CWOB and the Diocese of Connecticut

This resolution passed at the convention of the Diocese of Connecticut:

Resolution #10: year-long Dialogue on Communion of the Unbaptized PASSED AS AMENDED

This resolution was much debated as well. It started with an amendment to change “open communion” to “communion of the unbaptized” for clarification. which passed.

Final language: RESOLVED:  That the 227th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut declares a year for theological and catechetical reflection, dialogue, discussion, conversation and listening among parishes of this diocese on “Communion of the Unbaptized” [welcoming all, baptized or not, to Holy Communion]; and be it further,
RESOLVED:  That the laity make their voices heard to the bishop and clergy as they explore this sacrament.

Couple of things here…

First, I’m wary of the words “dialogue” and “conversation” in the Episcopal Church. This generally seems to be shorthand for: “We know better than you on this topic and we’re going to have a ‘dialogue’ until you see the error of your ways and agree with me at which point our dialogue will be done.” I will be very interested to see what form this “dialogue” takes. What sort of theological and catechetical material will be used to guide the reflection?

Who really will get to have a voice at the table?

…And that brings me to my second thing…

What the heck does that last line mean? Let’s take another look at it: “That the laity make their voices heard to the bishop and clergy as they explore this sacrament.” What is the rhetorical purpose and the political valence of this sentence?

Two options immediately present themselves.

The first is a simple and straight-forward wish that all orders of ministry will have an opportunity to have a say in the matter. Well, yeah—isn’t this kind of the point of our whole process? Isn’t this how our polity is different from the COE and other Anglican churches? Perhaps I’ve been in church circles too long but this seems a little too much like wide-eyed naivete; I’m feeling something a little disingenuous here…

The second is a sneaking suspicion that the appeal to “the laity” is an attempt to stack the deck. I truly believe that the current argument around CWOB is neither a theological nor a sacramental argument. Instead, it’s an issue of identity that rests primarily upon an emotional appeal. That is, I think it’s less about theology and a lot more about how we perceive ourselves and shape the face we offer to the world; CWOB advocates intend it as a message that we are open, inclusive, and welcoming. I have no problem with framing ourselves this way–but CWOB is not the way to do it!!

Are the folks behind this line thinking that the laity will be swayed more by this sort of an emotional appeal than a theological one?

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see more resolutions like this popping up a conventions going forward . This will be a very important resolution and “dialogue” to follow over the coming year.

21 Replies to “CWOB and the Diocese of Connecticut”

  1. I wish somebody would recognize that what is being advocated here is the participation in the central rite of a religious faith one doesn’t adhere to.

    For myself: I would never participate in the primary rite of any other faith – and particularly when I knew absolutely nothing about it! It’s hard for me to imagine that anybody else would do this, either – although I could be wrong about that.

    I would feel at once completely presumptuous and also very, very leery of what I was actually agreeing to by so doing. On a personal note, when I returned to the church after 35+ years away, I didn’t receive Communion for about 2 years, precisely because I didn’t believe in it. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has felt this way.

    I still feel badly about the time I spoke with a Catholic friend from Honduras who attended our services. I told him it was perfectly OK for him to receive Communion in our church – and I think he felt obligated to do it, in order not to offend me. But I don’t think he wanted to. And that’s what I think we’re doing, essentially: offering people something they really might not want at all, but in order not to offend, they may act against their wishes.

    I just don’t think this is the right thing to do at all….

  2. I honestly don’t understand what is wrong with our current practice. It’s not like we turn people away at the altar, nor do I see throngs of the unbaptized clamoring for the Sacrament of the Altar. .

  3. regarding the last line “That the laity make their voices heard to the bishop and clergy as they explore this sacrament.”

    it is entirely possible that the laity asked for this amendment. My own experience is that CWOB is a theological stance much more likely to be embraced by the ordained than the laity. And as such, the laity are making a point that their understanding of ecclesial identity is as valid as that of the seminary set.

  4. Heather, I hope you’re right and that I’m just being paranoid. I’m trying to find out more about it and how that part of the resolution came about.

  5. My parish practices CWOB which fits in nicely with the defacto official theologians being people like Spong, Borg, and Crossan. There is n o sense of the sacraments being sacraments: they are rituals of incorporation (Baptism) or ways of reinforcing group identity (Eucharist). I also think the clergy are desperately afraid of alienating potential members.

  6. In my parish, as far as I can see our theology is not informed by Spong, etc. But I do have a feeling that for some, at least, the emphasis of the sacraments is more horizontal than vertical. And I think because we have uncritically made inclusivity the crux of our identity.

  7. Toni, I think you’ve hit on one of the keys to this debate—uncritical inclusivity. It’s really important that everybody is clear that we are *for* inclusivity, openness, and hospitality. What we want to make sure is that these values are in concert with our commitment to discipleship and to joyfully inviting all people into a mature relationship with God and one another. To that end, we have a specific sacrament of inclusion—Baptism—by which one begins the process of discipleship that is then properly and appropriately nourished by the Eucharist and the other sacramental rites.

  8. I’m wary of the words “dialogue” and “conversation” in the Episcopal Church.

    You’re telling me!!!

  9. Well, I’d take that quite a bit further. I think it is better put as indiscriminate inclusivity, because the thing they are desperately afraid of is offending some group of, well, sinners which has enough social pull to cause trouble within the circles that Episcopal clergy in the big cities travel in. They therefore cannot say, “repent and be baptized”, because so many of these people are either aggressively irreligious or are dabblers in vague self-tailored spiritualism– this last party being those most likely to be tempted into a church building, but also among those most resistant to actual commitment. And not incidentally it means that they cannot discipline themselves, because they are more loyal to their social class than to their church (or should I say, The Church).

  10. I was there, and one statement that was made in the discussion was that “most laypersons were surprised to learn that unbaptized persons were not supposed to receive communion.” To which I respond that we’re not doing a very good job at formation! And I’m afraid that you are correct about conversation meaning “we’re going to talk until you see that you’re wrong.” In the forum held the evening before resolutions came to the floor, there were lots of comments that implied that CWOB was a foregone conclusion and we should all get with the program.

    One problem that was noted but not corrected is that there is no mechanism or process to insure that this conversation takes place–we’ll see what happens!

  11. C. Wingate, we’re all sinners; Baptism doesn’t change that. It grafts us into the mystical body – but it doesn’t change our status as sinners.

    That’s permanent.

  12. bls, I picked “sinner” precisely for that reason. For all the Calvinism we are supposedly afflicted with theologically, the “inclusion” faction has a tendency to act as though the only real sin is to be the kind of person who wouldn’t want to be included in a church like ours.

  13. There seems to be a really interesting convergence of different stories over the past couple of weeks, and all of them point a severe breakdown in TEC’s ability to effectively govern itself. Bp. Saul’s presentation on structure and EC’s response; the Bp. Lawrence Affair, the resolution on the Covenant and now this. The reality seems to be that despite our ‘episcopally led, synodically governed’ structure, we’ve developed a kind of Politburo system and synods/conventions exist to ratify the decisions of the Committee of Committees and protect their power Some reading from Thomas Kuhn on revolutions is in order.

  14. I wonder how advocates of CWOB deal with the fact that their position makes the central rite of the 1979 BCP completely unintellible. All that work to refocus the community on Baptism as full initiation into Christ’s body and we move on to a position that makes baptism a footnote. As I put it elsewhere:

    “Since they can receive communion, I wonder if baptism will become devalued, or just forgotten. Perhaps Baptism will become like a marriage/wedding, i.e. something people do when they’ve saved up enough money to have the sort of consumerist bash they’ve always dreamed of after they’ve explored all their other options and have decided to settle for Jesus.”

  15. Well, depressingly the answer to that is easy: a lot of the stuff floating around for the next round of BCP revision is very different from the 1979 text. Indeed, the two things that are most striking about the stuff I’ve seen thus far (and I admit there came a time where I stopped trying to follow it, as we’ve had three rectors in a row who wouldn’t think of even trying the stuff out) is that the 1979 structure is absolutely immutable, and the texts are almost limitlessly fluid. About the only fixed portions are the Lord Prayer (decades later, and we’re still using Jacobean English) and the institution narrative. There are little theological experiments sprinkled everywhere. So it’s not hard for me to see the liturgists simply dropping 1979’s focus on baptism.

  16. Without the focus on baptism, I can see a return to older patterns. If you really want your weekly Eucharist, you’ll have to get it at the 8:00 Rite I service. Everybody else, baptized or not, would more likely go to a 10:00 or 11:00 Prayer and Praise loosely based on Morning Prayer II.

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