by Demi Prentiss
Originally posted in the July 10, 2022 edition of ISSUES, the daily newsletter of The Consultation published during General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Baltimore, July 8-11, 2022
The Diocese of Northern California offered a resolution (C028) to this year’s General Convention which proposed to open communion to unbaptized persons, by repealing Canon I.17.7: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.” The proposal generated much conversation, but will not result in any legislative action, at least this year. The resolution did not emerge from committee.
Just a few weeks ago, an experimental, unofficial, and informal survey (Survey 19: Open Communion) of a test group assembled by FaithX and TryTank indicates that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the Episcopalians polled answered “yes” to the question, “Does your congregation practice open communion?” In many places, apparently, the canons and local practice don’t align.
As a denomination, we’ve spent nearly 50 years proclaiming the empowerment of all the baptized through the Baptismal Covenant. During those same 50 years, we’ve labored mightily to open “all the sacraments for all the people.” And while our hearts seem to be generally in the right place, we still fail to embody those aspirations in our lives together as communities of faith. Incorporating God’s people well and lovingly into the Body of Christ is hard. Where we gather around an open table, can the Baptismal Covenant continue to be our touchstone? Why, really, is baptism important?
Liturgy forms us, because we are “people of the book” (the BCP) and our practices are shaped by the words we pray. (Lex orandi, lex credendi.) We Partners for Baptismal Living want to see us Episcopalians, in all our liturgies, give voice to our commitment to the centrality and solemnity of baptism. We believe that the congregation’s proclamation of baptism’s role in our lives – throughout the BCP, not only in the Baptismal Covenant – can more deeply ingrain that covenant in us and help us claim the meaning of baptism.
What might happen if, instead of “I do” or “I will,” those being baptized (or renewing their vows) actually voiced what they were promising to do:
- “How will you continue to build your faith?” People: “I will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
- “What will you proclaim?” People: “With God’s help, I will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”
What might happen if, in other liturgical moments – the Dismissal, the Prayers of the People, marriage vows, ordination rites – we actually mentioned “baptism” and “the baptized”:
- At the Dismissal: “As the baptized, let us go forth into our worlds of home and community and work, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”
- At the marriage of two Christians: “May you, reborn in the waters of Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever, receive grace to keep the vows you have made.”
- In Prayers of the People Form 1: “For all the Baptized in their daily life and ministries.”
- At an ordination: “As a Baptized Child of God, I believe that I am truly called by God and this Church to this priesthood.”
As we work to give life to the work of General Convention in our congregations and dioceses, Partners for Baptismal Living calls on Episcopalians to be intentional about expressing the ongoing role our baptisms play in our everyday life of faith.