Crumbly bread and open communion

Writing in the August 5 edition of The Living Church, The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean and president of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary writes of the role of seminaries and responds to a Guest Column, “Careless Communion” [The Living Church, July 8], by the Rev. Ian Montgomery who described a commencement he attended at “one of our seminaries” where, from his point of view, everything seemed to go wrong. The eucharistic bread crumbled and fell to the floor, the presider made an open invitation to communion, and the preacher seemed to endorse what the article called the “new Episcopal religion.” In his response, Hall writes:

Nobody who knows Seabury and its liturgical traditions well could seriously think that we are intentionally lax in our treatment of the sacrament. What Fr. Montgomery experienced was the unfortunate consequence of our new policy of using gluten-free bread at all celebrations of the Eucharist. The Seabury community now has several members with Celiac disease (gluten intolerance), and so we have started using only gluten-free bread as an expression of our inclusive hospitality. If you have ever tried to bake gluten-free bread, you know how tricky it can be. I regret that the recipe used at commencement produced friable bread, and we will work to make sure that the experience is not repeated.

While crumbly bread might seem an apt metaphor for Anglicanism, in reality it’s an expression of a community trying to react pastorally to a new situation — which, in a sense, is what so much of the current conflicts over sexuality, open communion, and inclusive language is about in the first place.

On the second point of the open invitation to receive communion, the dean writes:

As ordinary of the chapel, I have articulated this policy in full awareness that it does not comply with the canonical provision about communion and baptism. One reason seminary chapels are traditionally “ecclesiastical peculiars” is so that they will have the freedom to push the edges of liturgical practice in the direction of the church’s emerging theology. There is a serious theological argument abroad these days about the relationship of baptism and Eucharist. To characterize the open invitation as “liturgical universalism” misconstrues the state of the argument. Those of us who favor open communion do so knowing that the church has historically seen one sacrament as a precondition for the other. We simply question, in the present pastoral situation, the propriety of following that practice.

Dean Hall discusses the Presiding Bishop’s sermon against Montgomery’s interpretation and expresses his thoughts on “new Episcopal religion.”

Read it all at The Living Church

Episcopal Cafe has essays on the issue of Communion Without Baptism here and here.

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