As I talk with people supportive of Communion Regardless of Baptism (CRB), I have heard a notion offered more than once. They say that the arguments for CRB are the same as those for ordaining women or LGBT people. More precisely, they say that the arguments against changing the canons are the same as the arguments offered against ordaining women and LGBT people. Appealing to Scripture and Tradition sounds, to them, like the same appeals that were used to deny the inclusion of these individuals in ordained ministry.
I would say that these are entirely different questions. Christ Church, New Haven has a long history being supportive of the inclusion of women and LGBT individuals in the life of the Church. Long before it was a popular cause in the Church, Christ Church was supporting women for ordination and created a welcoming and safe space for gays and lesbians.
A parishioner wrote to me of his early time here,
“I remember as a young adult, when the Gay Christian Readings Group started, the genuine thrill of thinking that God loved gay people for being gay and seeing a significant number of significant parishioners at Christ Church who believed this, too. This was felt by most of us to be a radical proclamation…one we would make with the defensive shield of extreme forms of ancient tradition all around us. We simply wanted to be counted as valued children of God, worthy of full recognition and acceptance by the Church.”
Christ Church has long offered a place that counted all people as being the valued children of God. That place has evolved into a space of, to use a term, apolitical inclusion. We welcome all and make it known that they have a place here. There are no rainbow flags and few sermons that reference the issue and yet we make plain, by our life together, that LGBT individuals and all others are welcome to find a home here.
That sense of welcome is grounded in our understanding of our Sacramental life together.
As we welcome people into the redeeming work of Christ and make them part of the Body we make known that, in our mind, the love of God for His children is unbounded and unmerited. We accept that love at the font (as do the many adults we baptize and put forward for confirmation) and we are renewed in that love at the Altar.
All people are worthy of respect and are to be welcomed at the Font. In our Catechism, we proclaim, “The divine Son became human, so that in him human beings might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs of God’s kingdom.” All are welcomed to this immense promise as “We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.”
The Holy Spirit, moving upon all of Creation, welcomes us into the life of Baptism. The Catechism states, “We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” The presence of the Holy Spirit is revealed in the work of confessing life and hope in Christ Jesus. As we welcome all to Baptism, we make known the continued movement of the Spirit among us.
That welcome is a welcome to the risen life. It is not simply a welcome to fellowship, coffee hour, or to our own worthy company. It is a welcome to live and die in the Lord. That new life is accomplished in the baptismal life. Baptism is a sure and certain means by which grace is received. Moreover, it is commanded of us as one of the two Christ-given Sacraments. Baptism and Eucharist are at the heart of what it means to be the Church.
The Catechism says of Baptism that it is the “sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” We become the part of the Church as we are baptized and are made partakers of the Kingdom – a Kingdom foreshadowed in the Eucharist.
The Catechism states, “Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.” When we baptize adults or children they are welcomed as Christ’s own forever and “share citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God.”
Baptism, for the Church, is not optional. It binds us to Christ and Christ to us. We become heirs to the Kingdom through the water and blood as we die and rise again to newness of life.
At Christ Church, we welcome all to this life – we encourage all to make that commitment to live anew in the promise of the Risen Lord. There is no welcome more radical and no hospitality more warm than to invite those that visit to membership in Christ.
The Eucharist is how the Body comes together – how we are continually re-formed as citizens of the Kingdom. The Catechism states, “The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.”
It is not a meal of hospitality. It is not simply a chance for us to be welcoming. It is when we enter the remembrance of life, death, and resurrection – when we receive the Body and Blood.
Those who would see this issue as a justice issue or as an issue of inclusion have the issues half-right. It is an issue of inclusion – inclusion into the Body of Christ by Baptism. It is not a justice issue, as I have heard it said.
There is no injustice in asking those who have not been given the sure and certain hope of Baptism to wait before coming to the Altar.
There is no injustice in believing, as the earliest Christian communities did and as the Church throughout the ages has, that Baptism marks the beginning of life in Christ.
There is no injustice in holding onto the hope that by Baptism we are given new life and that this new life is worth sharing with all who come into our churches.
There is no injustice in believing that Baptism is the mark of ministry in the Church and that it changes our being and forms us for service in Christ.
There is no injustice in taking seriously the mystery of the Body and Blood – and that we believe “welcoming” someone to the Altar rail is not our invitation alone but is the Church’s across centuries and traditions.
There is no injustice in holding onto the belief that to share in Christ’s Body and Blood, the resurrection encounter, the sacrifice, the breaking and sharing, the pledge of redemption, the foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and the strengthening of our Union with Christ (as the Prayer Book states) requires some sort of union to strengthen.
When LGBT people and women were (and are) struggling to be recognized as “ordainable” that dignity was not just a matter of secular humanist musings. It was recognized because those very people were baptized into the mysteries of faith. They had been welcomed into the household of God, were inheritors of the Kingdom, and made part of the royal priesthood of all believers.
It was more than a justice issue – it was an issue of fundamental dignity in Christ and about who and how the baptized are marked for service to Christ. They were called to bear the Sacraments because they were marked by them.
There is no justice issue with CRB. There is no right to Communion. The language of rights and justice has so pervaded and upended the Church that we can no longer speak of responsibility – of our responsibility to baptize for example – we only speak in terms of rights. The sad fact is that the more we rely on rights language to the exclusion of responsibility language we will never have a true identity as the Body for we will have committed ourselves to one form of zero-sum antagonism or another as we claim our rights.
The Church is a responsibility. It is a weight. It is a call. We are made the Church and welcomed to the life of the cross by Baptism. All must be welcomed to our churches but all should leave transformed – there can be no casual encounter with Christ. Baptism establishes, in sure and certain fashion, that we are members of one another – not just “welcomed” but made one with one another in Christ Jesus. No “radical hospitality” or “Open Table” can do more than this – more than Christ offers at the font.
It is that sense of mutual obligation/reciprocity/membership/identity that has made Christ Church, historically, a voice for those without voice in the Church. Our sense that we can really do nothing other than protect their dignity for it is Christ’s dignity and ours. Baptism is not about being welcomed. It is about being.
The casual nature of CRB is what is most frightening. That we may decide that people are not worth baptizing. That Communion is not worth the wait. That the Body is not worth building and upholding. That the souls of those who come to us are not really worth our time – because they are just fine without Christ.
Christ Church has a long and determined history of reaching out to the poor of the city, of welcoming the marginalized, and of bringing many to Christ. We have a long history of justice work. That conviction and mission grows out of one place – our firm belief that the Sacramental life is worth sharing and that the men and women who come into this place are not just to be “welcomed” they are to be baptized – to become one with us in Christ Jesus.