Fencing the Table

Now, Christians – wise up. I want some answers. I’d like to return to this question about what it is that entitles someone to receive communion.

We had quite a chat about it when I asked whether one sacrament needed to come before another one.

Lots of people seem to think this really matters a very great deal indeed.

Consider, if you will, the following invitations and exclusions from the table of the Lord. All these are real and are quoted either from service sheets printed by congregations or noted from the spoken invitation to communion given by the person presiding. The first two are quite interesting because they each have a comment in both English and French and it is noteworthy that there is not a direct translation in either case.

  • Le pain consacré et distibué au course de la messe a une haute signification pour les catholiques: c’est le Corps de Jésus-Christ leur Seigneur et Dieu. Si vous ne partagez pas notre foi en sa présence, nous vous demandons de ne pas vous joindre à la procession de communion.
    The bread distributed during mass has a high significance for Christians: it is the body of Christ, their Lord and God. If you do not share our faith in the living presence of Christ in the eucharistic bread, we ask you not to join your neighbours at communion time.
  • L’hospitalité eucharistique est offerte à toute personne, quelle que soit sa confession ecclésiale.
    All are welcome to share in the banquet of the Lord’s Supper. Please come to the altar at the direction of the ushers. It is customary to kneel at the rail (as you are able). Receive the bread (wafer) in the palm of your outstretched hands with the right over the left. Receive the wine, which follows, by drinking from the cup as it is extended to you. Ladies, please blot your lipstick.
  • Everyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal Saviour is welcome to receive the bread and wine in this church.
  • All baptised Christians of trinitarian churches are welcome to receive communion in this church.
  • Those who are in good standing in their own churches are welcome to join us in receiving the bread and wine at God’s table.
  • This is the table not of the Church but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love him, and who want to love him more. So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a very long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
    Come, not because it is I who invite you: it is our Lord.
    It is his will that those who want him should meet him here.
  • Everyone is welcome to receive the bread and wine at communion in this church. If you do not wish to receive the bread and wine, please come forward with everyone else for a blessing, holding a service sheet in your hands.

Now, my brothers and sisters. What do we think about all this?

Isn’t it interesting how many churches believe that not everyone should be able to receive communion. And yet, isn’t it interesting how wide the discrepancies are in the terms of the deal, even in the seven churches quoted above. Some say that you are unworthy if you’ve not been baptised. Some that you are unworthy if you don’t believe the right thing about a point of doctrine, some that you are unworthy because you’ve not been initiated properly yet, some that you are not worthy if you are “not in good standing” with someone or other because of something or other.

Is it not incredibly interesting that 2000 years on from the first Last Supper, God’s people really have not managed to agree what the terms of the invitation are?

Now, what do you think?

Baptism, Confirmation, Affirmation, Reception

One of the things that I have offered to do during Lent is to think about baptism, confirmation, affirmation, receptions and all the other ways of finding a way into the Scottish Episcopal Church that currently exist.

Here is a brief summary.

Turning Up and receiving Communion – many people find a way into being a part of the Cathedral congregation and thus a part of the Scottish Episcopal Church simply through turning up and joining in. We give people a chance just before the AGM to declare themselves to be communicants and that puts them on the Communicants Roll. We also keep records of those associated with the congregation who do not receive communion. This is the Congregational Roll. You can’t be a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church if you are a member of another church. (Really, you can’t, whatever you might think). And you can’t be a member of two Scottish Episcopal Congregations at once. (Really, you can’t – an attempt to change the Canon law on this a few years ago failed). Everyone is welcome to receive communion at St Mary’s. No exceptions.

Baptism – for a lot of people, baptism is their entry point into the life of the church. It wasn’t mine, incidentally as I was a communicant before I was baptised. (I wasn’t an Anglican in those days as it happens and I was baptised by full immersion as an adult having been a Christian all my life). We baptise children and adults in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Baptisms usually take place in a 10.30 am service. Adults who want to be baptised are encouraged, particularly at this time of year, to be baptised at the Easter Vigil, early on Easter Day. I strongly encourage parents of children who have been baptised to ensure that their children receive communion straight away – it is the law of our church that baptism offers full initiation into communion. The best way for children to learn about communion is to have reverent parents who take them up to receive communion and who teach them by example that this is a special moment of grace. Some parents start this off by breaking their own wafer and sharing it with their child.

Admission to Communion – I sometimes run special teaching services for those who wish to begin receiving communion who for some reason have not already done so. These are slow services where there is a chance to talk about what we are doing at any point in the service. I’ve run these for adults and children and would be happy to run one again this Lent.

Reception – People who come from other religious traditions sometimes want or need the fact that they are joining the Scottish Episcopal Church to be marked in some way. It is possible for this to take the form of being received into the church with a handshake and a prayer. This can take place at the  Easter Vigil with the Bishop or on a Sunday during the 10.30 am service.

Confirmation - people sometimes want to make a public acknowledgement of the faith which was proclaimed for them as young children when they were baptised. This can take the form of Confirmation which is normally a service presided over by the Bishop. Confirmation is also sometimes used by people to mark the fact that they are joining the Scottish Episcopal Church formally. (This happened to me – I was confirmed at the time I was exploring my vocation at the age of 25).

Affirmation – This is a form of service connected to confirmation which can be used at any stage in someone’s life to affirm their faith and celebrate the gifts that God has given them. It would be fair to say that there is a great deal of confusion about Confirmation and Affirmation in our church and it is hard to say that there is one definitive view as to what the theological assumptions are behind these services. Parts of the affirmation service were used at my Installation as Provost of St Mary’s – this is just one example of the way in which the service could be used.

So, during Lent, I’m happy to talk about any of these things. Indeed, all the clergy are happy to be approached about these things at any time – it is just that sometimes people need to be told it is OK to start asking the questions.

Lots of people have issues like not knowing whether they have been baptised or whether the church recognises ceremonies from other denominations or whether they need or want or hope for something special to renew their faith.

If you want to speak a member of the clergy about any of these things, please get in touch with me through the Cathedral Office.