Bishops close "Open Table"

 

Bishops close "Open Table"

Author: 

George Conger

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has returned Resolution C029 “Access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion” to the House of Deputies, removing language from the resolution that would permit clergy to omit out of pastoral considerations the requirement that those who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharist be baptized.
Two resolutions seeking to remove the canonical requirement of baptism being a precondition for receiving Holy Communion and a call to study the question of Baptism and Eucharistic hospitality were presented to the 77th General Convention meeting in Indianapolis from 5-12 July 2012.
Resolution C029 was substantially re-written by the Evangelism Committee in an attempt to satisfy doctrinal concerns, while at the same time being open to the pastoral concerns voiced by supporters of an “Open Table” (no-preconditions for receiving the Eucharist.)  The text of the resolution presented to the Deputies of 11 July 2012 stated:
“Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples. We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized.”
The Rev. Canon Neal Michell offered an amendment asking the final sentence be removed from the resolution.  However, the Rev. James Newman of Los Angeles rose in opposition to the amendment, arguing it was not in line with the current life of the church.
“The reality we all live in is the tension that we experience when someone puts their hands out and the law book says no,” he said.  The Rev. Canon Frank Logue disagreed.  The church should “make the font open” and have that “be the way to the table.”
The Rev. Susan Buchanan of New Hampshire spoke in favor of the original resolution stating she endorsed it because if offered a “both/and” response to the concerns of the church.  She stated the committee had “worked hard” to find an acceptable compromise and added that she held an open table at her church. 
"We are crazy Christians." she said and "because we have a crazy God. Many of us do offer open table."
Deputy L. Zoe Cole of Colorado spoke in support of the Michell amendment.  “Some dioceses” already permitted an open table, and it was not necessary to state that the church would exercise pastoral sensitivity.  The Very Rev. Matt Gunter of Chicago proposed an alternative to the Michell amendment by adding the word “occasionally”  to the sentence about the exercise of pastoral sensitivity.
Both amendments failed and the matter was put to a vote by orders, with 77 per cent of the lay and 64 per cent of the clergy deputies voting in favor of the resolution.  As the vote passed by more than a two-thirds margin, the roll call tallies were not read to the convention.
The level of support for C029 when it was presented to the House of Bishops on 12 July 2012 was markedly different.  The Rt. Rev. William Gregg, Assistant Bishop of North Carolina, was the first to rise and offered a strong statement of rejection of the resolution.
It was “not up to one denomination” to change the universal church’s teaching on baptism, Bishop Gregg said.
The Bishop of Southern Ohio, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal, agreed the issue needed further study and urged defeat of the resolution.  “All the talk” had been about “hospitality spreading conversion,” he said, and that theological argument had yet to be put to test.  The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins of Springfield also urged rejection.
As bishops “our charism is to teach,” he said.  Permitting local clergy to decide the question of the pre-conditions for receiving the Eucharist was a recipe for anarchy and an abandonment of the teaching office.  The Bishop of Oklahoma, Dr. Edward J. Konieczny, agreed urging rejection.
The Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews, Bishop for Pastoral Care in the Presiding Bishop’s Office, proposed sending the resolution to the House of Bishops Committee on Theology for further study.  Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori responded that sending it back to the “bowels of the House of Deputies” at this point in the legislative process effectively meant rejecting the resolution as it was unlikely to be put to a vote before the convention closed.
The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, retired Bishop of Rhode Island, stated that she had been reared as a Jew and had not been baptized until she was 15 years of age.  At the start of her path towards conversion, she did “not ask about Communion, but about Jesus.”
Bishop Wolf further stated that an ambiguous ruling from the General Convention on this issue would be unhelpful.  When Jewish members of her family attended church services, they did not receive the Eucharist.  By removing the requirement for baptism before Eucharist it would serve to compel those attending church to receive, even if they did not believe, as they would be forced to act out of peer pressure.  It is “hard to make a public declaration” of unbelief, she noted.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk of New York proposed deleting the last sentence of the resolution – the same amendment brought by Dr. Michell in the House of Deputies.  The Sisk amendment and the resolution were put to the vote and both passed, returning the resolution back to the House of Deputies.
If their schedule permits the deputies will take up the resolution in their afternoon session. If they are unable to vote on the resolution, it has the same effect as if it were defeated.