The Episcopal Church is discussing whether to remove the canonical requirement of baptism for those wanting to receive communion. Who is and who is not allowed to receive communion has, in USA, taken a political direction also.
Pope Francis has been clear that he has never refused communion to anyone. To highlight this, some might like to reflect: if you are distributing communion, and Vladimir Putin comes to you for communion, would you give him communion or not?
The resolution going to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church moves to
repeal CANON I.17.7 of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church (2018 Revision, page 88), which states: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”C028All Are Welcome at the Table
There is plenty of discussion about this on the internet.
Rev Tobias Haller gives an excellent summary here; his approach is that an unbaptised person “cannot” receive communion, as only “the faithful” (i.e., the baptised) can (not just “may”) receive it. He would alter the TEC canon accordingly. I would highlight, however, that there are Christians who do not have baptism (Salvation Army, Quakers,…).
Others are stressing that one cannot be an inclusive church if someone baptised as a baby (ie without personal faith) can receive communion (even if later an atheist) but inquisitive nones are excluded from receiving communion when they might have more faith than a baptised person.
There is a statement by Episcopal theologians expressing concern about open Communion. With a response by Rev. Mark Harris here. While Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton strongly supports open communion here.
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has as a formulary of our Church: “All the baptised may receive the Holy Communion.” (Title G Canon VII). This formulary replaces the requirement that used to be Anglican teaching: “And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed” (Book of Common Prayer 1662). So everyone, adults, young people, children, and babies, are welcome to receive communion now from the moment of their baptism. As far as I know, we do not have any formal statement that restricts communion only to the baptised. If we do have such a formal limitation – please let us know.
Another point: I think there is nowhere in our formally agreed liturgies that indicates that baptism is required to receive communion. In fact the opposite: at communion time, all present are invited forward to receive communion: “Draw near and receive the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ …” Let me also stress, that nowhere, as far as I can see, is there anything in our baptism rite that indicates that this is the required doorway to communion.
I have long been a proponent of baptism as being all that is required for admission to communion, of communion for all the baptised. I have regularly described baptism followed by communion as full initiation into the Church, with the Eucharist as the repeatable part of this initiation. However, I am currently reading Signs of Life: Worship for a Just and Loving People (by Rev. Rick Fabian, in which he explains the open communion approach of his church, St Gregory of Nysa – image above). I might present a fuller review of this book in the future – suffice to say that Rick challenges my lens that sees baptism as Christian initiation. He also challenges people who seek to restrict communion to the baptised, highlighting that those who do so generally have little biblical content in their analysis, focusing rather on regulations that developed after the New Testament period.
There is another significant point that I have seen too little of: if a community has as its norm that ALL receive communion, those present who wish not to receive communion are put under significant pressure.
I thought of this again when, this week, in our Covid context, our bishop (Peter Carrell) wrote to the diocese with the wise pastoral guideline:
Where communion is offered in two kinds, communion wine should be available in such a manner that no one has to reject the chalice.
I have been travelling around NZ a bit recently. At one Eucharist (I acknowledge all are doing their best in this Covid world) there were three altars: one in the sanctuary with candles lit and liturgically-coloured altar frontal. At the chancel steps was a second altar, which the presider picked up and moved around – this had wafers and a chalice (I don’t know if anything was in the chalice). A third altar was in the nave, with little communion shot glasses, half of them filled, I’m guessing, with wine or port, the other half (the colour differed) with some sort of juice. At communion time, we all went forward, and all had to circle past this third altar where everyone picked up a shot glass. More commitment was required of a person not to take a shot glass (or not to come up at all!) than of anyone coming forward to communion.
I have had people come and receive communion from me who are not baptised. I am not prepared to refuse anyone who comes forward for communion. If I discover someone is receiving communion but not baptised, I have always encouraged them to be baptised – and such conversations have always led to baptism. I have known faithful people who do not receive communion and discovered that is because they were not baptised. A conversation around that has delightfully led to baptism.
What are my conclusions:
- I would like to see communion as normally completing the baptism rite. A revision of the baptism rite to mention communion would be a positive step (but not mentioned in such a way as to indicate that baptism was essential for communion).
- I think our NZ Church’s formulary has it right. Those who are baptised can and should receive communion regularly. There is nothing in our Church’s formal teaching that requires baptism for communion – the unbaptised are not excluded from communion.
- Our pastoral practice should be such that people can be present at a service and not feel pressured to receive communion.