immediate baptism

As many will know, there is a debate whether to encourage all at a service to receive communion or whether to hold to tradition that only those baptised are welcome at the table. [Let’s leave to one side, for the moment, limiting communion to those confirmed and/or those in one’s own denomination].

Some churches break their denomination’s rules and invite all to communion, stressing the Eucharist being a continuation of Jesus’ radically-open table fellowship. I know of at least one church that represents this architecturally – whilst most have font before table, in this building you move through table to font. Communion there is for all, and baptism is for the committed. In most, there is the practice of baptism for all, communion for the committed.

I was absolutely delighted that our church moved to communion for all the baptised whatever their age or denomination (it had previously been only for confirmed Anglicans, then there was a period of “after ‘Admission to Communion'”). In my ministry I stress communion being open to all the baptised whatever their age or denomination – and I encourage all (babies up) to receive communion from their baptism. In practice I see a shift in understanding of the importance of baptism with this approach – it is full church membership. Communion is the repeatable part of the Sacrament of Initiation.

I would not refuse anyone communion. If I knew someone was not baptised I would speak to them later encouraging them to be baptised, in the understanding that their desire for communion indicated a call to baptism.

There is a regular time when I wince with shame and embarrassment at our church’s (IMO unnecessary) highly-public exclusion of the unbaptised present and publicly highlighting them. When young people come to support their peers at confirmation (or baptism) our NZ Anglican rite explicitly addresses a question only to “baptised Christians”: “Let us, the baptised, affirm that we renounce evil…” (not even the one being baptised can, at that point, join in the renunciation!). Again, at the Apostles’ Creed, only the baptised are to say it.

Now I have seen an invitation in a service sheet that people read at a Eucharist (image above):

If you are not baptized but feel called to receive the Holy Eucharist, please notify one of the clergy and we will arrange for your immediate baptism (as early as this afternoon) and for the reception of Holy Eucharist. We will follow this with a period of detailed instruction in the faith of the Church over the weeks ahead.

What do you think of this? I have also heard of churches who set a specific date publishing that they will baptise anyone who turns up at the service wanting to be baptised that particular day. I have even heard of someone seeking baptism in the middle of a service, and the priest doing that. My closest experience has been, as a parish priest, knowing a middle-aged person always present in church but never receiving communion, I visited this person at home and discovered this person was embarrassed to admit not being baptised. With great delight to us both, I baptised this person the next Sunday.

There are other less-heard voices in this conversation. Benjamin Dueholm, Ben Stewart, and Frank Senn in different ways underscore that our ever-expanding eucharistic hospitality may have swung too far and become aggressive. Members of other world faiths, atheists, or others who do not want to receive communion may be present at a Eucharist but not want to have the spotlight on them for not receiving communion.

a kind of aggression in our hospitality that is left when we don’t grant anyone a means of opting out. A problem with the desperately unqualified invitation is that it makes staying in one’s seat look an awful lot like being ill-natured. Why else, after all, would anyone not wish to break bread with us? “Is there a pastorally appropriate way to invite a devout Muslim to communion?” Ben Stewart asks, and I admit I don’t know what that would look like. Not every unbaptized person is a “none.” And inside every “none” is not a Christian waiting to be invited out. One aspect of hospitality is allowing people to refrain, not just for the sake of their own scruples but for the sake of an expectation of conduct that they might not wish to bear at their nephew’s first communion service. It is possible to drop our communal barriers so fully as to define everyone, including our Hindu or atheist neighbors, as suddenly part of a mystical body that we happen to be specially privileged to identify. [Read the whole thought-provoking post here]

What do you think?

image source H/T Fr Scott Gunn

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