
    btw tx for your blogs. Praying for your discernment process.