Please Tell Us More about Open Table

Chalice and paten

I recall from General Convention 2012, how surprised I was by the energy and reflection two resolutions on “open table” generated. The original language of C029 from that convention proposed  That the 77th General Convention direct the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to appoint a special commission charged with conducting a study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion in this Church and to recommend for consideration by the 78th General Convention any amendment to Title I, Canon 17, Section 7, of the Canons of General Convention that it deems appropriate.

A related resolution, C040, proposed That The Episcopal Church ratify the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion; and be it further Resolved, That Canon 1.17.7: be deleted: Sec. 7 No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church. and Canon 1.17.8 be renumbered Canon 1.17.7.

Both resolutions at 2012 were referred to the Evangelism committee. This committee had been assigned to a fairly small room and it quickly became clear they did not have enough space. My memory is that this was the third most followed topic in 2012, behind the liturgy for blessing same sex relationships and the many resolutions on structure which led to TREC.

In the end, C040, the one calling for a change in the canons, was discharged. The final text of C029 did not call for additional study and simply stated –

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples.

Deputies had first approved a version of C029 that included a second sentence: We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized. Bishops deleted this part, reaffirming baptism prior to communion and placing the emphasis on baptism.

Given all of that energy three years ago, it is a bit surprising that I’m hearing less about the topic this time. One resolution on open table came before the House of Bishops on Tuesday – C010 Invite All to Holy Communion. The resolution in its original form called on General Convention to “express awareness” of the fact that some churches are experimenting with the practice of open communion . In committee, the resolution was altered to call again for the formation of task force to study the practice of inviting all persons to receive Holy Communion.

In discussion on Tuesday, some bishops were clearly in favor of more conversation. Others expressed concern about surrendering the teaching work of bishops to a task force. Several pointed out the serious ecumenical challenges such a conversation would provoke. Gulick, Assistant in Virginia, said, I oppose this resolution for several reasons. I choose to oppose it primarily for ecumenical considerations. I’m aware of certain assurances this church has given to other members of the Body of Christ that we hold and maintain the universal practice of the church catholic on matters of the doctrine and discipline of the Eucharist. The Eucharist belongs to the whole church, not the Episcopal Church. I urge my brothers and sisters to be cautious.

This sense of caution ruled the day. Bishops voted 79 to 77 to defeat this resolution, which means it will not go to the House of Deputies for consideration.

This may be discussed again. D051 is awaiting action by the committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Music. The current text reads Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That The Episcopal Church affirms that Holy Communion as instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, through which he gave himself to the world that all might be reconciled to God, is appropriately offered to all seekers of his grace, in the context of the Divine Liturgy. But given the conversation yesterday, I doubt our bishops will support this resolution.  There may be other resolutions on this topic still to come, but I haven’t found them.

For the record, I think our bishops did the right thing yesterday. I, too, prefer that they not surrender their teaching office to a task force. However, on this subject, I hope they will take the conversation from 2012 and 2015 as an invitation to tell us more. If it were appropriate for General Convention to request a pastoral letter from our bishops on this subject, this would be a good opportunity. Our current teaching on this subject is clear but often ignored, and many clergy and laity seem uncomfortable with our teaching. Congregations and clergy seem to do whatever they want to do, sometimes thoughtfully and sometimes casually.

I’ve tried this both ways. My previous congregation (where I served as an associate) went through a thoughtful, reflective process of discussion on this topic, and through that process discerned a call to offer communion to all as part of Christ’s open invitation to us. Newcomers to the parish reported that this stance made them feel welcome and more ready to explore the Christian life, and over time we celebrated four or five adult baptisms in the six years I served there. In my current congregation, we have not yet taken the time for thoughtful theological conversation together about this, so I have maintained the church’s current teaching around inviting people to be baptized before receiving communion. At every baptism, I do extend an invitation to be baptized right then, though no one has taken me up on it yet. We’ve baptized five adults in the past year. Yet many in my congregation feel uncomfortable with our current practice because it feels inhospitable to them.

Clearly, we all need more conversation on this topic, and I would welcome more teaching and direction from our bishops. Since they have now twice rejected the call to appoint a task force to study this issue, let’s hope they take it upon themselves to do the work. I would encourage them to do this work in conversation with the laity, especially those baptized as adults in this church.

When the Presiding Bishops nominees were introduced to convention, Bishop Breidenthal was asked, “What are your beliefs and policies concerning open communion? He responded, This is one of the deepest questions facing our church today. I have some problem with open communion as the norm because I think it runs roughshod over our theology of Baptism. Baptism is our radical welcome to the Christian life. The life of pilgrimage which is the life of Exodus – moving out of privilege into connection with the world – is a hard life. Part of that life is learning hospitality but hospitality is not the highest value. We have to learn to be open to the stranger away from our own turf. Jesus has called us to be his Body and accept our own weakness so that we can receive it back as the Body of Christ. We are not just inviting guests to our table when we celebrate the Eucharist. We are inviting people to something hard. So we need to keep talking about it.

Indeed. Please make it so.

Update – at Wednesday’s morning session in the HOB a few proposed reconsideration of C010, saying that the discussion yesterday turned into more of a conversation about our current teaching than a conversation about creating a task force. This proposal was defeated, but at least the question came up again. Also, I apologize for confusing the terms open communion and open table in my original post. I must not be getting enough sleep! We do practice open communion, in that we offer communion to all Christians of any denomination. We do not currently practice open table, or offering communion to those who have not yet been baptized. Sorry for my mistake and thanks to all who have pointed this out.

Photo by Jürgen Howaldt (Own work (selbst erstelltes Foto)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (, via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Ah…and speaking of written communication, here’s my “rubric” in the service leaflet regarding Holy Communion. I cobbled it together from others’ work & added my own phrasing. I wonder how people have found it. Certainly I’ve not had anyone (in it’s approx. 18 mo. lifespan) come to me asking about baptism because of it 😦

    “All are invited to draw nearer to God by coming forward at the distribution of Holy Communion. For baptized Christians of all ages this is a moment to enjoy the true presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated bread & wine – the “holy food & drink of new and unending life in Him.” If not receiving the sacrament, for any reason, simply cross your arms over your chest to receive God’s blessing from the priest. If receiving, stand or kneel at the rail and accept the wafer in the flattened palm of your hand (gluten-free is available on request); then, guide the cup to your lips by lightly holding its base. Young children should stand on the kneeler. If coming forward is too difficult physically, signal an usher; the Eucharistic Ministers will happily come to you. Curious about baptism for you or your child(ren)? Mention it to a priest; we’d be delighted to make plans with you for this rite of full initiation into Christ’s Body the Church!”


  2. Thanks very, very much for this and your other narrative-style posts, Grace. I’m just now getting into reading some of them (where does the time go?) and finding them very helpful as to the *how* of what transpired at GC78. For theological reasons – and of course the implications of them in the real lives of real people – I’m still struggling to understand the logic & helpfulness of CWOB (and I do think that’s the more appropriate name, for now). The only logic I’m finding/hearing so far is that of the liturgy itself, i.e. the desire not to leave out anyone from any piece of it. I found Bp. Briedenthal’s words you quote very powerful, esp. “We have to learn to be open to the stranger away from our own turf.” I wonder whether focusing too intently on who is allowed to receive the holy food & drink could be yet another form of navel-gazing, of obsessing over hospitality, of thinking that tweaking the things we do *inside* the doors, particularly worship, is what will invite more people into discipleship (and grow/save the Church from shrinking away to nothing?). I’m in a healthy parish that has *very* few visitors. I’m not sure tweaking the liturgy specifically to welcome them (though I do plenty of that with written communication) is the best way to make new disciples. I’m trying to encourage my folks to think “outside the (bldg.) box” about how we can reach out in the community, give our gifts, make new neighbors, build relationships, and perhaps see some new disciples join our ranks because of who they found us, as an active community of faith, to be. Given this perspective, I’d certainly love to hear more about the discernment process your prior parish went through; what it led to, etc. Had seen you in the Connecting with so many adult baptisms & confirmands & was already curious about how you managed that: now I want to talk about the invitation for any to be baptized on the spot (knowing Bp. Wright does this, too). Now *that* is something I could see as a compromise position for me. Heck, maybe I’ll even try it this Sunday at our scheduled infant baptism! Thanks, again… -Edwin+


  3. My feeling is if someone is called to communion they are hungry to know Christ, and Christ who feed thousands with seven loaves of bread, would not deny anyone food from his table. I see baptism as publicly announcing your belief in Christianity (In the case of children it is they will be raised as Christians). Baptism is also the time the Holy Spirit in powers you with spiritual gifts and guidlelines of being a Christian are presented to an individual. Confirmation to me is as an adult an acknowledgement of the Baptismal vows and my commitment to a Church’s theology . I am just a lay person so my thinking is only based on my feelings not on deep theological thought.


  4. We need to move beyond slogans such as ” radical hospitality ” , learning to embrace the paradoxical unity of hospitable outreach and liturgical integrity. The pearl is not without its great price.


  5. Thank you, Grace, for this excellent recap. As a member of that congregation where you previously served as an associate, I can say that the open table is a huge part of the reason I returned to a church community. I was baptized in another faith tradition at age 9, but I had been in too many church services as an adult where I heard (whether accurately or not) that I was not welcome to participate in the eucharist. And of course a “closed table” is in practice unenforceable. I would welcome a conversation and a Bishop’s letter confirming that an open table is an appropriate form of welcome and evangelism.


    • Thanks Ron for sharing this. I can see both sides on this. I think it can be part of a holistic approach to evangelism when coupled with other evangelistic practices like teaching and discipleship. It will be interesting to see how this conversation changes over the next 9 years. Evangelism is going to be a big word for us!


  6. We already have “Open Communion” in the Episcopal Church because all baptized Christians are welcome to receive, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox and LCMS who practice “Closed Communion” restricted to their community members only.

    What you are discussing here is “Communion Without Baptism.” May I respectfully request you change the title of your blog post to reflect this? The title is confusing because of this distinction.


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