Bishops reject call to study question of “Open Communion”

By a vote of 79-77 the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has rejected a resolution calling for the creation of a task force to examine the issue of whether the church should allow those not baptized to receive Holy Communion.

The House of Bishops has rejected the call to revisit the issue of allowing the non-baptized to receive Holy Communion. By a vote of 79 to 77 the bishops rejected Resolution C010 “Invite All to Holy Communion” which called for the creation and funding of a task force to study “Open Communion”.

 

During the afternoon session of the 7th legislative day on 30 June 2015 at the 78th General Convention meeting in Salt Lake City the House of Bishops took up three resolutions submitted for consideration by the Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music.

 

Without debate the bishops endorsed Resolution A067 “Revise Book of Common Prayer for Revised Common Lectionary”, which calls for the church to use the lectionary found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and not the Revised Common Lectionary for services during Holy Week.

 

The Rt. Rev. G. Wayne Smith, Bishop of Missouri then offered to the House Resolution A169 “Establish a Process for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer 1979” , which directed the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare a plan for the “comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present the plan to the 79th General Convention (in 2018).”

 

The Bishop of Southern Ohio, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Breidenthal spoke in support of the resolution, remarking the process of prayer book revision was “happening all round.” It was important that the reform not take place in a haphazard manner, he said and asked the House to endorse a process that “commits us to a real conversation.” The resolution passed without opposition.

 

Bishop Smith then offered Resolution C010 “Invite All to Holy Communion” as amended by the committee to the House for consideration. It called for the appointment of a task force to study the “practice of inviting all persons, baptized and unbaptized, to receive Holy Communion.”

 

A similar resolution had been brought to the 77th General Convention by the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, but had been rejected.

 

The Bishop of Upper South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo rose and offered an amendment which asked that the task force created by the resolution “include a balance of diverse theological perspectives.”

 

Several bishops rose to endorse the formation of a task force, and the call for theological diversity made by the Waldo Amendment. The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of Virginia, concurred, noting it was important that the membership of the task force not be skewed to insure a specific outcome.  He was “wary that task forces can in fact be de facto works of advocacy.”

 

However, other bishops rose to object to the reintroduction of this issue following its rejection at the last General Convention, and questioned the wisdom of giving a task force the authority to set church eucharistic doctrine. The Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter, Bishop of Fond du Lac asked whether the bishops were ready to “surrender our role as pastors every time a doctrine is challenged” by handing it off to a committee.

 

“Open Communion” was an unsound theological doctrine, he said, at odds with the church’s traditions and understanding of baptism and eucharist. It was a faddish innovation that was “not particularly radical, and only superficially hospitable.”

Bishop Waldo’s amendment was put to a vote and failed. The Presiding Bishop called for a vote on the resolution as a whole, and after being unable to discern a majority orally, she asked for a show of hands. The resolution failed 77 to 79.

The following morning the Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen moved the vote on Resolution C010 be reconsidered. She told the House she was “half asleep” during the debate and had voted against the measure while in hindsight she would have voted for it. The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt. Rev. Robert O’Neill supported reconsideration saying the debate on Tuesday had been sidetracked into a discussion of the “Open Table” when the issue at hand was whether to create a task force to study the issue.

 

The Presiding Bishop stated that a two-thirds vote was needed to revisit the issue. It failed on a voice vote.

The Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner, Bishop of Northern California, rose after the vote on a point of personal privilege and asked those who would wish to discuss the question over the coming three years to make themselves known to the House. While the bishops had ruled out forming an official task force to discuss “Open Communion”, an unofficial task force could facilitate discussions

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