Tag Archives: CWOB

The Lazy Invitation

With General Convention coming up, I’m thinking about Communion Without Baptism again, prompted by occasional mentions of it I see around.

Clearly I’ve got strong opinions on this topic, but it’s occurred to me that I rarely express the real problem with it…

Bear with me here for a moment. My take on it is the traditional and the canonical one: that there is a theo-logical order to the sacraments. Baptism begins an individual’s covenant relationship with the Triune God through the church; the Eucharist nurtures that covenant relationship and helps one grow in intimacy towards a deeper connection with God and all of the other members of Christ. These are two major parts of the sacramental path to discipleship. Following Jesus starts on a whole new level with Baptism, then the rest of the sacraments help us follow that path more clearly and deeply into love of God and neighbor. That’s why I think this whole debate is important. Because it’s about follow-through: at the end of the day, it’s about discipleship.

The parish I currently attend  issues an open invitation to all to the altar. I’m not a fan of that. And, yes, my rector knows that full well. However, I don’t have quite as big of a problem with it at this parish because the clergy are very good at follow-up and emphasizing discipleship. I know that if an unbaptized person starts attending and starts communing, the clergy will begin a discussion with them about getting baptized and getting engaged in the community. No, they’re not doing it right and they’re not following the canons. But, at the end of the day, all of this connects into whether we are about forming communities of discipleship.

Ok—that having been said, the real problem that I have with Communion Without Baptism is the lazy invitation. I think that some clergy and/or congregations welcome anyone to the table because 1) they want to demonstrate to themselves how inclusive they are and 2) because it avoids the hard conversation. Let’s break these down…

1) The Thrill of Inclusivity

One of the complicating factors in this discussion is the question of post-schism Episcopal identity. So few of us are now Cradle Episcopalians. (I’m not.) As a result, we don’t always know what being “Episcopal” looks and feels like. However, a lot of us are refugees from churches that have done us spiritual damage; we may not know what “Episcopal” should feel like, but we sure do know what it shouldn’t feel like! And exclusivity is often a very big part of that, and a major source of past spiritual damage. As a result, there are many Episcopalians who will reflexively choose what appears to be the inclusive option whether it has theological integrity or not. Indeed, I’ve been in Episcopal parishes who will trumpet their inclusivity all day long but aren’t very friendly or welcoming or…inclusive…at all. What’s important to them is their ability to see themselves as inclusive and therefore better than the churches they left.

2) Avoiding the Hard Conversation

What happens if a policy is announced from the chancel that a visitor doesn’t understand? What happens if the priest says in part “…only baptized Christians should receive the Eucharist…” (I say in part because, as I’ve argued at length before, how we invite people is very important and just saying this in this way is not the way to do it) and in doing so offends an unbaptized visitor? The two most likely possibilities is that the offended person will leave to never darken the door of that church again or else they will come with the very simple question: “Why can’t I receive?”Then, that leads to a potentially uncomfortable conversation where the priest has to explain that we actually believe that the Eucharist is important and that the Church has historically maintained rules around who does and doesn’t receive and why. And that can lead to tricky questions about whether we actually believe all of this stuff and what does baptism actually do anyway and do we really believe that Jesus is there in that little cracker in a special way. Which can lead to the look that says, you guys really are crazy and I can’t believe I just wasted a Sunday morning like this…

It also means hitting that point where we have to explain that we actually do believe these things that we say about God and Jesus, but that we don’t believe all of the things that other Christians believe that you may have heard in the media, and, yes, we think you can believe in God and dinosaurs and science all at the same time.

But at the end of the day that conversation has to get to the point where it says that we believe that the little cracker and the sip of wine are life-changing things. That they mean enough that we need to rethink and reshape the way that we are in the world on account of them. That Eucharist and baptism are about discipleship and that means reorienting the way we live. And I think that’s the hard conversation that gets avoided; it’s so much easier to give a lazy invitation instead.

Because you don’t need to have the hard conversation if you can give the lazy invitation. If you get up in front and say “all are welcome, no questions asked,” well—then they won’t be. The questions won’t be asked, and the consequences of these sacraments won’t get discussed.  The follow-through won’t happen. The discipleship will be lost by the wayside. And that’s what worries me about this whole Communion Without Baptism thing.

It’s one thing for a parish to ignore the canon if the follow-through and the commitment to discipleship are there. It’s another thing entirely to try to get rid of the canon, to make a policy of not even asking the question. The sacraments are about discipleship. They’re about how we are converted into the Body of Christ and, from there, drawn into the mind of Christ. That’s why this matters. It’s not about inclusive vs. exclusive—that’s the wrong framing because that’s not a fight I’m even interested in having. It’s about discipleship and whether we are fostering and promoting it or if we’re more interested in taking the easy way out.

Reflections on CWOB

I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking to groups around the church for a while on the topic of Communion Without Baptism (CWOB). With the persistence of the topic at this year’s General Convention, I’m gathering some of my key thoughts about it here in a concise form.

  • We’re not engaging the real question. First, there tend to be two rather starkly drawn positions: “You’re exclusive, but thank God I’m not” and “You’ve got bad theology, but thank God I don’t.” Neither is particuarly conducive for discussion as to the real issues on the table. The central position in favor of CWOB is actually built around identity—Is the Episcopal Church the welcoming, inclusive body that it claims to be?—that sometimes manifests as anxiety—If we don’t let visitors commune will they be offended, feel excluded, and not come back? The central position against CWOB is built around a traditional understanding of sacramental theology. It has impeccible grounding in Scripture and Tradition. However, it functions best as a system of thought; too often it seems incapable of wrestling with or satisfying questions that come from the perspective of human needs and hungers—and, very frequently, wounds from the hands of other church bodies. To complicate things further, I think we frequently try to address a host of different issues and concerns under one label and would do ourselves a favor if we separate them out a bit to have greater clarity about what we’re really struggling with. So—if these aren’t the real questions, what is it? Here’s my take on the bigger question that we’re all trying to answer as best we can: How can the Episcopal Church be a welcoming and inclusive community with clear practices of hospitality that enact a coherent and compelling sacramental theology?
  • We’re dealing with several different levels of engagement: we need to discuss like with like. We have a canon in place throughout the Episcopal Church that says that the reception of communion is only for the Baptized. The central point of argument especially for the pro-CWOB position narrows the focus to a signle moment: when a priest is distributing communion and comes to a visitor with their hands out. Thus, the question is usually constructed along these lines: Should the canon be overturned for the sake of the pastoral act? Again, this is the wrong question because its an imprecise question that skips over important considerations. It’s far better to break this into at least two big questions with attendent discussions beside. These are the two big questions: What are the practices of hospitality in our worship gatherings? and How does the church understand the relationship between the sacraments with regard to discipleship and the broader life of faith?
  • We are not clear on our practices of hospitality. I do not believe for an instant that anyone on either side of the discussion wants people to feel excluded, rejected, or inadequate. To assume, imply, or assert that this is the position of “the opposite side” is a poor rhetorical ploy. Typically, the argument for CWOB is directly connected to its “missional” character. That is, CWOB is understood by some as a means of sacramental evangelism. The logic is that properly welcoming a stranger into our midst means allowing them to participate in every activity that everyone else does. I’m not sure this is actually the case and gets into the broader question of our confusion and uncomfortability with boundaries—when they are appropriate and when they are not, where they are helpful and where they are harmful. As a community that—in theory—is willing and—hopefully—eager to welcome strangers in, how do we do that properly? And are we doing it consistently? Do we welcome all to the table in the chancel yet give guests the cold shoulder at coffee hour?
  • The role of host must be performed intentionally with regard for the guest. When it comes to hospitality and welcoming the stranger there are two fundamental roles here, guest and host. The stranger who comes in among us (known or not, invited or not, Episcopal or not, baptized or not) is the guest. We, the church community generally and the priest particularly as the leader of the liturgy, have an obligation to be a good host. The role of the host is to welcome the guest and, formally or not, lay down expectations for how things should proceed. (This is becoming especially important as there are more and more visitors who may have never been in a church before and have no clue what we do or why we do it and that specific actions have meanings.) The role of the guest—and yes, being a guest is a role with its own demands as well—is to be welcomed and to observe the expectations as possible and appropriate. There are “good” hosts and “good” guests; there are “bad” hosts and “bad” guests. The way that boundaries are constructed and negotiated relates directly to how these roles are played. For instance, when I go to a Roman Catholic Mass, I do not receive the Eucharist. Do I feel in my heart that I am able to receive that Eucharist? Absolutely! But to do so would be to transgress my role as guest. I (personally) don’t feel excluded because I know perfectly well going into it that my host—the Roman Catholic Church and the people who represent it—reserve the Eucharist for Roman Catholics. They are being a good host if they remind me of that, and I am being a good guest when I respect it irrespective of whether or not I believe they are correct in that practice. On the flip-side, they would be bad hosts if they don’t make it clear who is welcome and who is not; likewise, I would be a bad guest if I disregarded a clear direction and received anyway. Of course, they would be an even better host if they made it clear that I was welcome to come up and receive a blessing with clear directions around what I should do—because that gives me clarity as a guest and helps me join in with those around me even if I am not receiving the Eucharist. (The most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a Roman church was when I joined the queue, came up to the priest with my arms crossed over my chest to indicate that I wanted a blessing, and he just stared at me in utter uncomprehension…) In our role as host, are we being clear with our guests?
  • Choosing to be a bad host is the wrong answer. My fear is that, in some places, we choose to be bad hosts because it is the easier option. If no announcement is made, if the practice of the church is simply skipped over, no-one has to feel excluded or uncomfortable. CWOB becomes the default because the host is not willing to speak up. The real problem here is that it sabotages the agency of the guest. Those who are baptized, who are the leaders in the church, are robbing the guest of even knowing that there is a choice to be made. They are imposing their own sense of propriety (and sometimes their own anxieties) upon a guest who may not share them at all. If a declaration is made along these lines: “All are welcome to come to the altar. Baptized Christians are welcome to receive the Eucharist—put out your hands as the priest comes by; If you wish to receive a blessing—cross your arms over your chest,” it fully fulfills the hostly role. The guest is presented with the choice—they are allowed to have their own agency. If you are baptized you have the choice to receive or not receive. If you are not baptized you have the same two choices. At this point, the host goes with whichever action the guest makes.
  • How much of this is really about us, how we perceive ourselves, and how we want to be perceived, rather than about the guest? Here’s a thought experiment for you… If you went to a service at a Hindu temple with a friend and, at one point, your friend turned to you and said, “This part here is only done by sworn devotees of this deity,” would you feel offended and excluded and insist that you had a right to participate? For myself, I wouldn’t because to do so would be to disrespect my friend’s culture and beliefs and sense of what is holy and sacred. Why do we assume that letting visitors know that Eucharist is for the baptized would make them feel offended and excluded? The bald fact of the matter is that we do not have hordes of unbaptized people clamoring at our doors for an opportunity to receive the Eucharist. Very often a “wide welcome” is put out for the benefit of the people already in the pews—to reassure us about what kind of people we are (welcoming and hospitable [whether we actually are, in truth, or not]) and about what kind of church we belong to (a welcoming and inclusive one [not like those other ones—perhaps especially the one we might have left]). A pro-CWOB stance helps us feel a certain way about our self and our church regardless of that feeling’s basis in fact.
  • Sacraments are part of a larger pattern of being and doing. When the discussion about CWOB is focused on and condensed around that single moment—the priest coming up to a stranger with outstreched hands—we lose sight of the larger scope of the issue. In some of the rhetoric in favor of CWOB, the Eucharist is presented as a generic sign of God’s love, affection, and grace. To withhold it, then, is seen as ecclesiastical control and therefore denial of God’s love, affection, and grace to the unbaptized. This is both false and a misconstrual of what the church teaches about both Baptism and Eucharist. I’ve already written at some length on this point so I’ll refer you to that discussion if you want to see the logic, but the prayer book clarifies that the grace channeled to us from God in the Eucharist is grace to better inhabit and more fully embody the covenant relationship created in Baptism. Apart from that relationship it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense! The sacraments were given to the church for a reason. Through them, we enter into the reconciliation offered to us by God through Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit. They are a means of helping us live more fully and share more deeply the life of God, which—on our end—looks like a life of discipleship chiefly oriented around following Jesus on the way of the cross. To offer the Eucharist apart from Baptism renders our sacramental theology incoherent. This relates directly to the issue of altering the canon. If we simply remove our church-wide canon against the unbaptized receiving the Eucharist, we will be establishing a policy of incoherency. This is fundamentally different from the pastoral question of whether an unbaptized stranger can or has been moved by a form of prevenient grace that has inspired them to broach the obligations of hospitality and receive the Eucharist. Can this form of extraordinary, prevenient grace occur? That seems to be the testimony of some, including the oft-cited Sara Miles. But it would be just that—an extraordinary operation of grace. Jesus is the victim, the food, and the host of the Eucharistic meal; however, the Church is the steward of the mysteries. The Eucharist didn’t just appear in the middle of a sidewalk somewhere; it was given by Christ to the Church to administer in keeping with the Gospel message. The ordinary channel and means of grace taught in Scripture, Tradition and—yes—centuries of Experience moves from Baptism to Eucharist. That’s not to deny that it doesn’t sometimes occasionally work the other way around, but that is not what has been handed over to us. CWOB as a policy undercuts the importance of Baptism and—in particular—undercuts the theological foundation of the ’79 Book of Common Prayer which places a particular importance on Baptism, the baptismal covenant, and the concept of a baptismal ecclesiology.
  • Don’t underestimate the Eucharist. When I said up there that we needed a coherent and compelling sacramental theology, I meant “compelling” in a quite literal sense. When I was doing a presentation on a variety of prayer book topics in the Atlanta area in the Spring, I met up with some friends. In the course of our discussion I mentioned that I would be talking about CWOB and one of them asked, rather urgently, what I was going to say about it. I responded that I didn’t think it was a good idea. “Good!” she said, “Because not being able to take communion was what made me a Christian!” My friend was Jewish and, on going to an Episcopal church with friends, became intrigued about what she was not allowed to do.  What was so special that it was reserved in such a way? Answering that question led her to Baptism. “If I had been allowed to take it, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it,” she told me. Do we believe that the Eucharist is something special, something sacred? And if so, do our practices demonstrate that? There is a perception—often in the name of inclusion—that boundaries are exclusive by nature. I would suggest that the boundary around the Eucharist is not one put in place for the purpose of excluding but for the purpose of demarcation in order to preserve the logic and intention of the sacramental life of discipleship. What is exclusive, therefore, is not the fact of a boundary, but the practices of hospitality around it—do we indicate its reason and purpose in a way that invites the stranger to investigate and understand what we find so compelling about it, or are we simply refusing themmin a truly excluding way, or are we abdicating our hostly responsibility because it feels nicer, gratifies our self-image, and absolves us of the need to do the engagement of evangelism?
  • We need respect, solid theology, and good practices. As I said at the outset, I don’t think we’re actually wrestling with the right question. We need to do so. Doing that will help us frame our discussions in a far better way. We need to respect and listen to one another. A key component of this debate is that it frequently touches on places of deep woundedness. People have been deeply hurt by churches—often, usually, the churches in which they were raised. Sometimes it was because of ways that those churches deliberately excluded them because of their gender, sexual orientation, or marital status. Sometimes it was because of ways that they felt the church had betrayed them by altering their teachings. The first is more common than the second and, in my experience, many of the people who advocate for CWOB do so because of these wounds. On one hand, those arguing against CWOB—like me—need to be attentive to this fact and consider practices of hospitality that do not trigeer or replicate this pain in others. On the other hand, personal feelings do not absolve us as a church of the need to do solid theology and to enact it in good practices.

Sacramental Theology 101: Baptism and Eucharist

[Note: This is a piece I wrote and posted on the Episcopal Cafe in advance of the 77th General Convention in 2012 in relation to a resolution in favor of communing the unbaptized.]

The Episcopal Church is a big-tent organization when it comes to theology. This is often a good thing as it allows a whole bunch of us who don’t necessarily agree on everything to come together, worship, and proclaim Jesus together in the world. On the other hand, when we do need to sit down and sort something out theologically, we’re sometimes at a loss for how to do it because of a fundamental lack of agreement about terms. This has been my experience around the “Communion without Baptism” debate. I come to the table from a Prayer Book Catholic perspective; certain words, terms, and ideas mean certain things to me and those with whom I live and worship. But when I talk with other Episcopalians, I sometimes get the sense that we’re talking past one another due to a lack of shared conceptual framework.

The “big tent” brings us together despite our differences; but can it help us understand each other? Actually—I think it can…

The prime mechanism of the “big tent” is the Book of Common Prayer—this is what we use together and what does give us a set of shared expressions (even if we don’t always entirely agree on what those expressions mean!). Likewise, it contains a variety of materials that I think can assist us when we try to talk God with one another.

Towards the back of the prayer book is a catechism (pp. 845-62). It’s a brief little thing, just under twenty pages, but it provides a basic outline of the faith that is fundamental enough that all Episcopalians—no matter their party affiliation—can get behind it.

Working solely from the catechism, I’d like to explore what the prayer book says that Episcopalians believe about the sacraments—particularly Baptism and Eucharist—and see if these can help us get a better sense of the issues surrounding a church policy that programmatically ignores Baptism when it comes to eucharistic distribution.

First, a quick word about the catechism: we must note what it is, and what it isn’t. The brief introduction on p. 844 clarifies this for us: “It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practices; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher…” It’s not intended to be comprehensive and there are important parts of Christian theology that it either glosses or skips over entirely. Nevertheless, being yoked to the creeds, it touches on essential points and gives us the best possible opportunity for broad buy-in.

We have to start at the very beginning and go from there:

Q. What are we by nature?

A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.

Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

A. It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.

Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?

A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices. (p. 845)

So—all humanity is created in the image of God. God loves us all. Period. Full stop. Furthermore, God wants us to “live in harmony with creation and with God.” God is attempting to reconcile us all to himself and, through that reconciliation, to the whole created order. God calls to us in a variety of ways and through a variety of means. Despite this, we find through the pages of the Old Testament that there is one particular method that God continually chooses to use in the task of reconciling humanity back to himself: the covenant.

Q. What is meant by a covenant with God?

A. A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith. (p. 846)

God calls us both individually and collectively, but in particular God likes to make covenants wherein a whole body of people respond in faith. There are a number of important covenants in Scripture: God’s covenant with Noah and all flesh, the covenant with Abraham and all his descendants, the covenant with Moses and all Israel, the covenant with David.

God’s ultimate act of covenant-making, however, was a covenant made in and through the blood of Jesus and his victory over the grave:

Q. How can we share in [Jesus’s] victory over sin, suffering, and death?

A. We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.

Q. What is the New Covenant?

A. The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.

Q. What did the Messiah promise in the New Covenant?

A. Christ promised to bring us into the kingdom of God and give life in all its fullness.

Q. What response did Christ require?

A. Christ commanded us to believe in him and to keep his commandments. (pp. 850-1)

Many of the early covenant communities were something that you had to be born into; the New Covenant through Jesus is different. We enter into it through Baptism.

Now—stop for a second. Look back up the page. We said at the outset of our catechism crawl that God made us all in his image, that he loves us all, and that he is seeking our full reconciliation back to him. None of that has changed here. No one is saying that God only loves the baptized. What the catechism is saying is that Baptism ushers us into a particular covenant community. As such, it is a particular community who has chosen to acknowledge a certain kind of relationship with God that both claims a specific promise from God (“a new relationship”, “coming into the kingdom of God”, “life in all its fullness”)and that in response the community takes upon itself certain obligations (“believe in [Christ]”, “keep his commandments”). Baptism, therefore, is a deliberate and public change of our relationship with God by entering into a specific covenant community.

In case there’s any question we’ll pick up this one just to connect all the dots:

Q. What is the Church?

A. The Church is the community of the New Covenant. (p. 854)

No surprise there!

Since we’re getting pretty deep into Baptism, it’s time to focus on the sacraments themselves:

Q. What are the sacraments?

A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Q. What is grace?

A. Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?

A. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. (p. 858)

Ok, we need to be quite careful here about exactly what is and isn’t said—this is where some major confusion can come in. First, it’s worth repeating this line again: “Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” (The former Lutheran in me loves this line!) Second—and this is really important—note carefully this wording: “The sacraments are…given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” The key words are “sure and certain means.” What we never ever say here or intend here is that the sacraments are the only or the sole means by which God dispenses grace. To say that is truly to put God in a little box! God is free to dispense his free, unearned and undeserved gifts of grace in any way that he sees fit. It’s not our job to oversee this. What it is our job to do, however, is to “believe in him and to keep his commandments.”

What is particular about sacramental grace is that it is a “sure and certain means of grace.” We don’t know all of the ways and means and methods through which God dispenses grace—however we do know for sure that the sacraments are channels that God has given to us as a covenant community to convey his own grace. We don’t own it, but it has been promised to us, it has been given to the Church—the covenant community—that we might be stewards of it according to God’s commands.

Q. What is Holy Baptism?

A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.

. . .

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?

A. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. (p. 858)

Baptism’s grace brings us into a particular instantiation of God’s family, the Church, among other things. This family is not a generic group that includes all the created but is a specific grouping of the covenant community as made clear in the identification of the communion of the saints which shares with the previous point the terminology of God’s family:

Q. What is the communion of saints?

A. The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. (p. 862)

What distinguishes this family is precisely the bond with Christ through “sacrament” (pre-eminently Baptism) as well as “prayer, and praise.”

The Eucharist, then, is described thusly:

Q. What is the Holy Eucharist?

A. The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.

. . .

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist?

A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.

Q. What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord’s Supper?

A. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. (pp. 859-60)

The language here is the language of building on something previous. The Eucharist is the gift to Christ’s people who are best understood not as “everybody” or “those whom Christ loves” (which is, again, “everybody”) but more specifically those “[united] with Christ in his death and resurrection, [born] into God’s family the Church” (p. 858)—i.e., the baptized. Following on the language of union in Baptism is the statement that the Eucharist is a “strengthening of our union with Christ and one another” (p. 860); what was begun in Baptism is nourished and nurtured in the Eucharist. The language here concerning the Eucharist assumes Baptism in both the identification of the community and the benefits of the specific Eucharistic graces.

I would be remiss if I did not include one more section on the Eucharist:

Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?

A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people. (p. 860)

On one hand, I know that some will point out that “being baptized” is not included in this list; that’s true. However, the items on this list are not a set of ecclesial pre-conditions, but rather a set of spiritual dispositions. (Indeed, they were pretty much taken directly from the Exhortation to confession on p. 330 which itself was taken directly from earlier prayer books that explicitly required Confirmation before receiving the Eucharist.) On the other hand, while Baptism is not mentioned explicitly, we must ask ourselves if the casual un-churched attendee has had the time and opportunity for the examination and repentance directed here. Repentance for sin in particular is largely a spiritual discipline of the Church.

This having been said, I believe that we can construct from the catechism a set of basic principles around our use and practice of the sacraments that all Anglicans can agree on. I’ll number them for ease of reference:

1. God loves all who were created in his image—period.

2. God calls us to reconciliation with himself and with creation.

3. Historically, God’s preeminent channels for calling humanity to reconciliation are covenants through which covenant communities are created.

4. A covenant community is a deliberate body that has taken upon itself obligations as part of recognizing a particular relationship with God has initiated and that the community has both recognized and accepted.

5. The Church generally and the Episcopal Church specifically is a covenant community the entrance into which is Baptism.

6. Baptism is not a sign that God loves the baptized more than other people, nor is it a denial that God loves those who are not baptized.

7. Baptism is both a sign and an agent of a changed relationship with God wherein the baptized community recognizes a particular relationship with the Triune God through Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus and takes on the obligations that Jesus laid upon us (preeminently, to love God and love our neighbor and to keep his commandments—see p. 851)

8. Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ that itself points back to the Body of Christ entered into through Baptism.

9. There are sacramental graces conferred through Baptism and Eucharist that aid us in living deeper into the covenant relationship established with the Triune God through Baptism into Jesus and the on-going reception of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

10. Sacramental grace is not the only kind of grace there is, but is a sure and certain means of grace given to a particular covenant community for the strengthening of the bonds of that covenant.

11. Reception of the Eucharist occurs within the covenant community and within the context of the spiritual disciplines of the covenant community.

Now, as a self-professed Anglo-Catholic, there’s a whole lot more that I’d want to say and add in—but I won’t; I’m not trying to lay out an Anglo-Catholic theology of the Sacraments but a broadly Episcopal one which I can live with as can my Evangelical and Broad-Church friends.

That having been said, I can’t and won’t resist the temptation to throw out these few points:

A. The Church is the covenant community entered into through Baptism.

B. Apart from the covenant in Baptism, receiving the Eucharist just doesn’t make much sense! Why would anyone want to be strengthened in a very specific kind of relationship that they have not chosen to be a part of?

C. The call for Communion Without Baptism fundamentally confuses our understanding of both God’s love and God’s grace. People don’t need Baptism or the Eucharist to be loved by God—God already does that. Nor is the grace given in the Sacrament some kind of generic “divine good favor.” Rather, Sacramental grace is grace to better inhabit and more fully embody the covenant relationship created in Baptism.

D. I don’t control God’s grace distribution; he does that as he pleases. However the sure and certain grace in the sacrament is given to and embodied within a particular covenant community. We don’t possess it, per se, but we are stewards of it. We dispense it as we have received it—within the covenant community.

E. What we are called to do—one of those pesky commandments of Christ, in fact—is to invite people into the covenant community so that they can share in this particular relationship with God and be nurtured into reconciliation with God as we know and grasp the Triune God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).