More on the debate over communion without (before?) (instead of?) baptism

A great deal was made several days ago over a post at the Cafe by Andee Zetterbaum:

The question we need to be asking isn’t what SHOULD the theology of baptism and communion be, it’s what is the PERCEIVED theology by the outsider who is present at our worship. And the people who need to be involved in that discussion are:

The 8-year-old who comes to church with her best friend after a sleepoverThe grandchildren who are only here twice a year when they are visiting their grandparents

The 11-year-old who often comes with his grandmother and has been leaving love notes to Jesus on the altar since he was first old enough to write, but whose parents won’t allow him to be baptized until he turns 18

The teen who is clearly uncomfortable being here, but wants to be with her boyfriend

The anti-church spouse

The Muslim grandmother from another country who is here for her grandson’s baptism

The Jewish son-in-law who comes with the family on Christmas

The ‘spiritual but not religious’ 20-something who has moved back in with his parents after college, and only comes to church on Easter to keep the family peace

The homeless person who wanders in off the street

Those who come to share with and honor their loved ones at weddings and funerals

What do our communion practices say to them about the nature of the God we worship? What does God say to them, through the way we share communion?

So I wasn’t going to say anything more on the topic. I’ve made my position clear, and I think at this point there is more heat than light in the conversation. There are those who think open table is crucial to our mission, our proclamation of Jesus Christ, and our self-understanding as inclusive and welcoming communities. There are others who see the practice as an affront to scripture, to two thousand years of Christian practice, and an offense to the sacraments.

Then I read this by Jesse Zink, who visited an “official” Protestant church in China last year:

One Sunday I visited one of the major, sanctioned Protestant churches in Beijing. The congregation stood while the pastor prayed over the communion elements. Then, just before the distribution, the pastor made an announcement. “If you are not baptized, please sit down.” About a third of the congregation did so. They watched while the rest of us received communion that was passed through the pews. None who sat down seemed offended. No one stormed out in a huff. This was how things were. They were not baptized yet but looked forward to the day when they were.

So what’s the difference between this church in Beijing and your average Episcopal congregation, where I can never imagine something like this happening?

One difference—and there are many—is that folks are beating down the door of this church in Beijing. I had to wait in line twenty minutes to get into that service. The sanctuary could probably hold 1000 people and it was standing room only that morning. In the Episcopal Church, perhaps, we’re so desperate for folks to come in, we don’t want to do anything that will turn people away.

I know it won’t change any minds, but still.

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