Thursday, June 16, 2011

Canadian Anglican Bishops Say No Open Table for Now

Some background first. "Open table" is a term within the Anglican Church these days which means waiving the requirement that a person must be baptized before receiving the Eucharist. Also known as "radical hospitality", the practice has been gaining traction of late on the strength of the argument that seeker friendly churches welcome all to worship, including the eucharist, without restriction in the hope that the Spirit will lead seekers to want to be baptized. The idea of "open table" overturns the ancient Christian practice that communicants first be instructed in the faith and in the meaning of the sacraments before receiving Communion.

The letter below came to me from the Diocese of Huron in SW Ontario, where I served before beginning full time ministry in the Canadian Forces. In this letter, Huron reaffirms the position of the Anglican Church of Canada's House of Bishops. MP+

June 2011

Dear colleagues in ministry,

On April 13, 2011, the House of Bishops issued the following statement,

“We had been made aware through media articles and pastoral visits by bishops that in some parts of Canada a practice of "open table" has begun. This involves admitting people to Holy Communion before baptism. We recognize that this practice arises out of the deep concern to express Christian hospitality. However, we unanimously reaffirm our understanding that the Eucharist is the sacrament for the baptized. We do not see this as changing in the foreseeable future. At our next meeting, the bishops will discuss and offer guidance the church on Christian hospitality and mission and how these relate to the table of Christ.”

It continues to be the practice in the Diocese of Huron to follow this received pattern: that only those who were baptized with water in the name of the Holy Trinity are ‘invited’ to receive the bread and wine at communion. All others are invited to take part in the moment by receiving a blessing.

We are certainly aware that from time to time (indeed often) communion is administered to those who are not baptized but whose conscience and spiritual desire brings them to the altar to receive the sacrament. Clearly this is not the time to check baptismal credentials. There is no photo ID required at the altar rail.

It is not the intention of the House of Bishops, nor is it our intention, to hinder anyone from turning to faith in Christ. Neither do we want to discourage anyone from feeling welcome in a faith community. It is our hope to maintain the well-established tradition, which sees participation and nurture in a Christian community leading to baptism and then to the Eucharistic mystery. To depart unilaterally from this established order would have profound consequences on our ecumenical relationships and indeed on the already strained relationships within our Anglican Communion. The very nature of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist is so central to the faith and order of the church, that radical change cannot be made by individual parishes, dioceses or provinces within our Communion.

It is acknowledged that, as the Christendom model of infant baptism fades, more and more newcomers to worship will be un-baptized. In attempts to be hospitable and to extend the goodness of God through evangelization, many will be tempted to reduce or remove the perceived restriction of baptism before Eucharist. Further, we have been persuaded by the Liturgical movement that ‘participation’ in the Eucharist is to be valued highly. It is clear that more dialogue and theological debate is needed as we continue to reflect on the very nature of who we are as the people of God. While the house of bishops sees the need for future conversation, they cannot endorse unilateral or precipitous change to the doctrine and discipline of the church with respect to the two dominical sacraments.

May we rededicate ourselves to the ways of the catechumenate, the ancient and still powerful way that leads to the promises and benefits of baptism. It is the celebration of our salvation in Christ. It is through his death and resurrection that we become sacramental people. +Bob +Terry

1 comment:

Bernard von Schulmann said...

Interesting, this was never an issue when I attended St James' Piccadilly in London. I was even pushed to be on the PCC by this rather interesting Northern Irishman, the Rev Norrie McCurry.

Admittedly St James' was home to the Movement for the Ordination of Women at the time I was attending there. Rev Ulla Monberg did everything but the final blessing at the Eucharist

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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