Thursday 28 May 2009

Liturgical Terrorism or the future?

Fifty years ago, most denominations had some degree of closed communion — people were generally nice about it, but the denomination was the gatekeeper. Since the 1950’s this rather Brethren way of doing Church has largely broken down in the West.

People who are not personally excommunicated are admitted on the basis of baptism, and the whole Church, not the denomination is the medium of the Sacrament. The institutional denomination is only trustee for the Lord, to whom the Sacrament belongs.

In the good old days saying the Lord’s prayer with other Christians was a mortal sin for Roman Catholics, but that was many years ago. Conciliar theology has a structure to support Eucharistic hospitality, which is only offered in certain closely defined circunstances.

In Hanover in 2005, my eyebrows raised as the (now retired) Cardinal Archbishop of Mainz described the current restructions in his denomination as a “thorn in the flesh.”

In Bremen I stayed with a delightful Catholic host, who told me the hot ticket for Saturday morning’s Bible Study was Fullbert Steffensky, Professor Emeritus at Hamburg.

He was now a Lutheran, having started out as a monk of Maria Laach — the place Adenauer found sanctuary from the Nazis in 1934 (though that’s not quite the whole story of the monstery at that time).

The Bible Study considered Genesis 16 and Hagar the slave woman. She is not entirely outside God’s blessing, and we were led into considering the probem of religious absolutism and the inability of some Christians and others to believe God has blessed anyone but their in-group. He leapt straight from there to an incident at the Berlin Kirchentag in 2003, where large crowds had been banned from intercommunion. What right had ecclesiastical authorities to try and deprive the people of God of hope? As I mentally fell off the seat, given the style distance between the presentation and our customary stately Englsh ecumenical quadrille, the preacher continued.

The basis of Communion is the mercy, gift and call of God, not what he scathingly called “die Einheitlichkeit in einigen Sätzendes Bekentnisses. (loosely, “the oneness of a sit-down of acquaintances”) It was pointless for ecclesiastical authorities to say the Church wasn't ready for such a thing, if all they meant was that they weren’t. Now, Ecumenical diplomats, sit down somewhere comfortable and pour a stiff drink, as I quote the published text:
Wir können nicht darauf warten, bis die letzten fußkranken Mitglieder von Kirchenleitungen angekommen sind und das Mahl für erlaubt. (very loosely, “We can’t wait for the last lame duck Church leaders to catch up and join us at the table...”)
Dr Steffensky very much hoped that at future Kirchentage people would just go ahead and eat as the Lord commanded, concluding
Auf Dauer werden die Bischöfe schon fördern, was sie nicht verhindern können. ( loosely, “The Bishops will soon enough require what they can’t prevent.”)
Boooom! Right, my English Ecumenical Chums. This is certainly Provocative stuff that you wouldn't hear in a gathering of 125,000 Christians in England.
Is it “Liturgical Terrorism” or the Future?


Graham said...

I hope it is the future!

As a 40 something, gen X, minister I am so bored with a style of ecumenism that seems to be modelled on 'Glad you have come to our party- please go and sit in the kitchen whilst we eat' or even 'I have got a carving knife- I can help out cutting the meat- I usually do it in my house.....oh.... only the person who does it in this house can do it...I see'.

Sorry- I've heard versions of my two examples so many times for me to think 'You aren't really interested are you?'

Love sorting things/differences out over a pint or a meal- works well 'outside' the church.

Would love to do that inside the Church ecumenically. Increasingly when I hear that there are 'good reasons' why we can't I'm thinking 'oh you aren't really interested/accepting in me/us despite all your talk to the contrary are you?'

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why people within churches within my generation are increasingly not interested in ecumenical engagement and will only commit time to where this is expressed in mission?

Sorry- that was a rant- I'll go back to lurking...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Quite understand, Graham. If we're in an Ecumenical "Ice Age" (that phrase was used a fair bit in Bremen) part of that must be the factor you're expressing so clearly. The phrase "Elephant in the room" is well overworked, but one of the reasons tens of thousands of people were attracted to Steffensky's message was that he seemed to be voicing a very widespread, if not universal feeling. Meanwhile, the world looks on and reasons that if the churches can't sort out something as simple as this between themselves, what authority, experience or hope do they bring to the bigger questions of globalization and the future? They look like part of the problem, not the solution...

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan - as in most theological issues, the last people to bow to the inevitable are the gatekeepers.

I take issue with one point in your introduction: Methodists don't even make baptism a barrier. Anyone who loves the Lord is welcome and even that's very loosely interpreted - effectively if you come to front with your hands reaching out then I'll fill them with bread.

John Wesley's statement that communion was a 'converting ordinance' - in other words people could find faith through the simple act of receiving bread and wine - is enough of a powerful incentive for me not to turn away anyone who asks. I don't want to be the stumbling block.

I pray it is the way forward to allow open communion anywhere, for anyone .... and actually, to add in a grenade, led by anyone. And I say that as an ordained minister.

June Butler said...

The basis of Communion is the mercy, gift and call of God....


As a former Roman Catholic, now a member of the Episcopal Church, when I attend a Roman Catholic mass, I take communion, although I am considered excommunicated by the Roman church. My grandchildren attend RC schools, so I go to mass several times a year.

My thought is that the Eucharistic prayer includes the words, "Take this all of you...", which includes me, and that it's Our Lord Jesus Christ's Body and Blood and does not belong to the denomination and that the denomination has no right to refuse me, a validly baptized member of the Body of Christ. Thus far, I have not been refused. Thanks be to God.

Steve Hayes said...

It depends on your ecclesiology, doesn't it.

But that would take too long to discuss in a blog comment!

UKViewer said...

I often wonder why we have allowed so many differences to persist and to block communion between different churches. I have chosen to be a member of the CofE, having been baptised as RC as I have found the church that I joined to have been more welcoming and considerate and to have provided the spiritual food that I know is part of my relationship with God. I chose to be confirmed as a Christian with the CofE.

Horror of horrors, I have also taken communion in other denominations such as Methodist, URC, CofS etc, I have never felt excluded and have never been made to feel that I should not be joining the feast.

I am aware of differences between Rome and other reformed churches, but communion should not devide us, the division is between men, not the Church, which is God's body on earth.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

CV many thanks; what interests me about the little I know about specific and very open Methodist practice you describe is that its historical roots were in a high, not a low view of the sacrament. both go together. GM Many thanks; I think you encapsulate the way pretty much everyone I meet who is active in the Church feels. Steve, I know these are ecclesiologically murky waters; but in this day and age if our ecclesiology makes our Mission impossible, we have to go back to re-think our ecclesiology from first principles. UKV, I think you express very well what is becoming almost universal practice and, of course, was in the age before the Political ruptures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Anonymous said...

I read this within minutes of being sent the following link;

I recently did a placement in a church with a far greater emphasis on the eucharist, hoping among other things to develop me spiritual reactions to the eucharist, and open to possibilities. At the end of it I felt rather disappointed not to have grasped anything 'new'.

Having read all this tonight, perhaps the thing I've learnt most, is that it doesn't matter... as long as we share in an attitude of peace and acceptance with one another, each praying we will be close God (individually and corporately) in the process...

Or is this lay-minister with L-plates being far too simplistic?

Mary Clara said...

Thanks for this wonderful post. I am an Episcopalian (US). On Easter even this year I was stuck at home without a car and couldn't easily get to my own parish's service, but my dear next-door neighbor invited me to attend the Great Vigil with her at her RC parish. It was a lovely service, hardly distinguishable from the Episcopal version. Knowing the RCC's position, I was planning to stay in my seat and not receive the Eucharist, but when the moment came, my neighbor grasped me firmly by one hand and her Lutheran friend by the other and pulled us forward. Just at that moment the choir, which was in the midst of singing Handel's 'Hallelujah' chorus, burst forth with the lines, "And He shall reign for ever and ever!" -- and I thought, well, for heaven's sake, that's the point, isn't it? It is Christ who rules, and this is HIS table, not the possession of an institution. I know this is what my neighbor believes. We three received joyously together and shared a deep conversation after the service.

I read about another RC woman who had strong ongoing disagreements with the policies and pronouncements of the Vatican and the local bishops. She was asked why she didn't just leave the Church. She replied, "How can I leave the Church, I AM the Church!" What a bracing insight! I have taken it to heart. It seems to me that each and every one of us lay people in whatever denomination need to remember that and act on it, and that includes living ecumenically and healing the broken body through direct action rather than waiting for the clergy, the bishops and archbishops, the theologians and the canon lawyers to figure out how to get out of the corner into which the institutions have painted themselves. My neighbor, her Lutheran friend and I enacted and embodied the Church universal that evening. I no longer consider myself to be 'out of communion' with the Roman church. I am one with them even if they don't officially know how to be one with me.

As I also have Methodist roots, it was wonderful to hear about Wesley's view of the Eucharist as a 'converting ordinance'. O taste and see!

And no, I don't think this is terrorism at all. It is receiving and sharing the love and hospitality of Jesus, in his name.

Hope you didn't get any virtual bruises, falling off your chair that way!

Steve Hayes said...

I've now responded more fully in a separate blog post here.

It's not liturgical terrorism, but it is liturgical consumerism.

anchorhold said...

A very interesting post, though I don't feel comfortable receiving communion in a church where I know I am not welcome (though I have done so in Catholic churches on the rare occasions the celebrant explicitly invited members of other denominations to receive), even though it is painful not to.

Maybe Steffensky is right, though, and change has to come from the grassroots. After all, as you say, it's Christ's sacrament, not that of any denomination.

On a minor sidenote: "die Einheitlichkeit in einigen Sätzen des Bekenntnisses" means 'the uniformity of a few sentences of the Creed' (I think, but the German seems slightly garbled....)

Jane said...

Steffensky is wonderful, glad you got to listen to him - I was busy interpretting while this went on!

You know that Steffensky was married to Dorothee Sölle, some of their conversations about spirituality and theology have been published. Sadly interupted when she died some years ago.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Jane, many thanks. Various people said good things about Dorothy Sölle in a kind of conspiratorial way when I asked about FS, including my Catholic host. She sounds like quite a lady! Will look out for material you mention...

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