Friday, 7 August 2009

Getting tied in knots

Some time ago I wrote in a comment on this post on my own blog:

I'm not sure about the Eucharist being any more (or less) sacramental than the rest of life. But I recognise that humans often do better with ritual to elevate and sanctify the everyday, that taking communion is a sort of "practise run" for seeing what is holy in all things. And maybe that has value for me, too. Maybe it would help. But maybe it wouldn't.

I suspect the Church has got the wrong end of the stick on this at times, that God does not turn any away from the table on account of small details such as not being communicant members of a Christian church. But on the list of "things I'm willing to ruffle feathers about" it's very low. If I'm right, every time I eat something and remember that Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me" I am taking communion, every time I receive anything in this world and remember that it comes from God I am taking communion. The Church can hardly stop me. It has no monopoly on access to God. While I would like to participate, while I might find it meaningful to do so, I do not _need_ to, not enough to bother trying to twist my beliefs to become a Christian by some definition I don't understand, not enough to challenge the established Church.

If I'm wrong, if the Eucharist has some absolute, innate holiness that sets it aside from life in real terms and not just human ones, then it's quite a bit more serious. In that case I should refuse to partake until all are truly welcome. If God's love is unconditional and God's sacrament is a way of receiving God's love then limiting access to that on doctrinal grounds is, in my view, not very representative of God in the world.

Most likely? I am working with a flawed, incomplete definition of "sacrament". So I'll try to learn more and if I change my understanding, what the church calls sacrament will still be there.

I'm struggling with this again. Or still. MadPriest has posted an excellent sermon for this coming Sunday.

I was baptised as a baby. I don't remember it, but given other baptisms by the same minister (I observed no shortage of these over the years) I can confidently say I was baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I was confirmed when I was 9 or 10 years old, I think. Maybe I was 11. In that denomination there was no bishop involved. Due to family circumstances I did not really feel like I had any choice at all about confirmation. It was something that was expected of me and to say "I don't think I'm ready" or similar would have had unpleasant consequences. I know I took classes beforehand. I remember nothing about them except that we had to memorise the books of the Old Testament, in order. For all I know I might have asked some questions, but I doubt it. It's very unusual for me to simply forget bits of my education like that; I can tell you some of what was on the curriculum in pretty much every other class I have ever taken, even if I don't remember the actual information any more. So... I don't really consider that confirmation valid.

Then there's the small detail of my turning away from Christianity for around a decade. I don't think that undoes the baptism, but I don't really consider myself a member of a Christian church. Maybe it's a grey area in some ways, maybe some do consider me Christian, but I don't.

The C of E invites all Christians who "normally attend communion at their own church" to receive the Eucharist.

The C of E is the closest thing to 'my own church' that I have at the moment. It's certainly what I feel most drawn to, despite all the various problems.

But, see, there are these creed things, and trying to believe them, wanting to believe them, doesn't make me believe them or even understand them. Singing does, but how can I claim to believe something if I only believe it when I sing? How can I become a member of a church that insists I do believe these things, and still keep any integrity? I don't think I can.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this post. I'm not excluded from the C of E because of my actions or sexual orientation or ethnic background or gender. I can hardly complain about being excluded because I don't believe the basic qualifying beliefs. It's fair enough, really.

And yet I feel left out. If the Eucharist is a rite in which we recognise and accept God's love for us, why do I have to be a member to partake?


Grandmère Mimi said...

Song, to me, the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Since it's his body and blood, I don't believe that any human has the right to withhold it from another. Perhaps, your stance is correct - that you won't take communion until all are welcome. I think we may be getting there.

Song in my Heart said...

Grandmère Mimi,

I have no idea whether my stance is correct. I just feel caught between my own very rudimentary understanding of what the Eucharist might be, and the rules of a human institution of which I am not a member.

I'm not sure why I care so much about this.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Well, you care, Song, and you must do as you think best.

There's a wonderful book called Take This Bread by Sara Miles, about an unbaptized woman who took communion in a church in California, and was transformed into a believer by the very act of taking communion, and went on to have a beautiful ministry of feeding the hungry.

Song in my Heart said...

Grandmère Mimi,

I hope that my beliefs will develop. They have certainly changed in the last year or two; my belief in the existence of God has remained firm but my beliefs about whether God loves creation are quite a bit more positive than they once were. I can't point to any specific moment when that changed, though I am certainly aware of some people and events that have been influential.

This evening I am feeling particularly impatient. I would like to understand well enough to be able to go ahead, and I don't know how to get there.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Song, here's a prayer by Thomas Merton, which I love. It's circulated around quite a bit, so you may even know it:

The Living Spirit

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.

O don't know whether any of what I offer is at all helpful. Each of us must make our own way, in our own time, and in God's time, I suppose.

May God bless you and speed you on to find your way.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Grandmère.

I have seen that prayer before but it is good to be reminded.

MadPriest said...

Whenever there are people not of my congregation at at Holy Communion I announce that anybody who takes communion at any church are welcome to take communion with us. I don't think this is something we have been told to say, I think it's just something inclusive priests have picked up from each other like a meme.

I say it, not to exclude, but to encourage people from other denominations to share with us. It is supposed to be a positive statement. But I understand why you hear it as a negative instruction so, from now on, I will use a different form of words that excludes nobody.

On a practical level I suggest you speak to your parish priest about this. If your priest is not helpful then find a church where the priest is helpful.

Perhaps you should sign up for an adult confirmation course. You can do this without committing yourself to anything. This would be an opportunity for you to find out what you should believe which will help you make an informed decision.

Song in my Heart said...


I realise that including other denominations is meant to be a positive invitation, and it is one of the things that I admire about the C of E that this seems to happen everywhere (and I thought it was a point of official policy, but would have to look it up to be certain). But it does assume that everyone has a church of their own to go to. I am also grateful that it seems to be widespread policy that anyone--really, anyone--can go up for a blessing instead: even if the Eucharist were offered universally I am not entirely certain that I would be ready to accept (though it would help a lot), and being invited to receive a blessing sends a message that God still loves me regardless of where I am in my own meandering journey. I do find myself clinging to that.

On a practical level, I'm still in the process of finding a church to call home. It takes me a while to get to trust clergy when I have to deal with them in person, and I've only moved to the area recently. On the bright side, I've managed to juggle my teaching schedule for next term so that I don't have to teach on Sunday mornings. This will be the first time in six or seven years I've been free to attend church regularly on Sundays.

An adult confirmation course of some sort is certainly an option I have considered. Again, this is partly going to be a matter of what I can find in the area.

Thank you for your comment, and for considering my experience in how you carry out your own ministry.

MadPriest said...

Never, never, never trust a priest!
Try to view them as you would an insurance salesman. Listen to the information they give you, but don't sign up to anything until you have got quotes from elsewhere.

Kathryn said...

If you had been at St M's last Sunday you would have heard these words....

This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord..
It is made ready for those who love him.
And for those who want to love him more.
So, come, you who have much faith
and you who have little,
You who have been here often
and you have not been here long,
You who have tried to follow
and you who have failed.
Come, because it is the Lord who invites you.
It is his will that those who want him
should meet him here.

This is very definitely NOT in the rubrics, but I believe in the Eucharist as a "converting ordinance" (as it was for Sarah Miles - who was wonderful at last year's Greenbelt...let me know if you'd like to read her book) & I believe even more that those who feel themselves excluded by the church will often find it that much harder to believe themselves welcomed by God (I realise you're not in that position, but some are...)
So it's pretty much a "Here I stand" position - which might well get me into official trouble with the diocese, but feels like a point of principle that I would compromise at my peril.
The words, incidentally, are from Iona

Song in my Heart said...


I don't trust priests just because they are priests, just as I don't trust anyone on the basis of their title or position.

I am blessed to know a few priests I would trust with my life, but it takes some getting to know them before I can do that.

Kathryn... hearing those words might well have made a difference. If you put it like that, how can I refuse?

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Kathryn--thank you for posting that invitation! My spouse is an Episcopal priest and I just showed it to him. He said "E-mail me that, will you?" :-)

Song--I hope you will come to the table. As I said over at MP's, I take communion to have the strength to keep working to make all welcome. Some days I believe, some days I don't--but Eucharist has a profound effect on my mind and my heart. I can't explain it at all---but I miss it very much when I miss church. It really is the thing that keeps me in the faith.


DanG said...

We (the clergy of our Diocese) had this discussion a few years ago with our (then) bishop. After an hour or so the bishop made the declaration that only baptized Christians would be allowed at the Table and that we would make that announcement at each Eucharist. I quit making any announcement for a while and then started saying that the table was God's table and all were welcome. After all, God was in his heaven and the Bishop was far far away, God is where you seek him/her and communion is where you find God. For many people it works best in the company of other seekers but it's your call.

Ernst said...


I have found this trail quite inspiring.

I attend Communion wherever I am at whatever service or denomination.

I have never been asked or challenged, only made welcome.

I am aware that the RC Church does not agree with this, but as I was born and brought up RC, there goes another reason I am now an Anglican. I admire and respect the views of those who accept communicants from wherever they come, without out question. surely that is a sign of unity, not disunity or discrimination on grounds of beliefs or creeds.

We all believe in God, In Jesus Christ his son and the Sacrifice he made for us - why should we not all share in the commemoration of him left for us in Communion, to be reminded time on time of that love and sacrifice.

Song in my Heart said...

Thanks for your feedback, Ernst.

One difficulty for me is that my beliefs are inconsistent. I always believe in God, but I don't always believe in Jesus as his Son in the sense that I think is normally expected of Christians. And so I don't know where I stand.

Song in my Heart said...


I'm glad you welcomed all.

Song in my Heart said...


Thanks for your input, too. I thought I replied to your comment sometime last week but obviously I didn't!