Which Sacrament Comes First?

I was interested last week to see a little storm blowing up on the Facebook horizon. As I looked at my Facebook feed it was obvious that friends in the Episcopal Church in the USA were getting themselves into a bit of a fankle about something which is apparently going to be raised at their General Convention in the summer.

It seems that the Diocese of Eastern Oregon is putting forward a motion which would change the Constitution and Canons and the [USA] Prayer Book to ” invite all to Holy Communion, ‘regardless of age, denomination or baptism.’

Now their canons are different to ours in that they explicitly say, “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this church.” Our canon law in Scotland doesn’t say quite that although there are those who believe that it does. Instead, ours says something along the lines that baptism offers full sacramental initiation in our church. (I’m quoting from memory, but perhaps someone could post the exact text in the comments).

It was obvious from what I saw on facebook that this was very controversial in the USA. I’m not sure whether this is because they have emphasised something they call the Baptismal Covenant in a strong way, something that most of our folk here would be entirely unaware of.

I’m thus aware of the horror that people feel towards the idea that communion might come before baptism.

Here I have to declare an interest. Communion came before baptism for me, though neither came for me initially in any of the Anglican Churches. I grew up without access to either sacrament (there’s no baptism or eucharist in the Salvation Army) and consequently, when I did discover them the idea that one sacrament was a gateway to another did not really occur to me and doesn’t make much sense now.

Furthermore, I think that I’ve found in my ministry that God is capable of using any of the sacraments (and the liturgies associated with them) as means of initiation into divine grace and love. Not merely eucharist and baptism but also penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, unction and yes, all the rest.

I’ve preached about this in the past. You can read what I said here.

All of which makes me very interested in the post that Anne Tomlinson has put up on her ministry development blog this morning. And in particular the extract that she quotes from Rick Fabian.

The time will come when Christians stop obsessing about which sacrament comes first and let God roam free and the Holy Spirit blow where God wills.

Swine Flu & the Cup

It has been a rather odd couple of days trying to make sense of what we should and should not do in worship, in Glasgow, at this stage of the swine flu pandemic.

Sometimes we all just want to be told what to do, and I think that this is one occassion where clergy would like very much to be told exactly what to do. That has not happened here, so far as I can tell though it has been quite tricky trying to work this out.

Episcopal clergy in Scotland did receive this week by e-mail the guidelines that the Archbishops in England have issued. I don’t know what other people’s feeling is, but I found this confusing and unhelpful.

In the absence of any clear advice or instruction to the contrary by any local public health bigwig or any clear directive from either my own bishop or the College of Bishops, my conclusion is that we will proceed as follows here at St Mary’s:

Tomorrow morning, the bread and wine will be served as usual at St Mary’s. The celebrant and those serving communion will be taking particular care to make sure that their hands are clean. (Anti-bacterial hand-gel will be available on the credence table). It may be in the future that we will suspend the common cup and serve only the bread to the congregation. Such a change will not be made without clear guidance from relevant authorities based on the best available advice.

We will continue to share the peace in the usual manner. Should the general population be told at any time not to shake hands or touch one another then we will suspend the peace here in St Mary’s.

One piece of advice which we are consistently being given is that intinction is much more likely to spread germs than people drinking from the cup. (I’ve heard this advice before, it is not new). There are two issues here, one is that people’s fingers are at high risk of getting into the cup that others have to drink from and the other is that the thing being put into the cup has already been touched by the hands of both the faithful and the celebrant. For this reason, I suggest that people do not attempt to receive the wine by intinction at this time.

It should go without saying that churches should pay attention to the highest standards of hygeine at communion. It also probably needs to be said that the risks to catching anything at all are extremely low if communion is dispensed properly. Churches need to be using a noble metal for the cup and real alchoholic wine. This rules out pottery chalices, I’m afraid and also grape juice, non-achoholic communion “wine” and ribena. I have sometimes been told that we must remember that people in Africa cannot afford wine and have to do without. Sadly lots of people in Africa do not have access to the medicines we have in the west either, but we don’t try to emulate them by refusing what is good for us. If it is the common cup, make sure that it is real fortified wine in it.

I know that some people cannot drink wine for a variety of reasons. That does not justify putting the health of a congregation at risk by using non-alcholic stuff in my book.

This injunction should not have to be given to any Anglicans as using real wine at communion was the subject of a Lambeth Resolution. We all know that we all keep Lambeth Resolutions, don’t we?