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Presiding Bishop on communion and baptism: ‘Don’t separate them.’

Presiding Bishop on communion and baptism: ‘Don’t separate them.’

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori believes that the sacraments of communion and baptism should not be separated. At a townhall meeting in North Carolina a few months ago, she said, “If we’re aware that there are people coming to the table who have not been baptized, it’s time to do something.

“We baptize infants in the expectation that they will grow in community to be faithful members of the Body of Christ and we invite those babes in arms to receive communion… We haven’t everywhere discovered an attitude that can welcome older people in the same way. I would much rather see us have ‘on-call’ baptisms in the expectation that a person will be nurtured by the community in his or her faith…”

Let’s figure out how to deal with this without breaking the center of what we think is important, that members of the Body are fed from the Body of Christ. If someone is being fed, make it clear that this person is a member of the Body of Christ, and if this person is a member of the Body of Christ, then make sure that person is being fed. Don’t separate them.”


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Rick Laribee

Historically, theologically, and rationally, it’s impossible for me to see both Baptism and the Holy Eucharist as rites of discipleship. The former developed out of the radical disjunction between the life before and the new life; the way of death and the way of life. The former is the radical departure from the past in the search for the future. It is the rite of initiation into the life of discipleship. It is such a radical disjunction that the preparation of catechumens took a long, long, time. The initiation of infants into this life makes sense, practically, but was recognized as provisional.

The weekly community meal, however, the chavura, was the central act of the gathered community. The shared meal was what the community gathered to DO on a weekly basis — and it was understood that the community was not secret and exclusive, but welcoming to outsiders. Why would you invite an outsider to a shared meal unless you expected the outsider to actually share int he meal? This shared meal was based neither on the radical disjunction from the past nor the intentional life as a radical disciple — but only on being part of the community. (Which explains why St Paul spoke such harsh, scathing words about doing this in an “unworthy manner” — which, contextually, clearly had nothing to do with one’s purity or faithfulness. Eating and drinking in an unworthy way was 100% about being less than inclusive, caring, and welcoming to the other.)

Our sacrament of Holy Eucharist grows out of that inclusive, gracious, shared meal. Our sacrament of Baptism grows out of the radical disjunction expressed in the vows.

Frankly, it makes NO theological sense to have any prerequisite rites prior to a shared community meal focused on radical welcome. It makes even LESS sense to diminish the requirements for a rite of radical discipleship.

The PB has her sentiments 180 degrees backward.

Dave Belcher

I find this thread fascinating, especially because there are a number of folks on all “sides” of this issue who not only register agreement with the Presiding Bishop here, but find her comments to bolster their own position! I was also a delegate to the NC diocesan convention and the questioner in the above video asked the Presiding Bishop to “say a bit more” about this issue because I had already asked her a similar question earlier and her answer to me wasn’t quite sufficient. My question was about the relationship between the communion without/before baptism issue and TEC’s baptismal ecclesiology. Here’s the link to that video:

I actually don’t think that Bishop Katharine’s answers in either instance clearly identifies what she thinks about the issue at all, which is why they are both very safe, even “political” answers (hence the broad agreement from all sides we’re witnessing here), — which also means I don’t think it’s possible to discern any discrepancy or continuity between her views and the crowd’s. And in that sense, her responses were brilliant, rhetorically. She effectively patted the backs of those on all “sides” at the same time without ever giving away her own hand.

That said, I still find her answers inadequate. In her answer to me, the Presiding Bishop claims that the split between baptism and eucharist occurred when, in the “medieval period,” confirmation entered between them as a requirement for the completion of baptism and thus also for the reception of eucharist (this is Canon Fisher’s by now classic account of the “disintegration of the rites of initiation”). Of course, the ’79 BCP effectively removed that requirement such that, as others have noted, even though we don’t practice “communion without (or before) baptism” we do indeed practice “open communion” in TEC. But, if I’m following her here, she seems to be saying that this “won’t be a question any longer” for us when we get baptism and eucharist back together on the other side of this medieval introduction of the confirmation requirement. But, if confirmation has already been removed as a requirement between baptism and eucharist, hasn’t this already happened? Why is this still a question for us? Perhaps she is referring to what Ruth Meyers and others have argued when they have noted that, in many ways confirmation still stands between baptism and “full” initiation into the church, even though it no longer stands between baptism and eucharist. Or, as Meyers has claimed, our “baptismal ecclesiology” has yet to fully take root in our actual liturgical life (cf. the canonical requirement for confirmation to serve on a vestry, as an LEM, or to be an ordinand, etc). But, that would make the issue of the proper relationship between baptism and eucharist primarily about “confirmation” and not at all about whether the non-baptized should be welcomed to the altar.

So, while Bishop Katharine’s answers may appeal to folks on both “sides” of this issue, she has effectively not answered the questions at all, which to me signals that she probably doesn’t think this is going to get much “play” at General Convention. She certainly does not give the impression here that “opening the table” to the non-baptized is an issue of justice as some have claimed. However, while I do not believe that this particular issue is quite as massive as some have made it out to be, I do think that the church needs pastoral guidance on how concretely to deal with this it – especially insofar as the “issue” involves an explicit and intentional breach of canonical obligation (not in the refusal to turn folks away from the altar rail, but in openly publishing that the non-baptized are welcome to receive eucharist). Bishop Katharine’s answers here do not provide the kind of pastoral guidance I think we need. With all due respect. That certainly is not to say that her answers cannot be a helpful entrée into fruitful conversation, but that conversation needs to be able to happen in a context where we are all having this dialogue as part of a wider whole that outstretches our own individual self-determination…the canons function in part to guide us into that truth (though that certainly does not make the canons irreversibly absolute). How can we fruitfully have a conversation about whether canons should be changed (which I do not believe is what this conversation should be about, by the way) if some folks who are a part of the conversation have already decided to disregard the canons? I think it would be beneficial for the Presiding Bishop simply to say that, and then we can get on with difficult work of intentional dialogue, which is always messy business, but that’s part of what it means to be a member of the church.

Bill Dilworth

A quibble: the Last Supper was not a Seder, because the Seder only developed after the destruction of the Temple made it impossible to eat the Passover lamb – the Passover meal of the Bible is not synonymous with the Seder, which is sort of a memorial of eating the Paschal lamb.

Of course, the Gospel of John denies it was the Passover (which helps explain the Orthodox Church’s use of leavened bread). If it wasn’t the Passover, then the likely model is the ordinary before and after meal blessings of a chavura, a sort of religious society that regularly shared meals.

Eric Bonetti

Hi Matt. I think my point apropos the last supper was there’s no mention of baptism as being a condition precedent to participation; note that I said “were all baptized.” Beyond that, much of our understanding of the last supper is conjecture, with some believing that it was an expansion of the Seder meal, others that it was a throwback to the gentile custom of memorial dinners for the dead, and still others a totally new event. Even among the Gospels, only Luke contains the command to repeat the meal, “Do this is remembrance of me.” So, lots of room for differing understandings of the role of both sacraments and the connection between them.

Eric Bonetti


You are mistaken regarding the asserton that the gospels give no indication that the participants at the Last Supper were baptized. In all likelihood, they were.

Andrew was certainly a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:40) and thus presumably baptized. Even more significantly, Jesus is recorded as baptizing (John 3:26), or at least having his disciples baptize (John 4:1). Whether by John or after responding to Jesus’ call, they were baptized before the Last Supper.

And, of course, significantly, Jesus himself was baptized.

Matt Gunter

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