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Keeping Watch!

John Hartley is concerned about deregulation by the back door

Keeping watch!

Further deregulation of Holy Communion? 

 A couple of years ago the Bradford Diocesan Synod heard a plea from one of its rural deaneries about throwing the boundaries of admitting people to Holy Communion a bit wider.  The parish from which it had come was concerned about large parties of people attending infant baptisms which took place during the main services of Holy Communion.  The visitors all stolidly sat through the communion part of the service, remaining seated while the regulars went up to receive communion.  How could these visitors be made to feel welcome in the service?  The parish had (so it seems) asked the bishop for permission to admit the visitors to communion irrespective of whether they had been confirmed or not, and the bishop had replied that this permission was not in his power to grant.  So couldn't the Church of England change the rules? 

On that first occasion the motion was simply to allow baptized persons to receive communion, but that didn't get through.  The C of E has, after all, hedged about with rules the admission of unconfirmed children to communion.  The motion would effectively sweep all those rules away, lead to babies taking communion, and remove any connection between communion and confirmation.  It was felt there were better ways of welcoming the crowds of visitors into church life, not least by the provision of non-eucharistic services. 

However, it was recognised that there is a real problem, so a working party was set up to have another look at the question.  And this February a revised version of the motion did get through the synod. 

The new motion - "that this Synod requests General Synod to make provision, by regulation under Canon B15A(1)(c), for the admission to Communion of baptised adults who are not yet ready to be confirmed" - was proposed for rather different reasons.  Gone were the large parties of visitors - in their place were the committed Christians who had grown up in other denominations and so had never been confirmed, indeed who disbelieved in the whole rite of confirmation, but who now worshipped in their own local Anglican churches.  Isn't it strange that we can give communion to unconfirmed Baptists who join us occasionally, but if they cease to be Baptists, join us and declare themselves to be members of the Church of England then we can't give them communion any more (because they are not "desirous to be confirmed")? 

People like me, with an eye on the pressures towards indiscriminate baptism which these kinds of moves put on us, voted against the motion ... but even I can see that our present system is in a mess, and there is little rationale for the current canons.  Indeed, the Canons were explicitly drafted to provide for future changes to the position, by allowing the General Synod to make regulations allowing others to receive communion.  In the event I was in a clear minority, as the Synod passed the resolution by 56 votes to 7. 

I guess it will be up to the General Synod, eventually, to decide exactly how the "regulations" are to be formulated.  Yet I'm deeply troubled about how it will work out.  It is in the nature of regulations to be pernickety, as a quick glance at the ones about children and communion shows.  And we may solve the problem about Baptists, but we'll still have it for the Salvation Army (which, not administering any sacraments, doesn't insist on baptism for its members).  Will these new regulations really give the impression of a new welcome to visitors to join us ... or will they simply convey the idea that we have ceased to care about any sort of discipline in the administration of the sacrament of Holy Communion?   

 

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