The Episcopal Church’s national office has given a backhanded blessing to the practice of allowing those not baptized to receive Holy Communion—a practice forbidden by canon law.
Supporters of Communion without Baptism (CWOB) have argued that relaxing the church’s Eucharistic discipline will serve as a recruiting tool for those outside the faith. However, traditionalists have rejected the practice as uncanonical and contrary to church teaching.
Last month the Episcopal Church Office of Congregational Vitality posted a video to the national church’s website highlighting the ministry of parish of St Paul & the Redeemer in Chicago. The congregation “exemplifies transformative work,” the Rev. Bob Honeychurch, the Episcopal Church’s officer for congregational vitality, said, adding that the parish “sees its primary point of contact with the wider community through its Sunday morning experience. The worship becomes its witness to the world.”
“What we do is the Episcopal liturgy,” said parish rector the Rev. Peter Lane. “We just do it in creative ways.”
St Paul & the Redeemer welcomes “everybody. Orthodox believer or skeptic, gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, everybody is invited to eat at God’s table” Mr. Lane said.
The video features a parishioner who relates his love of the “diversity” and “inclusion” of the Episcopal Church. At his first visit to the congregation he received Holy Communion, and was led to join the church. When his young son was baptized three years later, he also decided that it was time to become baptized.
A study released in 2005 by the Diocese of Northern California estimated that a majority of dioceses had congregations that practiced Communion without Baptism. (CWOB) Of the church’s 110 dioceses, 48 responded to the Northern California survey: 24 reported they had parishes who practiced CWOB while a further 7 dioceses were reported to “probably allow CWOB.”
A spokesman for the national church told The Church of England Newspaper in response to the query about the video, “The canons of the Episcopal Church expect that baptism precede the receiving of Communion. The Episcopal Church does not, however, inquire of each person coming to receive Communion if he or she has been baptized. If a newcomer is discovered not to have been baptized, then the most appropriate response is to prepare and baptize that person, welcoming her or him into the body of Christ.”
Episcopal Church Canon I.17.7 is unambiguous. It states “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.
“From the earliest centuries, it has been the universal practice of the Christian Church that one must first be baptized before being admitted to Holy Communion,” Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker told CEN.
The issue is one of canon law, Prayer Book rubrics and Scripture, the Anglo-Catholic leader said.
In Romans 6:3-11 “St. Paul explains that the unbaptized remain under the dominion of sin and death and have not been reconciled to God by faith in the saving death of Jesus Christ. Thus they are not eligible to receive the benefits of Holy Communion,” Bishop Iker explained.
“The unbroken tradition and practice of orthodox believers is clear: first baptism, then communion – not the other way around,” he said.