Category Archives: Ecumenism

CWOB News: Ecumenical Edition

Communion without Baptism is in the news again, but not from the Episcopal Church this time. Rather, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an ecumenical partner (and the church in which I was raised), is in the midst of its Churchwide Assembly—analogous to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

I haven’t followed Lutheran church politics  for years and so I’m a little sketchy on the exact polity details here—I’m going to describe things as best I can from the outside with the hope that those who actually do know what they’re talking about will correct me when I err…

Unlike our system, they vote on “memorials” rather than “resolutions.” Like our resolutions, they are often bubbled up from local groupings (synods rather than dioceses). One of the memorials on tap this meeting comes from the Northern Illinois Synod. I’ll now cite from the Memorials Committee Report [pdf] of the pre-Assembly materials:

Category D1: Communion Practices

1. Northern Illinois Synod (5B) [2012 Memorial]
WHEREAS, The Use of the Means of Grace (1997), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) guiding document on the “Practice of Word and Sacrament,” clearly states that “The Holy Communion is given to the baptized” (Principle 37, pp. 41–42); and
WHEREAS, since the publication of that document the ELCA has entered into full-communion partnerships with church bodies that do not share that same understanding; and
WHEREAS, the implementing resolutions of our full-communion agreements encourage us to extend sacramental hospitality to one another’s members; and
WHEREAS, some congregations of the ELCA currently have Communion policy statements which would effectively bar members of church bodies with which we are in full communion from participation in the Sacrament; and
WHEREAS, some ELCA congregations welcome everyone present to partake of the Eucharist without stipulating the need for Baptism; and
WHEREAS, clarification concerning Lutheran Sacramental theology and practice would be helpful in the life of this church at this time; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Northern Illinois Synod memorialize the 2013 Churchwide Assembly to institute a process necessary to review and possibly revise the ELCA’s guiding documents concerning admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.


The current guiding recommendations for the practice of Holy Communion are found in The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament which was adopted by the 1997 Churchwide Assembly.
Principle 37 of that document states,

The Holy Communion is given to the baptized


Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.

Application 37G.

When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

In regards to the ELCA’s ecumenical relationships, the document also says this in Application A of Principle 49…

In the exercise of this [Eucharistic] hospitality, it is wise for our congregations to be sensitive to the Eucharistic practices of the churches from which visitors may come. (UMG, p. 52)

This guiding principle remains the recommended practice of this church. However, there is diversity in practice regarding who is welcome to the table among the worshiping communities of this church. Below are two examples of welcome statements in worship folders:

“We believe and teach the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and we invite all who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to commune with us.”

“At meal-tables around the world, strangers become friends, and friends become family. In Holy Communion, we are invited to the Table of the Lord. No conditions, no coercion, just words of welcome and promise: “this is my body, given for you.” We are glad to have you worship with us! All visitors are welcome to share in the Lord’s Supper.

These statements represent the varying practice of Eucharistic hospitality in this church. It is important to recognize the desire to welcome people to the Lord’s Supper. This has been attributed as a response to the growing number of unbaptized people present at worship. The current religious context in which the church finds itself is increasingly
diverse, and local worshiping communities are met with numerous challenges to the practice of mission and ministry.

At the same time, this church recognizes that the celebration of Holy Communion occurs in the assembly of the baptized people of God. The importance of the clear connections between baptism and communion also needs to be recognized.

Staff in the churchwide worship team receive a number of inquiries on whether Holy Communion should be presented to only the baptized. Some are in favor of this, some are not in favor, and a good number simply ask, “What should we do?”

In the fall of 2012, the worship team gathered the professors of worship from the ELCA seminaries for a conversation about this issue. A similar conversation took place at a meeting of the Lutheran Caucus at the North American Academy of Liturgy in January 2013. In both of these conversations it was clear that more needs to be said than what exists in current ELCA documents. Regardless of the decision, it remains evident that this church would do well to have more resources on the relationship between Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Ultimately, decisions about communion practices are local decisions, and there is a need for a resource or resources to help congregations faithfully discern their communion practices.

Recommendation for Assembly Action

To receive with gratitude the memorial of the Northern Illinois Synod requesting a process to review the ELCA’s guiding documents on communion practices;

To invite members, congregations, synods and the churchwide organization into conversation and study regarding the Use of the Means of Grace;

To request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, in consultation with the Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishops, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and

To request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit to bring a report and possible recommendations to the April 2014 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.

So—this looks very much like the situation that the Episcopal Church was in at the last General Convention. We had Resolution C029 coming from the Diocese of North Carolina recommending a study but without the implied request for change that this memorial seems to bear. I covered this back at Convention-time; the result for us was that the wording of the resolution was substantially changed, the study was nixed and the canons were left unchanged.

However, based on Twitter chatter and the Assembly News, it would seem that this resolution passed, giving the green light for the requested study:

The 952 voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a proposal designed to invite the 4-million-member church, its nearly 10,000 congregations, 65 synods and churchwide organization into conversation and study regarding the Use of the Means of Grace – a statement on the practice of Word and Sacrament. The assembly called on the Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit of ELCA churchwide ministries, in consultation with the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishops, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The assembly also requested that the unit provide a report and possible recommendations to the ELCA Church Council in April 2014.

What the Lutherans do is worth keeping a close eye on. We have a very close ecumenical relationship with them—the closest thing there is to merger without it actually being a merger. Ecumenical relationships are mentioned as one of the spurs for this proposed change, yet what will such a move do to our ecumenical relationship? What should it do?

Question for Lutheran/Protestant Users of SBB

…if there are any, that is…

The current OF Roman kalendar is waiting in the wings at the breviary, but I received a suggestion that I should include the Lutheran or other protestant kalendars for my non-Anglican/Roman readers. Is there sufficient interest and a large enough body of Lutheran/protestant sorts who use St Bede’s Breviary to make this worthwhile?

NLM and the Reform of the Reform

The Roman blog New Liturgical Movement is a frequently if not daily read for some of us non-Romans/protestants who point our liturgical eyes across the Tiber. Long militating for recognition of the splendors of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and the reform of the reforms of Vatican II, some readers have wondered what its role is now that the Benedict the 16th’s motu proprio has clarified the Roman position on the TLM, a clarification that enables its wider and broader use. Would the site focus exclusively on the TLM and leave the Novus Ordo (the V II version) to hang? The authors have been engaging in public discussion about this and one of today’s posts hits it on the head: to be of continuing use to the church is to refuse the inclination to head into a TLM echo chamber; the reform of the reform should move hand in hand with the restoration of the TLM.

I’m happy they’ve made this statement because it means the site and its resources will continue to be of use to us non-Roman readers. We’re never going to do a TLM; ain’t gonna happen. However, we too could stand to experience, learn, and thoughtfully and theologically reflect on the riches of a TLM done properly and how its qualities of prayerfulness and Godwardness can further our corporate and private worship of God.

Tradition–And Lutheran Stuff Again

In the face of a spate of recent criticisms of the new (ELCA) Lutheran worship book, the Lutheran Zephyr raises an important set of questions and issues. He writes:

When large numbers of congregations reject the beloved traditions
enshrined within Lutheran Book of Worship (and Service Book and
Hymnal), what is the ELCA to do? 

  • Should the ELCA just sit there and do nothing while an
    increasing number of congregations fish around for worship resources
    from other traditions?
  • Should the ELCA whip these congregations into Latin-rubric
    submission and simply give them more of the traditional liturgies that
    they are already rejecting?
  • Or should the ELCA venture to create liturgies that embrace the
    spirit – if not the letter – of the church’s grand liturgical
    tradition, while simultaneously welcoming new language, tunes and

The ELCA had to create a book for the church we have – a diverse
church whose identity 20 years post-merger is not yet formed – not for
the church some of us wish we had.  We’re a church, for
better or worse, with a congregational polity, freedom in matters of
worship, diverse heritages, and pieties that range from evangelical
catholic to haugian.  Would a Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer be the
prescription for this church?  That seems to be the answer Pfatteicher
and others would provide, but it is not the right answer for our

I note in this passage the many times and many ways in which the word tradition is used. In particular, I want to draw attention to the ways that the word is used in the three bulleted points. (Let me preface this by saying that I’m not criticizing the Zephyr here, rather I’m interested in how the word is functioning rhetorically.)

In the first case, “tradition” is that which is alien–given the contrast with “ELCA”, these would appear to refer to non- and un-Lutheran traditions. I’m thinking he means praise choruses and “contemporary” music from low-church denominations and para-church movements. But I find myself wondering if “Catholic” traditions would be included in this category or not.

In the second case, “traditional” is both natively Lutheran and pejorative. Traditional is that which is being rejected. Interestingly, this same use is modified by “beloved” in the opening paragraph of the quote, clearly drawing a distinction  between those for whom these traditions are “beloved”  (i.e., Pr. Pfatteicher, LutherPunk, myself, etc.) and the greater majority of Lutherans who are rejecting them.

In light of these two, the third use is particularly interesting. Here “tradition” is modified by “grand” and “liturgical.”  The rhetorical intent identifies liturgies that are, once again, natively Lutheran but are distinguished from those being rejected. The “grand” implies  (for me at least) both a broader scope—perhaps implying that the (or a) reason for the rejection in the liturgies in 2 is that they were narrowly or parochially Lutheran—and implying an aesthetic difference.

The Zephyr is confronting, I believe, one of the major issues that faces church leaders and liturgists of our generation. That is, in the face of disjunctive upheaval in our societies and our denominations, how do we connect or reconnect with the “grand traditions”–liturgical and otherwise–from which we believe we should take our bearings? At the root, it’s a question about identity.

Furthermore, it’s a question about direction. Here we are at this time and in these places. Where do we go from here and where should we look for guidance? How do we talk about who we are and how do we shape who we will be?

I’ve wrestled with these same questions before on this blog. In a piece I linked to yesterday I talk about my reaction to the construction of liturgy and tradition in the Anglican Missal while in this post I discuss the elusive quality of tradition especially when it’s backed by historical research. Yes, research and historical knowledge complicate rather than simplify the issues.

I’m guessing that the Zephyr and I agree on the big picture: tradition is not a thing to be grasped for its own sake but rather is a thing to be pursued because of the ways that it enables us as individuals and as “traditions” to proclaim the Good News of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and the effect that this Good News should have upon our lives–what we think, what we do, how we choose to be incarnate in the world.

I also know we have some disagreements on the little picture –how this works out on the micro-level, especially liturgically. As a Lutheran I was very much for a “Lutheranized Book of Common Prayer.” Indeed, I argued that given the freedom of liturgies enshrined in Augsburg Confession, Article 7, there was no reason why Lutheran congregations couldn’t use the BCP as is…

Disagreements aside, this conversation about how we uncover, construct and utilize a “grand tradition” is an essential one. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others should not only be having these conversations in their own groups but should be sharing methods, findings, and dead ends on the road. Personally, that’s one of the things I’m hoping to achieve with this blog. So, while I disagree with some of the choices that the Lutheran Zephyr might make in his construction, I heartily encourage and support his process of discovery and construction as I parallel it with my own.

Must-Read Article on the New Lutheran Service Books

Lee points us to a must-read article by Philip Pfatteicher, one of the Grand Masters of American Lutheran liturgy.

He writes a devastating critique of the new ELCA work, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and damns the new LCMS Lutheran Service Book with faint praise. In particular, he focuses upon what these books have done to the Daily Office.

If you run in any sort of protestant liturgy circles (and if you’re reading this you do…), don’t miss this article!

Both the Lutheran Zephyr and Lutherpunk left notes at Lee’s place indicating they might say more; I’d be interested to see what they have to say about it.

On Common Prayer: A Modest Proposal

I want to ponder both the possibilities and limitations of common prayer as we head deeper into this new century. There’s no doubt that things are changing. For decades Christian denominations have positioned themselves in relationship to one another primarily through their responses to modernism. Thus, there was a great shift in the in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the rise of fundamentalism as an approach to the social changes caused by advances in science and technology. There was another in the 1970’s as Rome clarified the stance of Vatican I and placed new accents upon the traditional faith in doctrine and liturgy which caused ripples throughout the Protestant Mainlines.

These ripples of Vatican II were both a continuing response but also the harbingers of new change. As we—forty years later—are still making sense of the reforms and their implementations, the world order is changing and the ripples are encountering new shoals. We are on the cusp of another major shake-up, no longer a response to modernism but postmodernism. In a sense the current problems are related to the rapprochement of the preceding decades. We have started talking to one another, to fields of science, and the humanities—and have found new questions and problems. New generations arise: the digital youth. Old ways are passing, new ones are struggling to be born.

As denominations shift and change in this new world, so our ways of relating to one another must change. The old ways are no longer tenable. Old patterns of ecumenism are based on bilateral conversations between small groups in rooms searching for common ground. Thus, I, a smoked-up-solemn-high-mass right-on-the-edge-of-transubstantiation Anglican, find myself in eucharistic fellowship with Moravians and the UCC thanks to shared agreements mediated by the ELCA. Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against Moravians or the UCC, but some pretty serious differences exist in our sacramental theologies. If Christian witness is rooted in truth and
integrity—do these arrangements tell the truth about who and what these Christian communities are and what they believe?

I’d like to reframe what we’re about in terms of ecumenism. It’s one thing if we’re talking to one another—that is, if the point is the talk and the concepts therein. It’s another entirely if we’re talking about what we do—the practices that we engage in together. If the point of our unity is what we do, then why is ecumenical discussion so focused on thoughts and not actions? In short, my proposal for a new ecumenical direction in the new emerging order is shared action—common prayer: an Ecumenical Use.

The centerpiece of future ecumenical relationships between the Episcopal Church and other ecclesial bodies would rest not in conversations but in a liturgy, the Ecumenical Use. Much of it would be fairly rudimentary—a basic ordo that would lay out a flow of
service from Word to table—but it would also include a stripped-down eucharistic canon, something between the current eucharistic prayers A and D, that would seek to honor both Eastern and Western roots while retaining its Anglican heritage (like a double epiclesis, for example…). The fundamental rule would be that anything may be added to it—but nothing could be removed. The use of this liturgy in local communities would the sign and experience of ecumenical relationships, not conversations on a national level all too far removed from the theological and liturgical life of the people in the pews.

Ecumenical agreements could exist on a purely local level. Episcopal churches—both snake-belly low and the highest up the candle, Continuing Anglican bodies, Lutheran churches, Independent Catholic churches, could all use the liturgy and be united in it. Should a UCC church feel it to be within their common life—hey, why not? The blend between the stable agreed-upon Ecumenical Use and each community’s local use would maintain the flexibility that would allow each to retain its authentic character while holding what is most important in common. Should a community not feel they could participate in the Ecumenical Use with another, they simply would not have to use it. The responsibility and authority for ecumenical relationships would rest at the local level—where the people are and where they meet, gather, and pray.

Yes, it’s a far-fetched idea. Yes, it needs more development. But it’s a possibility—it’s a new direction. The change is coming. Our Great Unpleasantness reveals that we are already in the midst of it. With the challenges and difficulties come new opportunities—we just need to start figuring out what they are.