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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

open community, open commuion...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Holidays are wonderful things - change of scenery, plenty of rest, new food (I tried snails for the first time!) and quality family time... and then you come home! Actually, it's great to be home and getting back into the swing of things, it's just that I've found the mountain of emails (over 400 - and, yes, I know that's not many for some of you out there, but it's more than enough for me!) a bit draining to say the least. Some have been very welcome though, especially those from friends I've not heard from in a while. I'm also trying to catch up on over 300 blog posts that my Bloglines reader has stored up for me - I dare say I'll comment on one or two of them in the days to come.

So, with all those words of wisdom to catch up on, it's not easy to find time to post myself! But, I promised that I would today so for the one or two of you that might visit to see, here goes...

A few days before leaving for France, I had a meeting with my bishop and we had a great discussion about the place of the Eucharist in the emerging church (in fact, this seems to be a constantly recurring theme in a whole range of discussions over the last month or so, but that's for another post). This particular conversation with the bishop began with us talking about Dream and its development over the last few months.

He then asked if we'd had any baptisms or weddings connected to the Dream communities which led into a general discussion about sacraments (you can see how it could can't you?!) I spoke a bit about how the Eucharist was a key part of the worshipping life for several of the Dream communities, and then came the question... "what is your policy for admitting people to communion before they have publicly professed faith in baptism?" (or words to that effect).

Remember, the question came from my diocesan bishop and I must have looked slightly uncomfortable as I was desperately trying to formulate my response, because he quickly followed it up by saying... "don't worry, I'm not trying to catch you out, I'm just interested in how a community reaching unchurched people offers sacramental worship." He went on (and this is all paraphrased from memory but I'm confident I've got the gist right)... "I've been reading this book recently in which the author argues for a generous open policy on communion as a way into Christian community." He's lent me the book and I've just started reading it; it's called The Sign of Love by Timothy Gorringe. I'll post about it when I've finished it!

It was a great conversation because it carried a definite air of permission on the part of my bishop, which is always a welcome thing! His question is, of course, a very important one if we're serious about building open and inclusive community. My own church background and theological training led me to be quite protective of baptism and Eucharist, wanting to make sure that recipients had jumped through the various hoops of doctrine and belief before allowing them to receive, but in recent years I've become much more open and generous (some would say 'liberal') in my attitude. If, as I now think, the sacraments are gifts of God's grace and signs of heaven present in the ordinary and 'earthly', seen in the use of very 'earthly' things (water, wine, bread) conveying deeply spiritual mysteries, then who are we to withhold such grace? Who made us the gatekeepers of God's extravagant love, such that we deem some people able to receive and some not. Surely, the decision as to whether or not someone should be in receipt of God's grace is God's and God's alone, and as God's already so abundantly and openly offered it to us, that leaves the decision as to whether I partake of it mine and mine alone - no-one can withhold God from me, nor can I withhold God from anyone else.

So, in answer to the bishop's question, we never enquire of a person's faith or ask to see their baptismal certificate before 'allowing' them communion at Dream - we simply make the invitation to all and allow individuals to decide for themselves as to whether they want to join in at that time or not - some do and some don't.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:21 PM

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