Wednesday, July 11, 2012

C-029 Substitute Resolution

Earlier this week, I blogged about the continuing debate in The Episcopal Church about offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized, what some call the "Open Table" movement, in a post entitled Font and Table.

A brief reflection on what has happened today on this report offers some interesting insights into both the legislative process of General Convention and the way Episcopalians "do theology." (Which is rather different, I think, from the way Roman Catholics or Presbyterians do theology!)

The tradition we have inherited is very clear: Baptism before Eucharist. We can change or reject tradition (especially when Holy Scripture and Reason pull us that way) but there is not really any denying this has been the ecumenical "norm" for two thousand years. And there is no longer any debate (at least that I am aware of) in TEC about welcoming all the baptized, regardless of age or denomination, to the Table. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has grounded us in the Baptismal Covenant and returned Baptism to a public act of worship, and that has taken hold for both so-called "progressives" and "traditionalists."

As mentioned previously, some feel that we need to expand that invitation to unbaptized persons who seek Christ, to offer radical hospitality in the goal of becoming a more missional Church. To the question what would (or did) Jesus do, the answer from Scripture seems clear: he was happy to eat with anyone. And he got in trouble for it, too! This group potentially sees the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist to be an alternative entry point into the Christian life and faith. It is happening in various dioceses and parishes within the Episcopal Church, and has almost become "normative" in those places.The hope is that Baptism will follow, but that Eucharist is an easier entry point iu this time and place to the Christian life.

So, the Evangelism Committee listened to all sides and as I shared previously, the conversation was rich. After much thought and prayer the Committee presented a substitute resolution to the previous C-029 which had called for theological exploration.What was offered today to the House of Deputies was this substitute resolution, as follows:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples. We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.
One more legislative comment and then on to the theology. This resolution was in fact passed by the House of Deputies today and will now go on to the House of Bishops for their concurrence. Before the vote was taken, an amendment was offered (and defeated) to delete the second sentence. The HOD apparently liked the ambiguity here, although I imagine that some on both of the "edges" were disappointed with the final vote, which was pretty close (especially in the clergy order.)

While I wish we had kept the part of the original resolution calling for more theological study, I do hope that even if not "mandated" by Convention we will continue to talk and pray. However, I think this is a lovely Anglican compromise. The first statement is simply true: this is the ancient practice and it is still normative.But even that first sentence alone is not dogmatic as I read it, a "norm" is not the same as a "mandate."

Even so, the second sentence pushes us to remember that context does matter. The ministry that is happening at places like St. Gregory of Nyssa, where the Table is the primary Sacrament that leads to Font, is unarguably a place where Christian formation is happening: even if it does push the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. Clearly holy work is happening there. Not to mention those many smaller pastoral exceptions that are made in local parishes at the discretion of priests who know their own contexts. The second sentence may not give permission or invite this to become a new norm but it does acknowledge the fact that pastoral sensitivity is being exercised, and presumably will continue to be.

This is a bit messy, but it's an example of what I love about being an Episcopalian. In the early days of the Elizabethan settlement, the debate was over the Eucharist and whether the invitation ought to be more "catholic" or "protestant." The former wanted to say, "The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you" while the latter preferred "take and eat in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving." Anglicanism prefers paradox and ambiguity for the sake of unity,whenever possible. And so they put the two together, and made everyone a little happy, and everyone a little disappointed.

I do hope that the Bishops concur tomorrow, and see this middle way, "not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth." (From the Collect for the Feast of Richard Hooker.) 

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