To the amazement of both the far left and the far right in the Episcopal world, there is a growing vocal movement in the Episcopal Church explaining why Communion Without Baptism is a bad idea.
I’ve contended for some time that the push for it is driven by identity politics not sacramental theology; that is, proponents want to see themselves and their institution as inclusive and their opponents as exclusive. As a result, the rhetoric of the movement whenever possible seeks to link CWOB with both the ordination of women and queer folk and suggests that it’s a package deal.
The other day, Fr. Robert Hendrickson wrote a great piece that thoroughly demolishes the shoddy logic behind this linkage. If you haven’t read it, you should. M and I met Fr. Robert through the Society of Catholic Priests and we always enjoy our conversations with him whether deep, profound, or fun.
I’m aware that there are many who view a shift to CWOB at General Convention as a fore-gone conclusion.
I think they’re wrong.
There is a core of catholic minded, credally grounded laity and clergy who feel strongly about this matter and who are making our voices heard. Expect to hear more in the coming months.
I think there is a particular lack of clarity in not having a rite of first communion in TEC that may set this CWOB ball in motion. While the venerable tradition of paedocommunion is reserved to baptized infants and children, and it assumes that the community will successfully foster the faith of baptized infants and children into maturity. However, I think embedded in this practice there is a fundamental accommodation to lack of personal commitment on the part of these communicants that opens the door to CWOB. If we were to develop a norm and a rite of first communion (a mini-confirmation of baptism) then I think it would be more congruent to refrain from drifting into CWOB, as I think is happening now (it’s how it is in my diverse, inclusive, broad-church parish, where I think the link to the ethos inclusivity of all the baptized has been made to CWOB, as you suggest), or more deliberately moving to CWOB at General Convention.
Well–there’s certainly unclarity here. A few points: 1) You’re quite correct that what’s at stake here is not only instruction but discipleship. CWOB is radically anti-discipleship. 2) Yes, the communing of any baptized person did open a door to mass communing in general. While the ’28 BCP hearken to older Anglican and Western understandings that required Confirmation before communion, the ’79 did away with that in the name of Baptism as full initiation. At issue now is whether we take that seriously and require initiation at all… 3) our girls have received from the time of Baptism; this was not the custom in our current A-C parish. As a result, when one mom pushed for a First Communion rite (which seemed to be primarily about the white dresses and party rather than the Sacrament), my girls were essentially cut out of it. And that’s hard to explain to girls who were 8 and 5. I’d be in favor of a rite that focuses on intentional, spiritual reception–a rite following catechesis that shows that the children grasp the significance and importance of it–but dislike some of the cultural and theological baggage of the post-Reformation First Communion thing.
The simple problem in the alleged linkage to “inclusiveness” is that “being included” was never the issue. In all my years outside the church, I never once desired to be “included” in it; why would I want to be included in a faith community I didn’t agree with or have any interest in? The church is about faith – and the only reason to become incorporated into it in a “official” (for us, “sacramental”) way it is if you hold to the faith; otherwise: I mean, why on earth would you?
“Inclusive” was never anything but a code word! It meant: “If you’re gay and Christian, you won’t be beaten up or physically ejected here.” In the local paper, a church could call itself “inclusive” and LGBT people would know what it meant; It was, in fact, about honoring the baptisms of LGBT folks.
“Inclusion” doesn’t really fit the issue of the ordination of women, either; the only arguments that make sense in a religious context are those contra the theological basis for the male-only priesthood. (Which, in fact, is baseless, theologically! You can argue for it via capital-T Tradition, but that’s the only thing that works anymore.)
The same holds true for the GLBT issue; we’re interested in the Christian faith, not merely in hanging out with a bunch of people on Sunday mornings, singing songs and volunteering endless hours of work doing all kinds of things nobody in their right minds would do…..
I mean: come on. ;-)
You wrote, proposing: “spiritual reception–a rite following catechesis that shows that the children grasp the significance and importance of it”.
It reminded me: I was a special consultant in the 79 BCP production. I remember after an early committee meeting about infant/child Communion, Henry Bruehl (Associated Parishes) was writing on the blackboard, and I said to him, “I think it would be great for children to receive Communion, but I worry that they wouldn’t understand what they are receiving.” He turned around and faced me, and said simply, “Do you??????”
While I see what your saying, that’s not sufficient. As young children my girls grasped that the Eucharist was different from other bread/crackers, that it meant God loved them in a special way, and that mom and dad say that it’s Jesus. That’s all little children need to know, but it’s entirely insufficient for a maturing faith. At this point even my 6 year old is capable of grasping more about the Eucharist than that (and does…).
Musicology class for music majors:
Freshman: “Oh, I hate all this atonal stuff, I just don’t get it!
Beethoven, on the other hand, I understand Beethoven.”
Professor: “Oh, so you think you understand Beethoven” :)
I think The Great Mystery is just that.
But this thing we do is not out there. It is sacramental and incarnational in our space, in our hands, in our bodies; it is not, however, magic. I think it requires life-long reflection and engagement, not simple consumption.
As a church in the increasingly un-churched world, I think too that it needs instruction, study and some gate-keeping as food for the Way. In the Great Tradition, catechumens were instructed, then initiated into Christian theology, the kerygma of the Church and the praxis of the Eucharist before taking it. Not every kid has parents like D and M. Parishes vary in their evangelization, and the subsequent fostering and development of their members. I think that’s where the institutional organ of the church comes into its own. Not just as bearer of the measuring stick (canon), but as pastoral renderer of consensus, wisdom, support and direction.
I think the problem goes much deeper than this rite or that one.
The problem is that nothing is being taught at all. This is a problem for Anglicanism in general, and we in TEC have taken it up a notch, I think. We’ve had the Spong thing going for so long now, with people introducing their personal – for lack of a better word – “theology” into the mix, that everybody thinks their own ideas about faith are just as good as the next girl’s – or as the church’s. If not better! Priests are into this now, too. (I mean, the guy’s a Bishop! His one task was to teach the faith – and he couldn’t be bothered. So why should anybody else?)
When I was confirmed, I was the only person in the class – out of 10 people or so in my local area – who read the Catechism! (I’m not congratulating myself; just stating a fact. And everybody here knows how lame I think that Catechism is, anyway.) Derek’s kids are lucky that they have a committed priest and a committed layman for parents; that’s very, very rare.
I’m exceedingly grateful, I must say, that I’ve run into people on the internet – like Derek and others – who could help me understand things. They helped me realize how rich and deep Christianity actually is – otherwise I might have left for the dojo long ago. (I’m grateful, too, that my early sponsors in A.A. who didn’t take it upon themselves to make up the program as they went along; in that case, I’d probably be dead.)
(And may I also point out that any of us who flagrantly disobeyed the policies of their employers would be canned in a heartbeat. Believe me.)
This is good news. Given tonight’s reading from Romans 6, and the location language that Paul uses (being baptized into Christ), I’ve been thinking about baptism as passport, visa and naturalization papers into the Kingdom of God. This is a clear demarcation, and the 1979 BCP is fundamentally centered on our baptismal identity and membership/participation in Christ. CWOB undercuts our theology of both baptism and Eucharist…but you already knew my opinion on that.
Happy Easter to you and your family. May your celebration of the Resurrection be blessed, indeed!
So…just because I feel like saying it…couldn’t a person argue that other recent developments in TEC are more about identity politics than a coherent sacramental theology (where marriage and priesthood are sacraments)? And that this is merely the logical extension of that movement? Because I think that might be my position.
Some good theology has been wrought on inclusive marriage. To wit:
My impression is CWOB may have more to do with barriers, gate-keeping, hierarchies, canons and rubrics per se rankling the fur of certain types.
Some of the innovators of CWOB reference mission and a desire to evangelize http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/liturgy/communion_before_baptism_one_p.php
Referring to the mention of a Communion reception rite for kids: in most parishes there is a variety of expectation on the part of parents and when their baptized children will begin to receive, often based on a parent’s own experience. So the normative practice in my parish is this 1) children receive Communion on the day of their baptism – a little wine for babies 2) after that, it’s up to the parents when they want their kids to receive on a regular basis – usually it’s around age 2 or 2.5 3) in Grade 1 or 2 – depending on the maturity of the child – they take a Eucharist instruction class with me during Easter season 4) On a Sunday following the conclusion of the class there is a brief rite of recognizing these children have been through the class and are growing in their understanding of the Eucharist. In addition to the liturgy and a certificate the kids are given prayer beads. For some of these children it is truly First Communion, for others it is “continuing ed.” While we make a big deal of it, there are no fancy white dresses or big parties. I also try to use the occasion as an opportunity to do some education with the adults in the parish, as well.