I read Jamie Howison’s new book, Come to the Table on the weekend — or part of the weekend, as it’s only 76 pages. It actually began as a paper exploring the basis for the practice of “open table” at St. Benedict’s Table. Open table refers to the practice of serving communion to people who present themselves to receive the elements, regardless whether or not they have been baptized. Now, this is not a very Anglican thing to do, since strictly speaking, traditionally those who expect to receive communion should have been baptized and confirmed. None of this is really an issue in evangelical circles, but in others I understand it’s pretty much grounds for scandal. Indeed, “from my evangelical days, baptism is not viewed as inherently for regeneration,” so the question seems a little farfetched to some, but with a bit of thought to the subject, one realizes that the communion table has actually been the dividing line between many a denomination or church group.
The phrases in quotations above are lifted from page 18, where they landed after being lifted from an email I sent to Jamie as he was beginning the research phase of the project and soliciting reflections from the community at St. Ben’s. Quotations from these reflections are sprinkled throughout the study, either uncredited or sourced to initials only. Not to spoil the ending, but the study finds no compelling prohibition against serving the elements to unbaptized communicants, which is weighed against the inclusive posture that Jesus adopts in those few meals which he hosts in the gospels and in the many he attends. Along the road, the study outlines the historic arguments on both sides of this debate and interweaves some of the history and experience of St. Benedict’s Table in this area.
Besides the topic at hand, the reader is rewarded with a few bonus subjects along the way, including perspective on the “Emergent” label (St. Ben’s is considered an emerging church, but eschews the label) and a good brief summary of postmodernism. Clearly rooted in an Anglican milieu, references to various editions of the Book of Common Prayer are among the many sources cited and footnoted as evidence of the thorough research undergirding the study. Those in an Anglican or similar context where this question exists would do well to consider this short volume. Despite its intention to address itself to an Anglican situation, the study will be of value to others as well in the exploration of some of the theology surrounding who should partake of communion and under what circumstances. Here I refer specifically to the common admonitions, injunctions, and warnings that communion must not be taken in an unworthy manner — without “discerning the body.” No study would be complete without considering these questions, and the perspective offered in the study delivers in this as well, and those whose traditions have seen these injunctions contribute to making communion “unnecessarily laborious,” a description used in the foreword by singer/songwriter Steve Bell.
I have previously written about some of the shifts in my own views on communion (doing away with the idea that kids need to “fully understand” it in order to partake), which I suppose have come along quite a way now. Of late, I have found myself asking a new question, namely, would communion be appropriate for seekers? Non-Christians, proto-Christians, whatever… but seekers who are open to meeting God at the table. If one considers the Table as an open invitation to meet with Christ in the most fitting place imaginable, it begins to make sense… set into the context of Jesus’ openness and welcoming stance toward the sinners and socially undesirable of his day, I wonder what line should be drawn to exclude participants who have a desire for the Table? This question is not fully answered in my mind, but I think could bear some good discussion. What are the views or experience of others in this regard? Does anyone offer a fully open table, and have reasoning and experiences to share from that perspective? Anyone wishing to argue against an open table in this or some other degree? Tawk amongst yourselves…