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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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?